In 2009 I came to Lagos for a work commitment. The trip was largely made up of being driven about in an air-conditioned car to a heavily fortified home. Before then, I only came around these parts for very short visits to Victoria Island for visa runs. In short, I don’t know Lagos at all and my ignorance about this center of the Nigerian economy and new culture was becoming a liability. To understand the possibility for Nigeria, you must know Lagos, the real Lagos. I wanted the Lagos experience and when I had the chance to come back to Nigeria after a year of living and working in rural Uganda, I jumped on the chance to see, hear, and feel the real Lagos.
Life is hard in Lagos and one cannot grasp the magnitude of the energy it takes to survive, in this town until you actually live it yourself. To survive Lagos one must cross major highways on foot, one must catch fast moving buses, one must be out of the house by 6 am, sometimes 5 am to start work 2 hours later, one must make do with street food for dinner while on the way home after work. One must generally accept the incredibly jarring noise of at least 4 generators every other evening, pump your own water, and navigate a labyrinth of governmental bureaucracy all while holding down a full time job and a side business. How do Lagosians do it and what will it take to bring a little relief to these terribly burdened lives?
Mr. Fashola, the Governor of Lagos State, is a Nigerian celebrity and he seems to be the only standard of good governance that Nigeria has ever seen. The people of Lagos are so quick to list his achievements and ferocious focus on creating a better Lagos State. Sometimes his achievements are lifesavers. The road that passes through Oshodi is now cleared of its trademark road traders, and cars are allowed to pass through much quicker. The BRT busses are my personal favorite of the symbol of the state’s progress. However, sometimes these new policies are so ridiculous that one wonders how such a brilliant man can agree to such transparently stupid laws (case in point, the new and inexplicable rule that drivers aren’t allowed to eat in their cars). Overall however, people seem to regard the good governor as a hero who has managed to build a 21st century city.
While I was in East Africa, I spent a lot of time in Kigali and the Rwandan President, Mr. Kagame, like Mr. Fashola, has managed to change through sheer will, the progression of a city that has been written off as gone forever. These men are one of a kind and their rarity calls for comparison. The thing that seems to be missing with Mr. Fashola’s attempt to change Lagos State is implementation of his laws. He, like Mr. Kagame, passed a helmet law. And although the Nigerian Okada drivers carry their spare helmets, no one seems to care for them and the law enforcers often look the other way. There is the car insurance law whose sole achievement was the creation of a company whose only purpose is to give Lagosians a way to thwart the law. The law that makes crossing a major highway illegal will be ignored when there are no pedestrian bridges as alternatives. Will people whose lives are spent in vehicles trying to get back and forth from work agree not to eat in their cars? This is highly unlikely.
In short, Lagos is what you make of it. The industrious energy of the people who live here is so palpable but there is still much to be done. One of them is ensuring a system that is not only self-sustaining, but also responsive to the lives of its very hard-working citizens. I’ll be out of here soon, but the progress witnessed is encouraging.
*Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.