The military have enshrined the understanding of power in the mind of the average Nigerian. Their maxim rests on the bedrock that power flows from the barrel of a gun. Such power has been deemed undemocratic, non-participatory, insensitive and brutal. It is precisely its non-participatory nature, coupled with its insensitivity that promotes the beauty of democracy; a process where man is seen as a decider of his fate, the supporter and promoter of his collective destiny. Power, in a democracy, thus flows from the people’s votes; power flows, by extension from the people, therefore making the people the primary custodian of power. In a true democracy, it is difficult to separate the “people” from “power” as the two are linked, often interacts and exist in harmony. A “power” that ignores its source and alienates the people is one that is tethering on calamity. Such a power toys with rejection and castigation to the dustbin of history.
Since the aim of democracy is the installation of good governance, what then do we mean by good government? According to Thomas Jefferson, in his address eons ago to Maryland Republicans in the United States, he emphasized that good government was the one that most effectively secures the rights of the people and rewards of their labour. He argued that a good government promotes the people’s happiness and also does their will; these are the legitimate objectives of a good government. Other theorists went further to describe the attributes of a good government as possessing eight major characteristics - participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. A good government ensures that the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making.
This is not a thesis on power but a comment on the antics of the Lagos State government in its unyielding disdain for the people’s agitation. It is indeed baffling that a government of a highly educated gentleman would often times be so brash almost to the point of being vindictive and brutal. Here is a government that borrowed precious little from the rule book of diplomacy and active engagement with the people. The head of this government makes no pretention of its disdain for the people and their collective wishes. He enjoys the limelight of challenging the people to a duel – a duel of the might of the government in suppressing the peoples’ agitation and desires. It is such that in this unfortunate state, many war fronts against the government have been created and directly perpetuated by the governor himself.
While power supposedly flows from the people in a democratic setting, yet in Lagos State, there is a conflicting dichotomy. We have the people and the government. This has created a situation akin to that obtainable in a military dispensation minus the barrel of a gun. It is a situation characterized by government versus people. Citizens have been brutalized, ignored, cajoled and treated with utmost disdain by a government that supposedly came to power on the strength of the people’s votes. In a battle of two opposing forces, where one has the arsenal of power and yet remains inflexible, the weaker opponent has no choice in its ultimate subjugation and humiliation. Such is the on-going battle over the continuous toiling plan for roads in the state.
The battle over toiling on the Lekki-Epe Expressway started way back in 2011. It was exactly on the 17th December 2011 when the peaceful protest by affected Lekki residents under the auspices of Lekki-Etiosa-Epe Estates Indigenes turned awry at the first toll collection point known as the Admiralty Circle Toll Plaza. The infamous role of the Lagos State government in sponsoring thugs to attack peaceful protesters is well documented in public eye. These thugs were ably assisted by the national disgrace known as Nigerian Police Force. Many residents were brutalized and injured and unconfirmed reports even relate to possible loss of life. This is in a democratic dispensation. Twenty-four hours after this show of shame, the ever recalcitrant and inflexible Lagos State government commenced its planned toll collection. We are all living witnesses to this sad fact today. In its legendary insensitivity to the people’s plight, the all-powerful Lagos government actually planned to commence operation of the second toll point (labelled Conservation Plaza) on the 16th December 2012.This second toll point is located about 10km away from the first (Admiralty Plaza) on a stretch of road measuring just 49.36 km. Of course, there would still be a third plaza, probably a year after the second!
That the Conservation Plaza has not come to life is due to the continued agitation and peaceful protest staged by aggrieved residents. Even then, the unruffled government has only postponed its launch date, apparently to gear up its unlimited armoury in taming the aggrieved. It would be nothing unusual or surprising if this current struggle leads the agile governor again to army formations in requesting military assistance in taming the “demons”. The Guardian on Sunday (of 16th December 2012) reported as follows:
“Despite promises made by Lagos State government and the construction firm in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme to provide a coastal route as an alternative to the toll-point at Admiralty Circle Plaza for road users, as contained in the contract documents for the project, it still remains an intention on paper. Instead, the goalpost is being shifted in the middle of the game with the creation of a single-lane route along Oniru Estate”
The salient issues that beg for answers remain same ever since the idea of this obnoxious partnership between Lagos State and the ubiquitous Lekki Concession Company (LCC) came to light. The issues include the relevance of charging money for the addition of a single lane to an existing road, a road built years ago by another civilian government. The other question is the proprietary or otherwise of mortgaging residents and other road users to a ludicrous agreement of 30 years of toll collection in the suspicious contract between LCC and Lagos State government. Finally, the dogged pursuit of this unpopular programme by the Raji Fashola’s government brings to light an aspect of government irresponsibility endemic in our country today.
