By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, let me clear something important from the outset, that I know nothing about #occupylagos and do not support any such misadventure, regardless of participants or purpose. Such ill-conceived and ill-thought movements can only complicate the already complex and volatile situation in Lagos State, Nigeria. It has become necessary to make this quick clarification because of the fact that we now live in an era of rumour-mongering, vicious criminalisation and brazen victimisation without verification. Having cleared that, I’m happy to go on my short voyage without any equivocation today. I intend to make my epistle as simple and straightforward as possible for the sake of agents of confusion and mischief who specialise in turning everything upside down.
We all love Lagos for one major reason. It is a State most Nigerians often lay claim to as theirs, 6without any form of remorse or shame whatsoever. Lagos has provided much comfort and protection for most Nigerians. Apart from being the richest State in Nigeria, Lagos is richer than most countries of Africa. Lagos is like New York and California States combined in America. Lagos is the heartbeat of Africa. It is not for fun that some of the wealthiest people in Africa live in Lagos. They include Dr Mike Adenuga Jr., Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Dr Tony Elumelu, Alhaji Abdulsamad Rabiu, Mr Jim Ovia, Lt. General Theophilus Danjuma, Mrs Folorunso Alakija, Alhaji Sayyu Dantata, Mr Femi Otedola, Alhaji Abdulrasak Akanni Okoya, Chief Kesington Adebukunola Adebutu, Mr Cosmas Maduka, the Chagourys, (not in any particular order) and so many others. Most of them are non Lagosians but they have virtually become Lagosians in bodies and souls.
Such is the irresistible allure of Lagos that most of us had to migrate from our villages and places of birth on a long journey to the tiny city of Lagos despite the smallness of its land mass. Now, this is the crux of the matter. Lagos is a mega city and home to about 20 million inhabitants who crammed into somewhere divided into two distinguishable parts, the island and the mainland. It is a cosmopolitan city peopled by men and women from diverse nations, tongues and religions. Notwithstanding the diversity that is the hallmark and fabric of its soul, Lagos is cohesive and solid – e le mo aarin Eko. It is only natural that such a city would bear the burden of its seeming teeming overpopulation. I do not subscribe to the view that a massive population is an obstacle to development. On the contrary, i know that the bigger the number of people massed in any one place, the more likely it is that such place will develop greatly, but only if the population is properly managed and harnessed. If competent, able and visionary minds are not at the helm of affairs, it will not be too long before the population which is meant to be a boon, becomes an albatross that weighs it down and snuffs out any meaningful progress. Unfortunately, Lagos falls into this last category. Its leaders have tried their best, but have not been able to come up with any imaginative solutions to its chronic perennial vehicular logjam. I’m not aware of any city as gigantic as Lagos that would not have a variety of transport systems, particularly as it is also surrounded by lots of water and a good terrain. Sadly, Lagos is largely dependent on motor vehicles and lately motorcycles and tricycle which are realistic and vivid demonstrations of the poverty in the land. It is more the pity that these means of road transport are too little for the hordes of daily commuters who traverse the city in search of their daily bread and those who travel in and out of the extraordinary city.
At different times, efforts have been made by successive governments to solve the problem and the transport conundrum it creates by decongesting the roads and in one fell swoop also achieve the aim of getting rid of the odoriferous pollution of Lagos. It has not worked. This is because the problems of Lagos are varying and wide-ranging. Apart from the population explosion and the stupendous traffic jams, Lagos is bedevilled by a major security conflagration. This arises from its metropolitan nature and its willingness to welcome and absorb all those who genuinely want to be a part of its miracle. The flip side of this welcoming attitude is that Lagos will also attract shady characters and nefarious elements. The recent influx of unidentifiable immigrants into Lagos is just a sample of this major headache and has further compounded the bad situation. Understandably, this has ostensibly forced the State Government to take what may be considered panic and desperate measures by many people, in one fell swoop.
