Grandstanding With Power

Today’s Nigeria should be any foreign correspondent’s mine for news. Even the most un-enterprising of reporters would get at least two juicy stories a week, to whet the appetite of news hungry audiences at home because those who hold the reins here never tire of foul steps in attending to state matters.

Is it true that Nigeria sent about 400 delegates to the last United Nations general assembly in New York? How were they accommodated in the chambers because there are limited seats for every country? Perhaps, the multitude graced the public gallery, which itself is not readily accessible, available only after due screening for admittance? The rumour mill maintains that the crowd racked the patience of some officials of the foreign ministry. It is enough back-breaking to cater for 50, not to talk of 396 odd.

But that is Nigeria’s grandiloquent posture of addressing the world; in short calling investors’ attention to our profligate habit of how to spend money in style. Those investors watching Nigeria’s invasion of New York would not doubt the open-handedness of a government steeped in sending messages the wrong way at the right time.

A 400-man delegation should take some odd millions of dollars, which is nothing to a state that pumps two million barrels of crude oil daily for export, though only one of every million of the population gets oxygen gas in emergency cases in any of the country’s hospitals.

Those who lead here are not short of any response to such loud show of presence because “money is not the problem but how to spend it”, the evergreen statement made by a former head of state. Perhaps, they went to America to source for investment on the sideline of the UN; but what happened to the burgeoning industries that produced goods for half of Africa in the 1960s, 1970s and part of 1980s? Are we reinventing the wheel by asking for more when we have been unable to avert the trend of industrial collapse?

Leaders have their own styles, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, on that seat, trimmed every budget that came to his desk with the surgeon’s knife to leave what has no extra undesirable fat and flesh. Ask those former ministers of Abuja and of Sports. They got quite slim and healthy approvals from the estimates they brought before Umaru when he had not been disabled by that terminal ailment. He had integrity. He was a man who could be trusted because he owned any guilt he was due and carefully intervened in crises, for the Niger Delta uprising was deftly attacked and decisively solved under his watch. He had antecedents and so suffered no inferiority complex that is commonplace with upstarts. One recollects Nigeria’s invasion of China two years ago with a battalion of cheer leaders, the occasion President Goodluck Jonathan made the statement that he would not stop Igbos from importing goods from that country. He was true to his pledge. At least even toothpicks used at parties and receptions now are made in China. Gift items are now imported from that country with a population of 1.5 billion. That is our contribution to solving unemployment there while our youths roam the streets in their scores of millions because our factories lie fallow.

A visit to the Daily Times of Nigeria at Kakawa Street, Lagos, is a good testimony to the success of privatisation on the reverse. No former employee should visit the building, except he is inviting shock and hypertension. The Agidingbi branch is now a mighty warehouse for a brewery to store cartons of drinks. All the other assets in Iganmu, Apapa, Onitsha and Aba were earlier sold. The million-dollar estate at Ikeja had been pawned by those brought in to cannibalise the company. Certainly, Daily Times as an institution was Nigeria and so whoever destroyed the Times takes the blame for the collapse of all the enviable founding blocks upon which this nation was built.

The corporate headquarter we savoured then was as good as any where in the world. They now sell “akara”, rice and beans there, and also assorted goods spread over the building and frontage, overflowing to the adjacent streets. Jonathan, really, has made good his promise. Broad Street, Lagos, Nigeria’s former showpiece, is now worse than the erstwhile infamous Oshodi. I have never seen an institution so abused as the central Lagos business district has been thoroughly reduced.

Gone are the Kingsways, UTC, PZ, GB Ollivant, John Holt, Mandilas and other corporate headquarters that characterised the features of Nigeria’s economic strength. For those not used to congestion, it is difficult to breathe at Broad Street now. Goods are displayed on the pavements spreading to the road and the walls of those multi-national corporations that dictated the successful industrial surge in Nigeria are now decorated with haversacks, anoraks, artificial models and assortment of goods from China dumped here.

Broad Street housed exquisite clubs and restaurants like Cathay, Antoine, Palace, Bagatelle and others that were the pride of Nigeria. Top managers walked to those places at lunch hours to hold business talks. The Lagos Central Business District is now a jungle. How did it come to this sorry pass? That place was habitable before constitutional rule. It decayed with the coming of Bola Tinubu as governor, where every available space in Lagos became either a market or a motor park.

Babatunde Fashola successfully arrested it and brought dignity back to Lagos. But one wonders why the Kick Against Indiscipline, KAI, has been shy with the environmental pollution of Central Lagos because Marina is not also spared the same fate as Broad Street.

Strangers should respect their hosts and help keep customary order. That is absent in Central Lagos now. Lagosians should rise to restore their pride. Why did the Lagos State Ministry of Environment allow such decay? This is a challenge to Fashola. If he could check the rot at Oshodi, why not at Broad Street? Why not at Marina?

The Lagos State government should acquire the Daily Times property at Kakawa Street to abate environmental hazards because the folks that cornered the property are insulting.


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