Ambode, Lagos And The Economist
SOME mischief must be at work when a person sees a cup half full and declares with glee that it is nearly empty! Some ignominy must be in the offing when a man enjoys today’s clement weather but declares that yesterday’s showers still constitute blight on the bright day. Some hatchet work must be in place when a foreign magazine writes a timid analysis that acknowledges only a quarter of the good work on the ground in Lagos state, Nigeria’s economic powerhouse.
Thus it was with the ultraconservative magazine The Economist of London in its report on Lagos state under the six-month-old administration of Akinwunmi Ambode who is ruling under the dais of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The Economist write-up blames Ambode for the “worsening traffic and escalating crime” in the megapolis and describes the governor as “less competent”, “weak” and “full of excuses.”
There are two reasons a reporter would put out this babbling conclusion. First, when you rely on uninformed and jaded sources, it is quite impossible to churn out reliable and acceptable news. Such a report will be the play of the garbage-in-garbage-out tune. You may shroud your presentation in sugar and honey and in graceful prose. Still your story would be inelegant. Why? The answer is facts are sacred: comment is free. That is the iron cast rule.
Secondly, The Economist, far removed from what is on the ground in Lagos and shy of the dynamics of the new Lagos and the current reign of creative ideas in governance, is determined to publish the outdated information obtained months ago.
The journal fails for instance to recognise that the gridlock it pronounces as the order of the day has long been addressed. Again, the weekly gives scant attention to the facts that the governor it charges with so-called “policy failings” has been moving with the speed of a hurricane to deplete the army of traffic robbers, thus also reducing the aura of insecurity in the mega city.
On the eve of the publication in The Economist, all of Nigeria’s leading newspapers ran the picture of the governor dressed in street gear, ready to take the battle to the den of traffic hoodlums. The journalists captured him arresting a motorist who breached the law right there in the middle of the highway.
Observers have noted that the governor is fulfilling all righteousness. He can stay in the office to discharge his duties as the Number One Law Officer, applying all the instruments of office at the bureaucratic level. But if the need arises, he can drop his suit and tie and don a shirt and a pair of jeans with loafers for the road work which our reporters revealed him doing during this past week.
Now, talking about maintaining law and order in Lagos, we must bear in mind that the tempo of music has changed to a faster beat than it was under the preceding administration. Lagos has been witnessing a most phenomenal demographic growth in the past six months, stretching both its law enforcement and infrastructural architecture. This is adding to the challenges its 21 million residents are going through in the face of a paltry strength of 33,000 policemen and women.
Meanwhile, there is a daily influx of tens of thousands of social and economic migrants from neighbouring countries through our porous borders. There is a dearth of funds arising from the country’s low income on oil due to the global recession. Add this to the billions of naira owed Lagos State by the Federal government as a result of numerous Federal road projects being executed by the state. Last week the government had to cry out, pleading with the central government to pay the money so the government can fulfill its responsibilities to the citizens.
Somehow, these problems have not pushed Ambode to throw up his arms in despair. He has also not reneged on his campaign promises to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people.
And in pursuit of the importance he attaches to cleaning up Lagos traffic he appointed the highly respected and no nonsense former Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Chris Olakpe, as the Chief Executive Officer of the Transport Management Authority (LASTMA), the body saddled with policing traffic in Lagos. Olakpe has since read a fiery code expected to deal ruthlessly with transgressors. The past one week has seen the duo turning the streets of Lagos upside down, as it were, to give succour to Lagosians by ridding the city of road rogues and errant motorists. That is some fresh oxygen in the system, which The Economist failed to breathe in.
The government’s creative ideas will work with time and patience, and not according to wishful reports of those not writing from the scene; those whose analyses are not based upon the hard facts of the matter. The governor has spoken of a future that he expects to emerge from the cauldron of ideas. It is a world whose period of gestation would necessarily admit of some hiccups, given the struggle between those who do not want change from the old order to a new birth to take place. Some people look the other way when a good thing is happening. They see half empty vessels when the cup is filling up.
Such struggles do not come without some dramatic twists of events. Sometimes they could come in the form of open and covert political sabotage. Others could be infighting in the ruling party. At other times there could be a suborning of ethnic and social groups to rebel and agitate for odd demands on the government of the day.
But the subtle and lethal reaction of those opposed to change is to resort to hatchet work in the media. Progress loving and the ever-conscious Lagosians cannot be deceived!
Anibaba, an economist, writes from Gbagada, Lagos