By Tony Monye
At Boundary Bus-Stop, Apapa I heaved. A sigh that besought for strength. The most tasking phase of my mission starkly gave some hard stare as well as scare. Ajegunle beckoned, with a weakly-shining mid-morning sun overhead. This rundown residential district has always held great fascinations for me as well as many. Even a cursory glance at this shantytown reveals a lot more, beyond its rugged, congested terrain. Nigeria is uncovered in its wholeness; its many heartening and disheartening attributes exposed. Ajegunle isn’t one of a kind. This ghetto landmass is symptomatic of the existing scenarios in many a part of the country, especially viewed from rudimentary economic standpoints. It doesn’t weigh if it is in the North, East, West and South of the country, they are all alike. Name its numbers; compare them with the figures in many states in the federation. They are quite analogous, telling similar sort of tales, if not exactly the same. Slums, like this, are the common sights across the main centres of Nigeria. These favelas aren’t just shantytowns, they are the emergent emblems of our country.
Of course, we have often heard it beginning goodish decades ago, if not hundreds of years, a photo calls out a thousand words. What about the much-maligned word? It is not empty. At the least, it reels out a milli-photo. Isn’t it true that the better the verbal description; the clearer the picture? A few strides down the main promenade into the heart of Ajegunle, many sights came to view, describing this slum. The massive commotion of activities. The heat of the swarming masses beating down several side alleys to god-knows where. Population in terms of per square kilometre, this favela breasts the tape ahead of many other areas. With idle crowds dawdling about, residents looked stuck in a rut, enmeshed in perplexing and incomprehensible fatalistic philosophy. Someone out of reach decides all about my existence. With the visibly entrenched uneconomic cultures, it is obvious gross domestic product (GDP), average family size per room, per capita measures, etc would certainly be hurt. Idleness and despondency neither create wealth, nor help economics at both the individual and national levels. According to backyard statistics, over ninety percent of Ajegunle’s salaried adults earn below the poverty line. Never mind the wicked figures. There was defeat and desperation in the eyes of many. Yes, desperation is arguably a good meal for the mind. Most here celebrate ‘creative’ survival. A gaunt-looking young fellow with rheumy eyes complained of unemployment, pointing at his mates. Malnourished children played about, oblivious of the tough years ahead. Three disillusioned pregnant teens sat behind a grocery table, each owning a portion of the wares on display. The fertility rate is high, about eight per woman. Those about a newsstand with ‘free-readers facility’ were unemployed young folks, reflecting a higher dependency ratio. Violence for existence is cuddled here, almost a way of life. Less than a kilometre, I saw three corpses metres apart. There was a turf war the previous night between rival gangs. Revenge attacks still being expected. This is Ajegunle City where life expectancy is almost ten years less than the national average.
Isn’t it about the moment Nigerian governments realised that time, unfortunately, doesn’t alert like the clock? Time soundlessly fades away, rewarding none of indolent existence, which predominates in Ajegunle and other shanty zones. With the country’s average per capita income estimated at below US$ 5,000.00 benchmarked against the United States’ fortune at almost US$60,000.00, Nigeria’s breathtaking challenge is to curb dreadful and devastating poverty. Poverty, in various shades, is everywhere; from Lagos to Maiduguri; from Calabar to Sokoto. Nigeria urgently needs focused, well-intent, visionary leadership, with shrewd sense of economic management, capacity to plan and faithfully implement and direct the whole exercise. Nigeria needs broadminded leaders with ability to engage its citizenry, explain the painful economics of their actions and inactions. It’s quite corny to say Nigeria is a land of resources. Everyone knows that. It sells a brilliant illusion to think somehow everything will fall in place at the right time without our leaders putting in the work. With absolute GDP figures higher than regional economic rivals, Lagos, Kano, Abuja and Rivers are the lion economies in their various regions. With a few others are supposed to hold the torch for Nigeria. Disappointingly, they tread short too, beset by mundane economic mismanagement issues. When the king economies snooze, they ‘inspire’ the weaker, dependent ones into forty winks. The hissings here in Ajegunle are loud and clear even to the hard at hearing: fix the favelas; fix the continent. My weak voice calls on the government to lean it’s ladder against a different wall with regard to the country’s rapidly expanding favelas. A small leap for the ghetto-dwellers, without a single lane of arguments, will birth a giant leap for Nigeria.
The Lunar Leadership Society
Frontpage September 14, 2020