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No sooner did I announce last week that I would x-ray the performance of Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode this week than my phone began to buzz. One avid reader of this column warned me not to allow Steve Ayorinde, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, blindfold me into endorsing the governor. He was bitter that Lagos is dirty and seemed to suggest that axing the PSP that used to be in charge of refuse collection in the state was responsible. I disagree! The PSP arrangement was more political and ‘job for the boys’ than any serious attempt to keep Lagos clean. My sad encounters with the PSP operator in the Agege area where I live left a sour taste in the mouth. I must admit, though, that the new arrangement has not clicked yet – if ever it will! It seldom gets better here; instead, it gets worse! Whereas the defunct PSP would pick your garbage whether or not you were around, the new people, gorgeously uniformed, would not touch it with a finger. They come far-in-between than the PSP and their arrogance rankles. Each time we were unlucky in my Close to have a similarly peacock-ish security guard on duty when they come, our bins would not be turned as the guard would not do their job for them and the new garbage collectors would not ‘condescend’ to empty the garbage bins themselves. Perhaps, it will get better – but I have my doubts.
The philosophy underpinning refuse collection is tragically flawed. LAWMA should not collect a dime in budget allocation or subvention but should be made to generate billions into government’s coffers monthly. Until we track everyone and get them to pay for the disposal of the refuse they generate, the scourge of indiscriminate dumping of refuse, especially in drains and flood channels, will continue. Sending lumbering, big Lorries into every nook and cranny to pick up garbage has not worked. A place must be found for the ‘small man’ in the refuse-collection chain. They may or may not push carts; we should employ technology to invent something modern for them to use. There must be decentralisation of the whole process with cart-pushers assigned their rightful place. Thousands will be gainfully employed this way. Money collected should be shared pro-rata along the chain. Refuse collection will only succeed when it is run as business and everyone is made to responsibly account for the refuse they generate. Asking people to line the roads with garbage, which inadequate LAWMA vehicles strain to catch up with, has not worked. Government must also tackle the menace of empty bottles of soft drinks and sachets of “pure” water. Most often, I wonder whether the havoc caused by the companies generating this rubbish does not far outweigh their usefulness.
Other callers averted my attention to the frightening security challenges in the city, especially kidnapping. What is Ambode doing, they quipped. I have always wondered why states should equip the security agencies only for them to receive orders from Abuja. This disconnect is at the roots of insecurity not only in Lagos but also in other parts of the country. I do not think states should fund security agencies, which thereafter get their budget from Abuja. If the FG cannot fund the police, for example, it should hands off and let the states create and manage their own security apparatus. I suspect that the present arrangement is also prone to corruption. Recently, a National Assembly member demanded that the Police declare the funding it receives from the states so that the assembly could track and take it into consideration during the appropriations process. How are we also sure that officials do not hide under the excuse of funding the security agencies to fleece their states? However, I am impressed with the efforts of the Lagos state government to light up the state. Darkness and crime are collaborators; they are like the left and right hands that must cooperate to wash each other clean. Lately, too, I have seen in the metropolis a new-look neighbourhood security outfit which, I believe, is part of the efforts to make Lagos more secured but the attire of the outfit is too flashy that I wonder if this is not another ‘Lagos for show’! When critics say states will abuse state police, the riposte is, is the FG not abusing the security agencies as things stand? And how can we run if we do not first learn to crawl and walk?
