By Tochukwu Ezukanma
During the Ambode administration, there was a lull in Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials’ harassment of the poor and hapless Nigerians trying to survive the impoverished mess that our morally bankrupt rulers made of this country by hawking in the streets of Lagos. But, like in the days of the Fashola administration, they are back on the streets of Lagos beating-up and arresting street hawkers, and confiscating their wares. Recently, in my neighborhood, I saw two hefty men literally hauling a man, like a bulky luggage. The two strapping men were KAI officials arresting a street hawker.
As they were both in mufti, I demanded to see their ID. One of them asked me: who are you? May I know you? To which I replied: I am just a Nigerian citizen. They refused to show me their IDs. As more people gathered and joined me in insisting that they must, first of all, identify themselves before hauling the street hawker away, one of them reluctantly showed us his ID. For real, they were KAI officials. I asked them the same questions I have repeatedly asked in my write-ups on street trading and in my earlier encounters with KAI officials: why would anybody in his right mind harass, beat up and arrest those driven by poverty and that most fundament of all human instinct, self-preservation, to make a living under the most miserable and excruciating circumstances?
Evidently, incensed by my question, one of the men said, “Instead of you to beg for him, you dey ask foolish question”. I told him that there was no way I can beg him for anything. That he is a KAI official does not, in any way, make him important. As we argued, a KAI truck arrived. Their oga emerged from the front seat of the truck. And I asked him: with the level of hardship, poverty and unemployment in the country, why are you punishing an innocent man trying to earn a little money to feed himself and his family? He replied that the governor has stated that there will be no street trading in Lagos State. I told him: Go and tell that your governor that he is an idiot. Tell him that he is a fool. I just rambled on hauling insults on them and the governor, as they threw the man into their truck, and drove away. And a kind of peace settled over me; I felt relived and refreshed. Wow! It felt so good venting my anger and frustration on this unconscionable system that treats indigent Nigerians like animals.
From the days of the Fashola administration, the Lagos State government has been obsessed with turning Lagos into a modern mega-city, like London, Paris or Washington, DC. But then, what band of ill-baked, back-alley urban planners consider ridding the city of street hawkers as a pre-condition for building a modern mega-city. In our lawlessness and aggressiveness, do we, the inhabitants of Lagos, not exhibit the characteristics of bush fighters? Can bush fighters build a modern mega-city? No way! The power elite that reduced the citizens of an oil-rich country to scavengers that rummage through trash dumps for edibles and reusable items and street hawkers that throng the streets hoping to survive by selling to motorists and pedestrians is barbaric. And barbarians cannot build a modern mega-city
A city is not just an agglomeration of buildings and streets assembled together by architectural, engineering and urban planning standards. It is a cultural, economic, political and social expression. It captures, encapsulates and expresses the inter-play of cultural, economic, social, and even, moral and ethical forces that shaped a given people, nation and country. Paris has been the most beautiful city in the world. Why? The 19th Century German philosopher, Fredrick Hegel, subliminally gave us the answer, when he wrote, “France had …the intellectual superiority in a refinement of culture surpassing anything of which the rest of Europe could boast”. It was the French “intellectual superiority in a refinement of culture” and its associated style and elegance that found expression in French cities, especially their capital city, Paris. The French cultural finesse and intellectual sophistication produced the most beautiful and livable city in the world. Corollary, the Nigerian lawlessness and vulgarity produced the most chaotic and unlivable city in the world, Lagos.
It is impossible to build a modern – civil, orderly and functional – city in a country that thrives on lawlessness, aggressiveness and civic irresponsibility. The transformation of Lagos to a modern city must be preceded by an attitudinal shift. Both the governed and the governing must, first, imbibe the attributes of modernity, especially, respect for the law, because a modern city can only be predicated on the rule of law. Lawlessness engenders anarchy and that rule of the jungle, might is right and its doppelganger, the end justifies the means. A city suffused with these vices will invariably be ruled by confusion and disorder, and all the traits antithetical to the functionality and livability of a modern city.
Just as our American-styled constitution has not given us an American-standard democracy, the attempt to get Lagos looking like London or Paris will not give us a modern mega-city. Until the rulers of Lagos State, and subsequently, the inhabitants of the state learn integrity, accountability and other facets of lawfulness; discipline; civility; and other attributes of modernity – that is, become modern men and women – Lagos cannot be transformed into a modern mega-city.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos Nigeria