FEATURE ARTICLE

Babs AjayiSunday, March 12, 2006
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Babsajayi@yahoo.com
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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NOTES FROM TRAVEL TO LAGOS:
A SHAMEFUL AND DIPLORABLE MIASMA (2)


t took two hours and twelve minutes to get to the Federal Palace Hotel on Victoria Island from Akoka. There was frustration everywhere; people were angry, cursing and helpless. My legs hurt, the heat doubled and the sun sank its teeth in our flesh. I had to call PDG Babs Ajayi who invited me to be his guest at the meeting that I was in the traffic. Navigating through the roads and streets of Lagos can be torture and pain. Going through this everyday is, for me, just unimaginable, yet people go through it and are going through it. This is a very easy way to reduce life expectancy. No sane person should subject himself or herself to this torture if he or she can help it and avoid it. It is nothing but death by installment, yet everyone in Lagos hopes and awaits his/her day of big breakthrough when he will hit the street of Lagos in an elegant and exotic car, when people can pronounce him/her as having arrived. Dreamers litter every ghetto and street corner of Lagos. They dream the unimaginable, the miraculous that will 'catapult' them to a new height. As we arrive at the Federal Palace Hotel and I joined the group of philanthropic souls of the Rotary Club of Lagos, I was relieved and excited to sing some of the hilarious songs from the Rotary Song Book.

Switch off your GSM
That we may concentrate
We aint got time
We have a lot to do
In this our gathering
Switch off your mobile phones,
My Rotary friend.

I did not realize that Rotarians sing so much. I have attended their meetings a few times in the past but singing did not feature prominently like it did this time. Soon after the GSM song came the Ding Dong Come and Share with Us:

Ding Dong Come and Share with Us,
Our fellowship in Rotary,
Ding Dong Come and Share with Us,
The thrill, the joy of service
R-O-T-A-R-Y
Our profit lies in service

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I thought deeply about this particular song and felt this group truly knew the importance of service and the joy that come with it; for those who appreciate serving others and derive great joy form so doing. As if to confirm their dedication to the service of the people and indeed those in great need, the Rotary Club of Lagos President reported back to the assembly the Club's donation of 10 wheel chairs to some patience of the National Orthopedic Hospital, Igbobi, Lagos. The donation was done in conjunction with the Dowen College. The chairs were presented to beneficiaries who were in the greatest need. The presentation was done on February 14, 2006, valentine day to show love and affection for those in need. A special guest at the meeting was Mrs Helen Ovbiagele, the Woman Editor of Vanguard Newspaper and her husband who was inducted into the Club that afternoon. Mrs Ovbiagele has been Woman Editor of Vanguard for 23 years. The trip the Federal Palace Hotel turned out to be a memorable one. But as we return towards the mainland and got back into the dreaded go-slow and hold-ups, I knew I had to prepare myself for a tough time on Lagos roads, I needed to learn to set three hours aside for every trip I wish to embark on in and around Lagos. As we meander our way through Adeola Odeku and wriggle through the bridge and on to Alfred Rewane Road we began to notice the campaign posters of the Vice President, Atiku Abubakar along Osborne Road in Ikoyi. The ATIKU 2007 posters were sponsored by a group that calls itself the Frontier Movement. Could it be true that Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is dreaming of ruling Nigeria? It is not only that Atiku has nothing to offer the nation but more that he is not morally fit and ethically unsuitable for the post. He is a rich man with very doubtful sources of income. He is one of those who cannot openly declare their assets and properly account for the source(s) of their wealth. From his days in the Nigerian Customs until now, Atiku Abubakar cannot point to any meaningful contribution and service he has made to the nation and its people. One of the key problems of the nation (and there are a few like him), Atiku must jettison his freak dream and quietly retreat to his house loaded with dollars and exotic homes overseas otherwise he is in for a rude awakening and tough time.

Mobile phones are now so commonplace and owned by everyone in Lagos. From Shoemakers to tailors and vulcanizers, mobile phones are ringing all over the place, and the ring tones are truly Nigerian and funny. When I heard one of these tones somewhere in Surulere I was dumbfounded. This particular one went: Ah de ring o! Ah de ring o! Ah de ring o! Ah de ring o! Pick me up before I cut. Help! Help! Another one rang out like this: Se o wa nig be fone e ni? Se o wa nig be fone e ni? Ololufe gbe fone e o.

Surulere has a major fascination for me because I spent my early adulthood there and still have friends around there. One evening I decided to visit some friends and family in Surulere. I was prepared for the hold-up and go-slow. We fuelled the car and nearly N2, 000 went down just like that. We had spent close to this same figure just a few days back. Fueling your car can be a huge task in Lagos except you have a cash dropping tree in your back yard or you have a job that pays in the seven digits. We had to travel through the Yaba College of Technology compound to avoid the vehicular build up on the main road leading to Ojuelegba. Darkness was gradually exerting its dominance and its hold remained unchallenged as Mr. Makanju and his Power Holdback Nigeria Limited (PHNL) held back the supply of electricity as usual. The people of Ikorodu town matched on the PHNL office in their area to demand that something be done to safe them from the endless outages. NEPA (I prefer that name since the body is still the same anyway) has become a major problem and no solution appear to be visible yet. Mr. Makanju has tried and failed, so why not allow someone else to take over while the man take a rest or return to the West African Portland Cement (WAPCO)?

