By Muyiwa Adetiba
Travelling back in time is a habit that has been with me for ages. It is becoming a habit that seems to be recurring with more frequency these days.
It doesn’t take much to trigger it off; old school music, antique furniture, a photograph which dates from a particular era, a conversation with people of like minds or an old movie and my mind takes a nostalgic trip down the memory lane.
Sometimes, the way it now makes me remember the way it used to be. Like the unfortunate incident at Chrisland School which reminded me of the limits of my own sexual imagination at the tender age of ten. The sad occurrence was for me, a reflection of the modern, digital times with all their openness and permissiveness.
I recently went to an estate along the Lekki-Epe road. The traffic was horrendous, but the estate was beautiful. It could have been situated anywhere along the coastal lines of the world. The traffic – and the estate – made my mind go back to the days when we used to go to Epe to buy fresh fish and how it was fun to wait while some of it was roasted. We used to time ourselves from Federal Palace or 1004 Estate because any kind of traffic would have ended there. The housing explosion in this part of Lagos is simply mind-boggling. Everywhere I turned, there were gated estates.
Equally mind-boggling was the sheer press of people at intersections and around improvised market areas. People seemed to be oozing out from every hole; every orifice. This reminded me of the press of ants around a drop of honey. It didn’t seem so long ago when this whole place was desolate – and peaceful. It didn’t seem too long ago when Lagos Island ended at the Bar Beach end on one side and at the Keffi end on the other. And the only bridge connecting them to the mainland was Carter Bridge. I had also met people in the course of my work who told me of the times when Lagos Island was more or less Isale Eko.
Lagos has always been the commercial capital of Nigeria. Its population has always been underplayed, maybe for political reasons. But its economic contribution can never be successfully underplayed. It is perhaps a tribute to the resilience of the residents and its successive governors that it still maintains such a vital economic hold on the country long after it seized to be the political capital. Lagos is accommodating and largely non- discriminatory.
Those who say Lagos is a no man’s land are probably paying more tribute to the accommodating nature of the indigenes than they realise. I met many of the State’s past governors as a practising journalist and I am tempted to rate them since not all performed creditably. While I will leave the rating till another time, I will however mention those who I think made a difference during their tenure. They are to my mind, Brigadier Mobolaji Johnson, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, Colonel Mudashiru, Brigadier Buba Marwa, Senator Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola.
While the first two laid the template of what has, over the years, given Lagos its edge, the last two are the architects of what Lagos is today. I had a personal relationship with the first two and although they had very different personalities, – one was humorous and urbane, the other was somewhat dour and reticent – they had quite a few things in common. The obvious one is their immense contribution to Lagos. Another was their attachment and commitment to Lagos.
It is also on record that neither was accused of corruptly enriching himself. Neither was any whiff of scandal found around either – in fact, they were singled out among their peers for being above board. They lived and died with their heads held high and will always be remembered for the numerous landmarks they set and the frontiers they opened.
However, when we talk about Lagos in the last two decades, we are not only talking about the Tinubu era, we are actually referring to Tinubu’s large imprimatur. So firm is his stranglehold on Lagos that he fancied himself as the alter-ego of Lagos. It was once rumoured that whenever it was time to retire for the night, he would yawn and say ‘Lagos is tired. Lagos wants to sleep’. Those who understand the way Lagos works will say it was not a boastful statement. He has his hands on the pulse of Lagos. That includes the good, the bad and the ugly. That also includes flashpoints.
There is a method, a pattern, to the seeming chaos of Lagos and according to informed commentaries, nobody knows it more than Tinubu. And for the greater part of these two decades, very few significant investments took place without his knowledge, and some would say approval. Has Tinubu therefore been good to Lagos? My answer would not be in the negative despite what some ‘nay sayers’ think.
Lagos under the two governors preceding Tinubu was a dirty Lagos. It was a poor, financially dependent Lagos. The roads had deteriorated and neither the State nor the Federal Governments had the will to do anything about it. While Lagos fared better under Marwa, it was Tinubu followed by his successor Fashola, that did ‘something’ about the roads. More than that, Tinubu gave vitality and direction to the State. He raised the economic profile of the State. He used talents that were not necessarily indigenous to give the State a cosmopolitan hue.
Could he have achieved more? I believe so. Lagos is said to be the fifth-largest economy in Africa. It is obvious the resources of the State are not properly managed. But the most glaring lapse is in the ease of doing business. Rather than nurture, Lagos bleeds businesses – from the local government upwards. It’s heart-rending to see how small businesses are multi-taxed in Lagos.
For a government that relies so much on IGR, it is doing pretty little to sustain or attract new businesses. It is also said that the fifth largest economy in Africa cannot boast of any decent form of mass transportation. The current gridlock on the Lekki-Epe expressway is a pointer to its shortsightedness in planning for the future.
My belief is that Lagos in the last couple of decades has under-achieved given its potential. Its handlers seem interested only in revenue collection and not in the prudent management of whatever is collected. A different approach could have witnessed growth in start-up companies and ultimately, it’s economy. Politically, it has been strait-jacketed. Loyalists are rewarded. Family members are rewarded.
There has been very little room for plurality. These put Tinubu’s credentials as a Democrat to question. Lagos in the last twenty years with its many advantages is not an exultant or a proud example of what Nigeria can become were Tinubu to be made President in 2023 -either as a manager of resources or as a team player.