A Parvenu Class and the Disintegration of the Lagos Establishment, By Bámidélé Adémólá-Olátéjú
For Lagos to meet its immense, mouth-watering potentials, a new governing class that is in tune with the need to build an all-embracing democracy based on innovations, skills, competition and technology has to be created. The present political establishment have clearly exhausted the limits of its stifling possibilities and is doing long-term damage to the State.
There is a lingering confusion in terms of what Lagos, hitherto a cosmopolitan high point has become. Today’s Lagos is a far cry from the urbanity of the Lagos colony of the Sapara Williams’, Blaizes, Adeyemo Alakijas, J.I.C Taylors, where there was a vibrancy of thought, reasoning and action. Long before the amalgamation of 1914, there was an existing effervescence of ideas that clearly unsettled Lord Lugard, whose racial prejudice it contradicted and challenged. After the amalgamation, commerce interwoven with the development of the professions and professional services made the Lagos colony even more spirited, inducing a renaissance of Africans. The Red Book Of West Africa published in 1925, now out of print, captures the economic history and political economy of one of the most vibrant places on earth at that point in time. That vibrancy is now lost. The profound changes in the demographic composition, since the migrant influx from the 1930s, is a factor. It slowly began, to erode the influence of the gentility of the professional and business classes. Orderly evolution started to go awry. The loss of the influence of the nationalist and once dominant party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC) was also a factor, as nationalist-oriented progressive politics was gradually eroded, leading to disparate parochial hubs and interests.
If we fast forward to 2020, we can see that in spite of the spin, Lagos is no longer in the forefront. For example, the response of the colonial authorities and the legislative body of the colony, to the Spanish flu of 1918 and the outbreaks of Cholera in the 1920s was decisive. It led to vast, irreversible changes in the environmental edicts, sewage handling, water systems, building codes and permits, and so forth. No such response to the novel coronavirus is going to take place under the present order, in which the Lagos State House of Assembly budget is appropriated to consume double the budget of the Lagos State University. Alhaji Lateef Jakande, who advanced so many progressive changes, must be really bewildered as to how it has all turned out.
The Lagos establishment has been systematically decimated and dismantled. Life and thought in Lagos is now under jackbooted cryptofascist rule. The interests of the State and its superstructure is now subordinated to corporatist interests. It is one of the reasons why Lagos is not in any hurry to domesticate the rather tepid Freedom of Information Act into its statute books. That way, no one is really sure of the persons in charge of the corporate interests the state has been subordinated to. There are only guesses and mutterings about the ownership of the Lekki toll bridge collection company, the agency collecting taxes, as well as dozens of other commercial transactions. What is at play in the political economy of Lagos State is Tammany Hall style political patronage, interwoven with the political economy of fascism. Unlike when The Red Book Of West Africa praised the Lagos colony for its commercial innovations and vibrancy, the opposite is the case now. Lagos’ economic fortunes have been captured by marauding, politically induced special interests, who double as enforcement agents during the electoral cycles. They now act in restraint of trade and as an obstacle to innovation. With ruthless cronies in charge of the lucrative transportation sector, innovative incursion into the multi-billion naira transportation sector is frustrating and not for the faint-hearted. Whoever is in doubt should look at the heartaches of Uber, Gokada and others.
…Iyalojas and Babalojas rule the roost in Lagos to limit the space and control innovation. It is true that the Iyaloja and Babaloja are part of our cultural and economic milleu in Yoruba land, but the Lagos version fits absurdly into the pattern of graft and nepotism.
In the age of e-commerce, where the likes of Jeff Bezos’ Amazon are redefining the rules and operations of retail, Iyalojas and Babalojas rule the roost in Lagos to limit the space and control innovation. It is true that the Iyaloja and Babaloja are part of our cultural and economic milleu in Yoruba land, but the Lagos version fits absurdly into the pattern of graft and nepotism. Why can’t our markets be run in a competitive way that is open to innovation and merit? Is the administration of markets a monarchy? Lagos has become the poster state for stultification, despite its huge potentials. With entrenched stultification, it is difficult to see how Lagos can be transformed into a competitive international economic force, like Cape Town, Mumbai (Bombay), etc.
This is a fascinating incursion of how a parvenu class has developed a patronage system based on a structure of dependence to maintain control. Unlike other competitive city-states seeking to build modern economies, the Lagos establishment requires a low wage, low skills economy to entrench a patronage system that supplies the vitally important jackboots to act as enforcers during elections and maintain social control and dependency outside of the electoral cycle. Lagos seems best suited for this unfortunate interlude. Many who live in Lagos came to earn a living and stayed on. They have no real visceral attachment to the State. That is why the Lagos formula has been roundly rejected in the Yoruba hinterland. For Lagos to meet its immense, mouth-watering potentials, a new governing class that is in tune with the need to build an all-embracing democracy based on innovations, skills, competition and technology has to be created. The present political establishment have clearly exhausted the limits of its stifling possibilities and is doing long-term damage to the State.
Lagos cannot continue under this cryptofascist rule. What Lagos needs is transformation into a modernised, competitive international economy based on high skilled jobs and tradesmen to support its infrastructure development. A new Lagos where competitiveness is based on openness…
Where is the money? If the GDP of Lagos is about $137 billion dollars and has to be placed in the top seven in Africa, yet where on earth is the money going into? Unlike Kenya, for example, Lagos does not maintain an Army, Air force, Navy and about fifty foreign missions and treaty obligations, membership of international bodies and so forth; so, where is the money? Certainly, it is not reflected in the dilapidated, crumbling social and physical infrastructure; so where is the money? Lagos cannot continue under this cryptofascist rule. What Lagos needs is transformation into a modernised, competitive international economy based on high skilled jobs and tradesmen to support its infrastructure development. A new Lagos where competitiveness is based on openness and running on a framework that puts the benefits of the overwhelming majority ahead of the privileges of a self-serving oligarchy is possible.
Finally this nonsense about the Lagos model as a continuation of the Yoruba renaissance must be debunked. Awolowo, the Egbe Ọmọ Oduduwa, Nkrumah, Nehru et al were influenced by the great 1945 manifesto of the UK Labour Party, “Let us face the future.” It was a clear statement of how to place the people first by ensuring the fiscal stability to provide for massive, unprecedented investments in health and education. With its dilapidated, indeed crumbling, social infrastructure, this is not what the Lagos model is all about. Let us face the future and create the future we want. We can do it by being catalysts of a change that is already afoot among the Yoruba. Money is not what defines us. Character is. As Ọmọlúwàbís, we must resist the Jẹun S’oke chorus. Those who corrupt everything and every process through patronage and graft. Again, the future won’t create itself, we must create it.