“Boys your troubles are now over,” he said memorably. “Mine have just begun.” The 16th president of the United States had to contend with a turbulent stewardship. The South rumbled with racial prejudice. The North puffed with the law. In between, Lincoln became statesman, general, arbiter and reconciler. He fought to weld a nation. In his triumph, he gained his people.
Winning an election is often a big fight. But after the victory, the elected become almost like a new bride in the house. After winning her as a bachelor, you have to win her as a husband.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode found this as he tried to settle down as the helmsman of Lagos State, the alpha precinct of the nation. So, while he was reorganising the civil service, putting his men in office, and fleshing out a vision, two mighty bears growled into place in the city.
Traffic went out of control. In Lagos, where traffic snarls, hoodlums gnarl. One monster mounts another on top of the hapless citizen. The underbelly of Lagos began turned a boiling room. The commercial hub was not only a place to make money for the creative and sublime. It is the spring of the artiste; the lowborn and the derelict can turn into saints and martyrs. It is also the platform that lifts the cunning into a hero, for the deranged to offer cure for sick. In Lagos, money scrunches and blares. It is Nigeria’s big bright Babylon.
Hence as the elections came earlier in the year, a distorted narrative sprang up. The lofty doings of Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola fell into the mischief of a new narrative. If he did well by turning Lagos into a place of better, disciplined traffic, he became vilified as the terror who brought bribery and tyrants to the streets. If he curbed the flurry of gangsters who robbed and raped, he was the one who made Lagos into an emergency of blood-red villains as law enforcers.
Ambode’s candidacy became framed as a continuation of Fashola’s tyranny. The okada riders fumed. The market women fulminated. The taxi driver grunted. Some tribes differed because of work to sanitise markets and neighbourhoods. They made Fashola into a burden on Ambode.
In the end, Ambode prevailed with a cliffhanger after the PDP and Jimi Agbaje manipulated the fallacies into fact and minted false hopes.
Governor Ambode played the conciliating husband after the wedding, and suddenly the bride accused him of holiness. We were in the terrain of hosanna today, crucify him tomorrow.
So, by pouring scorn on the Lagos State Governor, they were actually indicting themselves and apologising for voting the way they did. It was teething lesson in governance. It is a good thing it has happened. And Lagosians and Nigerians now know that there is virtue in discipline. That Fashola was not wrong and Ambode is now right.
He has released the men of LASTMA and police on the streets and the evidence is beginning to show. The husband is getting a good grip of the bride. The traffic problem has been like this always towards the end of the year, but it coincided with the teething days of the governor. That is what is called a double jeopardy.
Some of the culprits have had his attention. Oshodi, for instance. In the past couple of weeks, it has eased, especially towards the late evenings. Before that, the yellow bus drivers hogged the road and waited to fill up before moving. All commuters were held hostage. Now, the police stand, gun in hand, in menacing duty. The buses are now coy.
The Economist magazine furrowed many brows in its characterisation of Ambode. Writing in a sardonic style, its story fell short of its cherished promise of promoting liberalism and free market. It would have compared traffic in London to Lagos and how technology has been the fulcrum of the handling of modern traffic. It made no reference to suggested innovations. It just went on a free fall of prejudice, contradicting itself. It called for law and order and condemned it in Fashola’s era.
Nothing tells the story of the traffic situation than Governor Ambode’s encounter with one of the offenders of Lagos traffic. Two Sundays ago while the governor was driving around town to see things for himself, a yellow bus hurtled towards him. It was driving on a one-way lane, against the rules.
The governor stopped his car, stepped out, and confronted the driver. The picture was famous on the front pages of a few dailies. The driver walked out surprised to see the state’s first citizen. Governor Ambode asked him why he was violating the traffic law.
All the driver did was to plead for forgiveness. He said he was heading for church and he had to take that route with his fellow churchgoers in order not lag behind the grace of God.
Now this was typical Nigerian. He had sinned against heaven and against man. So, too, the churchgoers who tagged along. They did not give unto Caesar what was Caesar’s. If they did, they would have abided by the traffic law. They did not give unto God what is God’s. If they did, they would not have sinned against Caesar by violating the law of the land.
No one will cavil at Ambode at election time or at any other time by railing at the virtue of enforcing discipline. By endorsing discipline now, Lagosians, including artisans, okada riders and peddlers of market chaos, have shown remorse at their own past ill grace.
If Ambode had continued with the measures he inherited, they would have accused him of perpetuating tyranny. Early on, he would have been held hostage. This is liberating moment, an epiphany in discipline.
Because of this important distraction, few have seen some of the capital things Ambode has done. Lagos today is the most active in infrastructure work in Nigeria, with work going on in a flurry in many parts from Mile 12 to Yaba to Ikorodu Road to Ipaja to Victoria Island.
In his play, All is Well that Ends Well, Shakespeare dramatises two lovers that never begin well but end well. Some have called the play a tragedy and others comedy. Modern critics call it a “problem play” because it dances on a perilous border between laugh and cry. Ambode has somehow with the early problems nudged the city to the early cracks of a laugh by helping to make Lagosians vote for discipline over chaos. Added to this is his foray into technology to fight the mighty bears. For instance, the use of helicopters helps to locate and isolate traffic and criminals and fight them from the air.
Now Governor Ambode has to figure out how to make LASTMA incorruptible.