Dear Governor Sanwo-Olu, May I Have a Word?
It almost seems like one is living in a 21st century ‘megajungle’
The city of Lagos is not easy to govern. It takes the bravest of hearts – or the greediest – to pick up the gauntlet. And you did in 2019 with 739,445 votes, with your Project THEME campaign.
The five-wheeled campaign drive focused on transforming the state’s traffic and transportation, health and the environment, education, and technology sectors.
Ideas so lofty that Lagosians looked forward to these promised transformations. Your index finger even almost stole the spotlight, as it featured in various photos, especially those where you interacted with the average Lagosian.
Since then, you’ve commissioned a lot of projects and a lot are still ongoing, but that finger has disappeared.
Your dedication to the job could be seen in your enthusiastic re-election campaign in the 2023 governorship election. We all felt the commitment to your role. Shaking hands with Lagosians and taking them by surprise. Licking ice cream for the benefit of the public. How cute. Even taking to the pulpit to pray for Lagosians and Nigerians in general. Caring for the welfare of the people. Thoughtful.
But here are the issues…
Lagosians are groaning. You see, in 2019, when you were advertising your THEME Agenda to Lagosians, you said this about it, “We didn’t just prepare the THEME documents in our bedrooms or in one hotel or inside a board room.
“The documents came from our numerous engagements with the people of Lagos State, telling us what their needs are and the immediate intervention they require on any challenge.”
Dear governor, it appears you didn’t take time to listen to those people of Lagos State you happened to have engaged with to know “what their needs are and the immediate intervention they require on any challenge.”
Let us talk about two of these challenges – traffic and transportation and the environment – as they relate to your THEME Agenda. Shall we?
Traffic and transportation
“I don suffer. Lagos don suffer me.” Those were the words of a colleague who had spent unproductive hours in traffic.
In a state with over twenty million people, proper transportation systems are necessary to convey commuters from point A to point B to conduct their day-to-day activities. And seeing as Lagos is the commercial heart of the country, with over 30 percent contributions to the national GDP, it is important that effective transportation networks are put in place to facilitate these productive activities for economic development. However, that is not the case.
Lagosians continue to toil day in, day out, spending hours in traffic that leaves them worn out even before the day begins. The city basically sucks the life out of you.
“We promised to implement a more effective public transport system, reactivate the rail system, extend water transport services, expand and improve network of roads,” you said, in 2019.
Dear governor, this promise is yet to manifest itself. The light rail system, which would have lessened the burden on the road is yet to take effect. You had earlier promised a completion date of December 2022. But we understand, shit happens, which was why your administration moved it to 2023, even though a commissioning event was held. Nigeria taught me that commissioning doesn’t always mean ‘good-to-go’, it is usually a show of ‘see wetin I dey do, make una no kill me.’
And this ‘see wetin I dey do’ attitude is what constitutes most of the vehicular disruptions we see every day. Construction work “ear and dear”, everywhere, at the hours when Lagosians are plying these roads. Can’t these be done when the city is sedate? When fewer Lagosians are commuting?
“If they don’t do the work when you’re using the road, how would you know that Sanwo-Olu is working?” A fellow passenger once quipped.
A report says that in a year, the average Lagos commuter spends 1,080 hours in traffic, which means they spend 12.5 percent of their time in traffic. For the sake of comparison, commuters in London – the city with the worst traffic in the world – spend only 148 hours in traffic.
On this list of 30 cities across the world with the worst traffic, Lagos is not mentioned but residents spend more on the road than all the listed cities. The math is not mathing, Mr. Governor, sir. Can we do something about this or is it all just vibes and inshallah?
My view is that oftentimes the condition of one’s surroundings is usually indicative of the level of the person’s concern for their environment, and I must say, governor, that Lagos has a lot of unconcerned residents. The city stinks. Even the highbrow areas are stinky enough to make one raise eyebrows over the level of social awareness across the different class strata in the state.
You would agree with me that a clean environment is directly linked to good health, yeah? You promised to improve waste management and drainage systems, yet the state looks like it has no caretaker.
Dirt litter everywhere. Our markets are nothing to write home about. Have you been to Ile Epo Market recently? Humans mingle with dirt, soot, and stagnant water. Have you, by any chance, been to the inner streets of Ikeja to see what the gutters look like or the streets?
I implore you to go there after it rains. There are many more places in even worse conditions across the state, and no, you cannot be everywhere at once, but that really is no excuse for ineptitude, and this governance deficiency is loud, Mr. Governor, sir.
Our air can be cleaner, too. Exhaust pipes choking us with their every breath. According to the World Bank, “It is estimated that at least 30,000 people die every year in Lagos due to pollution.”
Another report by IQAir ranks Lagos as the 133rd most polluted city in the world. Seems like it sits far down the list, but don’t pat yourself on the back just yet, see what the report says, “Every day, 227 vehicles clog each kilometre of road. Most of these vehicles are over 15 years old and are not equipped with the latest emission technologies. The fuel they use has a very high sulphur content which is 200 times higher than U.S. standards for diesel.”
Living in Lagos is an extreme sport. Traffic rules are lax. Environmental rules are almost nonexistent. It almost seems like one is living in a 21st century ‘megajungle’.
The problem is that some Lagosians with no conception of what a livable city should look like are touting the current affairs in the state as aspirational, especially for other cities in the country. Your repeated campaign message of transforming Lagos into a megacity must have sunk into their minds and begun to appear as true.
A city as diverse and cosmopolitan as Lagos, with such huge annual revenue should be facing 21st century problems, but today, development indices in the state are not doing so well.
CNN said this about the city, “even though many Nigerians find the city of Lagos alluring, especially due to its thriving economy, living in Lagos, the third most stressful city globally, can take a mental toll”.
The vibrant city is cursed with multidimensional problems yet blessed with creative minds. What it lacks, like the national whole, is a leader who is politically willing to do the job. Dear governor, your THEME is not THEME-ing. Do better.
Happy Workers’ Day.