A New “Who owns Lagos”?

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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.

Ambode’s New Lagos Rail Lines

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Ambode’s New Lagos Rail Lines

Listening to the chief executive of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, LAMATA, speak on radio about Lagos’ plan for multiple new rail lines, my emotions were a mix of excitement and cynicism especially as I was right in the heat of the notorious Lagos traffic – it seems to have worsened recently.

Excitement at how more convenient moving around Lagos will be if those ideas came to fruition; how much less we will spend on vehicle maintenance, repairs , replacement as well as importation; and ultimately how enhanced our productivity will be with less time and stress in traffic and more working or resting for that matter. I was also excited about what this will mean for “bustling and hustling” Lagosians (and indeed Nigerians with its cascade effect) if this is indicative of the paradigm shift character of Ambode’s leadership.

My cynicism? Is this not the usual abracadabra of new governments – as Fela would say “the more you look the less you see”; is this not another white elephant project? – the expanse beside the Presbyterian Church Yaba is a monument to another botched attempt over three decades ago. I was also concerned with the gnawing questions: what is the vision behind these rail lines? How are they integrated with the roads and waterways that run around Lagos? What is the time frame for construction? How much is going to be expended on it and from what sources? Will the Governor seize this opportunity to start with the better foot forward and blaze a trail of transparency and accountability.

Because my heart yearns for us to begin to live like other human beings in more civilized climes, I say to those cynics who would say “this is one of the projects that have been on the drawing board even before Ambode”, development is not on drawing boards but on the streets and in the people’s lives. And to those who say “it is another of those political promises”, why not give the man a chance to prove himself or fail.

Why are the roads done by Pa Awolowo many decades back still intact in many locations? Was technology better in those days? Or does it have something to do with the people? Does it have to do with the communal spirit? As one Spirit of Lagos message says we need to Change (Y)our Thinking for development is about the people more than the facilities, far more.

Mr. Governor Sir, please note that alongside infrastructural development, the human mind must also be worked on to ensure proper utilization and in fact ownership of all the good projects that has come and will come, hopefully. Your success rates will be higher and enduring if you drive that communal spirit of trust, co-operation, and complementarity with the people. As we have seen over and over again, the government cannot do it alone especially in a mega city such as Lagos. You will need to consciously drive the celebrated spirit of excellence to a level where the people take ownership of their communities and indeed of the government.

It is not rocket science to see that you need to galvanise the people through new approaches to be their own government in the sense of self-policing and regulating. One immediate result is that the investments are protected, last longer and make greater impact. This way, the resources can be spread to other areas instead of returning to facilities that were done only recently but have gone bad because of improper usage and maintenance.

We are keenly watching and following developments.

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Of Collective Madness, Lagos Floods & Gov. Ambode

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Of Collective Madness, Lagos Floods & Gov. Ambode

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As it has always been across the decades so it continues to be: floods everywhere. When we think it is over, at the onset of every rainy season, the floods imperial overwhelm us again as they did the years before and we are pummeled into submission or rather frustration one more time.  The roads are flooded, homes are flooded; endless traffic, rubbish heaps – our rubbish heaps.

Whereas we generated and distributed the rubbish into the gutters (directly and indirectly), we not only bury our heads ostrich-like, by denying responsibility, we actually go ahead to blame it on every other but ourselves (thankfully, the devil and witches are not guilty in this case). The rains are guilty – but it rains everywhere else worldwide, and much more in many climes. The government is culpable: they did not clear the canals and the roads of the rubbish nor did they strictly enforce prevention and punishment without fear or favour.

In our collective madness, we continue to do the same things daily and expect different results. Indeed, we do not appear to even think seriously about the problem talk less of taking appropriate actions to prevent the perennial flooding. Here again, the let – the – community – perish – I – will – find – a – way – to – survive fallacy reigns supreme. From whence came the plastic bottles and the pure water sachets? Who refused to observe basic rules of good hygiene? Who turned monthly environmental sanitation hours to bed time? Who turned a blind eye to the neighbour’s poor sanitary habits? It all comes back to haunt us.

