By Ugoji Egbujo
Lagos is breaking. It’s being crushed by the weight of a silent mass influx of the young , hungry and jobless.
The country has few cities. Many of them are troubled. Lagos has a mythical reputation. They say it’s the city where magic can happen. Abuja is too organized. Lagos is where the transition from oblivion to heaven isn’t just only possible but can happen in a jiffy. But that’s not all. Lagos is perhaps the place where there is no shame. People are therefore getting fed up and leaving their ponds for the big river. And a welcoming Lagos is taking them in without any plan about how to mother them.
In Lagos you can worship whatever you choose and anyhow. Population of commercial church entrepreneurs is one of the fastest growing communities. They are everywhere. They go by all sorts of names. Lagos is their fertile ground. Lagos is home of poverty and misery but Lagos is a fountain of optimism. All kinds of pastors are pouring in from all corners of the country. They say Lagos pastors are blessed.
There are the ‘maiguards’ . At the gates , in small kiosks, selling groceries and manning gates are the legion from Niger Republic. They are quick to tell you they are not Hausa. That’s their way of saying they are trustworthy- that they are not the average Nigeria. You employ one, two weeks after he has five brothers assisting him. Once in a while immigration officers will come like hawks and swoop. It’s a shakedown. They will settle the officials and return to their duties.
Two years after, the man you employed would travel home. He would say he would be back in two weeks. He would point to one of his brothers who would act in his absence. He may come back in three years. Or he may never come back. His brother would take over the gate and the shop. The other man has gone to find a child or children in his wife or wives in Niger. When he gets home he would tell his story of Lagos , and his cousins will pack their bags and sit amongst bags of beans and come down at Alaba rago in Lagos.
There are the Okada men – commercial motorcyclists. They constitute the fastest growing population in Lagos. They are remarkable for nuisance. Abuja, Kano ,Kaduna, Port harcourt, Owerri have all prohibited commercial motorcyclists operating with regular motorcycles .
Lagos once tried to stop them, destroyed thousands of motorcycles and then relaxed. As more towns prohibit Okadas and chase away Okada men, they run to Lagos. Lagos swells with them. And swells with their utter disregard for decorum and laws. There is something about the Okada men in Lagos, some defiance, that suggests they will sit in Lagos even when the prohibition comes.
Okada riding in Lagos has no regard for traffic lights and rules. It has no regard for flowers and kerbs. It has no regards for civility. An okada man hits a car. Okadamen congregate around the car to intimidate and beat up its occupants. The Okada menace has reduced the quality of life in many parts of Lagos. But a Lagos that is riddled with bad roads , pot holes and traffic snarls cannot live without Okadas now. Regulated Uber type Okada operation is coming. But what will Lagos do with a million jobless ex Okada riders? Most of the O
Okadamen in Lagos are homeless . They live on the streets. But they are not alone. It’s a complex social situation.
There are the trucks and their drivers. Lagos is now suffocating, filled with trucks . The nation has other ports but they are lifeless. Cargoes come through Lagos. Lagos lacks the capacity to handle growing sea traffic. Trucks spend weeks sitting and crawling on streets and highways to reach the ports. Truck drivers and motor boys now live in the trucks on the streets. The roads are now their toilets and their refuse bins.
With so many people living on the streets, Lagos is the home of open defecation.
Lagos is dying
There are the street traders. Lagos has tried to check street trading. But it has become a social culture. A traffic jam builds. In 10 minutes, the roads are jammed by young men and women selling all sorts. The sheer scale of the market that develops in minutes tells of the growing size of the jobless population. And because everybody is streaming into Lagos and because traffic jams abound in Lagos, more flock to Lagos to join in the trading done without the need to rent a shop.
Then there is legion of middlemen, commission agents, hustlers , ‘touts’. They are called agberos in motor parks. They have become part of the Lagos culture. You can pass by the ports. They occupy spaces left by a system that thrives on corruption. They are there at NAHCO. Young and old milling around , offering to smoothen things made rough and slow by deliberate indolence and tardiness of obsolete systems and corrupt officials. They are there at the immigration and motor licensing offices. They are everywhere. They can be at the wharf today and at an NNPC depot tomorrow. Then somewhere in the lands ministry at Alausa the next week.
House Boys and House Girls
Then there are the house girls and house boys. The trade operates on the borderline of human trafficking. Lagos is busy. Parents work far from home. And the distance is made more complicated by endemic devilish traffic snarls. The homes need house girls. The south south and south east were the preferred sources. But the republic of Benin has joined the competition. A growing population of mainly young girls sent to Lagos through agents to run homes for busy parents for a small salary which they may share with the agents.
Lagos is swelling. Lagos needs a raft of new regulations. And a determination to enforce existing rules. Lagos must plan new transportation, housing and refuse disposal systems. Water UBERS must come now. But Lagos must find benign means of getting everybody into its tax net. That’s the only way to make other states sit up. That’s the only way to cope with the influx. The man who blows the flute must also enjoy the opportunity to blow his nose.
May Lagos not burst.