An aspect of the agreement between LCC and Lagos State government is the creation of alternate axes to ease the burden on residents who cannot afford to submit to the exploitative regime. To date, if a corridor has been completed, it is probably one and even then, the government is in haste to continue its unpopular policy. It baffles one that it takes a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) for a government to be responsive to its primary commitment of building and maintaining roads in the onerous task of developing the state. While the stupendous hold of LCC on Lagos State government has set tongues wagging, to date the government has refused to accept the bait to quench the unpalatable rumour, if indeed it was unfounded. A recent example in memory is the effort of Dr Ademola Dominic to compel Governor Raji Fashola to render public accounts of its finances to the citizens. Using the instrument of the Freedom of Information Act that was lawfully passed by the National Assembly and ably signed to law by President Jonathan, Dr Dominic, on the 24th October 2012, petitioned the Lagos State government to disclose public accounts as relate to monthly tax revenue consultancy earned by a private company known as Alpha Beta Consulting Limited (ABC). However, in a disgraceful reply that smirks of public disdain and utter arrogance, Lagos State government in a statement signed by one Olanrewaju Akinsola (a Special Senior Assistant on Justice Sector Reforms in the Office of the Attorney-General), the government maintained that it would never release the state expenditure to public domain. Thus an obligatory responsibility of government was spectacularly rejected by nervous government with loads of skeleton in its cupboard. For curious Lagosians, ABC may well be a brother or sister of LCC as Bola Tinubu has been fingered in the formation of both.
Thus the alternative road axis created by the government is seen as a pacifier to stop the ever indebted government from being distracted in its dogged pursuit of gratification for its benefactor. It was not a road created out of altruistic necessity. It is indeed a wonder how one man can exert so much control over a state, nay a geographical region. And it is equally painful, how as a people we have used our votes to subjugate our future, created hardship for ourselves and enthrone mediocrity in governance. This is perhaps a lesson for future elections.
Thus on the attributes of a good government exposed by Thomas Jefferson and others, it is obvious to the people where the Fashola regime belongs. Here is a government that has consistently failed to utilise the art of consultation and public engagement in the formulation and implementation of policies. Mr Raji Fashola’s government in Lagos State is reflective of the attitude, internal structure and the modus operandi of the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN), the so-called liberal party out to salvage Nigeria from its moral and economic problems. The endearing qualities of this rather myopic regime are shrinking by the day.
The democratic credentials of this government beg for analysis. Here is a government that has brought so much hardship to the citizens in its obsession with a mega-city status. Here is a government that finds it convenient to rollick and frolic with a segment of the citizenry, only to turn around at a convenient time to seek for the annihilation of same. Here is a government that will use one side of its mouth to condemn a military suppression of the legitimate protest of the people, only to turn around at a convenient time and use another side of same mouth to invite the military to brutally suppress citizens that dare to challenge its over-lordship and supreme authority. Inadvertently, Lagosians have entrenched an Emperor-Governor; one who knows so much about the laws yet takes extreme pleasure in breaking same with impunity; An Emperor-Governor who is steadfastly insensitive to the people’s suffering, yearnings and desires. A mistake was indeed made in Lagos.
Before Joe Igbokwe shouts himself hoarse, may I declare that I belong to no political persuasion. If anything, I treat the poison called politics in Lagos, and in Nigeria as a whole, with nothing but a very long stick. My sanity is too precious for the conundrum of disconsolate noises and shenanigans called politics in Nigeria. It may be right to describe me as a child of anger (many thanks to opportunistic Reuben Abati). Yes, I am a pestle-welding critic and an unrelenting, self-appointed activist. But unlike the misguided Abati stated, I am not idling and neither am I twittering for fun. I have vowed to use my talent in the extremely difficult task of sanitizing the malodorous Nigerian environment. An environment polluted by the stinks from the likes of Reuben and all those who are hell bent on making us a joke in the eyes of the world. Herein lies my anger, especially at the questionable policies and projects in Lagos State. Yes, Lagos is my state and I have a stake in its wellbeing and progress.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters