Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Emancipation of Lagos

Love him or hate him, u cannot but agree that Gov. Fashola of Lagos, being a serving politician, has an uncanny ability to surprise. I say uncanny because while I'm very well aware of his counterparts' prowess at constantly and shamelessly shocking the public, I am talking about pleasant surprises.
For once we actually have a person who went into governance with a clear idea of what he wanted to do, and an apparently strong determination to do it. It is obvious he wants to make Lagos a bit more civilized and sane, but what has differentiated him from his predecessors is that he is actually doing it - and the progress that can be quite easily seen is startlingly pleasing to the senses.
I guess the one that got me the most was the look of Lagos during Christmas - I never ever imagined Lagos would look that beautiful before say, 2050. All this while I'd always advocated that Lagos was nothing but a doomed city with too many conceptual mistakes for it to be successfully made sane, let alone beautiful, and here I was last Christmas licking my lips at the possibilities if this man were to remain where he is for the next few terms. The fact that he won't - beyond a second term at least - gives room for worry as regards the possible actions (or perhaps inaction) of whoever his successor would be, given the general uselessness and myopia of our politicians.
The current state of Oshodi has however made the biggest impression on people without a doubt. Oshodi is the place where everyone who remotely knows Lagos identifies as perhaps the worst area in the city. The place is reputed for everything despicable - daylight robbery, street trading, extreme dirtiness, awful smells, trash mountains, overcrowdedness, crazy parking, traffic, and everything illegal under the sun. But when I heard that it had been cleared, I was eager to see with my own eyes how that was possible. I only heard about it because I have made a solemn vow with myself that nothing, absolutely nothing would make me go through the place (along with Cele, Mushin, Okokomaiko, Alakuko and those places that are far from everywhere) except it is of extreme importance, like perhaps my job depends on it. And because of this vow, I have set my ways in such a manner as to never include Oshodi in my journeys. Consequently I only got to see the new Oshodi very recently while I was in a car with friends. I was so excited to see proof that there is a God in Heaven looking after the hell called Lagos...and we had passed it before I knew. That's how good it was looking, that I couldn't recognize it anymore. So much for savouring God's (and Fashola's) spectacular work.
I got another rude shock passing through Yaba the other day. Everyone knows Yaba for pretty much all of the Oshodi characteristics (if only less pronounced), but recent changes are pretty stunning. The first thing I had noticed the previous weekend was that somebody had finally thought that the headless, limbless sitting figure at the roundabout close to the railway (which used to be a proudly standing representation of a Youth Corper) had suffered enough torture in the hands of the elements and vandals, and it was only decent to remove it. The replacement, a statue depicting the cap and glasses of Bola Tinubu, is somewhat uncalled for, but surely a thousand times better than what used to be there. Yesterday as I was passing through on my way back from work (swearing for tanker drivers over and over again in my mind), I saw the area of the railway which used to house countless illegal shops looking very empty. It's not like I didn't have any previous warning - my sister had told me as much as at Sunday when she went through there, but, like Oshodi, I had to see for myself to fully grasp the effect created. The effect was dramatic, especially as some overzealous destructive persons (could as well have been a tornado) obviously carried out the operation. For a couple of seconds I felt I was walking through a set for the upcoming Terminator: Salvation movie. But I could also actually see buildings that for a long time had been obscured by the ramshackle shops. And Yaba was looking new, and saner, and less congested, unlike the obnoxious place I have frequented quite well for close to 20 years of living in its vicinity. I have no doubt that in the coming months, it would look much finer too.
And so, unbelievably, hope springs (even if not necessarily eternal, depending on the next Lagos State Governor) for this jungle city. God alone knows what it would be like now if just a few of Fashola's predecessors thought - and acted - like he is doing now. And I didn't even vote for the guy.

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