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EIU’s verdict on Lagos

Those who follow the news are not likely to miss that perverse verdict on Lagos as a city. For those who did not however – a rehash may be necessary. So, here goes.

The latest deposition from the Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) is of the perspective that, Lagos is the second most unlivable city in the world.

As far as negatives go, this is quite something. As I sit in far-away Toronto, I have on a reflective basis turned myself into a student of the comparative enterprise. Thus, as I move around the City of Toronto, I cannot but compare it to my home-base – Lagos city. This is an exercise which comes naturally to the traveller.

Now and then, almost on an automatic basis – you pose questions to yourself. Is this the way it is back home? Are we like this back home?

Invariably, the differences, similarities and contrasts begin to pop up. So when, I came across the news item, something was triggered in me. However, when I raised this particular issue with my colleagues at our regular Wednesday editorial meeting; one of them offered a counter to the effect that: which parameters did the EIU use as the basis for its damning verdict on Lagos as a city?

Naturally, this set me thinking and indeed, I was about to fall into the trap of assuming that the average Caucasian mind has never in any case thought well about us. But I quickly recovered through another self-questioning exercise. This actually centred on: What is the lived reality that is experienced in Lagos by the average Lagosian? This is not a funny narrative, if one seeks to think it through.

Let us begin with the basics, i.e. low hanging fruits which continue to remain elusive in Lagos. Take water for instance. And let me offer the contention or better still confession that I live in what can be called a privileged cocoon in Lagos – precisely, the University of Lagos campus.

To this extent, water is not a problem. Outside the confines of the campus however, it is a different story. There is largely no water, as provided on the public platform. Name it: almost everywhere in Lagos, provisions for water have largely been made on the private platform; from the slums of Mushin to the seemly privileged places like Magodo and the rest of them, each has to provide for itself as regards this facility.

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The potential consequences are horrendous. They are so bad that, we are exposed and having to contend with water-borne diseases. This clearly says something about the quality or non-quality of the lives of Lagosians.

Apart from this, I always shudder too, at another consequence which can easily be spawned by the non-provision of this facility. The specific reference here is that since every house has sunk a borehole or a water-well, what are the consequences for the water level? And to probe further, can we say that we are immune from features like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions?

Our friends/colleagues in the earth sciences i.e. geologists and geophysicists will have a lot to say about this. One can only hope here, that success will ultimately outweigh failure. But like the Boy Scout’s motto has stated: We must “Be prepared”. Prepare for what? May this day never come. After all, we are a praying nation.

Still on comparison as regards this facility – I stumbled on a document here: a letter which was sent to my immediate hosts in Toronto. Among other things, the letter spoke to the fact that, a change was imminent about the billing cycle as regards the provision of water, that water bills will now be issued on a bimonthly basis and that the former system of billing three times a year will be discarded.

On the face of it, this is really mundane information. But for someone from a base like Lagos, I know that, this relational dynamic is virtually absent in a place like Lagos. It got me thinking again, about the reason for this contrast. The letter in question did not really emanate from the city, rather it was issued from a local government.

Therefore what this seems to suggest is that in Nigeria, restructuring as a policy and governance option, should not be restricted to the federal level. Just as the stock wisdom is that, the federal system is loaded, very much the same thing can be said for the system at the state level.

The dismal situation sketched above can also be seen in the area of power. Virtually every house-hold must of necessity generate its own power. At night on a normal day in Lagos, and in virtually every neighbourhood, the sing-song or better still gruesome noises of the contraptions called generators assail our sensibilities. One can imagine what this means for the health of Lagosians.

The story in this other critical area of our life borders on the sad. At a point in time, I necessarily had to interact with some Lagosians who live in one of the under-served areas of the city. They lacked prepaid meters – somehow, I was able to talk to the right folks and I got these useful instruments for them.

Again they needed a transformer, I also came to their rescue after, they had been duped by one of those characters in the city. As we managed to put those facilities in place, what struck me was that, how about people who lack access to this privileged portal of authority. Chances are that, they will remain where they are, in the backwaters of darkness such that the EIU’s rating of Lagos would have been more than justified.

Again, one only needs to look at the state of the roads to appreciate what the EIU is saying. Some roads have been under construction for the past 20 years. The Lagos-Badagry Expressway is a case in point. For those who are familiar with that international highway, as soon as you cross to the other side – the Benin Republic – you are on to smooth and motorable roads – yet in terms of endowment, Nigeria and the Republic of Benin are not in the same league – one is a micro-state, while Nigeria is a hegemonic power, with regional if static aspirations.

What is being said here can be seen virtually across the state – particularly the inner roads. Recently, I had cause to visit a friend who lives in the inner recesses of the Akoka area. It was a shock to discover that all the roads had virtually collapsed – from Community Road – to Obayan Street. So, just what is happening? Are we in Somalia or Afghanistan – I had to rub my eyes to do a reality check.

Again, since many of the roads are that bad, moving around Lagos becomes something of a herculean task. On this note, the average Lagosian as he moves around has to engage in mental checks with a view to ensuring he is not locked up in one of the various gridlocks which abound the city.

The one in Apapa is phenomenal. It is even the stuff of a legend, something iconic – in the negative sense. At a particular point in time, it was featured in the Economist magazine of London as an instance of a dystopia which continues to define our existence. The point is, and this has been stated several times, a city like Lagos, with its natural endowments cannot depend solely on the roads to move goods and persons.

Lagos is endowed with so much water that it is possible to talk meaningfully about an ocean/water economy which should relieve the pressure on the roads. From Ikorodu to Lagos Island for instance, one does not have to wade through Mile-12 and Ikorodu Road; water transport will go a long way to solve the problem. And this is just one example since any part of Lagos can be reached from one point to the other, courtesy of water – in a place that we rightly and proudly call – the state of Aquatic Splendour.

The relevant question here is: can we live up to the billing- and in the process, put the assessors of the EIU to shame? But this is not really about ‘the other’. The point is the need to put facilities in place, such that Lagos will be a livable city. It is something of an everyday miracle that people manage to move around the city without a mass transit facility like a train.

Luckily, such a facility appears to be in the works as demonstrated in the proposed train services to Okokomako and Alagbado. A bit of nostalgia cannot but kick in here.

During the administration of Lateef Jakande, that peerless apostle of peerless governance, a mass-transit scheme was conceived and readied for a take-off but the then status-quo powers, decided to abort the dream. One cannot but wonder here about the kind of profound changes that this would have made to the people of Lagos. But it is not too late.

One can therefore only hope that this time around, Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Lagos, will not drop the ball as was done by his predecessors. If Sanwo Olu should succeed in this particular endeavour, History will remember him in a way that will be comparable to LKJ.

And talking of Sanwo-Olu, the current governor, it is a mistake to directly appeal to him alone on this critical issue of making Lagos a livable city. No. This is because we are in a democracy and democracy is not a spectator sport. Every inch of Lagos is being represented by someone – councillor, chairman of local government, House of Assembly member, House of Representative member, senators and of course Sanwo-Olu himself.

What, if any is the relationship between these professed representatives and the inhabitants of Lagos? Have we imposed on them in any meaningful way as regards these afore-mentioned issues? Until we the citizens are able to immerse ourselves in this civic rigour, chances are that a rating like the EIU’s will continue to hall-mark and define Lagos and other cities across Nigeria.

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