The Passing Scene

June 20, 2009

*seven-three years younger *the soft under-belly *the young shall grow

By Bisi Lawrence
It is said that the elderly people should not involve themselves in the celebration of festivals with the vigour of the young. His Eminence, Anthony Cardinal Okogie is yet to read that script.

At 73, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lagos still seems as frisky as a terrier. And a good thing too.

The landscape could do with a little more brightness from the pro-active participation in the welfare of the total man by those in holy orders. Their contributions to the spiritual welfare are almost overpowering, and nobody could really complain about that, at least in quantity if not in quality.

So many “ministries” are caught in the groove of “prosperity” that the gospel of the naira and kobo once entirely dominated our religious horizon. Perhaps it is because the Roman Catholic priesthood is shorn of that pre-occupation that the Cardinal, as well as other clerics of the same order, has found the space to turn around to the commonplace considerations of life … and that to the benefit of the common people.

It takes a demonstrated interest of personages in his distinguished position to blow the whistle on the excesses of officialdom, to which our society is no stranger. The imperious manner in which the agents of government discharge their functions frequently misrepresents the intentions and objective of the authorities.

The common man usually bears the brunt of these outrageous acts, but he has no voice loud enough to make his protests heard. He suffers in silence, in a bad-tempered silence, which unfortunately negates the good feeling that should welcome the efforts of government to provide necessary amenities required by the people.

But the intervention of people like the Cardinal is a like a reference point to which the people can latch on. The agents of the long axe and huge mallets, who break down shanties and living houses with the same abandon, would wish to turn the position of Archbishop Okogie round to a confrontational stance with the Lagos State government.

Of course, it is nothing of the sort. The high cleric, as a man with a personal commitment to the social welfare of the people around him, was only reacting with the same sincerity in the case of the take-over of schools by the government years ago. He spoke against it; he resisted it; and all without bitterness, or rancour, or ungentle humour.

He has no apologies to make on this matter of the Lagos State Land Use charges either. He just said it like it is.

He is, in fact, totally in support of the government’s directives about the chanellisation exercise going on in some parts of the city. He only sensitised the elements of his parishes and institutions to protect themselves with the regulations as pronounced by the authorities.

To assist them further, he quoted the provisions. And that, you will agree, is not in any way superfluous since a pitifully low level of its details has marked the awareness of the entire project. Here are the provisions, as recounted by Cardinal Okogie, for the space required by the government — you too have probably not been very clear about it.

“For land near ocean or sea, 150 metres; for land near the lagoon, 50 metres; for land near creeks or rivers, 15 metres; and for land near gorge, canal or drainage, 10 metres.”
That is a distinctive service to even the community at large. And it warms the cockles of my heart.

In fact, the Okogie story is one from which I derive a personal joy. Not many people believed that he would become a priest, but he himself never believed in anything else.

He has never been engaged in any other work in his life, going straight into the seminary while those who thought they knew him gaped in surprise, and he who knew himself better continued to laugh.

But somehow, I always felt that he was capable of becoming a priest because he seemed to know where to draw the line even though he identified with the high-spirited activities that abounded in the environment of his youth around the Brazilian Quarters in Lagos.

That, in itself, should assure the Fashola administration that nobody, and nothing, can set the Cardinal on a confrontational route against any effort to make Lagos better. No one can love Lagos more than someone reared in the Brazilian Quarters.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lagos has always been comfortable with the truth, offering himself in open combat against any deviation from the way it is. At the advanced age of 73, he gets even better – or worse, depending on which side of the combat you are.

Yes, I used to know Anthony Cardinal Okogie when we were young. Don’t forget, I am a Brazilian Quarters boy myself.

I know, for instance, that he seldom sleeps earlier than two o’clock in the morning; that he frequently cooks his breakfast himself; that he celebrates the Mass every morning in Yoruba at the Holy Cross Cathedral; that he has only one decent meal a day, that is the evening meal in which he is joined by the other priests; that the only relaxation he permits himself is to be driven round Lagos Island sometimes in the evening.

The Cardinal spends the day-time receiving visitors and all night doing his administrative work. No wonder he does not seem to have put on as much as five pounds in weight in the past fifty years.

I have not seen him to talk to in years, but my children, in their own special way, seem to fill in for me admirably. He once told me that he would be well content if he could make it up to seventy before joining the saints above.

Well, he has beaten that mark and seems as sprightly as ever. Here is praying the heavenly choir will still wait for quite sometime before they welcome him home.

Happy birthday, Your Eminence.

It is a popular adage that “you can’t fight City Hall!”. The power invested in constituted authority is truly awesome. Where it is ill used, the effect on the people can be devastating. Like we all saw in the time of Sani Abacha. And we can see the effects too around Lagos, when it is well used.

The governance as it is apparent in Lagos State is one of fast-paced development, which may be too rapid in some aspects; widespread development, which may be overwhelming in some areas; and an innovative development of a type rather sophisticated in concept beyond the immediate grasp of a part of the citizenry. It glitters on the surface but is still fully packed with that awesome power. The people never forget that.

In fact, they are not given any chance to forget it when those who execute government’s directives routinely flex their muscles as agents of the authorities who can “do and undo”. That is the soft underbelly of the Lagos drama. A lot of wrong-doing has been going on in the laudable exercise of “re-branding” the municipality of Lagos.

In anticipation of such malfeasance the public is urged to report such activities, but to whom?

To the very people who have almost made an institution of their corrupt ways?
Imagine uprooting petty traders from a stall they have been using for upwards of a decade with only three days notice, what could be more heartless than that?

Of course, the city must be improved, but must it be at the cost of human existence? What is wrong in giving a notice of at least twenty-one days?

Again, in the case of the widening of canals, for instance, would you believe that bulldozers are turned freely on private property even before the area affected has been surveyed and properly determined?

Buildings are demolished, precious trees are uprooted, and that is that, for who dares “fight City Hall?”

The Fashola administration needs to look back. The recent arrest of some crooks that were operating a racket under the disguise of being official agents ought to make the authorities listen and take a closer look at what its agents are doing with the name and reputation of the government.

Not many people will come out openly to report those who are known as government agents, but there is a growing fund of resentment against their high-handed activities which, coupled with the poor creation of awareness among the people, may some day make the people openly confront even the dread “City Hall.”

You must have heard of Lam Adesina, the former Governor of Oyo State. You may soon hear more about Dapo, his son.

He is among the young elements of the society who feel that the “old brigade” in the political arena have been re-cycled enough, and should give over. It is amazing that this notion seems to be snowballing into a patent philosophy – in fact, alarming, I should say.

These young people, some of them seem still wet behind the ears, say they are ready to take over because young people are emerging into leadership in governance all over the world. They depose that there are even cases here in Nigeria, where young people have demonstrated that they can perform as well as, or even better than the older generation.

Their point, I should say, is well taken, but there are several young people in power already. There are also members of the older generation, especially in the legislative houses. That mixture can only be good for the nation.

In any case, government belongs to the experienced. There is hardly a place in the world where the head of government is in his or her thirties. There are American Senators who have been returned to office four times.

The same goes for British parliamentarians. Israel is having a second taste of the leadership she once rejected at the polls. No, Dapo, this one is through a learning process.

Time out.