Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Lagos Challenge

The popular, albeit ominous, statement, “This is Lagos” really does capture the essence of life in the sprawling city called Lagos. Currently the sixth largest city in the world with an estimated population of thirteen million inhabitants, Lagos easily qualifies as the nerve centre of the Nigerian country and indeed the African continent. However a multitude of problems abound in this megacity. The United Nations Cyber School website sums it up succinctly, “Energy and water access, sewerage, transportation and housing have all been adversely affected by haphazard development of a geographically disjointed city”-

A lot of issues abound in Lagos such as Migration, Health, Traffic and the ever predominant issue of lack of social services. On an excruciating hot afternoon, my partner, Richard Babarinsa and I set out on an exploration of selected areas of Lagos Island in a quest to get a feel of the place. Our first port of call is the intense congested square popularly known by locals as “P & T” bordered by the massive seven-floor Ministry of Commerce building on one hand and the popular Lewis Street on the other. A sense of chaos greets you, buses and motorcycle taxis blaring horns whip by, everyone seems in a frantic haste even though its way past the rush hour, a DVD plates retailer adds the high pitched advertisement of his wares to the din, it seems hell really did break loose.

We are attracted to a rare sight, a young man sitting near a call centre and calmly reading a book and approach him. He amiably introduces himself as Joseph Dare, age 32 and a Caterer by profession. He is “a true Lagosian” , as he describes it because he was born in Lagos. He is a staff of Bonix Party Drinks and explain he is idling now because he normally works on weekends if customers come knocking, he worked last weekend and prays he gets an offer this weekend. Joseph animatedly argues that the greatest problem Lagos has is that, “Government really does nothing for the people”. He believes the Government should provide better roads, housing and healthcare but most importantly, “give ambitious youths like me the opportunity to afford schooling as my desire is to study Business Management and start my own large scale catering outfit”.

Richard and I continue our tour and find ourselves in the popular Tafawa Balewa Stadium. A bit more subdued area, perhaps due to the ever looming presence of the Ministry of Defence in the next street, however the hustle and bustle were still evident. The commercial bus drivers especially of the mini bus popularly called “molue” scream out their routes at the top of their lungs as if demanding that passengers come on board whether or not you had business plying those routes. The stadium shopping complex houses lots of travel agencies and seem to be doing brisk business as a good deal of the population seem eager to leave the country in search of greener pastures.

We enter one of the travel agency offices and meet with the manager who is noticeably disappointed we are not prospective clients. He adamantly refuses to give his name, because according to him, “Nigerian journalists often get you in trouble with quotes attributed to you that you have never heard before in your life”. A 1990 graduate from Federal University of University Owerri, the 35 year old came to Lagos in 1994 and sees the city as a big commercial centre. He believes Lagos is a fertile ground because, “virtually every business in Nigeria is linked to Lagos”. He, however, identifies numerous problems with life in Lagos emphasising particularly on issues of housing and transportation. He also believes the Government is not providing any social services and suggests the adoption of a more practical mortgage system in solving the housing problem.

A couple of years ago, 2003 precisely, the BBC asked novelists who have a profound understanding of the city they live in to reflect on the fiction it has produced and the various works of literature set there. In BBC’s compilation of these contributions titled Sense of the City: Lagos, Helon Habila (the 2001 Caine Prize Winner) really captures the “This is Lagos” phenomenon in this apt statement, “Lagos is seen as a place where people come and lose their innocence. It is seen as a kind of enemy to innocence, because basically it is a colonial creation”

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The other side of 'yahooism in 9ja'

Why on earth would some banker somewhere be perfectly willing to let me in on a forgotten stash of loot which I could help him/her withdraw from the bank for a sustantial percentage? I've received loads of emails, for the past 2yrs, soliciting for my assistance in withdrawing, albeit clandestinely, mindboggling sums of money from bankers guarding monies belonging to such conveniently dead folks as Abacha, Eyadema, Abiola etc.

These 'yahoo boys' really have assumed epidemic status, and the FG + International Police should intensify efforts at battling this scourge. Infact I suggest that a National Immunization Scheme against 'Yahoo Disease' be set up to fight this epidemic. Or better still, a full commission - National Campaign against Yahooism Commission (NCYC), be created with Dora as its pioneer MD to steer the ship. Oh! just had Yar Adua presented a bill to the Natiuonal Assembly on the establishment of the National Cyber Crimes Commission

However, I am very concerned that the fight against 'yahooism' seems to be following one track. Fine, it's criminal to send mails giving untrue information with the aim of defrauding victims, and perpertors should face the law. What about the guy whose ears prick up at the prospect of skimming a couple of millions of dollars off Abacha's loot? Or the chap who is interested in claiming the lottery which he/she never applied for? Or the smart businessman who wants to cut corners and come invest (exploit) in Africa?

I never read tru any of these mails, I delete immediately I catch the drift. Hey! don't get me wrong, I'd very much love to make the extra bucks now and then, (who doesn't?), but I really think contacting me from the blues to discuss a transaction that would earn me a few million bucks in a couple of weeks is taking wishful thinking a bit too far.

How could any sane person fall for this kind of scam? It seems almost impossible but statistics reveal that the 'yahoo boys' industry makes an estimate of 3billion naira annually. So, business is good. The industry records higher and higher applicants and the brains are expanding thair scope of activities. It is ironic that the massive unemployment rate in Nigeria, which contributed to the growth of the 'yahoo industry' in the first place, is now one of the results of this expansion. 'Yahoo boys' have now begun to turn to the huge possibilities in the massive numbers of the unemployed. Vacancy ads are placed in papers and the resultant thousands of applicants are usually asked to pay 'application fees'. The numbers indicate that business is good, the 'mugu or maga' is always around the next corner.

It is important that these so called victims of 'yahooism' be called to explain their own intentions. I think the greedy fellow who decides to get involved in a deal to transfer illegal funds has committed a crime by not reporting to the appropriate authorities. S/he should be tried before the courts and, if found guilty, jailed. The weel worn cliche that you always hear by defenders of the industry is that, "we are taking back what was stolen from us during the colonial era." Now, this is a highly debatable issue, (maybe we'll talk about it later). Fact is, the victim is not really the victim.