recently highlighted some of the improvements that have taken place in Enugu under the leadership of Governor Sullivan Chime. There is no doubt that Enugu is now totally transformed from a quiet, sleepy coal city, to a modern day metropolis. Even most of Mr. Chime's political enemies seem to agree on one thing…that the man has performed exceptionally well as far as the city of Enugu is concerned. The roads have mostly been done and well lit, the handful of traffic lights are working, the trash is collected regularly, in my neighborhood the trash compactors frequent their dump site more than once each day. Even the lawn along the roads are regularly mowed and manicured, and the bus stops kept clean. I am a proud resident, and a supporter of this unprecedented transformation. Lately, however, the city has moved into a new phase, one of beautification, and that is where the problem lies..
Each time I arrive at Lagos, I am reminded of yet something new in the ongoing transformation program of Governor Fashola. Lagos has gone beyond road construction; the state has turned many abandoned land areas into parks, playgrounds, and recreational areas, trees and flowers are now planted everywhere, all adding to the beauty of the environment. I have written elsewhere that Fashola and Chime are among my top three governors in Nigeria. But there is a dark side to Fashola's greatness. His successes in beautifying Lagos came largely at the back of the poor, the down and out, and the destitute. The sad truth is that in spite of Fashola's popularity across the country, he remains deeply unpopular among the bottom 10% of Lagosians. In his eagerness to make everywhere clean and sparkling, Fashola has destroyed many small businesses, evicted many petty traders, and even rounded up and deported the very unfortunate, all without proper programs of compensation, resettlement, or rehabilitation. .
Recently Enugu embarked on the beautification phase of their transformation program. A lot of areas have now been cleared, places like ESBS bus stop at Independence Layout, and dozens of other areas across the city have been cleared to make way for beautiful gardens that will undoubtedly add to the beauty of the environment. It's all good, and I am encouraged by what I see. Sadly though, as in Lagos, those now bearing the brunt of this beautification exercise are the poorest among us. Hundreds of petty traders, perhaps thousands, have now been evicted, uprooted, arrested, and in many cases manhandled, their goods destroyed, in order to make way for this upcoming development. None of these petty traders can go to court because for the most part they are all squatting illegally on government lands or public space. I therefore cannot address the issue of legal rights in this article..
For the record, not all the evicted petty traders are squatters. Recently about fifty stores surrounding St. Bridges in Asata were demolished and most of these traders are now left in the cold. Some of these traders have been legal tenants of the church, which have been collecting rent from all the occupants for many years. It turned out that the church built these stores illegally, encroaching on the road, and stopping only at the tip of the gutter. I suspect that the state must have given long notices to the church, but it did not stop them from collecting yearly renewal rents from many of these tenants, some as recent as two months ago. Yet they are all now homeless as far as their businesses go. These were mostly petty traders and handy people, from tailors, to beauticians, to repairman, to other retailers. Despite the small sizes of their businesses many of these people are sole providers for their families, and some are even putting one or two children through higher institutions with their meager income..
I have talked to many of these people, and they seem to have one thing in common as they mourn their losses; they simply don't have the money to go somewhere and pay for a year's rent for a store. The sort of money that we often take for granted is totally out of reach for most of these people. Even those local businesses that have any projecting canopy that encroached on the street lines have seen their store fronts demolished. I certainly don't want to see Enugu turn into Onitsha or Nnewi, where every other house has a store front selling motor parts or building materials. But I also believe that in trying to achieve their beautification objective the government can mitigate the anguish of these hapless petty traders. Agu dikwa nobodo! I have seen this anguish up close, the hopelessness and the blank stare that goes with it, and often the tears even as they blink repeatedly to stop them from flowing. And these are grown men and women with families..
I believe that like Lagos, Enugu state has a moral obligation to rehabilitate many of these people. For the most part, a hundred million naira fund set aside could take care of all these headaches. Many of these people operate a business worth less than fifty thousand naira in all. It's the daily profits of between a thousand and three thousand naira that keep them going, and in many instances provide all that is needed for a family of five, or in other cases augment the spouse's salary to create a financially healthy household. Lagos state has failed in their moral obligation to the poor. I can see Chime and the government of Enugu state drifting inexorably towards the same outcome. But it does not have to be this way. The state, for example, could liaise with the local government to provide stores at New Haven Market, New Market, and all other markets with empty stalls, and grant these people one year free rent to give them the opportunity to stabilize in the new environment. It's just a suggestion, but I reckon that the state can even come up with many other ways to support these poor displaced traders..
It is equally possible that the governor is not even aware of the large number of poor people who are increasingly becoming victims to his agenda to beautify the city. It is not unusual for subordinates to aggressively carry out their delegated responsibilities above and beyond that anticipated by the boss. Only in the last year, my gateman had been arrested twice by ESWAMA people yet none has ever bothered to enter the house and ask if I have paid the environmental bills they sent. I'm not alone in this, many of my neighbors have suffered the same injustice, and as often the case it is the lonely malam at the gate that is picked up. All they care for is that you come and bail your gateman, and I'm sure none of that money goes into the state coffers, but it has not stopped these hapless gatemen across Enugu from being picked up on a regular basis. The bottom line is that we are all cheering for this development, transformation, and now beautification. But I equally believe that this government has a moral obligation to the poorest among us, and to do everything possible to mitigate the loss that most are bound to suffer as a consequence of this transformation..