By Muyiwa Adetiba
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article captioned ‘This beauty that makes me sad’. It was centred around my experience on a cruise where I touched on the beauty of nature and our inability as a country to harness and use nature for the common good. It was an article that led to comments on twits, blogs and emails. A friend and reader described it as ‘your soliloquy on the sea’. It was an apt description; why didn’t I think of it?
This is not a part two of the article. It is, if anything, ‘matters arising’ to borrow an often abused cliché. If I try to avoid two, three part articles, it is because I have been cured of that early in my profession and I have to thank the editors when I was a young reporter for it. One particular Editor drummed a few points into my young head that have been very difficult to forget. The first was that ‘there is no article that cannot be cut or condensed. But you must do it in a way that is sensitive not only to the theme but also the style of the writer’. The second was ‘it is an indulgence on your part and a burden to the reader to do a two or three part article particularly if the serial will be at least a week or more apart.
Do you think they have nothing else to think about but your article?’ he concluded. (I have tried to avoid serial articles since then unless the occasion sorely warrants it. This is my answer to readers who have asked why I have not exploited some particular themes further by doing them in two or three parts.)
So this, at best, is a follow-up, prompted mainly by an email from a close friend and avid reader of my column. He lives in the UK (the wonders of the internet) and has a home in Florida. Part of his mail read: ‘If you drove in Miami, you might have ended the article even more depressed. You cannot miss the similarities that strike you and tell you what Lagos Island could be/could have been’. End of quote.
Yes, like I said in my article, my stay in Miami was a very brief one. I wish it was longer, but it was mainly from airport to seaport and back to airport with a short interlude which influenced the article. However, in my travels over the years, I have indeed come across cities with similarities to Nigerian cities in weather and topography if nothing else, that have used the beauty and power of nature admirably.
I start with our neighbour, Monrovia, Liberia before the war, was a beautiful place; neat and serene. It was also able to use the little that nature has bestowed on it to make money for its country through tourism. The war, and the recent Ebola epidemic must have done incalculable harm to the beauty and serenity of the city. Another beauty that has led into sadness.
Beirut reminded me of Jos or Calabar with its friendly weather and those little houses on the hills. It was a beautiful city that served both the eastern and western cultures well until religion — and man—consigned beautiful Beirut to distant memories.
Cairo reminded me very much of Kano. But see what that city achieved through tourism. Hot weather or not, it was able to preserve — and present— its culture in a way that made the world to accept it. The Arab Spring’ has unfortunately turned a thriving city into a ghost town. (Those asking for a revolution in our country should be careful what they ask for in case they get it).
I went to Las Palmas in the 70s with Sambo, the then Assistant Editor –In- chief of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and we joked when we went to their famous beaches that we had better beaches in Nigeria. That may be true, but the difference is that they organised theirs and made money— lots of it— from them while we abused ours. Some parts of Las Palmas will always remind you of some areas in Lagos.
Salisbury— now Harare— was before Mugabe, one of the most beautiful cities I ever went to. The planning that went into the marriage of houses, trees, flowers and wide, well tarred roads, showed what man could do if they worked with God to harness and cultivate the beauty of nature. But I guess it is another beauty that now makes one sad because it did not last. Its change of name probably heralded its change in fortune.
But what reminds me so much of Lagos and what should have/ could have been is a town called Pataya in Thailand. Pataya has so much in common with Badagry that it is uncanny. It is just a few kilometres from Bangkog the Nation’s capital just as Badagry is from Lagos.
Short enough distance to allow them feed off their more financially endowed neighbours, yet long enough to remove both towns from the industrial pollutions of their capital cities. But what Pataya has been turned into in terms of tourism, of night life, of different types of water sports, of shopping, of beach enhancement, will make you wonder why a country blessed with rich natural endowments like Nigeria will refuse to do anything but pay lip service to them.
No, my friend, I did not have the time to drive round Miami so —thank God— I did not find out the many similarities you talked about. But there are many cities in the world that are similar to some Nigerian cities especially Lagos, Calabar, Kano and Jos. You see what those cities have done with what nature has given them and you can’t but be a little sad at what we have done with ours.