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Tears and Sorrow

September 15, 2008

In my characteristic weakness for the brew, I had on this evening settled into a bar. I wanted to soothe my frayed nerves with some bottles of beer. Then, there was this commotion and people started running, scattering in different directions. Some patrons of the bar joined in the flight. I refused to scamper out of the bar, and take to flight for what I did not know. Shortly, it all calmed down.

In my characteristic weakness for the brew, I had on this evening settled into a bar. I wanted to soothe my frayed nerves with some bottles of beer. Then, there was this commotion and people started running, scattering in different directions. Some patrons of the bar joined in the flight. I refused to scamper out of the bar, and take to flight for what I did not know. Shortly, it all calmed down.

Then, I learnt that as part of the Fashola administration urban renewal program, a team of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) was on a mission to rid the streets of roadside traders and street hawkers. As I left the bar, I realized that they had attacked owners and operators of road side businesses, demolished their “illegal” structures, arrested some of them and seized and carted away their wares. As I strolled home, the street was devoid of the usually ubiquitous road side commerce. I watched out for a particular lady that sets up her table, laden with biscuits, boiled eggs, kola-nuts, ogogoro, shekpe, etc, in the evenings. She was not there. She must have escaped as KAI approached.

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I was really disturbed because I have come to know this woman personally. I think she is in her mid-40s, but wrenched by hardship, she looks considerably older. Her disheveled look, grave demeanor and the permanent scowl on her face reveal a woman who has known not only poverty and its attendant gloom and misery, but also, pains and sorrow. On my evening walks, I sometimes stopped to buy kola nut and the likes from her. I have on a number of occasions struck a conversation with her. She talks with a soft voice and a measured cadence. Ordinarily, these would suggest mental discipline borne of edification and intellectual attainment. In her case, obviously not educated, they hint of timidity, reticence and diffidence borne of suffering and deprivation. This woman is every inch a struggling woman. She, at the best of times, must be subsisting. What becomes of such people when their meager sources of subsistence are snatched from them? Their lives will automatically be ruined. Hunger will immediately set in, hopes dashed, dreams shattered, and people frustrated and traumatized to the point of delirium and insanity. But our leaders do not care.

Ensconced in opulence, consumed by greed, giddy with power and flush with wealth, they remain contemptuously indifferent to the increasing economic plight of the Nigeria populace. A few days later, a neighbor told me how a member of her church, a man, was weeping uncontrollably in church because the KAI officials destroyed his shop and confiscated his wares. Evidently, KAI leaves tears and sorrow in its wake. Why is the Fashola government inflicting such pains on innocent, struggling citizens of Nigeria trying to survive the impoverished mess our morally palsied leaders made of this country? Why destroy people’s means of livelihood in a city already swarmed with unemployment, desperate poverty and destitution? Even with the dire need to give Lagos a face lift, what fiendish urban renewal policy refuses to recognize that many indigent residents of Lagos have no option but to eke out a living selling on the street? Human behavior is driven by personal interests, and democratic politics is all about the resolution of competing and/or conflicting human interests. Here, there are conflicting needs between the elitist concern with urban esthetics, on the one hand, and the economic and personal survival of individuals, though poor, weak and voiceless, but still Nigerian citizens, on the other hand. Ordinarily, the issue would have been where to strike the delicate balance between these contending needs – allow people the opportunity to earn a living selling on the street, but regulate their activities to ensure the maintenance of public decorum, environmental sanitation and urban beauty.

But in their haughtiness and crass disdain for the poor, the Nigerian elite do not regard the concerns of the poor as worthy of consideration. This program to rid the streets of Lagos of street traders and hawkers was ill-conceived and the approach has been ruthless. KAI officials have been allowed expansive latitude for the abuse of the entire process. In the program, they saw the opportunity for self-enrichment, show of power and vindictiveness. They are literally running amok: hounding, terrorizing and dispossessing road side traders and street hawkers. They are expropriating valuables from them, seizing and carrying away their goods and arresting them and taking bribe from them to release (they call it bail) them. They are pursuing and herding people around like animals. Their approach is downright barbaric. The whole exercise is grossly reminiscent of colonial or Apartheid styled debasement of people. Nigeria joined the global rally against Apartheid in South Africa, but there is Apartheid in Nigeria. And there is no evidence that the Nigeria rendition of Apartheid is less atrocious than the South African version of it. The only difference is that Apartheid in South Africa was found on race, but in Nigeria, it is based on social class. This persistent harassment of hapless and indigent citizens of Nigeria and the destruction of their means of livelihood in Lagos State in the name of urban renewal is just a dimension of the Nigerian styled Apartheid. That a man who sees his source of livelihood threatened by KAI officials takes to his heels, instead of taking a stand to defend it is poignant. It shows the extent that Nigerians have been cowered by poverty and oppressive government policies. It is high time that every Nigerian realized that as a citizen of this country, no one, not even Babatunde Fashola or Musa Yar’Adua is more Nigerian than him; that he has the constitutional right to be treated with respect and decency in his own country. It is time that these long victimized street traders and hawkers recognized the need to take a stand in defense of their right to earn a living and be treated with civility in their own country.

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Just as the South Africa Blacks fought against Apartheid, the Nigerian masses should also fight against Nigerian Apartheid. Does not the akara frying woman have hot boiling oil at her disposal? Do not the roadside restaurant owners have their pistons and kitchen knives handy? That hot frying oil should be emptied on KAI officials, the pistons used to knock as many of them as possible unconscious and the kitchen knives thrust into as many of them that drew close enough. Everything within reach should be used to fight off KAI, a band of live-ruining, hope-dashing, dream-pooping, money-snatching and goods-stealing gangsters. May be the scalding, bruising and blooding of the KAI officials will force the Lagos State power establishment to realize that the people are sick and tired of their arrogance and insensitivity to the point where they are saying by their actions, enough is enough. Then, that may force them to factor into this their urban renewal hoopla that Nigerian citizens, even the downtrodden and browbeaten, reserve the right to earn a living, provide for their families and be treated like human beings in their own country.



The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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