If you have not been in Lagos for the past three years either as a resident or visitor, this message may be outrightly strange to you. But if you had been around the city even for the past few months, you can testify. For a start, there is this general impression that Nigerians are impossible or too problematic to be governed.
Ironically, Nigerians, compared to other human beings, are some of the least demanding or expectant in terms of governance be it at federal, state or local government level. Otherwise, where else in the world are citizens, ordinary citizens, so acquiescent in the irritating looting of public funds and yet cope without clean water supply, good/motorable roads, power supply, good health facilities, sound education opportunities over the past many decades? Left alone, the average Nigerian would pursue his daily life even under provocation by the state.
Then came three years ago or slightly longer when Lagos residents and visitors watched by the day the gradual lengthening of the queue of oil tanker and trailers as well as other heavy vehicles from Apapa ports to almost anywhere on the mainland. Over that period of three years, the queue of trailers stretched from Apapa wharf to beyond Anthony bus stop on Ikorodu Road and beyond Ijora and Iddo, all from Apapa ports, to the entire length of Eko bridge and Alaka bye-pass to Apapa. The situation was that of total lawlessness with the long-term damage to the solidity of these bridges and even the roads, the latter of which, at the best of times, hardly lasts three years without potholes. Other stretches of highways like Oshodi-Apapa and Apapa to Mile Two had hardly been motorable for the past 10 years.
This sad aspect of the story had been a particularly irritating loss for journalists of the generation of Sam Amuka-Pemu, publisher of the Vanguard Group of newspapers. Till about a decade ago, the man was so generous and hospitable enough to be hosting us every Thursday free of charge for eating and drinking, with vivid memories of New Can Can restaurant at Custom Street, Lagos, during the good days at Daily Times.
Damage done by oil tankers and trailers to Lagos bridges, Apapa ports and adjoining supposed expressways are bad enough to alarm any country. More daring throughout the siege of oil tankers were the criminal activities of the strange company of tanker drivers, trailer drivers, security staff at Apapa ports, policemen and other security staff extorting charges from tanker drivers not only to ensure their safety all the way from Apapa ports to any of the routes lining the queue of the tankers and trailers. For more than three years, the situation was helpless, at least for Lagos State government.
It was only necessary for one of the tankers to explode and the long stretch from Apapa to Anthony on Ikorodu Road would have been ablaze. President Muhammadu Buhari must have visited Lagos not less than four times for one official engagement or another. Either by accident or design, he was kept away from all the oil tanker routes in Lagos. On newspapers, radio and television, Lagos residents moaned at the daily risk of their lives virtually without hope of relief. Then suddenly, the miracle happened. Either at the prompting of Buhari or on his own initiative, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo directed that the menace of oil tankers and trailers from Apapa ports to anywhere on the queue must be removed forthwith. There was even confusion on the deadline. Within two days or the built-in extension to two weeks?
Whichever, most Lagos residents never believed the directive could work. Heavy vehicles on queue from Apapa to Anthony, from Apapa to Oshodi and from Apapa to Ijora and Iddo for the past three years to be cleared within a fortnight? And truly, the deadline of a fortnight to clear the mess fell through and an extra fortnight was given to remove the tankers. To wherever the tankers and trailers were removed, the deadline of one month proved adequate to restore sanity on federal highways and bridges in Lagos. Consequently, whatever happened to governance in Lagos/Nigeria for three years. To be sure, Nigeria, in the sense that Lagos, on account of its previous status as Federal Capital Territory, is the only city to which Federal Government owes special obligation.
The fact established by the clearance of oil tankers and trailers from Lagos highways and bridges after three years of near anarchy is that Nigeria and Nigerians are governable. All we demand is mere obligation for good governance. Maintain order, provide roads, water, schools fit for human beings, light and basic necessities of life. Nigerias are not interested in joining the space race.
