Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Commercial motorcyclists popularly known as ‘Okada riders’ are back on Lagos roads and I know why. They are back without number plates, without headlamps, without helmets, without scruples, without regard for rules. Their glances are furtive, their ways menacing, they dart carelessly freely and stop abruptly. There is something clandestine about their re-emergence and they betray a suspicion that they will be around on the prohibited routes only for a short while.
The regulatory agencies that a couple of months ago harassed, hounded and hunted Okada riders now conveniently ignore their ubiquitous presence. The Lagos state government had, while insisting that Okada riders could not ply certain roads, reminded us that they were only enforcing provisions of the traffic codes. Governor Fashola, reputed for strict enforcement of laws, who had personally led the fight against okada riders, is strangely uninterested.
It’s so strange that it’s nearly comical. Lagos State Government’s Okada volte-face should be inexplicable, but coming after Ekiti, one can fathom the indifference. The return of Okadas to Lagos highways is a tragedy and many Lagosians are not amused. A government that has led the way in restoration of order has capitulated so shamefacedly and now blames the police for the return of Okada riders. But we know better.
Thousands had their Okadas destroyed some months ago and many of them watch in disbelief as okada riders ply freely the prohibited routes. This absurdity is a child of the strange thing that happened in Ekiti a couple of months ago.
Stomach infrastructure or stomach politics as it as come to be known has always been part of the political strategy of all our politicians and political parties past and present. In the face of crippling poverty and shackling ignorance it is understandable why many Nigerians seek instant gratifications from politicians in exchange for their votes. In a land where government policies are ephemeral and promises by politicians are loose and cheap.
Governor Fayose’s victory in Ekiti elevated the discourse of stomach politics to a new high ground.
Ekiti was a lesson to all politicians. Ekiti presented many lessons. Good and bad lessons. That the wishes of the people count and that the ordinary people cannot be taken for granted. That the people may have prioritized stomach infrastructure above physical infrastructure, pecuniary benefit over tangible enduring benefits, is a political tragedy of grave implications. Yet this tragedy was in a sense inevitable.
In Lagos, a different but very deceitful tactic was employed. The government has chosen to continue to insist that Okadas are banned on the highways. Cheap sophistry. They blame the police. Laughable. They cannot explain why Okadas they had taken off the highways for many months have now besieged Lagos highways and why they have refused to act. At least in Edo, Oshiomole was candid enough to announce a reversal of the decision on teachers. Candour of the impotent. The APC in Lagos, in an effort to exonerate the government and the party, insinuated that the PDP promised the okada riders a reprieve if the PDP won elections in the state. But because it is the party of progressives, the party of change, the APC spokesman did not go far enough, did not tell truth, did not say that APC has then decided to give the Okada riders instant reprieve in exchange for their votes. Shameless and shortsighted opportunism. It is painful that arguably the best governors in Nigeria cannot stand up for what is right even if that would cost them many votes. Hints of demagoguery. some say you need to win elections before you can bring real change.
That is in a sense true but it is also true the change sought includes that about how elections should be fought and won
At all times and against all odds, a leader worth his salt must articulate and serve the overall best interest of his people. And when he does he should stand his ground and trust history to vindicate him. That popular saying – if you cannot beat them you join them- is self defeating in this circumstance because success is not , and cannot be, just about short term personal benefits. Fashola and Oshiomole have great reputations, people have faith in them and it is not an exaggeration to say that they represent some of our best hopes. They can ill afford to ‘join them’ and the society would be better served by their refusal to join.
All who are worried about the decay of moral and political values in our country must revolt against the triumph or ascendancy of exploitative stomach infrastructure and chicanery against enduringly beneficial physical infrastructure and social development and establishment of virtues
Dr Ugoji Egbujo. MBBS, LLB, LLm ( Medical Doctor and Criminologist)