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Ambode’s “Incompetence”, Where The Economist Got It Wrong

First Bank Nigeria

Lagos state Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has come out like a smoking gun through his rejoinder to an article published in a UK-based magazine, The Economist.

The article, titled “Paralysed: Why Nigeria’s Largest City Is Even Less Navigable Than Usual”, published 5 November, x-rayed the deteriorating traffic situation and crime upsurge in Lagos state. The UK-based magazine claimed security opinions available to it suggested that the sudden rise in crime “is symptomatic of a broader increase in organised crime under a new and less competent state government.” The magazine described Governor Akinwunmi Ambode as being “full of excuses, but few solutions,” while blaming the traffic and robbery menaces currently witnessed in the state on his decision to “cut the powers of traffic controllers by banning them from impounding cars.” It also noted that the traffic officers “in retaliation have refused to enforce the rules.”

In his strongly-worded rejection of the magazine’s report, Governor Ambode launched into unrestrained offensive, charging both at the magazine and the local media that culled the article. In the governor’s view, the local media deserved some whipping for this. The governor opined that the traction the report got in the local and social media was “orchestrated” and “helped in part, ostensibly, by a push from a recalcitrant legion of traducers still struggling with the reality of a new helmsman whose idea of progress in Lagos State factors in electoral promises and respect for human dignity.” What a sterile and escapist conclusion by the amiable governor. As uncharitable as The Economist article appeared, the governor needed not blame the local media for reporting same. This is a concern the governor admitted, apologised for and promised to fix.

In a press release by the governor’s media handlers on 29 October, Ambode said: “I’m deeply concerned about the issues that Lagosians are sending back to me and the issues range from security issues, traffic gridlock and the environment itself.” In addressing the traffic situation Governor Ambode, on 2 November, appointed Christian Olakpe, a retired assistant inspector general of police, as managing director of the Lagos state Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA.

Still, on 6 November, the governor said in another press release “that it had become evident that traffic crimes and robbery are mostly as a result of the menace of Okada riders and street hawkers, while recalcitrant commercial buses have become lawless and reckless”. Putting the foregoing together, wasn’t the governor wrong to have lined the media and his imaginary “fifth columnists” for some lashes in a situation he can’t even be blamed (Governor Ambode)?

Lagos is complex and so are its citizens. Even though said The Economist report captured our present pains, it lacked depth, rigorous scholarship and merely mocked the situation. The tendency for jaundiced and imbalance reporting by foreign media against Africa is legendary and sincerely didn’t warrant mud-raking. In the same report, the writer showed its Janus-faced and betrayed its insincerity. For instance, while the magazine applauded former governor Babatunde Fashola’s sprucing of Lagos, specifically, in the area of traffic management and security, it pilloried his enforcement strategy. “Cars were terrified into order by a state traffic agency, LASTMA, whose bribe-hungry officers flagged down offending drivers,” the magazine stated. The magazine failed to understand that change has a nature, which is its value and its sustainability.

While change is driven by the people, social existence and order is sustained by structures. The mutual inclusivity of these factors within a matrix begets a workable society, which is the hunch of the structural-functionalism school.

Evidently, it is not for lack of laws that Lagos, nay, Nigeria fails to instil order where it seems slack, but the absence of sustained structures and a citizenry with sufficient patriotism. That Lagos seeming suffered a palsy of disorder within the few months Ambode came to power is not much the fault of its new helmsman than it is the people’s unwillingness to make change a culture. It is a known in a problem in a disarticulated society, like ours, where civic culture is completely abhorrent to the people. A society where order is scoffed at, institutions debased and government treated with cynicism by the citizenry can only produce lawlessness and brigandage.

With this in mind, the capacity of government in a fast-paced city-state, like Lagos, with burgeoning population and no corresponding increase in infrastructure and law enforcement measures, is likely to be over-stretched. The situation is compounded by the obvious perfidy of the traffic enforcers, exposing the deep-seated corruption within LASTMA. They, and not the local media or the ordinary citizens, yielded the governor to derision. The introduction of booking and ticketing system to replace the hitherto crude and atavistic approach to traffic management is a paradigm shift the governor must be commended for. The idea is noble and conforms to global best practices. Unfortunately, it sprang a brutal rejection from the some corrupt traffic officers, who saw it as an onslaught to their meal tickets.

Thankfully, The Economist realised this difficulty, and so its opinion that “reform in a culture riddled with corruption is never easy.” The magazine’s admission could only mean one thing: Governor Ambode’s incremental approach to instilling a humane and civilised traffic enforcement requires steady and determined push to delivering a safe, clean and prosperous Lagos

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