SPECIAL EDITORIAL: Governor Ambode, this makes no sense

The staff and management of Nuli Juice, a six-week old company, came to work on the first day of September, ready to earn an honest pay. They joined others including the Drug story, and Cakes and Nuts bakery – all Small and Medium scale Businesses.

But they were soon confronted with the might of bulldozers bringing down their company, having to save whatever they could of their property before running off, and watching their place of work ripped apart.

All of Numbers 7 – 12 on Rumens Road, Ikoyi, Lagos had their businesses scattered to pieces – even though the occupants claim to have paid store rents and required government levies.

The excuse given by the Lagos government for this sudden destruction (and destruction is the word)? That the landlord owes the state government and had been served notice. But it wasn’t the landlord who suffered the biggest consequence, it was the tenants – businesses.

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode talks a good game about job creation. There is the Ready Set Work programme and the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund, both of which are supposed to enable entrepreneurship and skill development. However, none of these steps matter when the state government can just show up and in one fell swoop, demolish the places of businesses of hardworking Lagosians.

In a time when Nigerian economy is contracting and unemployment continues to rise (13.3 percent as we write), the last thing that we need is for any government to cause the loss of even one honest job, or to make it harder for even one businessperson to run a legitimate enterprise. But if the government of Lagos got that memo, it has refused to pay attention.

Rather than simply close down the building and seek a win-win resolution of the matter, demolition was apparently the only option? How can anyone find incentives to take risks and build anything in a country where a governor ignorant of the ramifications of entrepreneurial destruction can just take everything away from you at any time, and for any excuse?

Let’s talk about the law.

The Lagos State Urban and Regional Planning and Development Law 2010 requires that notices should be served on illegal structures and occupants alike – including a 2-Day Contravention Notice, a 7-Day Demolition Notice and then demolition and removal within two days.

The occupants here claim no such notice was given to them. And even if it was, let’s talk about expedience – the demand of smart governance.

In a time of gloom, precipitated nationally by the All Progressives Congress government, in a country that needs every contribution it can find to its gross national product, how is it expedient, or smart to take the path of least resistance in a place where lives are not clearly at stake?

There is something deeply unsettling in people who have never built anything in their lives, sitting in summary judgement over those who have used their skill to surmount every obstacle set before them to create things people pay money for.

This imperious action hearkens back to an Ambode that we thought had learnt the lessons of governance – moving from a somewhat juvenile hurry to make an impression to an thoughtful focus on positive action, that even won him praise from this paper months ago.

Alas.

Once again, we are confronted with the character of the Nigerian state: One that gives nothing but takes everything from those who dare create anything of value, then turns around to mouth empty platitudes about sacrifice.

At this paper, we are doubly outraged because these are businesses run by young people, the one group that Nigeria keeps promising to enable, but which promises it hardly keeps.

Our country is ranked 169th in the world in the Ease of Doing Business and pays only lip service to improving this ranking. Part of the reason is that business owners have little legal protection, and seeking redress takes forever. That is why when our governors run around the world looking for foreign investment, they often return with little more than MOUs not worth the tablets they are tied on.

We find ourselves mounting a soapbox, but it is important on this occasion. It is important to repeat the no-less-true cliché that thousands of young Nigerians, seeing no hope or prospects, are leaving the country on a daily basis precisely because of actions like this. When those who have left or are thinking of leaving see the horrific video of four businesses being levelled in one morning, the message being sent is that the small businesses who should be protected can be sacrificed on the altar of the state government’s revenue goals.

This is not acceptable.

Some reports claim the government denies authoritising this action. In that case, we wait to see how it – urgently – resolves a matter that restores confidence in its vision, and in its sense of occasion.

Until that happens, citizens must stand against this decision, and must say clearly to a government that insists on ‘Itesiwaju Eko” (forward movement for Lagos) that on this matter, this government is only taking Lagos backwards.

 

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