By Chioma Gabriel
A long time ago, in the days when General Sani Abacha was Head of State and I was cutting my teeth as a journalist, one of the crazy things I did was tracing personalities I wanted to interview to the airports. Once I got a hunch that you would have granted the interview but would be traveling to Enugu, Kaduna or Abuja, I would wait at the airport and if necessary, board a plane to where I would catch up with the personality.
Such an adventure once took me to Kaduna where I had planned to conduct several interviews. That was how I boarded a plane to Kaduna on a day General Abacha was visiting Kaduna. But when my flight got to the destination, we got the signal that no other plane should land until the visiting Head of State left the town. So, our plane hovered for several minutes to the point that agitation set in and many of the passengers started sweating. I couldn’t remember the particular announcement that brought about the tension that engulfed the passengers until another announcement that calmed our nerves came. Due to a peculiar circumstance, our plane was permitted to land. But by then, the condition of many passengers was not something to write home about.
In Lagos, during the regime of former President Jonathan when he visited Lagos, the then opposition Action Congress of Nigeria had warned the then president against blocking roads whenever he was coming to Lagos. The ACN had urged Jonathan to postpone his visit in order not to create a traffic chaos. The party wrote a letter to the Lagos State governor asking him to prevail on the president to reschedule his visit, demanding that if his visit must go on, he should use another means of transportation such as the helicopter so that the whole town was not locked up. The ACN had lamented that anytime Jonathan was coming to Lagos, the roads were closed and traffic congestion was at its highest. The whole city would be shut down for the entire day. That was in 2013.
Fast-forward to 2018 when ACN then is now part of All Progressives Congress. Should such happen under a better dispensation of Buhari?
If Nigerians love their leaders and the leaders love them, why do we have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death for the visiting leader to have ease?
When the news broke that President Buhari was coming to Lagos, I had only one wish: that he be driven from the airport to Oshodi and then to Apapa ports. I had always wondered the possibility of Buhari sneaking into Lagos and being driven around in a bus to certain places without noise, pomp, and pageantry. I would have loved him to experience the real Lagos , not the one pancaked by security agents who cleared the roads and made movement easy. Why won’t Nigerian leaders try to be in the shoes of the ordinary people once in a while for them to understand what the people often complain about? How would the president understand the problem of Lagos traffic if security agents had gone ahead to clear the roads? How would he understand what is happening around the Apapa Ports if he was not driven to the ports to see things himself? The essence of democracy which is the government of the people is to feel what the people are feeling. President Buhari would not understand it if he was told what Nigerians living in Lagos passed tthrough the day he visited and if he didn’t understand it, he would not appreciate it.
The Lagos State Government’s plan was for nobody to be on the road at all except those who sowed asebi and lined up the streets to welcome the president but were reportedly chased away by security operatives. In other words, they didn’t want the ordinary Nigerian to welcome the president and I wondered why. Shouldn’t a president by loved and appreciated by the people he is ruling? Why should the people be chased away or forced to stay away from the president who should embrace them during his visit?
I had expected to see President Buhari hugging two or more street kids and promising to give them a better life. I would have loved to hear him promise to turn the face of Lagos which generates the highest revenue for Nigeria? I would have loved him to pass through the dirty streets of Oshodi, Mushin and other dirt-laden streets to see that dirt has become the signature face of Lagos, instead of carefully avoiding these places and passing through the airport to the Bus terminal which is a stone-throw away from the airport. So why then did the workers have to suffer when they were not going to catch a glimpse of the president and he was not allowed to see the suffering Lagos workers heading for their workplaces and other destinations after the state government blocked some major roads over his visit?
The president needed to have seen the Lagos commuters on a one-million-man march due to an absence of vehicles. I hope he saw those traveling out of the country trekking with their luggage to the airport?
Was the president even aware of the eye-service by the police who manned the blocked roads?
Did the president know that his visit to Lagos actually ruined a lot of things for Lagosians? By closing the roads, businesses were closed, funds were lost, tickets wasted, flight missed, plans trashed. Is President Buhari aware his visit brought more suffering, economic loss, and pains, as the lockdown cost the state a major part of its $250 million daily GDP? In a bid to please our president, a city was displeased.
Isn’t blocking all access roads to the three airport terminals a sign of a dysfunctional government? Shouldn’t commissioning a bus terminal be a project of a local government chairman?
If you ask, shutting down the state could not be justified. Shutting down a commercial city like Lagos is quite unreasonable and unnecessary. How many cities in the world are shut down due to a presidential visit?
What happened to the mega city dream? Nobody closes down a mega city. If they didn’t want the president to experience the real Lagos, they should have flown him in a helicopter. Imagine closing down New York or London or even Sydney. Nigeria should stop this farce and get down to serious work.
Regardless of the huge economic loss and inconvenience to citizens, the president was holed into the safety of the colloquium hall where he was surrounded by praise singers and away from the people whose vote should count in the 2019 elections.
For this cause, I want to suggest that the president considers visiting Lagos again for the sake of the people on the streets. During that visit, he should pass through the streets and see the faces of Lagosians so they too will see his face. It is only such a visit will that add value to the lives of the residents.
Vrai ou faux(True or false?)