opinionBy Femi Aribisala
Poor people can have no place in Lagos, if Lagos is to become the megacity of Governor Fashola's lofty dreams!
Hip, hip, hip; Hooray! Lagos is now going to be a megacity. Under the able leadership of Governor Babatunde Fashola, the apostle of good governance, Lagos is undergoing a major makeover. The Atlantic Ocean will be banished, to be replaced by Eko Atlantic; a shimmering new 3.5 mile island built literally on the water behind a "great wall of Lagos." Greenery has suddenly appeared in Lagos, displacing the concrete jungle. There are now parks with manicured lawns. There are now tree-lined roads. Pot-holes are now being tarred. Sidewalks are now provided for pedestrians.
Eko o ni baje
In the middle of this transformation, a new immigration department has been opened in Lagos. "Illegal aliens" are being expelled and are shipped back to their homelands in the dead of night. New visitors may have to obtain visas to come here. All this makes it imperative to determine who exactly is the Lagosian? Who is entitled to enjoy the new amenities that Governor Fashola and his team of dedicated public-servants are bringing to Lagos? Accordingly, a battle royal has emerged for the rightful ownership of Lagos. Some are insisting Lagos is no man's land. Others are discovering Lagos as their fatherland. But there is no question that the government has already determined the precise identity of the true Lagosian.
As far as the Lagos State Government is concerned, the true Lagosian is not the Yoruba man or the Igbo man. Neither is he the Hausa man or the Fulani man. The true Lagosian is the rich man. The poor have been served quit notice. They are no longer wanted in Lagos. Fashola's resounding slogan is "Eko o ni baje," which means Lagos will not go to the dogs. The poor are considered the dogs of Lagos. In that troublesome capacity, they can have no place in Lagos, if Lagos is to become the megacity of Governor Fashola's lofty dreams!
For some strange reason, Lagos has tended to have better Governors than most states of the federation. But if you were to ask me who is the best among all the Governors of Lagos, I would answer you without hesitation. In my opinion, it is Governor Babatunde Fashola. Fashola is a man with a vision. He is a man with a purpose. He is a man clearly able to translate ideas into weapons. He has transformed and is transforming Lagos right before our very eyes.
But I have a nagging suspicion that the reason why I am so readily persuaded by Fashola's virtues might not be unconnected with the fact that I am not a poor man. The poor themselves may have a very different point of view. They are probably likely to insist that the best governor in the history of Lagos is Lateef Kayode Jakande; alias "Baba Kekere."
I am not a poor man by Nigerian standards. Therefore, I do not presume to speak for the poor. But then, increasingly, I am beginning to wonder who exactly speaks for them in Lagos. One thing is certain, Fashola speaks primarily for the rich; and this is not good enough. In the Lagos of today, the poor have no voice. Fashola's laudable policies are too one-sided. They are tailor-made for the rich: and are grossly disadvantageous to the poor.
Relocating the poor
I don't have to be poor to know that the poor are increasingly unwelcome in Lagos. The genius of Fashola is to relocate them to the outskirts of the city. If they are non-indigenes, they are relocated back to their homesteads. The systematic ridding of Lagos of the poor is a longstanding process. The poor were shipped out of Maroko. It has been replaced by Oniru where apartments go for an average of 2.5 million naira a year.
Slums in Mushin, Oluwole and Makoko have been demolished. The residents were evicted from their homes, with no talk of rehabilitation. Markets in Tejuoso, Yaba and Oshodi have been demolished and rebuilt. The new stalls are beyond the pocket of the earlier poor occupants. Everywhere in Lagos, the poor are becoming persona non grata.
In places like Ojota, Makoko, and Ijora-Badia East, the poor residents have been evicted from their homes. In some cases, they were given only 72 hours notice to leave. In Makoko/Iwaya, the government's quit notice described them "environmental nuisances" that "undermined the megacity status" of Lagos. It stated that their menial existence was detrimental to the government's determination to beautify the Lagos waterfront.
