How about taking it one step further and rewriting the embarrassment that is the Lagos moniker? I mean the flattering sobriquet – centre of excellence – that Lagos is often described as by some people, including the state government officials? That would be ideal, wouldn’t it? For, the appellation, centre of excellence, truth be told, Mr. Governor, is a misnomer.
I first saw the press release in a Whatsapp group to which I was recently included. It didn’t come from an anonymous source. It was shared by a friend – Olumide Idowu – whom, like others in the group, I first met in 2005 through the British Council InterAction Leadership Programme, which we were all selected to attend. Having brought it to our attention on November 6, Olumide was first to comment on it. He said: “An assumed minor initiative that is worth commending. Words truly matter in governance and in the interaction of the people with the state.”
Another group member, Salim replied: “I concur with him and salute his courage…”
I then added: “Good start. Let’s watch and see how he turns out.”
The interaction was a reaction to the decision of Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Lagos State governor, to do away with the appellation, His Excellency, a flattering title that people in his position are often addressed by in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Rationalising his decision to drop the almighty title, Sanwo-Olu, who was elected to office five months ago, said:
“The office of the Governor has been celebrated as the paragon of excellence, a temple of perfection and a throne of purity. This demi-god mystique spreads over the entire machinery of the executive arm of the government, symbolising an authoritarian disposition to the governed. It has deformed the orientation of elected and appointed persons who are paid from the taxes of the people to see themselves as oppressors who can do no wrong and must be served, rather than serve the people.
“Whatever might have been the reason for this myth, let us be honest, the office is occupied by a mortal who has been called upon to serve the electorate with humility – and sincerity… Fellow Lagosians, I have come to the conclusion that for us to change the narrative of governance, we have to strike down this seeming symbol of executive arrogance that commands popular obeisance and undermines the democratic role of citizens as the masters of those they have elected and appointed to serve…Only God, the Almighty, the Creator, the Protector is the Most Excellent. No man can share His eternal qualities.
“Thenceforth, I wish to be addressed simply as Mr. Governor, a title that will constantly remind me that I have been chosen out of so many fellow compatriots to lead a collective salvage of our political economy…
He then concluded thus: “To give official effect to this announcement, I shall issue tomorrow an executive order that will formally ensure full compliance with this new policy.”
As I later recalled Sanwo-Olu’s decision, I thought: “How about stepping it up further, Mr. Governor?”
How about taking it one step further and rewriting the embarrassment that is the Lagos moniker? I mean the flattering sobriquet – centre of excellence – that Lagos is often described as by some people, including the state government officials? That would be ideal, wouldn’t it? For, the appellation, centre of excellence, truth be told, Mr. Governor, is a misnomer. I know this as true, as someone who had lived in Lagos since 2005, and you, who I believe to be familiar with Lagos, having, as I read, served as a commissioner in the State, would agree that the tag is an aberration. Centre of excellence in what sense? I won’t bother to delve into issues here, I would only restrict myself to the Lagos environment. No, Mr. Governor. We should simply call the city what it is: A stinking, somewhat decaying, chaotic, and largely disorderly place; an environmental disaster. If in doubt, Mr. Governor, I urge you to please take a walk around Lagos Island. Don’t close your eyes as you walk from one house to the other, one street to the other. There’s no escaping it, it’s filth, filth and more filth – on the streets, in drains, everywhere. From there, proceed to just about any part of Lagos you wish to visit and walk around. Just watch, and you will see just why you need to drop the phrase, centre of excellence, for something fitter.
In a recent article titled, “Ugly Lagos and the Urgent Need for Redemption,” I wondered to what extent Lagos compares to Baltimore, a city that Donald Trump describes as “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” a “very dangerous and filthy place,” where “no human being would want to live.”
Trump, to me, is no model, let alone one to cite as example. But his view of Baltimore, a city I have never visited, left me wondering. Does Baltimore in anyway, compare to Lagos? And like I asked in the write-up, what would Trump say were he to visit Lagos today? What would he say about Oshodi, Lagos Island, Ketu, Surulere, Ajegunle, Ebute-Metta, Oworonshoki, Victoria Island, Bariga, Somolu, Ikoyi, Yaba, Mushin, Ogba, Lekki, Apapa, Ikeja, Alaba, Iyana Ipaja – everywhere? What would he say about slums that envelope this city, about makeshift structures in waterfront settlements littered with refuse, with no drains, toilet and pipeborne facilities for inhabitants; about stagnant drainages all over the city choked with debris, where bulgy rats, rodents, pigs, cockroaches and snakes, to talk of just these, dwell? What would he say about the diseased waters in this aquatic state, from where fishermen make a living and the public get served their products daily? What would he say about open defecation and excreta that litter the environment?
These are my concerns, Mr. Governor, and why I feel centre of excellence should be discarded. In its place, please, find something sobering, one that will remind us all, our responsibility towards our environment, towards salvaging the State for the good of all.
Doing so, I feel, will announce to the populace that with you in charge, it won’t be business as usual, and that since leadership starts with us as individuals, everyone should be prepared to take responsibility for his or her trash while the government does its part to clean up and remake Lagos.
Anthony Akaeze is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and author.