Some callers complained about perennial water shortage in most parts of the state and it immediately reminds me of one of Fela’s evergreen renditions, to wit, ‘water, water everywhere but none good or clean enough for the people to drink’. In the Agege area where I have lived for one-and-half decades, I have not come across public tap or water for a moment but in the Ojota area where my church was; and Alapere in Ketu where I was transferred to last year, public water runs most of the time. So I guess it is different strokes for different folks. One spectacle unsettles me, though: Each time I see pipes conveying public water getting burst and gushing out water while people pass by unconcerned. In fact, those in whose frontage the leakage takes place find a plank or anything to throw over it to muffle the noise. On occasions in the past, I had called Ayorinde to complain and offer the locations and he had promised to call the attention of the Water corporation people. Look around and you will likely find burst and leaking pipes in your neighbourhood. What have you done about it? I don’t have the figures but I can guess that a lot of money goes into treating water to make it fit for human consumption; yet, my suspicion is that a large percentage of treated water is thus wasted. There is also the additional problem of contamination. Does the Lagos State Water Corporation care about this unpardonable waste and does it have a mechanism for detecting and springing swiftly to rectify faults? Something must be done, possibly a legislation which must be enforced, to sanction those who fail in their civic responsibility to report burst or leaking pipes in their vicinity.
Despite all of the above, my conclusion is that Ambode is working and Lagos is moving forward. And I state with all sense of responsibility that Ayorinde or anyone for that matter has not influenced me in passing this judgment. While it is true that Ayorinde became editor of The PUNCH many years after I had vacated the editorial chair, the truth is that he never met me at The PUNCH. I am not even sure I have even ever met him, although he is such a respectful and responsible fellow who picks his calls and replies text messages. He has never made any demands on me. Ambode himself I have never met but had seen afar off at one of the South-west governors’ DAWN meetings. While he ran to be governor, a member of my church who had some relationship with him caused us to pray, fast, and do vigil for him – which was normal. No pastor will be able to count the number of such people they intercede for without coming into contact with them personally. Tunji Bello, the Lagos SSG, was my professional colleague; he was Political Editor at the defunct Concord newspapers while I was editor of The PUNCH. He is also my in-law in a sense in that he married from my town. I was one of those who followed him to “dobale” during his engagement ceremony. I can also mention Akintola Benson, a commissioner, who used to be the go-between between me as The PUNCH editor and an Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in exile. My comrade, Kehinde Bamgbetan-Baju, a special adviser, had his letter as Deputy Political Editor ready while I edited The PUNCH before he chose to try his luck elsewhere. So I can be said to have a surfeit of contacts within the Lagos State Government if I so desired – but have never leveraged on it.
Why? In Nigeria, the usual thing is that you feel the ‘impact’ of government only when your own people are in the corridors of power. I have always believed, however, that the government that truly impacts is the one you do not need to get close to before you feel its impact. Since 1999, Lagosians have felt the impact of their governments in Lagos. Asiwaju laid the foundation; Babatunde Raji Fashola admirably built on it; and Ambode – whaoh! I have always wondered why we build roads without motor parks; Ambode is aggressively redressing that. Whenever I see how people endanger their lives crossing busy roads, I wonder whether it costs a fortune to build overhead bridges – Ambode is also doing that now. Every day, I see evidence that Ambode is working. As I leave home at Agege, I see that they are trying to build a flyover and solve our nagging traffic snarl. As I drive to my office at Unity Road, Ikeja, I see the beautiful motor park on Simbiat Abiola way. On my way to church on Bakare Street, off Oriola, Alapere, Ketu, I see that the Estate – Alapere roundabout – Ketu road is being expanded into a dual carriageway. I reckon there must also be development projects in other parts of the state. May I, however, counsel the engineers to take another look at the bridge close to the Estate end of the road; that bridge should have been higher so as to allow debris, made up mainly of those ubiquitous empty cans and sachets, to flow freely underneath it. The dual carriageway should not be constructed without remediation to the bridge. Also, the perpetual dredging of the canal on which the bridge was constructed has widened what used to be a gutter into the big river that it has now become. Building concrete walls along the two sides of the canal is the permanent solution to the problem. And, then, may I implore Ambode to take a look at two important road arteries in the area – Bakare and Owoade; rumours going round in the community are that there are powerful interests that have severally frustrated government’s efforts to tar the roads. I invite Ambode to prove them wrong.