By Muyiwa Adetiba
There was still light when I headed for Lagos Island from Surulere. I knew it was the kind of false brightness that deceives one into thinking the day is not too far gone (“oorun tan omode s’oko” as the Yoruba call it) but I was desperately hoping I would have escaped the notorious Apongbon area before the clouds turned dark. Unfortunately, traffic was heavy.
I was trying my best not to curse the google map which had suggested the route. As darkness creeped in, I started watching everybody on foot – man or woman, trader or traveler – who dared move near me with apprehension.
Then rain started. In drizzles first then it became heavy. I didn’t know whether it would be an advantage or a disadvantage, a curse or a blessing, because I didn’t know if hoodlums would use the rain as a cover the same way they use darkness as a cover. To my surprise and relief, the wares of traders that had cluttered the sidewalk disappeared as if they were never there.
Hawkers had thinned out. People started walking briskly. Many broke into trots and then to short runs as the rain became very heavy. Then my eyes caught a young man on the sidewalk who stood immobile in the rain like a statue. As the waters cascaded on him and the wind lashed his body, all he did was to wipe his face; nothing else.
I thought he must be mentally challenged. But even mad men run from rains I reasoned. Then came an improbable thought that maybe he didn’t have a better alternative in sight; maybe he didn’t have anywhere to run to. Suppose the street was his home and the damaged bridge his shelter? A disturbing thought on the seamy side of Lagos that we all, especially our leaders, turn our sights away from.For the government, and maybe for many of us, the first thing that comes to mind at the onset of the raining season is the state of the roads and the traffic inconvenience the flooded roads will cause.
Many parts of Lagos are below sea-level and the rains seasonally make us pay for our lack of adequate planning. The rich also cry as the areas they like to inhabit are the worst hit. We still remember the pictures of parts of Victoria Island that got so bad during a particularly heavy down pour, that people needed canoes to pass through.
Banana Island ranks high among the most expensive real estates in the country. It is a beautiful experience most times to move around the Island and admire architectural master pieces. Its however, a sight that turns ugly when the rains pour heavily and some roads turn to rivers. I once attended a club meeting in an estate at the Ikoyi part of Lagos Island.
The host took the precaution of advising us to use an SUV to navigate what he called ‘river ilubirin’. I almost paid for ignoring the advice. In any case, I didn’t have an SUV. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the ‘river’. There were young men stripped to their shorts at both ends of the river, who were almost willing cars to break down so they could make some quick money. Properties in that axis cost a pretty penny.
And I am sure the Land Use charges will not be cheap. Yet, you can’t but feel helpless if you live in these places when the rains come as they must every year. It’s a nasty enough experience if you live in a high-rise apartment and a major internal pipe bursts because the apartment could be flooded in the short time it would take before the burst pipe would be located let alone repaired. Another not so funny experience is when you forget to shut a window or a sliding door before going out on a gusty, rainy day.
The havoc caused by both experiences on rugs and delicate furniture can take months if not more to fix. Yet these are the experiences of the priviledged ones. The elite few who live on raised buildings and sleep under solid, rain-proof shelters. The affluent who can rug their beautifully tiled homes. The bulk of Lagosians are not so lucky. They are under siege every time it rains.
The heavier the rain, the more devastating the siege. It is not unusual for some to take their things out for safe keeping during the rainy season and bring them back at the end of the season. It is not unusual for them to cover their belongings with nylon even in their rooms.
It is not unusual to sleep with raincoats on. It is not unusual to stay up all night baling water out of their rooms – to nowhere really as the compounds are flooded as well. It is not unusual to have a family huddle in the only corner that is reasonably dry all through the night. It is a pitiable sight to see kitchen utensils floating in muddy water.
Or a scantily dressed child shivering in an early morning rain.The rich and connected in the Lagos society will not experience this even in their worst nightmares. The top politicians and top Civil Servants who plan and appropriate the yearly budget do not experience it. Yet this is the reality of the working class especially on the Island and Maroko.
This is how the labour force lives. If you drive off the Lekki- Epe expressway, you will see the shanties called homes. You will see how the ‘significant half’ lives. This is one of the things which make Lagos the second worst livable City in the world.In terms of internally generated revenue, Lagos is a rich State. Even by African standards. But in reality, it is a poor State because the basic amenities are simply not there. The wealth of the State has been cornered by a few hands who are extremely comfortable at the expense of the suffering masses.
Governor Sanwo-Olu’s challenge is to help channel State funds from the clutches of politicians and greedy Civil Servants to where they are urgently needed. His challenge is to let the IGR do a lot more for the people he is elected to govern. His challenge is to take Lagos off the list of the worst livable cities in the world. Jakande proved a lot could be done with less in four years. Our Governor has already spent three.