His mantra throughout the electioneering campaign two years ago was ‘EKO O NI BAJE O’ which literally means Lagos will not be destroyed. Two years and Governor Tunde Fashola is perhaps doing the best solo cabaret Nigeria’s commercial capital has seen in a long while. Oshodi, a slum settlement in the state’s centre is feeling the brunt of the Governor’s ram-rod desire to transform Lagos into a mega city and perhaps 1 of 20 most important and influential global cities by the year 2020.
On the eve of the first working day of the year, thousands of street vendors were served cold pottage for supper as several makeshift shelters gave way to the flames of the state’s planning authorities as it embarked on an unprecedented clean-up exercise. The following morning, mouths wide open and hands over heads, several peddlers could only gape in awe at the loss of their businesses. The show only picked up when several local TV news crews arrived. ‘They’ve stolen my livelihood’ ‘I am the bread winner of my family, where does this Government want me to go?’ and yet another said ‘they’ve only given a reason for criminals to flood the streets’. And the cries continued unabated despite calls for calm and restraint from some market union leaders
But the street merchants had this coming long ago, nearly six months ago they had been asked to leave; being illegal squatters they were not obliged to receive compensation for the loss of their shops. However like many unheeded Government laws many smart Alecs preferred to play mute like the Biblical Zacharias. Hence their burnt shops have served as sacrifices on the altar of Lady Justice.
Yesterday several commuters in a bus derisively shouted ‘EKO BAJE’ a pun on the Governor’s mantra this time meaning ‘Lagos is destroyed’. The truth is the Governor knows unearthing Midas in Lagos requires urgency and sternness. His predecessor Bola Tinubu spent eight years chasing political shadows; gross infrastructural decadence and urban blight reigned supreme and the state slowly slipped down the abyss of a Tyranopolis.
It is in this year that the Governor intends to leap frog the state’s epileptic and chaotic transport system with a light railway system. But then Tunde Fashola is condemned to succeed. Bola Tinubu had embarked on an ambitious independent power project when the National electric power grid could no longer feed the state’s burgeoning power demand levels. A messy spat with the federal Government after ENRON; the state Government’s project consultant spectacularly collapsed, leaving the state a huge debt profile and off course pervasive darkness prevailed.
Once again the odds are stacked against the Governor; the Federal Government’s light rail project is enmeshed in a corruption scandal which isn’t ebbing and hell would most likely freeze over before any rails vibrate. The Governor has continually argued that the mega city dream of Lagos belongs to everyone, divining that if Lagos fails, Nigeria fails. Sadly more markets and houses would have to give way to the paraphernalia of a modern city like the light railway, this is a reality.
However this time something tells me he’s got the right cards, and for Lagosians, perhaps it’s to remember that popular work-out sing-along ‘no pain, no gain’