In a sudden and unexpected decision, it was announced that the popular means of public transportation involving motorcycles and tricycles have been banished in the major parts of the State. Millions of those in that business and their customers were instantly thrown into mass unemployment as well as unprecedented agony. Those who directly and indirectly benefit from the economic benefits of these forms of transport were not merely thrown into a quandary they were catapulted into grave jeopardy. Furthermore, the already terrible traffic congestion became worse and may have even quadrupled. While I sincerely sympathise with the Lagos State authorities, I believe their decision was too hasty, ill-prepared, ill-judged and, above all, poorly executed.
Let me explain what I believe went wrong. No government can suddenly wake up and outlaw a business, indeed a way of life, that has become the main system of transportation of a large section of the teeming masses, especially the poor and lowly in society, without courting serious repercussions. You cannot throw so many thousands of your people into unprepared unemployment and unexpected hunger and destitution and expect them to simply fold their arms across their chest, shrug and walk away from it all. It is unfair. It is unjust. It is ungodly. The suffering in Nigeria has reached unacceptable levels for anybody to just simply and naively add to the word of the people on account of unverifiable security breaches and poorly researched casualty figures. A country supposedly overflowing with milk and honey has become the world capital of poverty and squalor. Throwing more people into such suffocating and debilitating situation is rather despicable and unfortunate.
I have listened to some compelling arguments from the government side but I’m not totally convinced there was no better way of doing it. But that cannot be all because there are compelling and overwhelming arguments from the other side too. I have been told that most of the young UFOs that descended on Lagos recently were preparing the way for a major attack of the Boko Haram type in Lagos. Very possible, I agree, though there is no way for ordinary mortals like you and I to verify such security alert as true or false. While I’m willing to concede that the “unidentified flying objects” should be thrown out pronto and sent back to wherever they came from, I still cannot support such blanket ban on fellow Nigerian citizens, because there is no telling whether these so called migrants are not just displaced Nigerians seeking succour in other parts of their motherland. The last I knew, freedom of movement was still a constitutional right for all Nigerians. Until the proponents of a monumental break up of Nigeria succeed, every Nigerian citizen should have the right to live in any part of Nigeria. There is no basis for this perfidious paranoia. We should not be seen to be repaying evil with evil. The best thing should have been to regulate the Okada business urgently. There is already precedent for this by previous administrations. Things just need to be done properly and efficiently and this cannot be by way of a knee-jerk reaction.
Let’s assume that was not immediately possible and achievable. We should still have tolerated and accommodated the modern ones who were duly registered and whose drivers were readily identifiable. To have lumped all the Okada variants together and tagged them as miscreants, hoodlums and vagabonds was an unmitigated disaster. The uproar it has generated should have been expected. There are many in government circles who feel they will bully their way around this crisis. I don’t think so. I believe it is too early in the day for the new Lagos State government to put everything at risk. I have listened to heated arguments that Okada was banned in Kano, Abuja and other than parts of Nigeria. Again, I disagree with this attempt at comparing Lagos to those cities. Does anyone want Lagos to become Kano, the headquarter of unemployed youths. God forbid. As for Abuja, what’s the population? They have also told me that Governor Babatunde Fashola once banned Okada in Lagos. True. But that was then. Nigeria was not as bad as it is now.
Government officials should have prepared the city adequately for this hurricane and its aftershocks but I doubt that was the case. Those comparing Lagos to other world capitals are not being serious. Lagos is lagging far behind those cities in infrastructure development. The roads are horrible. The buses are rickety and grossly inadequate. How do we expect the workers to get to work from far flung areas?
My candid appeal to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is that he should, as a matter of urgency, rework this tough decision. It is not a sign of weakness to admit a bad decision and make amends. It is the virtue of a great leader. He should offer palliative opportunities to those motorbikes’ operators who can meet very strict and stringent security screening and identification procedures. Issues of safety of passengers should be speedily addressed. We can’t afford to throw away the baby with the bathwater. It would dangerously counterproductive!