By Issa Babatunde Ahmed
On a windy day, going through Lagos; a land of many inhabitants and a melting pot of all sorts of tribes, I turn up the collar on my favorite raining coat. The wind is blowing in my face and fanning my thoughts. I see children on the streets with not enough to eat. They follow each other as if ordered around by the wind. The truth is they have nowhere to go.
There are so many of them out there – struggling (endlessly), seeking shelter, feeding, and clothing without any hope that such basic needs will be met but my fear now is that they are fast becoming loose street gangs of teenage boys with access to drugs and weapons ready to commit crimes as drastic as murder. Just like me, if you had a heart of passion, you couldn’t pretend blind to their needs.
Most of us have at some time offered our selfish kind of love at such sights, saying “It’s not my problem.” Eventually, we can’t sleep with our two eyes closed at night, because of the thought of the future that faces such members of our society. So it’s high time we realized there are some with no home that can commit drastic crimes for peanuts.
At times I wonder, could it be me just pretending that these citizens living on the streets are alone? Maybe they are not truly in a willow deeply scarred body with broken hearts and a washed out dream as they follow the pattern of the wind? Probably they are not disregarded in the society as they struggle to make a living? Maybe some of them are orphans or did not leave their homes from other parts of the country thinking they would find it easy in Lagos?
When you are in Lagos, you either stay on the Mainland or the Island, where top class business activities take place. I am from the mainland part of Lagos by birth. Lagos metropolis houses the nation’s largest urban area with its western part sharing boundaries with the Republic of Benin.
Back to my story. It is 6:10 am Monday morning, and I have appointments on the Island. First one is by 8:00 am, in Lagos. Traffic and Lagos roads are ride or die, partners, you can’t separate this two which means I might be late even though am on the yellow and black stripe bus already. Abule-Egba, which is my residence to Victoria Island shouldn’t take you more than 50-60mins at most, but Lagos traffic can make it look like you are on the flight to London which is approximately 6 hours! That’s Eko for you.
It’s cold this morning. But whether it’s cold or hot, Lagos is always awake, and the bus driver reeks (… and what’s that smell?). Cigarette! And O my goodness! I smell Ogogoro (Alcohol) as well. But what choice have I got? That’s the average lifestyle of a Lagos driver.
As if that is not enough to worry about, another soldier wearing a white and green uniform appears with his thick voice only to strangle the bus conductor demanding for a certain amount of money before the bus could leave the park.
Aaargh!!! the Agberos (National Union of Road Transport Workers) are out of control. They dictate the tone of transportation. They do all sort of things and get away with it. The government pampers Agberos for political reasons. That’s topic for another day.
They (Agberos) make transportation difficult in Lagos. They are always at every bus stop extorting transporters and sometimes a good reason why some bus drivers will tell you they are not plying certain routes or won’t stop for you at particular bus stops.
Why won’t there be inflation in transport fare when transporters will fuel their buses at 165 naira per litre at the same time be thinking of how to pay this Agberos whose leaders spend money on Fuji musicians lavishly and throw parties for their girlfriends? And I keep wondering what the government is doing about this only to find out they’ will rather unleash Task Force on our source of comfort while we dwindle in the Lagos traffic – the street hawkers.
Many of us spend several hours getting home from work, so we mostly have our breakfast and dinners in transit. Sometimes we might need to quench a thirst on these buses just because of traffic stress. Not forgetting as well that most of these hawkers are trying to make a living legitimately.
Though running in traffic when cars are moving is quite dangerous, yet most hawkers wouldn’t do this if they had a better choice. Most of these people struggle to make a living by selling items on the roadside, unleashing the dragons on them from doing this takes the faded hope they have away. They could end up embracing crime which already available!
Some are even doing this to further their education, yet without any substitute, the government is tearing their world down without care of the consequences.
The way Government agencies treat the roadside trader woman, whose probably the mother of a graduate, who has no job but had to take to street hawking to survive is heartbreaking.
They torment them as if they are hardened criminals. I have witnessed a few thrown into black vans after confiscating all their products. You have just run them into debt because most them take these things on credit and pay after sales.
The government wants to make Lagos a mega city, free of heavy pedestrian traffic, which is a brilliant idea, but we can’t make life more miserable for our people who earn a living on the road not by choice but by design. We cannot just push them further into the dark parts of the streets to satisfy the elites or foreign investors, who might eventually find Lagos hostile if we don’t do what is necessary before implementing policies.
Issa Babatunde Ahmed is Public Affairs Analyst.