I recall as a youngster decades ago seeing on “Sesame Street” – probably the most popular educational (children) television series ever – the simple sense of individual actions and collective consequences. The image was of a huge refuse dump; in flashback, each person took back the single piece of rubbish he/she had dropped; eventually, there was not a single trash! Lesson: it is one pet bottle, one pure water sachet, one chewing gum wrapper, one trash at a time that make the floods. “Little drops of water, a mighty ocean maketh.”

As the new Akinwunmi Ambode government settles into work, one advice: yes, keep the canals running; yes, ensure all road construction have ample drainage systems integrated; yes, get the engineers focused Lagos’ below sea level challenge; but Governor Ambode will achieve better and enduring results by working on our ‘collective madness’ for until he restores a modicum of sanity we will continue as we have been, flood after flood. We need to change our attitudes and influence others to do the same for our collective health, peace and sustainable prosperity.

Enforcement will help but ultimately self-discipline and communal responsibility are keys. In the area of waste management for instance, such proven proactive approaches as “each one teach one”, “do the right thing” and sanitation inspectors combined with coordinated tactics such as waste reduction and sorting on one hand; stiff penalties and reliable clearing and destruction on the other hand will help us build the Lagos mega city of our dreams. Generally, the recent efforts in attitudinal change need to be continued and deepened through every channel possible.

Historically, success stories have come through consistency across years and sometimes decades. As they say, building can take years, damage takes only minutes. In our own case, the damage has been entrenched over decades, from the military era of jungle values, ‘might is right’, ‘the end justifies the means’ and ‘each man for himself’! That destructive attitude continues to overshadow us as our thoughts and actions even now (as can be seen at the highest levels of our political space) are anything but democratic, communal and progressive.

Thankfully, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as Lagos looks to have taken the bull by the horns with its Spirit of Lagos attitudinal change campaign which appears to be catching on though it is early days yet.  One of my favourite messages is the bunch of young boys in a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) vehicle sketching an older man who appears to be lost in his thoughts. The sketch is coming on great until we are shown their ‘board’ – the back of a seat! Then a young girl, their age, comes into the bus and they exchange knowing winks but as she makes to sit, her countenance drops as she sees the damage being done to the bus seat. She pulls out her handkerchief and wipes the sit clean and the boys exchange glances as if saying “we should have known better”.

Listening to the radio recently, I couldn’t but imagine what our society will be if we returned to the communal spirit where each one is his neighbour’s keeper; where we all stood up for what is right whether for ourselves or for another human being; where our communal property is not neglected and allowed to be treated anyhow by the careless, ignorant or plain mischievous – both educated or illiterate.

The attitude of ‘government versus the governed’; ‘them versus us’; ‘their property versus my property’ must be consigned to the past. The right attitude is ‘it is my tax money’, ‘it is my community, my life, my family’s life’. The newly constructed road is ours to protect and preserve else we return to the potholes and ‘go-slows’. Unless we switch away from this self-destructive collective madness of ‘society-can-perish-I-will-survive’ which has always brought the floods this year, we can be sure that the floods will come again next year and the year after.

The Arts, Attitude Change and Lagos City Chorale.

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The last two decades of 20th century Lagos were adventurous, enlightening and entertaining. On television: the Bar Beach Show with Art Alade; the Village Headmaster with Kabiyesi, Chief Eleyinmi, Amebo, Sisi Clara, and my personal favourite, Bassey Okon (chai chai chai) JAB Adu; the ground breaking Winds Against my Soul, Cockrow At Dawn and Checkmate; while Icheoku, Samanja and Masquerade further enriched our viewing experience all on the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA – “Africa’s largest television network”.

Not even the rainbow bars could hold us back; we would start ‘watching’ those bars until the programmes started at 4p.m. with the national anthem which also ended transmission at midnight. Sesame Street, Love Boat, Space 1999 and Soul Train with Don Cornelius. Then came the great game changer: Lagos Television, LTV, with its pioneering round the clock broadcasting on weekends and its Chariots of Fire signature tune – what a wonderful time.

