Everywhere in Lagos, amidst lack of infrastructural maintenance, posh suburbs are springing up by the day. The real estate market in Nigeria and Lagos in particular, is booming.
Some don’t even allow the erratic nature of PHCN to deter them; these estates boast of independent power generation. Many of these so-called estates are actually just a street off the main road, gated off with very obvious restrictions to commercial motor bikes (Okada) and other means of public transportation. Even taxis are forbidden from entering most of them.
Many of these new estates, particularly in Lekki and its environs, are surrounded by huge slums. The hawkers and sellers that peddle their wares on the sides of the main road or “express” as they are popularly called, live close by or in these slums.
These growing slums and a growing rate of unemployment are a constant reminder of the need for us to open our eyes to the increasing levels of poverty around us and the mounting insecurity we’re all faced with.
Many who live in these ‘’special streets” live in high-walled buildings, often laced with electric or dangerously spiked fences.
The question is:“Do our high walls protect us from the criminal intent of the many who are deprived and desperate? If these high walls have protected us so far, is there any guarantee that they’ll continue to protect us from harm?
The average Nigerian is poor,surviving on well below a dollar a day. Except he is lifted out of poverty, the chances are that he’ll regenerate poverty down his lineage. The desperate poor who have given up on society’s ability to create economic opportunities take laws into their hands.
They break down our high walls in many ways: They make us reinforce our homes till some of them look like lion cages and they make us pay dearly for armed security guards in our homes and offices;they break into our homes; accost us armed at ATMs or kidnap kith and kin for ransom; they make us unable to allow our children play freely on the streets like we did growing up and they make us buy cars with tinted windows and drive overly self-conscious. They break into our freedom to be and steal our ability to trust and be trusted.
So, why are we more passionate about erecting high walls than tackling the unfortunate factors that are making them our way of life? What are we doing individually and collectively to help reduce the growing levels of poverty we see all around us? Do we see poverty as a collective responsibility to be reduced by little sacrifices and sustainable societal contributions or do we see it as a government problem and continue to rely on our high walls?
For those of us who own or manage businesses, what can we do to keep growing our businesses and their potential to employ more people, even at low or no skill levels?
What can we do at the individual and community levels to help millions to own and manage their own small businesses that can in turn employ two or three more persons? How can our spiritual centres help the poor in their congregation to create wealth? Can our spiritual centres get more involved in large scale farming, bakery, manufacturing, etc, and employ millions of the poor idling in our streets?
We love our children and want the best for them but many of us do not consider Nigeria “the best”. So we send them to school in other countries – the U.K, the U.S, and Canada. However, as their systems become saturated with Nigerian students and professionals (it is said 70 per cent of Blacks in the UK are Nigerian), these countries are beginning to push back with visa bonds and other stringent immigration restrictions. So, many of our children currently studying abroad will have no choice but to return home as some are already doing. They would return to the high walls and the vulnerabilities we have been too delusional to face and tackle.
We have reached that level in the socio-political climate of Nigeria where we need to look around us and really “give back” to the community.
Nigerians are a giving people and there’s no doubt that the extended family system has checked the tendency for the majority of the very poor to take on extreme measures to alleviate their poverty. However, we tend to prefer giving handouts as a quick fix rather than empowering people to find a sustainable means of earning an income.
The latter is where communal effort has a significant role to play. Most companies only practice Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility, CSER, as a public relations stunt or when there is something in it for them.
The ‘sustainability’ component of CSR is often neglected and with the poverty levels in Nigeria, this is to our detriment. CSR is one good way to break down high walls. High walls have shifted from signifying ‘privacy’ as they did decades ago to ‘fear’.
There is no place like home. The more we can make our society less dependent on high walls, the better for us all. The ball is in our court; if we do not develop and make Nigeria better, no one else will.
Mr KEN ETETE, the CEO, Century Energy Group, wrote from Lagos