A New “Who Owns Lagos”?
Yes, who truly owns Lagos? Ponder this anew. No, I don’t mean in that hackneyed and parochial sense; I mean who is responsible for taking care of Lagos, being kind to Lagos and enabling Lagos to be the best it can be today and tomorrow? Put differently and directly, who loves Lagos?
Timeline: Outer Marina, Lagos; 6.30a.m. Thirty minutes. That’s what it took to cover the less than half a kilometre distance descending the Apongbon bridge into the Marina. Driving moderately, one should cover sixty kilometres per hour or one kilometre per minute but like toddlers struggling with crawling, we daily snarl through one kilometre in half an hour. No big deal, we are used to it, right? Well, that is not the issue here. I digress. When we are finally released, it is to find that the commercial bus drivers who have seized one of the lanes to drop and pick passengers are the reason for this punishment; right under the noses of half a dozen traffic officials! Again, that isn’t the issue at all. So what is you ask?
Here is the point: we all slave through this artificially induced and easily rectified mass punishment, and we do so daily. In a few minutes, some of us will be making world impacting decisions; yet, docilely we trudge on. Lagos’ elites, Lagos’ educated, Lagos’ exposed, Lagos’ enlightened citizens move on without as much as a whimper talk less of any action!
On the other hand, the illiterate commercial bus driver daily throws his gloves into the ring with the educated ones: “we own Lagos”, “we are truly the spirit of Lagos”, “You can’t do anything about it.”! They scream with their words and actions. The leaders are led.
Which of these two groups own and have the true spirit of Lagos? None. The Spirit of Lagos is the life of Lagos. It is the embodiment of all things good about Lagos and the very lifeline that connects its glorious past with its future that we all earnestly desire. It points to the Lagos of our dreams where we do things right and do the right things. It is not about selfishness or might-being-right or a jungle – a no man’s land where anything goes as long as the end justifies the means. Neither is it about being docile, uncaring and self-centred without consideration for the community.
It is about social justice where we are all respected and our rights are preserved; it is about civic responsibility, understanding that we all have a part to play in developing and sustaining our communities and public services; it is about citizenship, our voluntary commitment to knowing and maintaining law and order and yes, it is about good neighbourliness, doing unto others as we would like done unto us – all for one, one for all. That is the spirit of Lagos we need to restore, share and protect, that is the true spirit of Lagos which has always been there but have been allowed to ossify under the weight of urbanization, population explosion and poor leadership among others.
In a 2010 seminal ethnographic research on Lagos, Prof. Oka Obono (of the Sociology Department, University of Ibadan) engaged with a random sample of over two thousand and five hundred households. These were selected from sixteen communities in eight local government areas – Agege, Ajeromi-Ifelodun, Ikeja, Lagos Island, Ojo, Oshodi/Isolo, Shomolu, and Surulere – purposively identified for their spatial spread and political distribution.
“The results” according to Prof. Obono clearly “justify the need to promote public ownership and behaviour change in Lagos State as a means of fostering change at the dynamic human level to complement the infrastructural transformation and models of inclusive governance currently taking place in the State. Strategies have to be developed, which transform a resident communal spirit into a self-conscious social movement that guarantees the realization of Lagos as a global megacity.”
Travelling across Lagos communities interacting with individuals and groups who, passionate about their lives – and others’ – are committed to doing the right things in their environment for the benefit of all concerned, I am more than convinced that the spirit of Lagos is powerful. Many still recognize that, and by their actions live by the truth, ‘together we stand, divided we fall.’ My observation has been that generally-speaking, the higher on the socio-economic ladder, the lower this realization, unfortunately and paradoxically. Despite education and exposure, some have robbed themselves of life’s true essence – people.
Those in the hinterlands seem to have a more balanced view of, and wait for it, quality of life. While this may be a good thing in that the lower-placed people have more to lose the weaker the communal spirit is, the flip side is that this is also a recipe for social upheavals and strife as we find on the Marina.
Very gladdening though is the fact that there are still a lot of individuals in the metropolis who have kept their communal focus and reap the huge across-board benefits accruing from the power of the whole. While some are directly involved in day-to-day self-propelled development, others have turned to philanthropy.
Parts of Prof. Obono’s findings are that “Lagosians are prepared for involvement in community development maintenance and monitoring, which indicates a readiness to establish an orderly and organized society.” In addition, the level of social appreciation of change is high (92.9%) and it is this momentum that should be utilized to engineer the social change necessary for sustainability.
One such is the Akoka Community Development Association, CDA, which naturally has a smattering of egg heads being the host community of the revered University of Lagos. It also has a good mix of the middle and lower classes – indeed, this can be said to reflect the average community in Lagos. While they have worked well with the various authorities in improving their community, most delightful is the ingenuity that threads through all their initiatives. For instance, in making street lamps they used plastic bowls as cover for the bulbs as a cost-saving measure without any loss in efficiency.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Elepete Community Development Association, CDA, in Ikorodu. When they found the contractor for their self-help electrification project’s budget was unaffordable (though his was the lowest) they arranged a trade by barter with a plot of land as initial payment: transforming the contractor into a community member with more commitment to its success. Today, they have electricity and are now focused on the major road into their community.
In one of his very first steps, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode set up a committee which reported that the community-based development model is the surest and most sustainable approach to making Lagos the mega city of our dreams. As has been the case the world over. Historically, communities and eventually nations have developed through two or three people agreeing to settle in a virgin location which they find conducive or potentially so. They then begin to mould that space into their dream community moving from the basics into the ideal. This responsible and nurturing sort of ‘ownership’ is shared with others who subsequently agree to be part of the community and contribute their quota to its development.
Lagos needs men and women who have that right community spirit which has over the centuries produced some of the best people for succeeding generations. Today, more than ever before, our world needs such truly great people who have the true Spirit of Lagos.