Promise Adiele – Convener, Third Force Movement
I am compelled by the title of this week’s essay to set aside all the literary and linguistic stunts associated with scholarship. I am motivated to communicate this message objectively and simply for the discerning mind to appreciate. Delivering a message simply reminds me of the late Nigerian musician, Sunny Okosun. He sang simply and directly. He was famous for his practical approach to music. Mostly remembered as the undisputed Ozzidi crooner, Okosun’s music preaches nationalism and advances the African cause. Although many people believe that Okosun named his band ‘Ozzidi’ after an Ijaw god, the late musician insisted that Ozzidi means ‘there is a message’. It is to the latter meaning of Ozzidi that I subscribe to because Okosun’s songs are full of messages. In 1977, he released an album made popular by a particular track “Papa’s Land”. In the song, Okosun declares, ‘we want to know who owns the land’. That declaration by the Ozzidi exponent is presently more relevant than ever in Lagos State given the way members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) have taken over Lagos State especially the roads and highways causing untold traffic gridlock in desperation.
Of course, one recognizes that people have the right to carry on with their daily activities but when the activities of one person or group of persons inflict misery and anguish on the rest of the people, then certain questions become pertinent. It is dispiriting that members of the union have gradually become the law, they are not just above the law, they are the law. Unfortunately, the Lagos State government, with all the appurtenances of governance and power are simply helpless in the face of growing acts of knavery by the NURTW members. It is the apparent show of power and authority by members of the NURTW and the timid approach of the Lagos State government that has provoked the title of this week’s essay as I ask, who owns Lagos State? To put it more succinctly, between the Lagos State government and NURTW, who owns Lagos State? Between the governor of Lagos State Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the NURTW chairman, Musiliu Ayinde Akinsanya, popularly known MC Oluomo, who is in charge of the Centre of Excellence? Some people have argued that while Sanwo-Olu is the official governor of Lagos State, MC Oluomo is the unofficial Grand-Commander of the State. The truth is not too far away.
No doubt, Lagos is the undisputed commercial hub of Nigeria with an estimated population of twenty-five million inhabitants. People from all walks of life migrate to Lagos in search of greener pastures. Lagos, as a state, has a more robust economy than most African countries. On the flip side, the city accommodates the good, the bad, and the ugly. It has a special language understood by only Lagosians. It has its peculiar idiosyncrasies, its behaviour and general way of life. A Lagosian is famed to be smarter than most people who grew up in other parts of the country. A Lagosian is freer with money, perhaps because to make money in Lagos is not as tedious and herculean as in other cities in Nigeria. For millions of people, Lagos is home, but not for the faint-hearted. Its mad traffic can collapse the Berlin Wall. It is said that anybody who can drive in Lagos can easily drive in any part of the world including the glamorous New York City. Indeed, Lagos is the New York of Africa. It is the safest city in Nigeria, most organized and liberal. Come to Lagos and be happy. Come to Lagos and bask in success. Lagos is the unrivalled land of opportunities. A Lagosian I know, Baba Simi, has boasted that the madness of Fulani herdsmen will never allow them to enter Lagos. According to the Baba, the day they do, they will meet their waterloo. Lagos is the city champion of Africa.
Given all the accolades associated with Lagos, it then becomes worrisome that members of the NURTW have made movement around the city very difficult. They deliberately and fragrantly block the roads at will while carrying passengers in their yellow buses. This causes very long traffic for motorists who have various places to go to. It is unbelievable that while these yellow buses are blocking the roads and constituting a huge nuisance to everybody, members of the Nigerian Police, the FRSC, LASTMA and other law enforcement agents look on. They only hunt innocent Nigerians to harass and intimidate. Certainly, NURTW members are above the law. The police can’t touch them. Someone has inferred that the NURTW is the roguish arm of the Lagos State government used for underhand, nefarious activities. Well, I do not believe such submissions but given the way members of the NURTW carry on daily, one would suspect that the Lagos State government may be hand-in-gloves with them.
No one has said that NURTW should not operate. No one has queried the legitimacy of the union because it is a registered group recognized by the law. However, as they carry out their activities daily, they should not hinder other people from doing the same. As they set out to make their daily bread, they should also remember that time is of the essence for many people who have the legitimate right to move around the city. From one end of Lagos to another, the story is the same. Yellow buses controlled by NURTW block the main road in utter disregard for the traffic laws of Lagos State. Ikeja bus-stop is a nightmare for motorists. It is not because the road is bad or broken but because yellow buses find it convenient to block the road while carrying passengers. Obalande, CMS, Mile 2, Ojota, Ojuelegba, Yaba, Falomo, Oshodi, Isolo and many other spots around the city have become nightmares because of the activities of the NURTW members.
The recently completed Agege over-head bridge has become a bad dream come true. Motorists from Ogba descending from the bridge towards Abule-Egba are having it rough. The stretch which ordinarily should be free and smooth has become tedious and agonizingly slow. Motorists spend several hours there because of the activities of NURTW members who block the road from NITEL while calling passengers. Somehow, they carry on with a certain assurance that there are no consequences to their actions. The body language of the Lagos State government does not instil confidence among the people as they are left at the mercy of these lords of the manor. The new Agege over-head bridge has also become a home for many miscreants who park yellow buses around the bridge and make the whole area look like one madhouse. Is the Lagos State government aware of all these? Lagosians were happy when the former governor Babatunde Fashola carried out what could be likened to a surgical operation in Oshodi. After the operation, one could hardly recognize Oshodi. It looked like a city in Japan with streets lights and wide roads. Unfortunately, Oshodi today is gradually returning to its disreputable state. The road blocking has returned. Street trading has returned too and the current Lagos State government appears helpless and confused. Who owns the land, NURTW or Lagos State?
It was Nigeria’s doyen of literature Chinua Achebe who submitted thus – “let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too, if one says no to the other, let its wing break”. NURTW should realise that Lagosians also have the right to live in the city and move around to pursue their daily living. Let NURTW operate, but let them also allow other people to operate. Peaceful co-existence is the way to go in Lagos as we all watch events in Nigeria with trepidation. If the Lagos State government cannot compel NURTW to obey the laws, at least moral suasion will suffice. The governor of Lagos State Babajide Sanwo- Olu may not possess the dare-devil, bold approach that Fashola has, but he can use other means to call these people to order. NURTW does not own Lagos State or do they? Those who pay taxes in the state deserve to move around freely. Lagosians also deserve to enjoy the roads constructed by the government. The leadership of NURTW should call their men to order and behave responsibly. To always attribute lawlessness and rascality to the union is bad for the image of the union. NURTW can be useful in Lagos State and to Lagosians. Everyone can live in peace without constituting a stumbling block in another person’s way. Let Lagos become a true megacity that everyone will enjoy.
Dr Adiele teaches in the Department of English, Mountain Top University email@example.com
Daily Times Nigeria24th March 2021