The soldiers came; the hoodlums retreated. Okada riders and keke napep shrank their geography of commerce. This happened in Ikorodu a few days ago, and it emphasises the unease by both residents and the Lagos State governor over the serial reports of daredevilry in the city.
But the military intervention in Ikorodu came only a week after Governor Akinwunmi Ambode told some editors how he dared one night into an abandoned building in the Falomo area and found many city never-do-wells within its cosy walls. They had turned the place to a cell to lay eggs of mischief and lay their heads. The miscreants infested the hideouts with assortment of weapons, drugs, etc.
Ikorodu and Falomo inhabit antipodal universes. Falomo lies in the Ikoyi heartland where the well-heeled plume. Ikorodu, for most part, belongs to the low rung of the social ladder.
Yet, the criminals have managed to find peace and fertility in both places, indicating they are like the wind. They are everywhere.
On security, there is also the startling statistic in Lagos. The government will use 30,000 policemen to watch over the lives and safety of 20 million people.
Hence in more muted tones, the governor had had to speak about partnership with Abuja.
But this is not a matter of safety alone. Traffic chaos riled the city dwellers and paralysed activities. It compelled the governor to experiment with the rule to keep the trailers out of sight in daylight. The trailers, unhinged and menacing, had tipped over quite a few times, crushing cars and lapping off lives. But the Apapa-Oshodi gridlock that spills over to other parts of the city has been a hobgoblin government after government has had to contend with.
What this tells us is that the status of Lagos as Nigeria’s special city ought to go beyond rhetoric.
The use of soldiers has revealed the inadequacy of the police as a force to tackle Lagos. It means we have to recruit more of them. But more importantly, it reactivates the debate about state police. If the constitution empowers states to form their own police, Governor Ambode will not look to Abuja for soldiers since it does not have enough to go round. The deployment of soldiers also reflects a nationwide emergency on security.
Today, soldiers operate in the Northeast to mow down Boko Haram; in the Niger Delta as counterpoise to militants; in the Southeast over kidnapping, among others. Now, they are going to be in Lagos for a while.
Lagos is Nigeria’s special city because it hosts its bread and butter. The young and restless come here. The business opportunities whirl in its bosom. It is so partly because of the general failure of the democratic experiment so far to provide what many call the dividends of democracy: Food, shelter, healthcare, security, jobs. Philosophers call it the good life. Only few states give its residents what Lagos gives Lagosians.
So, Lagos is not just a city, it is the cot of its citizens. Here everyone wants to grow up and then graduate into a room with a view in the mansion. Former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) often noted that people came to Lagos everyday to live. Governor Ambode told editors that recent reports show that more people have thronged the city never to return in the past few months than any time in its history.
It mounts pressure on infrastructure, health care and, of course, security.
In every developed country, the major city is a treasure. Not more in this regard than New York or London. Like Lagos, New York sprang from a humble coastal town. Like Lagos, New York is babel of many languages and ethnic backgrounds. Like Lagos, New York has battled with the paradox of infrastructure and population density. That explains why it is regarded as the immigration hub of the country.
It is often the nest of crime, machine politics and social inequality. In his book, The Affluent Society, John Kenneth Galbraith lamented a city where skyscrapers looked down over potholes. It is the sort of inequality that informed the writing of about the greatest book on the subject by the French economist Thomas Piketty titled, Capital in the 21st Century. Unlike other states in the United States, New York has a special tax relationship with the centre. It keeps 83 cents from every dollar it makes. It enjoys that privilege because it has the top two richest districts in the country and political donors bloom its suburbs.
President Buhari’s approval of soldiers to help douse crime in the city must be commended. But the traffic snarl must also be treated with urgency. Traffic chaos fuels deviant havens. When traffic flows, the hoodlums lose opportunities. The Oshodi-Apapa gridlock arises from infrastructure deficit, and it is because a road connecting the place to the trailer parks remains undone. Once that is out of the way, the conversation will begin. We can then visit the larger issue of rail transportation that gives something close to a silver bullet.