For Fashola, ‘There Was a Country’ by Ikeogu Oke
During my most recent visit to Lagos, I was passing through Obalende with a friend, Samuel Oyongha, who lives in Dolphin Estate, and was so pleased with the order the Governor Babatunde Fashola’s administration had imposed on the chaos that usually characterised the place that I told my friend that I would write a newspaper article to commend Fashola on my return to Abuja. Some years earlier, before Fashola’s transformation of Obalende, I lived in Lagos and passed through Obalende regularly to my office at Igbosere Road. So, I was in a position to know the difference.
I couldn’t find time to write the article. But I have recalled here what I said about Fashola to my friend, mentioned as a living witness, as an indication that some of us, though not residents of Lagos and of a different ethnic stock from the Lagos State Governor, recognise the good work he has done so far in transforming Lagos, arguably Nigeria’s most important cosmopolitan city.
Fashola has tamed the wild beast called Oshodi and, like Obalende, transformed it into a place worthy of inclusion in a city populated by sane people. For me, both Oshodi and Obalende were metaphors of the larger Nigeria; and I believed that whatever measures Fashola used to transform both milieus could produce similar positive results if applied to the Nigerian nation as a whole. So, I was beginning to picture Fashola as a leader who, at the right time, could come to the centre and possibly run for the Presidency and win and reproduce the miracles of Oshodi and Obalende on a national scale, improving our disorderly and leadership- and developmentally-challenged nation as he has improved the state currently under his charge.
I still consider Fashola a remarkable achiever and have not changed my position about what could result from his being given a chance to lead at the centre. But how can I or anyone else ever succeed in selling him to other Nigerians as a leader fit for the whole country, assuming he so desires, despite his practice of deporting fellow “destitute” Nigerians from Lagos to their states of origin? Nigeria has a long history for generating oddities. But the act of one of its best-achieving governors championing intra-national “deportations” of his fellow citizens from his state in a country whose constitution guarantees citizenship rights including the right to live anywhere within its boundaries is in a special class of odd events. It violates the basic sense of nationhood and evokes a justification for Chinua Achebe alluding to the pastness of Nigeria’s status as a country in his autobiography, There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra. Whoever heard of a country in which the governor of a state “deported” its citizens from other states to their states for being “destitute”, or for any other reason?
First it was to Oyo State, then to Anambra; and Osun State has also acknowledged Fashola’s deportation of its indigenes from Lagos last week. So, we see a pattern that does not justify Fashola being accused, as some have done, of acting based on ethnic considerations. But his repeated “deportation” of “destitute” persons from Lagos portrays him as anti-poor, which is strange in a country whose chronic misrule cannot but produce poor people, a leader in pursuit of such class puritanism in which the state under his charge can welcome or accommodate only the strong, while the weak are sent away to their various states, if not Lagos. What an unfortunate “country” ours remains for a citizen to be disfavoured by fortune!
What is more (and I stand to be contradicted on this): Such other “destitute” undesirables may register and vote in Lagos and have their votes counted to elect the incumbent, but they must be shooed away at the time of distributing the so-called democracy dividends in the same state in which they voted.
If gold can be this susceptible to rust, what can we say of iron? For Fashola can indeed pass for gold among our leaders, considering the breadth of his learning, exposure and transformative achievements as governor. Yet, he does not seem to understand that there is more to being a good leader, or creating a decent society, than providing accommodation in such society for the physically and financially strong. As Cardinal Roger Mahony says, “Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; the last, the least, the littlest.” As a people, we can trumpet our civility to the ends of the cosmos. But we remain uncivilised if we treat “destitute” and other weak members of our society with anything less than the same measure of respect and consideration we expect for ourselves.
Lagos cannot be a “no man’s land” as someone has reportedly described it in a reaction to the deportation of the Igbo. It is part of Yorubaland by virtue of its location. It is also a Nigerian territory, which entitles every Nigerian lawful access to it. Indeed, no Yoruba who has witnessed the drastic lull in activities in Lagos during those periods of the year when Igbo resident of Lagos return to the East in droves would maintain that Lagos would remain its famous vibrant self without its Igbo population. Also, no Igbo can deny that Lagos provides large numbers of Igbo people prospects for success in business and other endeavours that they may not find in the same measure in other parts of the country.
So, what exists between the Igbo and Lagos is a mutually beneficial relationship whose loss can only disserve both parties. I see no sense in either party claiming greater significance in the relationship, or believing the other would be worse hit if it unravels. You can never tell until it unravels. And may it never unravel.
During his speech at Chinua Achebe’s burial on May 23, 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan, having validated some of the sentiments Achebe expressed in his autobiography to which I referred above, urged Nigerians to work for a time when one of them, of the younger generation, will write a book titled, There is a Country, as an affirmation that Nigeria has indeed become a free, united and functional country, the Nigeria of Achebe’s dream. It cannot be called free when some of its citizens are not free to choose where to live owing to their physical or material conditions. Nor can it be called united when such citizens can be “deported” within its boundaries, implying lack of unity. Nor can it be called functional when its programme of creating functionality seeks to exclude such citizens.
The deportations by Fashola further strengthen the significance of the President’s call, for those who still believe in the Nigerian Project. They do not make Fashola a bad leader. They only show that he needs help to understand and face the demands of good leadership better.
– Oke, a poet and public policy analyst, wrote in from Abuja via email@example.com
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