Journalism is an interesting and exciting profession. Perhaps, it is in keeping with the exciting aspect that The Economist, a weekly newsmagazine published in London since 1843, recently focused its binoculars on the city of Lagos. I do not have anything against the choice of Lagos as the focus of the magazine because doing this was in tandem with the magazine’s philosophy that “it is not a chronicle of economics. Rather, it aims to take part in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”.
Writing under the caption Paralysed, the magazine attempted to explain “why Nigeria’s largest city is even less navigable than usual”. The magazine described the ubiquitous traffic snarl on the streets of Lagos and pronounced the city as the most notoriously congested place in the world. That is not news. Yet, it did not stop there. It went ahead to say that the lengthy, snail traffic had raised safety concerns as hoodlums are cashing in on the ugly situation to rob people who are held in traffic. Still, no news. It then laid the blame on “a new and less competent state government”. That is news!
To further drive home its point, the magazine drew a comparison between Babatunde Fashola, the former governor of the state and Akinwumi Ambode, the incumbent governor. It lauded Fashola, now a Minister of the Federal Republic, for improving traffic and security during his tenure as governor as well as curbing the excesses of okada riders, and taming street urchins otherwise known as area boys. In what amounted to self-contradiction, it also pointed out that “cars were terrified into order by a state traffic agency, LASTMA, whose bribe-hungry officers flagged down offending drivers”.
Not done yet. The magazine said that the situation of things, under Ambode is different because Ambode is “full of excuses, but few solutions, for the worsening gridlock”. Now, the final coup de grace: “Yet the root of the problem is in policy: Mr Ambode cut the powers of traffic controllers by banning them from impounding cars. In retaliation, officers have refused to enforce the rules”. So, who is actually responsible for the gridlock: Ambode or the recalcitrant traffic managers? Again, which one is better, to let loose bribe-hungry traffic officers to harass motorists or ban them from impounding vehicles?.
There is this belief that the streets of Lagos are paved with gold hence the daily rush or migration to Lagos from all parts of the country including the West African sub-region. Unfortunately, when these people get to Lagos and discover that the streets are not strewn with naira notes, they easily resort to all manners of pranks, including stealing and robbery. This may be partially responsible for the prevalence of all crimes of imaginable proportion in the state.
In fact, in anticipation of an increase in crime rate during the forthcoming yuletide, the state government recently purchased more than 100 patrol vans to be distributed to security agencies in the state to strengthen their operational capacity. The governor is also tackling the issue of unemployment. Towards this end, the governor recently forwarded a bill to the state House of Assembly for the establishment of a N25 billion Employment Trust Fund, ETF. The fund will be used for job creation and employment opportunities through the state’s newly created Ministry of Wealth Creation and Employment.
Of course, the governor knows the enormity of task his office has placed on his broad shoulders. Immediately he was sworn in on May 29, the Governor swung into action by outlining his governance blueprint and meeting with relevant public service stakeholders. He commenced by engaging the Permanent Secretaries and Chief Executives of MDAs on Saturday, May 30. That same day, he relocated to Lagos State House, Alausa, Ikeja, the official seat of government from Marina, Lagos, which his predecessor had used. This act was carried out in order to ease and reduce the cost of governance.
The meetings with the public service, corporate organisations as well as NGOs continued for about one-and-a-half weeks to enable him have a good grasp of issues and reel out his own governance strategies. On June 3, he held a crucial meeting with top officials of LASTMA, Vehicle Inspection Officers, VIOs, as well as officers of the Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI. He donated over 300 patrol vehicles to all the traffic control and management agencies and admonished them to be civil in their operations. He categorically declined a request for the acquisition of more parks for impounded vehicles. Reason? He did not want to add to the economic problems of Lagosians as a better approach needed to be deployed.
Therefore, the recent traffic gridlocks experienced in the state and attested to by The Economistwas actually an indication of sabotage on the part of these traffic officers. Several of them have faced and are still undergoing disciplinary actions as a result of various acts of corruption and gross misconduct traced to them. Besides, there are other actions which the governor has taken in order to make governance in Lagos more meaningful to the citizens. These include: Reorganisation, restructuring, reordering and realignment of MDAs in order to have more efficient, effective and robust service delivery organisations. This not only reduces cost of governance, but also ensures deliverables to the citizenry. The governor is also institutionalising grassroots governance by setting up a Local Government Reforms Committee.
In addition, bidding has just been completed for 144 roads, two in each of the 20 local government councils and LCDAs. This is in line with the governor’s policy of aggressive road construction in all strata of the state without focusing only on elite areas. The state’s Public Works Bureau has also been energised and reorganised to be up to this task while continuity of several uncompleted and ongoing projects by his predecessors is also given concerted attention. This is in addition to the engagement of the different security organisations in dialogue in order to tackle the hydra-headed security challenges facing the state. Many other innovative measures have also been undertaken with the aim of reducing cost of governance while ensuring efficient public service delivery in line with international best practices.
Now, with all these, it is quite easy to see the faux pas in The Economist’s story. While the magazine prides itself as a publication to be reckoned with, its recent story on Lagos was more or less a calculated attempt to deliberately malign Ambode. Only a visitor from the moon will be sucked in by the jaundiced report as the story bore all the imprimatur of a hatchet job. It is a remarkable departure from the magazine’s philosophy of taking active part “in a severe” contest involving intelligence by delving into “unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”. It negates the magazine’s claim that “it targets highly educated readers and circulates among an audience of many influential executives and policy-makers”. Above all, in this “new age of Mass Intelligence”, the magazine has regretfully displayed an “unworthy, timid ignorance” designed to obstruct the progress of Lagos state. Too bad!