Driving the other day in the Abule-Egba axis of Lagos State, I ran into a sort of traffic snag. I was forbidden to take my usual route to Otta, and I had to negotiate a diversion. It was a laborious engagement. With the diligence of ants, vehicle trailed vehicle in an eternal slog through serpentine roads.
Suddenly the sight ahead absorbed the driver. A flyover. The structure is a high curve towering over all, and with workers furiously at work. Ahead was a chaos of industry, of working to meet a deadline dangling like the bridge. The chaos of men, machines, engines revving, men hollering orders to others who obey with their bodies buried in white dust.
Suddenly the vehicular ache was no longer a scandal. The architectural marvel ahead reminded one of what used to be at that same point. That is, another anarchy of horns, or cars ramming into cars and sometimes into men. It precipitated a paralysis of movement.
The contrast of optimistic chaos against paralytic anarchy brought to mind a line I read in William Wordsworth’s immortal poem, Intimations of Immortality. “The things I have seen I now can see no more,” wrote the bard. It reads like a religious, out-of-body experience. It is, however, a sort of ecstasy of a miracle from human hands.
The flyover, now a seeming bridge between earth and sky, promises to connect people to people and place to place with a lightness of touch. It is not just the work of money. It is the triumph of thinking. How much difference one contraption can do to the lives of millions who live in that part of town!
That is a big snapshot of the style of Nigeria’s alpha governor, Akinwunmi Ambode. His is an administration powered less by money than the force of mind. As Einstein once said, “imagination is more important than knowledge.”
If the Abule-Egba is money, less money is about to turn gridlock into ease in Lekki merely by doing away with the onerous roundabouts. Or is it the near-miracle drive through the Third Mainland Bridge by constructing a layby on a tract of land which seemed invisible until his eyes look. Many of such are sprouting in major centres of the state.
He will have to do that, he knows, against the ambition to turn many pot-hole ridden inner roads into mercies for cars and commuters. Last year he redeemed 114 roads. He plots 181 for 2017, and it is not to save roads for saving sake, but to link them to major arteries. That betokens more traffic and better traffic management. He is looking at many major areas, such as Agric-Isawo-Arepo Road in Ikorodu, Ajelogo-Akanimodo Road in Epe, Oshodi to Murtala Airport Road and Ketu-Alapere Inner Road Phase II.
It is often said that administrators should restrict themselves to one passion, and if they do it well they endear themselves to now as well as after. Legacy is assured. George Bush Sr. said he wanted to be known as the education president and unleashed the phrase, “a thousand points of light.”
The risk, often, is that things may not work for that one dream. Finance and the concourse of events may overwhelm the leader’s plans. As Richard Nixon once asserted in his autobiography, “history affects us more than we affect history.” That pushes leaders to move from one interest to others. Obama just ended his reign doing things other than health care and pulling troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. For instance, he became the enabler of the greatest environmental agreement in history, a feat Theodore Roosevelt would envy in his grave.
So, the alpha governor is looking at other areas. One of the most cheering for me has been the launch into the arts. He is now at work on theatres across the state. This is counterintuitive. We are, by all accounts, at our philistine nadir. The arts, including drama, are places where governments pay next to no attention.
But Governor Ambode has worked up his bona fides for such an undertaking. With his security measures, Lagos is bubbling back to nightlife, and theatres are an important part of it. But this is no arts as a snob. Each part of Lagos will express its sensibilities. So, he is not offering the eyebrow variety, keyed to the Victoria Island brood.
While digitalizing modern-day libraries for schools, he is also rejigging the environment with a new cleaning programme that will disrupt the swagger of the accustomed and contracted firms and make the exercise more accountable.
The Christmas period was marked by the rise of rice, or what many called LAKE rice. If that was more than a little surprising in itself, it was even more so because of what it means if we take our jobs seriously. This was just one season. The deal between Lagos and Kebbi only came to light a year earlier and we already reaped the fruits. This makes nonsense of many years of dilating over locally grown food that continues to cost us billions of dollars a month in foreign exchange.
As he keeps working, Governor Ambode is making governance look easy because he is a creative dynamo. He knows, just as the artist Pablo Picasso said, that “everything you can imagine is real.” His imagination is becoming every Lagosian’s reality.