Of Collective Madness, Lagos Floods & Gov. Ambode
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.