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Recasting Lagos in Parisian elegance

BY TOCHUKWU EZUKANMA
AS  we rode from Ikoyi towards Third Mainland Bridge, a friend remarked that this area looks like Washington, DC. Yes, it looks like the area outside of Washington, DC, leading into Crystal City, Virginia. But then, it is all about looks. Nigerians are obsessed with copying Americans and Europeans. Abuja, I was told, was planned to look like Washington, DC. And the Nigerian constitution is modeled after the constitution of the United States of America.

Usually, we are interested in the superficialities, and not the substance, of American and European cultures and societies. That is why that despite our love for Western trappings, we evade Western values, standards and ideals.

Chukwuma Soludo, in the most lamentable antics of a Governor of the Central Bank attempted, through series of comical and unenforceable laws, to get the naira in circulation in Nigeria looking as clean and crisp as the euro and the dollar. His focus was on making the outward appearance of the naira, and not its economic viability, comparable to the euro and the dollar.

We take pride in our American-styled constitution. Paradoxically, the Nigerian political class disregards the discipline, refinement, commitment and devotion to service of the American politicians and public servants. On her visit to Nigeria, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the United States Secretary of State, incurred the wrath of the Nigerian power elite because she asked them to go beyond just having a constitution that looks American, and also aspire to American democratic ideals. To love Western look and abhor Western standards is self-defeating escapism.

The endeavour by the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fashola, to recast Lagos into something of Parisian elegance is another dimension of this Nigerian penchant for Western facades. Its purpose is to get Lagos looking like an American or European city.

But, just as keeping the naira as clean, in appearance, as the euro will not give it the financial credibility of the euro and our American-styled constitution has not bestowed us American-class democracy, the beautification of Lagos in line with European and American urban aesthetics will not transform Lagos into a modern city.

The fundamental transformation of a city must be preceded by a shift in the attitude, of both government officials and inhabitants of the city, towards the law.  A modern city can only be predicated on the rule of law. Lawlessness will invariably engender anarchy and barbarism.

A city marked by anarchy and barbarism will naturally be ruled by confusion and the survival of the fittest. So, to convert Lagos into a modern city must involve the embracing of attitudinal attributes of modernity (respect for the law, discipline, civility and sense of fairness) by the people of Lagos.

A city is not just an agglomeration of buildings and streets cobbled together by architectural, engineering and urban planning standards. A city is a cultural, economic, political and social expression. It captures, encapsulates and expresses the inter-play of cultural, economic, social, and even moral and ethical  forces that shaped a given people, nation and country.

Not surprisingly, Western European cities have a similar character, a character that is strikingly different from (for example) a Chinese city. Chinese cities are as different from European cities as the Chinese culture, society and concept of beauty are different from the European’s.

Cities in the former French and British colonies of West Africa are structured differently because the colonial policies of the two former colonial powers, in the region, were different. So, a city reflects a nation’s history, style, tradition and mindset.

Paris is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. One of the reasons for this is that the French are one of the most culturally advanced people in the world; they are renowned for their style and elegance. And as the city is a composite product of the totality of a people’s way of life, the French tradition of style, elegance and exquisiteness found expression in their cities, especially their capital city.

If the cultural sophistication of the French produced the most beautiful and livable city in the world, what kind of city did the cultural crudity of the Nigerian society produce? Inevitably, it produced Lagos, the most disorderly and unlivable city in the world.

Until there is a change in the Lagosian way of life, Lagos will remain what it is, a city shaped, defined and circumscribed by lawlessness, corruption, vulgarity aggressiveness, violence, etc.  Without a dramatic change in both the mindset and attitude of the governing and the governed of the city, the Fashola’s government urban renewal policy will have no profound impact on the city.

It will fail to significantly improve its functionality and quality of life. It will end up tinkering with the façade, but leaving the city the same chaotic and unnerving place.

Not surprisingly, despite the very impressive face-lift his administration has given to some parts of Lagos, Lagos remains a nerve-wreckingly wild city. For example, her traffic is bewilderingly crazy because the characteristic Nigerian corruption and disdain for the law continue to define the city.

Due to official corruption, a driving test is not required to obtain a driver’s license in Lagos State. The driver’s license is for sell and can readily be bought from government officials. So, a prospective driver automatically gets a driver’s license, just by bribing the licensing officials.

Lamentably, therefore, many drivers on Lagos roads cannot drive and are totally ignorant of traffic rules. And due to the ingrained societal lawlessness, those who can drive and know the traffic rules pay no heed to them. The police and other government agents have to remain at traffic lights to enforce drivers’ obedience to them.

When they are not there, motorists rarely obey the traffic lights. Some almost totally ignore them. The supposedly good drivers consider them something of a yield sign. They yield to the vehicular traffic in the lanes that have the green light, and then drive through.

Only the eccentric few stop at red lights and wait till the light turns green. Usually, the motorists behind them hoot in exasperation, at what they consider eccentricism, if not lunacy – that is- respecting traffic laws without coercion or threat of punishment by the police or other government agents.

The dangerous and pesky, yet necessary and seemingly, indispensible element of Lagos traffic is the Okada (motorcycle taxis). The Okada riders are reckless, aggressive and totally oblivious of traffic rules and the rights of other road users. Undoubtedly, the public good demands the training, testing and licensing of Okada riders.

But with the corruption that has eaten so deeply in the entire Nigerian civil service, to license Okada riders will inevitably be tantamount to creating an added opportunity for the bureaucrats at the Lagos State licensing office and Ministry of Transportation to further enrich themselves.

They will simply accept money from the Okada riders in lieu of the training, testing and licenses, invariably, defeating the whole exercise and its noble objectives.

There are many factors militating against the transformation of Lagos into a modern and enlightened mega city. A detailed analysis of these factors is beyond the scope of this writing.

However, it is impossible to build a modern, civil, orderly and functional city in a country that exalts not the law, morality and justice, but might. Might is right and its mirror-image, the end justifies the means are scornful of morality, ethics, justice and the rule of law.

They provide the philosophical foundation for lawlessness, corruption, aggressiveness, civic irresponsibility, etc. A city suffused with these vices will remain a disorganized, wild, and even barbaric city irrespective of the face-lift given to it.

Tochukwu  Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria

maciln18@yahoo.com

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