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Ambode, Inclusiveness And The Contradictions Of A Megacity




THE title of Ambode’s inaugural speech was Everyone Counts. He declared that he would “run an open government of inclusion that will not leave anyone behind” and he supported his words with action by creating an Office of Civic Engagement to concretise his philosophy of inclusiveness. Diversity and inclusiveness (or lack of it) has been in the public square in Lagos but by an unfortunate twist of fate, it became a critical issue in the last election. It started with the deportation of some foreign nationals of Anambra State origin in 2013 and was accentuated by the efforts of some people that so loved Ambode that everything, including meddlesomeness and curses, were not spared to ensure that he became the Gomina of Lagos.

One of the contradictions of mega-Lagos is its ‘ancient and modern’ tendency. There is nothing wrong with the fact that Lagos, an aspiring megacity, has a visible traditional institution. After all, England, a mega-country, also has a strong traditional institution with constitutional roles but that is where the similarity ends. When the paramount ruler of Lagos declared that Ambode must be the next Governor of Lagos and that those who did not vote for him would end up in the lagoon, he not only went beyond his brief as an impartial father of all, he also raised the issue of diversity and inclusiveness to the front burner. In fact, the eve of gubernatorial election in Lagos was dominated by messages like: we are together; Lagos is for all; nobody will die! Anyway, that was the ‘background to the study’ to Ambode’s May 29th declaration. Remember that there were also elections in the UK recently and that the Queen never anointed or appointed any candidate neither did she consign anybody to River Thames for voting four Nigerians into the British parliament. But long before the ascendance of Ambode and the Oba’s parapraxis, Lagos, as a wannabe megacity, has always been characterized by several contradictions that sharpened its various strands of diversity and dulled its inclusiveness quotient.

A megacity is one with a population of more than 10m and the regular challenges of these megacities are slums, homelessness, traffic, urban sprawl, environmental degradation and gentrification – the most pervasive and less-acknowledged challenge in Lagos. Gentrification is a process that displaces poor residents of an area and pushes them further away from civilization because of increasing rents and costs of living. While a megacity is characterized by density, structure and energy, in developing countries, it means chances, freedom and amenities. It is not necessarily perfect or ideal ‘center of excellence’ devoid of any dirt, traffic, shacks or the underprivileged; it is not a city that defines citizenship on the bases of economic net-worth, determines a person’s value based on what he/she can produce, or regards the elderly, disabled and vulnerable as problems. It is an ordinary city habited by ordinary people but which face extraordinary challenges that require special efforts. Like extra-large cities, Lagos is an agglomeration of different peoples, a diversity-friendly domain. Esty, et al., (1995) define diversity as acknowledging, understanding, accepting, valuing, and celebrating differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, spiritual practice. Inclusiveness is a partner in progress with diversity: how to facilitate and build upon diversity for optimal outcomes. That is why the global agenda now is inclusive growth – a broad pattern of growth that affects all stakeholders, across all sectors leading to rapid poverty reduction; in effect, growth for everybody, not for the few! (See: Ik Muo, Lagos Megacity & Inclusive Development, BusinessDay, August 13, 2013)

The fact remains that one of the sharpest contradictions of Mega-Lagos is this indigene-settler dichotomy. In mega cities, people come, do their bit, operate as law-abiding citizens and port whenever the grass looks greener elsewhere. We recall that even after Ambode’s election, aliens in Lagos were schooled on how to be grateful to their hosts who have showered them with all benefits-including omonile terrorism and certified area-boy operations. That was the genesis of the last deportation saga and that is why LATSMA officials start their queer brand of justice enforcement by ascertaining one’s tribe and tongue! Such things are unheard of in a city desirous of being admitted into the mega club and where everybody counts or ought to count. There are other visible contradictions like the gap between Lagos Island, Lagos Mainland and others classified as Lagos no-land, all of which ought to be equally developed with the collective resources of the state. At times, the basis of the differential becomes hard to understand or subject to primordial interpretations as in the case of two sides of Fashola Bridge. One side is Okota, which has one visible signature: very horrible roads and very dirty-muddy cars. On the other side is Itire axis, where every single road, including those in areas yet to be habited, is tarred!

But there are other invisible contradictions within the aspiring megacity. It appears that there are deliberate concerted efforts to obliterate the poor who apparently deface the mega environment. To clean the environment and make it decent for the rich and the international community, the commercial and residential shacks of the poor are demolished, together with their goods and at times even, with the people! Just watch how the environmental tax-force, alias KAI, deal with the street traders and their wares! The okada policy was specifically against the poor because it excluded the big motorcycles used by the big boys. Never mind that in a non-mega Benin Republic, special routes are designed for okadas and everybody moves at his own pace. The Lagos transport policy and law banned Okada (except those licensed by policemen, check out Okota-Ikotun route), restricted road transport workers and their likes to the garages, while LASTMA officials set traps for unsuspecting drivers and VIO officials are contending with FRCS over the inspection and tithing of drivers’ licenses.

However, the Lagos Government has conveniently ignored the area boys who inflict maximum terror on drivers and passengers across the land. On May 22, 2015, I was helpless as the bus I boarded was invaded and cannibalised in the presence of policemen, yellow-fever, LASTMA officials, soldiers and probably some plainclothes security men because the driver did not respond quickly to ‘owo mi da’! The four crooks removed different parts of the vehicle, just like that and that was in Oshodi; yes, that same renewed Oshodi. Maybe that is the LASG idea of inclusiveness: providing for criminals and those who belong to various political structures the fertile ground to operate! That is probably what Chidi Amuta referred to as enabling environment for extortion rings to find what to extort, enclave economies where the state is divided out into private domains. (A graveyard of most things; Thisday, November 18, 2010, back page)

I have also had cause to examine some of the commendable developmental efforts of the past administration and I advised that governance must be done in such a way that citizens are not further pauperized, intimidated and alienated by oppressive government policy implementation and inhuman attitudes and predispositions of some of the officials [Ik Muo; Lagos: The Social Costs of Transformation, BusinessDay, November 30, 2009). The need for people to be spared the agonies inflicted by official thugs and unofficial thugs as well as the avoidable pains of development by adding a human face to such issues are still germane, going forward.

The most high rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever he chooses (Daniel 4:32). The tribunal proceedings, not withstanding, Ambode is the CEO of Lagos Inc today. His campaign postures depicted him as one with a smiling face (maybe he will stop smiling when he realises the magnitude of the challenges ahead!) and I hope he does the serious business of governing Lagos in a user-friendly way. His vote for inclusiveness is quite commendable so that as our people would say, the kite and the eagle are able to perch on the same tree. If Lagos really wants to ‘megarise’, inclusiveness must be taken seriously and hopefully, it will take care of the numerous contradictions- visible and invisible- as discussed above.

Muo is of the Department of Business Administration, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye

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