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Ambode’s Lagos: Waiting for a Stately Lady

Governor Akinwunmi Ambode

Banji Ojewale

“Women sit or move to and fro, some old, some young. The young are beautiful – but the old are more beautiful than the young”
-Walt Whitman, American poet (1819-1892)

The greying 50-year-old woman with a couple of trips to and fro the labour room along with some kids to show off may not again possess the round bodied, full-orbed shape of the younger female. She may no longer have the lethal prowess of old to seduce. But, mark you, she has a motherly golden elegance to outdo fatal beauty and stabilise society.

That is the stately image Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode hopes to etch on the state next year when it turns 50. He has ironically and remarkably reached out to two elderly citizens, Wole Soyinka, 82 in July, and Rasheed Gbadamosi, 73 in December, to midwife the new Lagos, an octogenarian and a septuagenarian to work to produce a young 50-year-old lady and give her a ravishing look only those who have seen it all can do.

While some states woke up only this year to mark the 40th anniversary of their birth, Ambode decided that there was more to honouring Lagos, the great old lady that had faithfully served as the nation’s capital for years until someone thought he and his family, not the country and its citizens, were no longer safe to live in Lagos. Whereupon, he moved the government to Abuja.

Much earlier, a plot had been hatched to unseat Lagos. The great iconoclast, Tai Solarin, was among those who clamoured for Lagos’ displacement while Justice Akinola Aguda headed the panel that finally chose Abuja as the site for the new capital. No good way to repay good old Sisi Eko.

The argument then was that Lagos was congested. Too many cars were plying few and narrow roads. The overhead and overwater bridges military ruler Yakubu Gowon built didn’t help. Ibrahim Babangida thought more flyovers were the solution. He brought in the long Third Mainland stretch. There were now meandering bridges over bridges and flyovers over flyovers such as we have at Iganmu and Ijora Seven-Up. All these didn’t resolve the crisis of the perceived traffic congestion and the chaos in the city.

Just as an earlier approach to tackling the Lagos snarl-up did not. It was believed that the streets would be relieved if vehicles were restricted on the basis of their plate numbers. Autos starting with even numbers were allowed to be on the road on “even” days of the week while odd numbers would come out on “odd” days. It was a short-lived contraption.

Thus, Lady Lagos has been assaulted and battered with barren laws that, imposed on other cities, would have choked them out of existence. But the city’s melting pot status and a succession of progressive governments have ensured her more powers of a magnet to attract prosperity, business and enterprising migration.

Lagos is Nigeria’s Statue of Liberty asking the “tired”, “wretched and poor” and “homeless” of Nigeria to come for comfort and the full exploitation of their potential the same way New York’s Lady of Liberty has remained a source of hope for tens of millions of settlers who have trooped into the United States for close to 130 years. Ambode’s credo seems also to be that the older Lagos gets, the more beautiful and attractive it will become in the hands of the great old men he has saddled with preparing for its golden jubilee.

The committee he has set up to package Lagos at 50 is expected to deliver a comely lady with a milk of human kindness, a homely lady who would habour all who see Lagos as an abode and a home. This accords with Ambode’s compassionate governance philosophy. There is a promise for every citizen to bring his or her creativity to groom this new Lagos.

What those who gave up for Lagos lacked was a large dose of imaginative thinking. For instance, they thought all there was to Lagos was the settled urban areas of Lagos Island, Ikoyi, Surulere, and Victoria Island. So we concentrated all our energies in those areas. There was no lateral and centrifugal development that would have spaced out the human throng coming into Lagos from all over the country and West Africa.

Ditto transportation. We dwelt on the land option. How about rail and water forms? It was this dim treatment of Lagos that went on to constrict the state and give the false impression that Lagos was “too small” for its ever expanding population. But there are a thousand and one square kilometers of unexplored land in the state. There are vast areas still in their primacy, in their virgin state, as it were.

Now one can discern serious moves to address this challenge and open up Lagos and send the unemployed energetic youth to populate the hinterland. Receiving information Minister Lai Mohammed in Lagos recently, Ambode said that over the next four years his government will spend N6 billion annually to groom young business incubators and “create a lot of energy among our younger ones… for a very visible economy.”

This is what Lagos at 50, like a golden mother, must do: it must ensure the perpetuation of the society by taking care of the young Lagosians. The committee must also ensure a film and book documentation of the golden jubilee celebration for posterity to pick a lesson or two from the admirable trick of lighting up beauty in old age.

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