By Owei Lakemfa
I was in Lagos, our commercial capital. I had a paper to deliver to some youths on the future of the country. Although there is a popular talk about ‘African Time’ I am a stickler for keeping time. Since I have no control of the airlines and traffic, I thought it was better to travel a day earlier. The venue was the old middle class suburb of Surulere. So I picked a hotel around Allen, Ikeja. Since the lecture was not in the rush hour, it meant I could make the journey within half an hour. Despite this, I left ninety minutes before.
Two hours later, I was still midway; stuck in the traffic on Ikorodu Road. I was embarrassed because I had informed the organisers I had arrived a day earlier. Then getting to the Fadeyi area, I understood a main reason for the traffic jam; trailers and tankers occupied part of the expressway stretching across the bridge. I was shocked to find out that these were trailers waiting to evacuate goods from the Tin Can Island Port, over one hour drive away.
I was about ninety minutes late for the programme and thought of the best way to apologize. But it was unnecessary; the programme had not commenced as most of the participants called to report they were stuck in the same traffic jam.
How can a country hope to progress if its citizens, especially in its economic nerve centre, can hardly move from one point to another? I imagine how many days or weeks it would take a trailer packed in Fadeyi, to crawl to the port. The energy, time and waste of resources. But if areas, over one hour drive from the port can be so congested, I wondered what would be happening in Apapa, the port area where over 10,000 trailers and tankers have taken over all its adjourning routes. I got the answer in the July 19 post by a VANGUARD Newspaper Editor, Jemi Ekunkunbor when she posted on her Facebook wall: “ The situation is simply unbearable. It’s a jungle out here with trailers taking over the entire stretch. When are we going to get home today?” It was a report, a distress call and a note of resignation. Yet, with the near abandonment of other ports in the country including those in Warri, Sapele, Calabar and Port Harcourt, over 75 percent of our country’s import and export business pass through the Lagos port with an estimated economy of N40 Billion per day.
I had walks around the hotel area in Allen. At the Toyin/Unity junction, I came across about fifty youths on a street corner. They were said to be labourers from the North. I stood around trying to pick some of their conversation, but realized that a number of them were not speaking Hausa. These may be from neigbouring countries like Chad and Niger. They clearly have no Western education, could hardly speak English and are unskilled. It was evening and they did not seem to have shelters they would crawl into. These are people we have abandoned; ready recruits for criminals. A time bomb.
Just across the street was another colony of youths. These are Yoruba labourers. Like the earlier group, they did not seem educated even when free education had come to this part of the country 63 years ago. It was the military regimes which abolished free education in favour of illiteracy. These labourers also did not appear to have skills. Another time bomb. Since we are not taking care of our citizens or fellow Africans, they will find ways of taking care of themselves. This will be by any means necessary, even if it means taking to crime or being cannon fodder in religious, regional, ethnic or sectarian conflicts or uprisings.
From Lagos I moved to Benin City, the capital of the ancient Benin Empire destroyed by British invaders in 1897 before being rebuilt. It was one of the largest and most developed pre-colonial empires in Africa. The hotels in a number of parts, were mainly silent places; large areas of the university town, had been without electricity for about three weeks. People are forced by the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) to pay monthly bills even without power supply. It is not surprising that many of the businesses are dead while in the markets in Benin central, the noise of various power generators, drown the language of commerce.
On Thursday, July 12, three days after I left Benin, Master Benedict Sani, a Junior Secondary School pupil of Eyean Community School, in the Uhunmwode Local Government area, was returning home when he was electrocuted near his school by a fallen electricity pole said to have been knocked down by a vehicle. An angry populace, shocked by the corpse of the pupil burnt beyond recognition, took to the streets accusing the electricity company of negligence. An avoidable tragedy by a company that cannot even supply basic electricity to the people.
The University of Benin and its teaching hospital area are not stranger to floods. In fact, some residents in the Ugbowo/Ekosidin area of the university, do not go home immediately after it rains. While I was in the city, it rained over two days which meant some residents became internally displaced persons. Just after the university on the Benin-Lagos Expressway, is a flooded portion opposite the army barracks; vehicles have to wait for the waters to subside or ford it and risk breaking down.
On my way to Ibadan on that expressway, I passed by the Tayo Akpata University. It is a university or tertiary institution only in name. A late friend, Dr. Abubakar Momoh used to refer to some of the new private universities as “poultry sheds” A documentary on the Akpata University released about the time I passed, revealed that it would be edifying to call it a poultry shed. It is not even fit for pigs to stay. The buildings have decayed like rotten meat. Many of them, including hostels have been abandoned with some having no windows, doors or roofs. Any sanitary inspector even from a local government would recommend the immediate closure of the ‘university’ to safeguard the health and lives of the human beings having to school, teach or work there. That such an educational facility is allowed to continue running, is a crime against humanity. Not surprisingly, the lecturers and staff complain they have not been paid for at least half a year.
Beyond the noise of the political class claiming they had done or are doing wonderfully well in governance, giving themselves pass mark and even writing falsehood as history, Nigerians need to collectively demand for basic governance.
Nigerian lives matter!
Owei Lakemfa, former secretary general of African workers is a human rights activist, journalist and author.