The day Yaba College of Technology inducted its fellows at the Eko Hotel was another day I ventured into the Lagos Island. The usual hold-up, go-slow tradition made the journey took more time than normal. Is there any plan to fix this problem once and for all and make business and labour well utilized? How much can a man who suffered and navigated between Lekki on Victoria Island and his office in Ikeja put into his work? Will such a man have the gusto and ability to eat at night whenever he arrives at home? Will he arrive home before his children go to bed and be able to look at their home work and live a normal life? Living a normal life is almost impossible in Lagos. That is not to say that it is not possible to live a normal life in Abuja or Port Harcourt, but what of electricity and water. Every where I went (and a few places where tap water used to be a thing of pride), the tap water is no longer there. I felt very unhappy observing the pains people go through, the hardship many are faced with, the endless wait at bus stops and the rickety nature of commercial buses on our roads. When I looked at the buses plying Lagos roads, I just did not wish to imagine the shape and look of buses plying Ibadan roads, or any other inner city for that matter.

Ahmadu Bello Way was very chaotic and as we drive by the bar beach fear grips me just looking at how close the ocean has come. The ocean is inching in on the road and it is probably a matter of time before the road is eaten up and swallowed by the ocean. This is not a new problem. The ocean has been steadily and defiantly moving in on the Lagos Island even as more land is reclaimed at the other side of the Island, in Ije, Osborne and it's environ by the rich and powerful. Who will tame the ocean surge and when? Billions of naira has been spent, but there is nothing to show for it; it has become another bottomless pit that should attract the attention of the EFCC. Towards Eko Hotel the go-slow assumed hold-up proportion. Time was already after nine at night and Victoria Island is still submerged in traffic congestion! The loss to the nation and the economy of Lagos State cannot be fathomed. This is only possible in Nigeria and it is nothing but bad governance, bad and irresponsible leadership and some terrible follower-ship. Despite the fact that the roads are blocked some top government officials who are heading for Eko Hotel to attend one or more of the functions taking place that evening. Yaba College of Technology, Texaco, British Airways, and Mobil were some of the organizations hosting one event or the other at the Eko Hotel that evening. Everyone wanted to gain access and park inside the hotel, but there were no more parking spaces. The pleas of the gatemen at the hotel fell on deaf ears. As one sport utility vehicle (SUV) after another approach the hotel gates, the gatemen had to contend with a very important personality (VIP) who as usual will insist on being allowed to enter. Some even insisted they have to be dropped off right inside the hotel. I guess their feet must not touch the ground. Such vehicle who took VIPs inside to drop them never returned; they all parked along the narrow strip of the hotel's drive-in and blocked the way. The same people who insisted on being allowed to bring their cars in or to be taken by their drivers into the hotel will likely not try the misdemeanor they displayed at the Eko Hotel any where in the West. It is only in Nigeria that some assume big man mentality and insist that they are superior to others.

The roads in Surulere like any other part of Lagos have not improved rather they are full of pot holes and a few eaten away and giving way to the pressure from stagnant water. There are quite a number of roads in Lagos with a conspicuous billboard erected by the Lagos State Government. The billboards announced a "World Bank Assisted Continuous Road Improvement Programme" in conjunction with the Lagos State Government. Only the billboards can testify to any improvement whatsoever. Most of the roads being continuously improved deserve a good layer of tar if they are to be truly motorable. Imagine Onike Road near the University of Lagos second gate under continous improvement and yet the gutters were blocked, there are pot-holes on the road and the billboard is the only improvement in aesthetics around the area. Mr. Bola Tinubu is deceiving himself. Just imagine the catchy, consulting phrase 'continuous improvement' without any visible improvement or anything continuous about it. It is a shame and a deceit, and only Bola Tinubu is fooled by it. Most of the streets around the University of Lagos down to Bariga and Onitiri Street and the long stretch that snake right in front of Queens College, Yaba and towards Old Ebute-Meta are all in bad shape, requiring widening gutters, removal of bumps, and a coat of tar, not the sprinkling of tar. The roads around Alhaji Masha, Adelabu, Lawanson, Western Avenue and Ojuri/Nuru Oniwo are so bad and have been like that for almost a decade. I feel Mr. Nuhu Aliyu and his EFCC team should review the so-called World Bank Assisted Continuous Road Improvement Programme of Lagos State.

As we drive through Oyingbo in Ebute Metta and heading towards Apapa Road, we encountered a group of Police Anti-Robbery Squad team very close to the Oyingbo Police Station. Dressed in dirty, filthy vest worn over blacker than black trousers and various choice of slippers, sandals and boots, this men will frighten anyone at night. They were pointing guns in different directions and stood on a part of the road, which denied cars a lane on a road that is made up of just two lanes. The intersection between Oyingbo and Apapa Road still had commercial bus drivers blocking every space, picking passengers right on the road, ignoring designated parking lot. The impression I came off with was that a driver can do anything around Oyingbo/Apapa Road Garage cum Bus stop as long as he pay up and keep the Police team happy.

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Notes from travel to Lagos: A shameful and diplorable Miasma (3)

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