Rethinking the Lagos life and culture of excellence


The legend of Lagos is very much known: it is the land of possibilities. It is the place where big and small dreams can come true; the place where anybody can become somebody in the Nigerian context of becoming ‘something’; the place where the hustle-and-bustle is second to none. Whether it’s for economy or entertainment, politics or pleasure, Lagos is where the ‘show’ is. The biggest companies are here – telcos, oil and gas, financial services, legal services, media, tech, name it. It is not a wonder that Lagos state has unimpeachably remained Nigeria’s poster state for its economic promise. Lagos is both the melting pot of all cultures (local and foreign) and the hub for on-trend creation and promotion of the arts in Nigeria and in Africa.

If Lagos State were a country, its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be the fifth-largest in Africa. This is a state whose internally generated revenue (IGR) steadily makes up for more than 30% of revenue generated by the states in the federation. Rather than be impelled to do more, many states have simply reclined on the everyone-gets-something-at-the-end-of-the-month system without commensurate contributions to the pool. This is a conversation for another day.

Every Nigerian has someone in Lagos. And might I add that you are not a complete Nigerian until you have visited Lagos at least once and can share a firsthand account of your Lagos experience. There is something for everyone in Lagos. And even if you’re not a Nigerian, Lagos is about the only place where you can get a bit of home across the spectrum of lifestyle preferences.

There’s so much to Lagos’ history and heritage that I cannot exhaust in this space. Lagos is the perfect microcosm of Nigeria. It reflects the best and worst of its mildness and madness; successes and failures. Lagos State is quite paradoxically unique in that it is both the most insignificant when it comes to landmass and, at the same time, the most relevant. Lagos is indispensable. And it would remain Nigeria’s golden goose for a long time. Although Lagos is no paradise, you only need to drive through some axis on the Lagos Island axis to see sheer class and luxury on display. ‘Na here the money dey.’

This background has been given for a reason. Now, any reader who is under the impression that this essay is a best-of-Lagos highlight may want to stop reading at this point. This essay is not a hallelujah chorus for Lagos. On the contrary, it raises what is menacingly off about this ‘centre of excellence.’ There’s always that tendency to speak of Lagos as the only state making ‘progress’ due to the poor state of affairs in the country. Well, it’s true that some work has been done here but we ought to talk about Lagos State’s progress in proper perspectives.

Many talk about ‘progress’ because of the aerial view of Eko bridges and beach fronts, the concentration of high-rise buildings in Marina, the scenery in Victoria-Island-Ikoyi-Lekki, and the breathtaking views of Eko Atlantic. That’s great, but that’s not ‘Lagos.’ In fact, a most uninformed assessment of Lagos State would have been made only by those features. A state is only as good as the quality of people living in it and the culture that drives it.

It’s good for sloganeering that Lagos is the ‘centre of excellence’ but in reality, there’s nothing excellent about life in Lagos. And I say this not about the life for the ten-percenters or members. No, I’m talking about the 90% who have to get used to some level of insanity in their daily pursuits. You literally have to yield some sanity to move around or get anything done. You’re either trying to prove that you are as mad as the Danfo driver trying to intimidate you, or prove to the law enforcement official who is trying to harass you that you have rights, or trying to prove that you’re not a JJC in Lagos to someone who’s trying to cheat you. Life, here, can be explained as a cycle of third-party-induced frustrations. Just about everywhere you go, there is an element, willing and able, to get you frustrated. A more frustrating reality is that there is almost nothing you can get done with ease. It is worse if you don’t know someone, somewhere.

Life is hard enough as it is. But it is needlessly harder for the working-class. An average working-class person does not work 9-5. Work begins with the struggle to get to work. I know people who must leave their homes at about 4 am just to get to work in good time only to return at almost midnight after spending many productive hours in traffic. The reality is more disheartening for some others. No one needs to tell anyone that these awful routines are not only physically-exhausting and psychologically-draining, but they also hamper individuals’ capacities to raise decent and balanced families. The other impacts for the state are both far-reaching and deleterious. How can citizens play active roles in state-building when they are mostly frustrated and drained? Many have to endure harsh working conditions at work. And they can’t leave because half a loaf is better than nothing. There are too many ‘half loaves’. Many people are literally paid enough to have transport fare to work. They can’t lead decent lives with their income. The situation is worsened by economic buffettings.