There is this total abandon with which Lagos is being treated. Yet, we delude ourselves with bogus unity and oneness. Otherwise, is Nigeria the only country in the world to create a new capital? United States, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Turkey, etc, at a time in their history, each created a new capital but never even impliedly disowned or abandoned the old capital. When Nigeria created a new capital, structures in Lagos should have been preserved for Federal Government as reminder of everlasting bond. Why, for example, was the State House, Marina, Lagos, released to Lagos State government to complete Federal Government disownership of Lagos, a former federal capital? Such monuments, in other countries, which created new capitals, are preserved for everlasting ownership by the central government. Indeed, in Nigeria’s case, to strengthen existing artificial and tenuous bond, the State House, Marina, should have been preserved for everlasting Federal Government ownership to serve as official country home for Nigerian Presidents.
In the United States, such an official country home for the President is Camp David, to where the President retreats from White House, Washington, for some quiet in dealing with serious state matters if and when necessary. In Britain, such official country home is the Chequers to where the Prime Minister retreats and even entertains the cabinet or foreign guests as occasions demand.
Here in Nigeria, we don’t have such sense of belonging. In the same vein, Federal Government ceded a supposed National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, to the state government. Hence, anytime Nigeria hosted African Games or World Cup (Under 21) football competition, Nigeria always faced embarrassment of poor state of stadia, ill-maintained (if at all) by state government. Is it too much for Federal Government to own two stadia to be well-maintained for use at anytime of international games? Yet, Nigeria is always there bidding to host international games for which it is ill-prepared. That was the national shame last time inflicted on the country by FIFA officials who had come to inspect Nigeria’s preparedness to host Under 21 World Cup competition only to discover that existing facilities in Nigeria were below standard and, therefore, postponed opening of the competition.
Frustration of governance is at every level in Nigeria and Nigerians live with the consequent prevailing filth. It is irresistible feeling nostalgic about the colonial era, even up to early years of Independence. In certain areas, we have surely regressed to primitive age. From Ajah in Lagos to the northernmost part of Kano, it is waste dump sites all the way. No place is spared – federal highways, overhead bridges, underpass as at Maryland, Ikeja, on the way to Ojota, save yourself the trouble of heading straight to Ketu. Branch to the bridge for Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Look right or left, anywhere is dump site in small or big heaps.
Expressway? Nigeria must have the most filthy in Africa, if not the world. Sagamu to Ibadan, to Ogbomoso, to Ilorin, to Jebba, to Abuja, to Kaduna and to Kano. No part of the highway is free from dump sites. Such is the environmental degradation in Nigeria that our continued survival is a miracle. Move from the West to North-East through South-East and Middle Belt. The story is the same about waste dump sites and uncollected garbage. Federal, state and all the 774 local governments carry the blame.
Federal Government? What are the functions of Federal Ministry of Environment? That there are no unlawful dump sites on the streets of Abuja, the Federal Capital? Don’t even mention Lagos, Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode, Abeokuta, Dutse, Minna, Maiduguri, Aba, Kano, Oweri, Kaduna, Ilesha, Ife, Daura, Katsina, Enugu, anywhere in Nigeria. Port Harcourt, Calabar, Benin, Onitsha, Sokoto, Gwandu? There is no organised official collection of waste.
With that total nationwide abandon as the bitter truth on waste collection in the country, Nigerians, walking, cycling, riding in vehicles private and public as well as on motorcycles, dump waste anywhere and at anytime. Even from private homes, wastes packed in bins are dumped anywhere or streets, streams, canals, alleys, on highways and bridges.
Yet, there are local governments with full responsibility for environmental sanitation, supervised by state governments. Monthly sanitation exercise? That, in fact, is a major source of dumping waste on streets every month end, extending to Government Reserved Areas (GRA) anywhere in the country. It is all due to ignorance on the purpose of governance.
Today’s expectation on governance are not anywhere higher if not lower than under the colonialists. But our environment all over Nigeria was ever ideal and clean. The white man so organised us by providing improvised local furnace in and around but not more than three or four-kilometre radius of residences. Domestic waste was collected by all concerned to be dumped at nearby open furnaces to be burnt to ashes. Health inspectors (surprisingly, fellow Nigerians) moved around and inspected houses to ensure clean environment. Never was any waste dumped in public places, let alone highways, streets or bridges. In the same Nigeria?
We demand from Nigerian governments – federal, state and local governments – the minimum trust that we are governable. They should just try and provide us modest services.