I really pity the good old Lagos. Can you imagine that we are less than one month to what should be the most important day in our national calendar, yet nothing seems to be happening at the level of the Federal Government? Only the Lagos State Government has been making frenetic efforts to put some things in place before that fateful date.
As for our Gladiators in Abuja, Lagos is as good as dead. Abuja is it, and only Abuja must wear a new look. Julius Berger is already renovating the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, while our flagship Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos is being allowed to decay. Such is the life of a people without a sense of history and nostalgia.
Elsewhere, Lagos, the heartbeat of Nigeria, would have been fully rehabilitated, and dressed in hallowing robes, which she definitely and richly deserves. By now, the Lagos airports would have been screaming so stridently in preparation for the gathering of God’s original tribes, brilliant, beautiful, assertive, loud, sometimes egregious but generally nice and generous. Where else in the world would you feed 2000 guests for free on an assortment of the best dishes and vintage drinks without batting eyelids?
Here was the place Nigeria’s Independence was proclaimed amidst pomp and pageantry, and with so much hope and promise. The Race Course has since been comatose. Once upon a time it was a haven for the rich and famous. They came from everywhere with well-fed horses to race in splendour. Not anymore. It is now a den for area boys running after celebrants and their guests for anything they could persuade them into giving. Yet that was our freedom ground, where our national flag was first hoisted. The State House Marina was just a stone-throw away. It would soon be abandoned for army barracks where evil plotted with venom and became detached from reality. It was place that gave them a false sense of security.
There is hardly anything the colonial administration left behind that has been sustained. We’ve been visited repeatedly by political hurricanes with no mercy. There is no sign of what we inherited from the colonial masters. The beauty of Ikoyi has been despoiled and desecrated. Nothing is again. We can no longer recognise or remember common street names. They’ve been changed to all manners of names, mostly undeserving and without pedigree. The railways that used to be one of the attractions in Lagos have since died of tuberculosis. The skeletons are the only visible memento we have. No one would have expected or anticipated what Lagos, and Nigeria as a whole, has become today, a vast wasteland peopled by some of the greatest human beings on earth but unfortunate to have some of the most brutish leaders around.
We seemed to have started on a good note. Just imagine the calibre of men of timbre in power 50 years ago. Though, I was only a few months old at the time, I still felt the overpowering vibrations of politics and politicians of that golden era. They were young, energetic, colourful and proud. Most of them had schooled abroad and were influenced by the various ideologies they encountered during their sojourn. They were thus anxious to replace the Whiteman, and demonstrate that The Blackman is not a monkey after-all. Some of them truly had great ideas. And they possessed the spirit of competition. The regions were few and manageable. And each of them developed at its own pace and stamina.
Lagos was always the centre of action. Even those who lived in rural areas heard of a place called the London of Africa. In actual fact, Lagos was regarded as overseas, may be because the place was surrounded by the seas, the lagoon as well as the Atlantic Ocean. Children who were born in Lagos were oftentimes given such names like those borne by children delivered abroad. Many of those named Tokunbo never even went close to the Bar Beach. Lagos was that cosmopolitan. I heard from friends that they even had fresh milk delivered to their doorsteps in Lagos. It was pleasurable to jog and take romantic walks. Someone I know who would readily cry over the way Lagos has been abandoned by the Federal Government is the famous Lagos barber turned first class photographer, Sunmi Smart-Cole. If you ever visit him at home in the old Yaba, your entire stay would be well-spent going down memory lane. Indeed, Lagos has suffered.
Even if I was not old enough to witness the attainment and celebration of our Independence from Colonial Rule, we all still remember the beautiful parades. I vividly recollect the 10th anniversary in 1970. I was still in primary school but will never forget how every pupil was served with jollof rice and a soft drink that must have been called Tango at the time. It remains in my memory as the best jollof rice I ever ate. Even as I write this piece, I‘m salivating at the sheer thought of it. Life was very good. An Army officer, Yakubu Gowon was Head of State. He was young and princely. His wife, Victoria, was out of this world. She was our own Princess Diana. They were in the news all the time. Lady Victoria’s childbirth was a stuff of Hollywood. We were regaled with minute-by-minute tales of her state in pregnancy. It was impossible in those days for a President to disappear from radar even momentarily. Our toga of civilisation had not totally washed off then. The civil war was a big dent and pain on our corporate existence but we managed to stick together like toffee.
There was money; oil money. We didn’t even know what to do with it. Nigerians only competed with the Oil Sheikhs of Saudi Arabia in the exclusive shops of Knightsbridge and Bond Street. I’m not sure we didn’t defeat them in the spending contest. But mercifully, we still had concrete structures to showcase as evidence of our development and progress. Fly-over after fly-over littered many places. And we felt a giddiness driving over them. If we had maintained that steady flow of things, only God knows where Nigeria would have been by now. But we lost it. We lost our bearing. And we lost our souls.
Corruption began to stink to high heavens. This would later lead to the coup that ousted Gowon. Murtala Mohammed, the only man I believe truly understood the meaning and strategy of fighting corruption came on the scene. He was a superman who was ready to sacrifice his own personal comfort for the nation. He knew you could not fight corruption when you were an Olympic medallist in it yourself. He made a personal sacrifice but did not live long to complete his mission. All the others after him have not been totally sincere about their crusades. Multiple standards have been their bane.
Corruption became a thing of pride. And we moved from bad to worse. The military years finally destroyed the importance of Lagos. Lagos was always a beautiful bride until one of those horrible coups chased Ibrahim Babangida out of Lagos. He was forced to run to Abuja where he erected an impregnable fortress. And that was how the cookie crumbled.
Lagos deserves a better treatment. Can we ever imagine the United States of America without New York, the city that never sleeps? Politics has really done enough damage in our land.