Writing a column for a newspaper could be a frustrating exercise, especially in a country like ours. One of the reasons that could make one’s head not to be properly screwed in the right places is the danger of repetition. Political commentary is a vocation that could lead to an increase in the commentator’s blood pressure as writing the same thing over and over under different topics without corresponding changes can lead to depression.
Of course, a newspaper commentator must have a self -deprecatory attitude and not take himself too serious. Whenever I think about some very popular columnists in Nigeria who have written pieces that I consider great and fantastic but without corresponding change, I cringe in bewilderment wondering what’s the fuss about columnists after all. But like a former publisher I worked with always said, “Let’s leave a scratch on corruption even if we can’t leave a dent at least the car will not look new any longer.”
Sequels are not good for columns, my journalism teachers taught me and since this column started I’ve refrained from it, but I decided to break the rule today. Last week’s Lagos for Sale was borne out of several reasons, one of which is self-preservation as a Lagos State resident who clearly is affected by policies of the state government. I never reckoned with the anger of Lagosians over the land use charge and other obnoxious taxation policies of the Akinwunmi Ambode-led government. Like all good politicians who know when they are beaten, the governor announced a reduction in the land use charge last week ostensibly spun as the action of a “listening governor” except that the reduction introduced other critical issues, especially legal.
The finance commissioner announced the reduction, but a simple question for the Lagos State attorney general is, how possible is such reduction unilaterally by the governor without a corresponding action by the state’s house of assembly? Remember it has been signed into law by the governor but has not been gazetted. Is such reduction recognized in law or there would be a new bill to the house of assembly or the house will amend the previous law? While we do not have evidence that such a question was asked at the press conference where the reduction was announced or if it was asked, probably an answer was not given or the answer was “buried” as some journalists do these days, I think this angle is crucial before we can join the chorus of those who are hailing the governor for taking action.
It is also gratifying to note that the media, especially those headquartered in Lagos, rose up to campaign against the land use charge. Most likely, this period ranks as one of the worst where editors and newsroom managers do not understand that they are part of the moral conscience of a society and that they can shape thoughts and actions of the populace. Some have been too compromised that they can barely muster a whimper in the campaign. We must, however, commend Business Day which published a fantastic piece last week on the bondage of Visionscape in an investigative piece titled Inside the Lagos/Visionscape deal that cost taxpayers up to N85bn a piece I would recommend to every Lagos resident. It speaks to the fact that our state is for the highest bidder and that the bid is not open, only for select few. It explains why we will still continue to have cart pushers on our highways or why there would be violent clashes between them and officials of the state’s sanitation corps, and why refuse dumps will still be the garlands we ornament our streets with not minding the risk of disease outbreak. One must also speak glowingly of a programme anchored by a senior colleague, Morning Digest with Jimi Disu on Lagos Talks 91.3FM every morning, he has stayed on the story exploring different angles and helping citizens understand the bondage that the land use charge represents.
We’ve also seen what happened at the Olusosun dump with its attendant health risks and while it is commendable that the state government is planning to turn the place to a recreation hub, it has not adequately answered the question of refuse disposal in Lagos. It is also appalling that we can’t dispose off our refuse by ourselves, as we had to turn to foreigners to do it, a major reason why we need to push public officials off the gravy train and ensure we get better value for money. It’s good at a level that Lagos is now a huge construction site, but a proper perspective is needed as the question remains: are we getting value for those projects? Can they be done at lower cost than we are paying for them?
Good enough that some public-spirited lawyers are joining the crusade for a better and more transparent Lagos, we sure need all people we can get especially as nearly all politicians in Lagos have shown us that they cannot be trusted with the public till.