Saturday 1 May 2010

Nigeria: Welcome to Lagos III - Welthauptstadt Nigeria

Originally published on Nigerians Talk.ORG please post your comments and views there. Thanks.

Contending against all forces

The third part of the BBC documentary, Welcome to Lagos was aired on Thursday, my reliance on the automated recording of all the episodes by my DVR 2 weeks ago failed for this one, such that I had to wait for the uploads provided courtesy of the resourceful Nigerian Curiosity – You can view all the episodes from this link – Welcome to Lagos at Nigerian Curiosity [1].

From what I saw, the real reason for this 3-part documentary was revealed in stark detail as a growing megacity where people come to seek opportunity and how their lives in the struggle for survival finds them at the mercy of other forces ready to destroy their livelihoods for the sake of some grand project of city beautification without any consideration for the people involved.

The faces of the issues

This part focused on the simple life of lady whose ambitions and dreams are built within the beach community of Kuramo where she faces the joys of marriage, the problems of spousal infidelity, the constant threats of expulsion by the government by the untrammelled remit of a Task Force, the force of nature depicted in surges of high tide sea flooding and the desire for a better lot in life.

The converse of this life was the face of the authorities – once a member of the National Dance Troupe – charged with cleaning up Lagos from the office of the Lagos State Special Offences and Enforcement Unit, commonly known as the Task Force who have a “mandate all of their own” and the power to arrest, seize goods and destroy property without compensation – the enthusiasm is almost Stalinist with exuberance and noxious in its resolution.

The settlers welcome

The Welcome to Lagos title is salutary to the people who have come to Lagos to make a living, it is not a tourist guide to the megacity, throughout the documentary, the narrator stated Lagos is the fastest growing megacity in the world and it has no infrastructure to support its growing population because the pull for economic survival is compelling and irresistible.

In the first two documentaries, we saw the lives of people who had come to settle in Lagos where the absence of social housing and the prohibitive cost of entering the house rental market means that people have to seek accommodation in the more affordable places which just happen to be the slums.

Sanitising Lagos

The documentary suggests that up to three-quarters of the population of this thriving megacity lives in these places and the government of Lagos has caught on this grand vision called the Lagos Megacity Project – the Task Force which has the force of criminal law enforcement behind it whilst acting as a regulatory body for practices that abide by the law has been assigned the task of destroying all the slums, driving out the criminals, the squatters and the illegal traders who clog up the streets.

Indeed, there is a criminal element in Lagos life and they are not only in the slums, they are everywhere and hated by everyone, they are called Area Boys – jobless gangs of men who rob, extort, tax, harass and threaten the amiable communities they muscle without compunction. The Task Force should well go after these miscreants as well as ensure people do not put up illegal structures that obstruct the daily lives of other members of the community.

However, if the government were to rid itself of these slums which in a majority of cases consists of settlers rather than indigenes only that it has not degenerated to the conflicts of Jos in the middle of Nigeria, where do these 11 million people go? The official in charge said plainly, “We don’t need them.”

The cosy lot

The well ensconced communities have been given a narrative or a notion that these slums consist of armed robbers, prostitutes and illegal activity, this false propaganda finds support amongst the vocal with access to the media.

However, with episodes one and two of Welcome to Lagos, one would be hard pressed to see any picture of criminal activity, chaos or lawlessness, rather, where the government and civic society has not stepped up to its obligations of providing housing, business environments and required infrastructure, these people have improvised with the meagre means they have to make their lives liveable and bearable.

An industry of landscapers has arisen out of the misery of the displaced slum dwellers, as Lagos is not necessarily paved over with macadam but being greened up with grass, trees, water features and so many aesthetically beautiful things – the railroads will be revamped, better roads will be built and people would feel safer – goes the message, but the slum dwellers are being frustrated but not out of Lagos where everyone thinks they have that springboard to success – optimism and hope exudes – new slums will arise elsewhere.

A Welthauptstadt in the making

Sanitising Lagos by eliminating a core part of its lifeblood and resource; the people, their living and their livelihoods, is dangerous,; even though the beauty and cleanliness of parts of the city that once appeared to have descended into almost terminal decay have now got a new look. It however makes one recall a project so similar over 70 years ago where a capital city was being converted into a world metropolis but the same methods we see today.

Welcome to Lagos should be seen for what it is, the victimisation of a section of the community for a grandiose plan with the government not rising up to its responsibilities to provide the essential needs of the displaced people – whilst I would not advocate civil activism – for the many that have jumped the gun on this documentary, maybe they can right their ways by militating against this injustice and deprivation of fellow Nigerians.

The real government responsibility

Adequate housing for the growing population of Lagos, essential infrastructure to cater for its people, proper relocation plans that account for accommodation, schools, hospitals, markets, recreations and places of worship – it should not be too much to ask for – but to displace people for trees, grass and water fountains – no greater sense of injustice can be visited on a diligent, resilient and proud people.

Welcome to Lagos presages the rise of civil unrest, before this gathers into a force that government cannot control when people realise what is really happening to them, something needs to be done – Lagos belongs to every Nigerian who decides to live there as long as they are law-abiding, responsible and conscientious – indigene and settler – alike.

They should all feel they all have equal access to live in Lagos with all the trappings of civility and contemporary civilisation – with this documentary; it is evident that there is no such equality exists and no one is standing up for the downtrodden “slum dweller” of Lagos, the megacity.


[1] Nigerian Curiosity | Watch BBC's “Welcome to Lagos” Part 3 (Video)

Other reference

Welthauptstadt Germania - Hilter's vision of a new Berlin []

My reviews of all the parts of BBC’s Welcome to Lagos documentary

Nigeria: Welcome to Lagos III - Welthauptstadt Nigeria

Nigeria: Welcome to Lagos II - Beyond Civic Pride

Nigeria: Welcome to Lagos - An inspiration

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