Ambode Lagos is trying to become a megacity, and it is losing the plot in the process

First, the danfo, then Otodo-Gbame and now live bands, nothing can stand in the path of the government's dream for Lagos.

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By the time Lagos was annexed by the British in 1861, there was nothing to indicate that there was a city in its future. What it had, however, was a safe point of access to both the ocean and the hinterland that would become Nigeria.

That advantage would lead the British to declare it a colony (before any other part of the country) and later, the capital of Nigeria.

play An aerial view of the Native Town in Lagos during the early days of colonisation (Archives)

 

As innovations in travel and technology make the world a much smaller place, Lagos looks set to become the crown jewel of African cities. It has come a long way from its beginnings as a small coastal settlement with pepper farms and fishing communities.

Nowadays, this city is home to 24 million people (2016 est.) and the 4th largest economy in Africa. It is the economic, commercial, information and entertainment nerve centre of Nigeria, the gateway and the destination; in another time and place, Lagos would be a country of its own.

For now though, the government is obsessed with making it a true megacity. 

Apart from the kinds of factors that can be expressed in statistics, nothing defines Lagos, and sets it apart, more than its energy.

play Vehicles make their way through the interweaving streets of the Lagos of an artiste's dreams (Google)

This energy is a product of its many influences; Lagos is, perhaps above all things, a melting pot.

It is where the Ibo businessman has lunch with his Yoruba friend in government as he makes calls to Chinese construction executives. It is a place of subtle stereotypes and constant disruption.

Lagos is Nigeria’s city of dreams; which is why it makes sense that it wants to be more. But as it pushes, as the bans pile on each other, and fishing communities give way to apartment blocks that stay empty for half a decade, it is gradually losing the elements that make it what it is.

In the past few weeks, a series of actions by the State government have put Governor Akinwumi Ambode in the news and caused questions to be asked of his administration. What makes them more deserving of attention is not they are new or even unusual at that; it is the speed and precision.

play Lagos Governor, Akinwunmi Amobode inspects state housing projects on the island (Press)

On February 6, 2017, at the 14th Annual Lecture of the Centre for Values in Leadership, Ambode announced that he was planning to ban danfo buses in the metropolis by the end of the year.

In his words, "When I wake up in the morning and see all these yellow buses and see Okada and all kinds of tricycles and then we claim we are a mega city, that is not true and we must first acknowledge that that is a faulty connectivity that we are running".

In the time since that, images of the new buses have emerged but the state government is yet to decide on a date, alternatives or a definite plan for rolling out the new buses.

On the morning of Friday, March 17, 2017, residents of Otodo-Gbame community woke up to watch in horror as their ‘town’ was turned into rubble by bulldozers from the state government. Otodo-Gbame is a small fishing community, a few meters from Lekki, made of small shanties that house over 5000 indigenes; it was demolished despite a High Court injunction that precluded the state government from doing any such act.

play Demolished shanties; what's left of the Otodo-Gbame community after the state government pulled it to the ground on March 17. (Pulse)

Then, on the 21st of March, the state government announced a ban on live bands in restaurants, clubs and such. General Manager‎ of the Lagos State Environment Protection Agency, LASEPAAdebola Shabi, who spoke with newsmen, said that the decision on noise pollution came on the heels of increasing rate of petitions by residents.

It is easy to make a case for these decisions, and while they have their merits, they are overshadowed by the fact that there is little to suggest that Lagos state has considered their effects on its residents or deemed it fit to provide alternatives for those affected, let alone prioritize them.

It is the root of the single biggest problem that plagues this administration; in the face of a myriad of challenges, it is creating policies and making decisions that are more cosmetic than practical.

The effect of such is that things appear better, shinier and more organized from the outside, but when its all said and done, real, pressing problems still persist beneath the surface.

play Residents of Otodo-Gbame mourn the loss of their homes and belongings (Pulse)

In some cases, new problems are created. So while future ghost towns are packaged as posh residential estates and built to be expensive enough for almost no-one to afford, people like the inhabitants of Otodo-Gbame who make way for them are left homeless and unable to earn a living.

They claim that when they made calls at the State Secretariat in Alausa, officials denied, saying the government had no part in the demolition.

It’s a different thing to completely deny something of this magnitude. But in a state where the simplest decisions can affect any section of 21 million people, one would expect that the state communicates with its citizens, that twitter accounts are not just opened to live tweet from mundane events, but actually used in tandem with other social accounts to convey information. What happens is the reverse.

It would appear that this administration is so invested in giving Lagos the appearance of a megacity that it is ignoring the important elements that make it function as one.

It is why after the governor’s declaration at the CVL lecture, danfo drivers and commuters fell into speculation. There was nothing, no information indicating any plan to re-absorb or engage the thousands of people who would be losing their jobs, especially as precedent and the memory of the okada ban seemed to be on their side.

play The danfo is an iconic sight that has become a part of life in Lagos for the city's many million residents. (Press)

One driver told Pulse that he was getting ready to go back to his hometown as soon as the ban was implemented; he had had enough, he said.

Commuters also worry about the bus system that would replace the danfo and the lack of information on its routes or what number of buses would be rolled out under the new system.

Think about the fact that all these would have been avoided with proper planning and some sort of meaningful communication or, in the case of the Otodo-Gbame, dialogue.

Why should the government provide tiny bits of information and leave us to wonder about the rest like a movie trailer?

Like all cities its size, Lagos does have serious problems. Traffic jams and overpopulation are some o them. There’s also an almost non-existent drainage system, a lack of alternative means of transportation besides road, insecurity, power, inefficient law enforcement and more.

Consider that Lekki Phase 1, the precursor for whatever will replace Otodo-Gbame, becomes a highly-priced riverine community at the slightest hint of rain, and it looks more like the government is pulling the cart and every other thing it can find, before the horse.

play Flooded roads are typical during the rainy season in Lagos (Press)

We can do a better job of managing our waterways, create a city wide drainage system, improve our previously-envied educational system to put more kids in school, develop informal economy and empower our trade hubs with resources and structure but no, lets build more estates and make the city more quiet because, mega-city.

The cosmetic nature of these solutions is perhaps most troubling because as we lose the familiar elements that make the city what it is, we inch ever close towards gentrification.

What the state government wants is a mega city, but it is slowly stripping Lagos of what makes it viable; the okada that cuts through our unholy rush hour traffic, the danfo that shows up at Irawo bus stop at 4am, the live shows that litter Lagos Island on Friday nights, the small towns and communities provide shelter for the most impoverished guy and give him a shot at making something of himself.

Even the city’s party spirit has been pocketed into events like the One Lagos parties, vague gatherings that look good on paper and video, but often manage to happen when everyone is busy with other things, like work.

play Lagos Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Senator Solomon Olamilekan Adeola and a government official at one of many One Lagos celebrations (Pulse)

Ambode and the Lagos State government need to find balance. In his year and a half at Alausa, he has done the almost impossible job of picking up where Fashola left and going one or two steps further.

In that time, his government has dealt with the kidnapping of schoolchildren, first from Barbington Macaulay Junior Seminary, then the State Model College in Epe. His ‘114’ roads project where every LGA got two roads was completed in May 2016. There’s also the N25 billion Employment Trust Fund that support artisans and entrepreneurs in the state. 

The Lagos State government is getting things done, but building forward can so easily lose value when new problems are created in its wake.

There are homeless people in Otodo-Gbame that testify to this.

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