The music scene was no different either with many a superstar and mega hit: the old brigade of Fela, Obey, Sunny, Okosun, Uwaifo, d Coque; the new army of Bright Chimezie, Kris Okotie, Jide Obi, Dizzy K Falola, Onyeka Onwenu, Alex O, Majek Fashek, Evi Edna Ogholi, Blackky, Mike Okri, and Christy-Essien Igbokwe; and the choral groups such as Steve Rhodes Voices, the (Prof.) Laz Ekwueme Chorale among others – the list was virtually endless. This was a period of quality music with opening, heart and ending; strong chorus lines and great live performances; positive values-laden lyrics and compelling stories.

A few nights ago, our sixteen year old son asked why Asa’s music was always a favourite of music reality show contestants but without a matching visibility and commercial success. I pointed him to a few others like Timi Dakolo whose music may, ironically, outlive the more commercially successful. Our society prefers the commonplace temporary euphoria – a reflection of our state of being.  And someone will rightly point to the chicken and egg debate: should our Art point us out of our doldrums or should our doldrums define (imprison) our Art?

The story tellers, in spinning their tales from the past, create new vistas for the future. The creative power that comes with and from the Arts in many instances laid the foundations for science. Ideas from writers’ imaginations provide the impetus for the scientists’ realities. Imagination becomes reality or at least imagination creates reality, ‘it could be’ turns to ‘it is’; and ‘why not’ to ‘how’. This interplay has continually been the path for many breakthroughs in history. Think about it: what you see in books and dramas presage reality.

The Arts, both performing and literary, have always been reflective of civilization. In other words, the quality of life and development of any society can be predicated on and predicted by its production of, appreciation for, and consumption of that which is called the ‘finer art of living’.

Whether it is the Ottoman, Persian, Byzantine, Mongolian, Roman, Babylonian or the more recent English empire, society’s integral core has always revolved around the art of investigating, communicating, mirroring, celebrating, and correcting society through the Arts including music, literature and drama. Progressive societies have the wisdom to protect and empower the Arts in keeping in touch with the conscience and thus helping keep their heads above water for a better tomorrow.

And this is where, as a society, we seem to have lost focus or even total direction. The Arts, literature and theatre, have detoured to the banal and popular than the edifying and enriching. If it is not scantily-clad young women, it is the substance-abusing punk culture and the wealth-by-all-means mania. The media is awash with sex, overt and direct; the sensational and the controversial and very little of the educative and enlightening. Just take a look at the front page stories of our “News” papers. Everywhere you turn, it is to the pedestrian, vulgar and destructive that we are summoned.

In this putrid atmosphere, the recent news of the Sir Emeka Nwokedi-led Lagos City Chorale winning three gold medals at the International Music Festival and Competition in Magdeburg, Germany is heart-warming. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Competing with choirs from thirty-five countries across the five continents, the Lagos City Chorale brought to the global platform some of our positives – dress culture, music, and folklore.                             This feat ought to be celebrated and utilized as a touchstone of sorts to galvanise us forward as a society the way only the Arts can. It is a call for us all to touch base with the finer aspects of life and living and flee the banal and destructive, both to the individual as much as the society.

Institutional and personal brands that care about our continuous descent into the negatives need to help us celebrate this positive – and indeed all positives. This is especially so now that we are in an oasis in the desert situation, a ‘water everywhere but none healthy enough to drink’ environment. Out of the plenty rubbish, we must aggressively identify and isolate the decent and thereby rebuild our communal consciences and consciousness. We must engineer a change in our attitudes and life choices to see the Change we desire.

In concluding, I find myself ruminating over “what is Lagos about Lagos City Chorale”? Indeed, what is it about Lagos that produces many excellent things? Is it the name, the people, the population, the mix, the structures, or…? There is a documentary titled “Lagos, Hub of Music” produced by The Spirit of Lagos initiative which shows that many who have made a major mark in music both in Nigeria and West Africa have been impacted by Lagos. Most likely, this is also true for the Arts generally. Prof. Oko Obono of the University of Ibadan has also done some research on Lagos and Lagosians which should be utilized to further build the true ‘Spirit of Lagos’. We need to articulate that attitude which enables so many great people and ventures out of Lagos. Lagos has a ‘soul’ and ‘heart’. When we mine and mind the city’s essence we can then consciously fan them so Lagos, and by extension Nigeria, produces, consistently, world beaters.