As the poor are being squeezed out, so is more leg-room being created for the rich. The Eko Atlantic project is the epitome of this. It involves dredging 140 million tons of sand from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean to subdue the sea and create nine million square kilometers of prime real estate, protected by an eight meter-high wall, vaunted to last 1000 years. When completed, the project will boast residential areas, offices, shops, and leisure facilities for 250,000 people, with another 150,000 commuting to work. To have a foothold in this brave new world, you will need a cool 300,000 naira for just one square meter of land.
However, what Lagos desperately needs is not a "Manhattan island" that will cater primarily for the rich. What Lagos needs is massive low-cost housing to accommodate millions of slum-dwellers. The state government itself acknowledges that Lagos has a housing shortage in excess of five million. By its own estimates, it needs an annual growth of at least 200,000 houses to keep up with the population growth. In spite of this, it touts a six billion-dollar white-elephant project that ignores this urgent need of the poor masses in favour of one that caters to the rich few.
Ban of Okadas
I hate okadas. They are a menace on the streets. Even the sidewalks are not safe from them. Okada riders are a law unto themselves. They obey no traffic rules. They imperil their clients by taking dangerous risks. The mortuaries and hospitals are filled with those who have lost life and limb because of their recklessness. But I will be the first to admit that one of the reasons I am able to hate okadas with so much passion is because I have a car. I don't have to take okadas and have never ever taken them.
Governor Babatunde Fashola also has a car. So it does not surprise me that, like me, he is also fed up with the menace of okadas in Lagos. Therefore, recently an edict was passed banning them in most areas of Lagos. The government refused to provide alternative means of transportation for those who don't have cars before banning the okadas. This oversight translates into contempt for the poor. I don't have to be poor to recognise that it has been disastrous.
Since the banning of the okadas, I have repented of my earlier hatred of okadas. No matter that I wind up my tinted windows; the better to enjoy the air-conditioning in my car, I cannot remain oblivious to the mass of humanity in Lagos now constrained to walk for miles or stand for hours at bus-stops, waiting in readiness for the battle ahead when it will become necessary to fight for the few spaces available in the few buses when they finally, finally, arrive.
Let's face it; with the okadas gone, the poor in Lagos don't get home until midnight and then they have to set out for work by 5 a.m.; and that is if they have a job. I asked a lady in my neighbourhood supermarket how much she makes as a cashier. She told me 20,000 naira a month. I don't know how anybody can survive in Fashola's Lagos with such a salary, especially since over 50% of that goes for transportation alone.
The new departure in Fashola's Lagos is that people now have to pay for driving on tarred roads. If you are one of the poor residents of Ajah, Badore, Elegushi, Ajiran, Sangotedo, Abijo, Ibeju, and other communities in Eti-osa, Epe and Ibeju-Lekki Local Government areas, you will now have to pay tolls for leaving your house to head for the Lagos mainland and pay again for going back home. On the Lekki expressway, no less than three tolls are envisaged for just a 50 kilometer stretch of road.
The Lagos State Government is only interested in exploiting the poor in this area, and there are literally millions living there. There is little or no government infrastructure there. There is no general hospital, and no low-income housing scheme. No sporting or recreational facility. No public transportation system. No public water works: just the payment of tolls. The original idea was to develop a coastal road as an alternative route to the tolled road, but this has not been done.
So how can the poor make ends meet in Lagos? With okada gone, and excluding outright crime, one option is petty-trading Lagos-style. This entails turning the streets into one big supermarket, and training for the 2016 Olympics by running after cars in order to sell something as menial as groundnuts. But even here, you are likely to be confronted by the long arm of the law. Street-trading is frowned at in Lagos. The "kick against indiscipline" brigade will seize your goods if they get hold of you.
The Arab Spring outburst in Tunisia started because the goods of a poor street-trader, Mohamed Bouaziz, were confiscated by the police. That act brought the man to the end of his rope. He bought a jerry-can of petrol and set himself on fire. Those sympathetic to his plight took to the streets, and the upshot of this was the overthrow of the government.
Lagos, Nigeria may not be Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. Nevertheless, Governor Fashola has a legacy to protect. Rather than this new policy of banishing the poor to Siberia, Fashola should sit down and fashion comprehensive policies that take into consideration their acute suffering in Lagos. If he does not, his disregard of the poor will soon overshadow his remarkable achievements in Lagos State.