In my television show on TVC on Saturday morning, the point was made that everyone everywhere in Nigeria knows someone somewhere in Lagos. It shows that Lagos is Nigeria. Every Nigerian citizen is there either in body or in spirit.
The Kano rich install palaces, the poor Abakalikian knows a relative, the Warri entrepreneur tracks his wares, the Ogbomosho socialite dances to its maestro.
That makes Lagos Nigeria’s psycho-social city. Lagos is where we dance, we feed, we move, we fight and we make love as a people. It is our melting pot. It is “our town,” to borrow from the title of one of America’s quintessential plays by Thornton Wilder. The play looks at the town both as an intimate and a stage, just like Lagos. And Lagos is where we fake and play, where we are home and away simultaneously.
When Nigeria falls, it betrays the first crack. When it rises, it cracks the first smile. It is the John the Baptist of the Nigerian pulse. If it is Nigeria’s special city, so why is Abuja unwilling to make it official?
When the matter popped up at the Senate, it was dropped. Yet, all of those men in the Senate who railed against it are beneficiaries of Lagos. It is an act of ingratitude, an act of gratuitous politics.
Let’s look at some facts. One, it provides 60 percent of our gross domestic product. Two, it is the biggest economy in West Africa. Three, it houses some of the iconic brands and blue-chip companies. Four, it has the biggest port. Five, it has the most vehicles, consumes the most fuel, and the most food. While making a case for its status, the alpha Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, revealed that Lagos consumes N3 billion worth of food every day and that makes it over a trillion Naira worth of food a year.
Six, it has the most complex infrastructure in the country. Seven, it is to this city we have the largest influx in Africa and third in the world. The people move there not to visit or for transitory business but to live.
No city has this, and yet Abuja recoils from its duty to its most iconic place. When the matter came up for consideration, former Sokoto Governor Wammako said this was not the right time for Lagos to get a special status. For a man who was a governor, it is a shame. He should have explained better because no other time is Lagos more suited for the special place. I had made an argument in this column as though I anticipated the debate on Lagos, in my article, “Burden and glory”.
This is a time of recession and, during dire economic times; the best place to focus is the big city. Lagos provides that example not only because it is a big city, but because it is a working city. It is the city with a working jobs programme with its N20 billion platform with Ifueko Omoigui. It has embarked on disruptive infrastructure programmes, with works going on at furious pace from the feeder road in Yaba to the mammoth flyover in Abule-Egba. It is Lagos, where other states are still chafing under militancy and kidnapping, that developed a smart programme with vehicles, gadgets and men to tranquilise its highways and the bloodstreams of its felons.
Lagos has the population, and it has the companies and infrastructures. That is where governments can test their policies. In the last great recession, the United States took advantage of its big cities from Los Angeles to New York. According to the Brookings analysis of Moody’s Analytics data, the big U.S. cities gave America 1.3 million more jobs than before the recession kicked in 2008. History bears that out. The Marshall Plan designed to revive Europe after the devastation of the Second World War worked in cities from Athens to Berlin to London to Paris. It is partly the reason New York is seen as the world economic capital, Paris the city of light, Sydney the city of fireworks, Amsterdam of rivers and tunnels, Athens of history, etc.
In cities, various people dare. They try things, they are not afraid to fail. It is where everyone wishes to rise above their places. As the Italian writer, Italo Calvino, noted “with cities, it is as with dreams…” The concept of Manifest Destiny coined in the age of Andrew Jackson, for all its ingrained bigotry, was largely a move of genius. It helped remake America into a place of many cities and varied prosperity across North America. According to historian Frederick Merk, it was inspired by “a sense of mission to redeem the Old World by high example…”
Lagos has always that allure. It is the city where you have the accents aplenty, whether north, or south or east, or west, and they mingle in a chemistry of human harmony. Even in fashion, you see the aso oke as well as the Hollandaise, or the kaftan, and all blend into a sartorial statement quintessentially Lagos. Even for those who worship, Lagos is it. The churches do not always start here in Lagos, but once they see the light, they come like Paul of Damascus to the city. It is not for nothing that the anointing leads them to Lagos.
There we domicile the theatres, the intellectual fests, the festivals, the radicals and the conservatives. Lagos has always been there because Lagos, of all Nigerian cities, is the city that never fails. As I joked with a few friends, while other states are in soup, Lagos is licking soup.
Governor Ambode has shown not only transnational initiatives, but also international. His government has shown compassion, contributing to alleviate national crisis as in the case of victims of Boko Haram. It also worked a big agricultural alliance with Kebbi State. Governor Ambode has shown the knack to set Lagos on a high map to battle recession, and the Federal Government just needs to join. Other states are in trouble and their citizens are pouring into Lagos, yet lawmakers like Ekweremadu, who oppose it, do little for their people and hide in the cosy shadows of Abuja power.
Before the elections in 2015, PMB promised to pay special attention to Lagos. We are going to two years of his stewardship, he has yet to step an official foot on its soil. He still has the opportunity to do so. He should know that helping Governor Ambode in his abode bodes well for all of us. He should help Lagos help everyone. It is not a plea. It is an imperative.