If there was ever a culture of excellence, that culture is almost non-existent. We need to win back that culture. Lagos State is fast becoming the epicenter of incivility and indiscipline – a place where anything goes. That kind of mentality is pervasive. One only needs to go on Lagos roads to see how recklessness holds sway. The drainages are blocked due to indiscriminate dumping of refuse; the walkways have been occupied by people selling all manner of wares; ditto for the bus stops; many lanes have been taken over by ‘kekes’ and ‘okadas’; people crossroads where pedestrian bridges have been, the list goes on. This development is unappealing and detracts from our claim of being a 21st-century megacity.

We have entertained mediocrity, at all levels, in Lagos for far too long. And that’s a truth we must face. We are not making progress in the same sense that megacities like Paris or Tokyo. Of course, these are the kinds of places we should be comparing ourselves with. There is a complete disparity between the vision sold to the public and the realities on the ground. Here, it is very unclear what the local governments do. Quality and Sustainable impact are invisible. Despite being the ‘closest’ to the people, the disconnect with the people is most appalling.

The situation in Lagos State when it comes to housing, transportation, health, education, employment, youth empowerment, and even security is nothing to be proud of. I’ll come back to some of these issues. No excuse is acceptable for the markedly dysfunctional state of affairs. Others are making giant strides, we can’t keep making excuses. The hard and right decisions must be taken to get Lagos State on track. One is not trying to be unnecessarily hard on Lagos State. Yes, the situation is far worse in other parts of the country. But the point is: considering our status and the many other pluses we can boast about, we are not where we should be. We are not even close. And the truth is clear for all who want to see.

Let’s take an aspect of public transportation, for example. Many of the ‘Danfo’ buses and other public-use vehicles (managed by private individuals) shouldn’t even be on our roads. That the government allows decrepit buses to transport its people is unthinkably demeaning. Why should Lagosians move around in vehicles with broken screens, faulty gears, no side mirrors, no trafficators, no headlights, uncomfortable seats, worn-out seat belts, and so on, manned by drivers who are most uncivil, sometimes drunk, or even drinking while driving? (The sale and irresponsible consumption of alcoholic drinks (mostly in sachets) sold in our parks is another issue we must deal with decisively). Unfortunately, they move around the city mostly undisturbed by the authorities. Let’s face it: some of the drivers have become a nuisance on our roads and a drastic measure to stem this menace is needed. One even gets the impression that the Danfo drivers have become an authority unto themselves, breaking traffic laws with inexplicable defiance. It is unbelievable that many drivers break laws while carrying law enforcement officers in the front seat. The officer becomes a shield, of some sort, from sanctions. This kind of behaviour is unacceptable, and it’s part of the indiscipline I raised earlier.

Let’s also examine another issue that concerns the youth. It is not in doubt that the opportunities for them to do great things for themselves and society are in short supply. The frustrated lot who are not doing ‘yahoo yahoo’ have turned to unwholesome habits of drinking and smoking hemp all day as a way of escape. We see them in almost every corner. They don’t have jobs, and so, have become willing hands to unleash mayhem for a penny. Their creative energies have been channelled to serve sinister ends, engaged by the same people who have mortgaged their futures. Many readers, I’m sure, can relate to what I’m saying. This situation stems from our failure to provide quality education and opportunities for our young people. The sad reality is that those who ought to be leaders of tomorrow are now larcenists of today, threatening the safety and security of decent citizens who just want to do their businesses without the fear that harm may come to them.

Security is another area in which we are greatly challenged. There’s no denying this. The recent Obalende saga is another proof. We must tackle these issues head-on and stop the deceit with the so-called progress. This applies to other areas such as education, healthcare, infrastructure, tourism, and so on.

Progress should be measured by the level of sanity, order, decent standard of living, quality of infrastructure, civic responsibility, amongst others, in the state. While Lagos may not be the ‘pacesetter’ state, it is the state that must always set the pace in Nigeria. Enough of glamorising mediocrity. Let’s get to work, and put Lagos on the path where civility, discipline, excellence, and responsibility are strongly-upheld values. This is Lagos. And this is 2021. This conversation will continue. We can do better.

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