LAGOS: POWER AND THE MORALITY OF ASPIRATION

If the morality of aspiration invades the province of duty, men may begin to weigh and qualify their obligations by standards of their own and we may end with the poet tossing his wife into the river in the belief—perhaps quite justified—that he will be able to write better poetry in her absence. (L.L. Fuller, The Morality of Law)

Despite her filth, Lagos remains the first point of call for most foreigners and returning Nigerians. Murtala Mohamed has been long considered an eyesore. However, on my visit last month I saw a different airport, a bit sane. M. M as the airport is popularly called mirrors the larger streets of Lagos in her chaos, filth and insanity.

The over crowdedness, an-hour-a-jerk-movement of cars in what has been called “go slow,” which I see as a standstill, provides an opportunity of brisk business for all kinds of trade, ranging from food hawking to beggary. Apart from the V.I-Lekki-Ajah axis and to a lesser extent Festac, the other parts of Lagos will appear to a non-Nigerian first timer as a mass of confusion and disorganization. I was forced to ask a friend, after travelling 8am to 8pm from Okokomiko to Lekki “how do Lagosians stay sane?” The following day I was stock in Apapa by Tin Can for over four hours. “Lagos na waa” I had to learn one thing, relax and enjoy the yarns people spurn.

After a heated argument, the driver of the bus I was in—who wanted an easy overtake—discovered that his lady-opponent is from the same town—Ijebu. He even brought out a little wrap from his pocket—an “odeshi”—from his father. As he told me “you don’t walk the streets of Lagos empty handed.” In other words, you h’ve got to wrap some potent for yourself. In the end his opponent earned a free ride to C.M.S. This is the Lagos that Fashola is eager to change; to make her look as beautiful as other European, American or Asian cities.

This desire has led, not only to the imagination of a city in the sea the“Eko Atlantic,” but also to the taxation of liquor and inner city roads in Lekki akin to the Singaporean ERP, though one has to eliminate the “E” in the Electronic Road Pricing. As I was told, there isn’t much in the book of state and city development that Fashola—the governor of Lagos State—hasnt tried or conceived since he is an avid reader; a SAN. In his recent attempt to sanitize Lagos, he has come face to face with the stark reality. “What are we to do with beggars, destitute and loafers?”especially, when most of them are not indigenes of Lagos but citizens of Nigeria.

He came out with his unique solution, i.e, identify them and ship them back to their states. Indeed, whether he is the initiator, i.e, the father of this idea or borrowed it from his advisers, Fashola did not reckon that he was dealing with some intractable political questions. Questions like, “what is the relationship between the state and the country?” “What are limits of state’s power in a Federal System of state’s parliament without a state police?” Fashola or the Lagos State’s answer or solution to these questions reflects a paucity of ideas and morals in his government.

Some questions for Fashola and the Lagos State agents before I continue; “did they tender their unique solution as a proposition to the Federal Executive Council in any of their meetings or the so called governors forum?” and if so “what reply did they get?” In all, the Lagos State government has to distinguish between authority and power. Beyond that, a state’s power and her limits in a Federal System without a state police.

The unique idea of the Lagos State government, one may say is not outlandish. The State may be justified in keeping her streets clear and free of filth, beggars and anything that may constitute nuisance, as the case may be. The right to free movement does not translate to the right to constitute nuisance. This justification can be couched in any of the State’s laws or code like sanitation act etc. If she catches an offender she is justified in prosecuting the person and if found guilty punished under the state laws. Such punishment may come in the form of fines or incarceration in Lagos State owned prison! Insofar as the act does not contravene, come in conflict or become antagonistic to the Nigerian constitution or federal laws ( eg,withholding an individual or compelling him or her to perform an act without referring him to the courts after 48 hours etc).

It is here that we arrive at the laws governing the Nigerian Police and her functions. The Nigerian Police Force (NPF) is still a federal institution and the only institution that is politically licensed to use force on individuals in Nigerian streets unless in times of emergency or war where the military can be called in to defend the country. Though in recent times, our confused government has tried to transform the Civil Defence (NSCDC) into a police force.

A legitimate force to compel an individual in a given direction is called power. Political power then is that physical force which compels individuals to act for the general good. This physical force of compelling thus coincides with a moral power of exaction. Fashola and the Lagos State government must understand that though possessing a state’s administrative authority and the commensurate power, she lacks both the political authority and power in Nigeria. In essence administrative authority and power is to political authority and power as a subset is to a set mathematically.

If an individual commits a crime which calls for the Police Force, based on her administrative convenience, may withhold the person in any part of Nigeria in so far as she remains a federal institution. In the past prisoners have been transferred from one prison or cell to the other. If after such transfer, the geography that harbours the individual acquires a political status, the person may be released. There are instances of such cases in Nigeria. Ojukwu did free some prisoners from Calabar after Biafra declared herself a sovereign entity hence a political power.

In Nigeria, being a beggar or destitute is not a crime but it may constitute a nuisance given the area and the aspiration of the people. The Lagos State government for sure aspires to transform Lagos into one of the modern cities of the world or perhaps she wants to reclaim her status prior to the amalgamations. If so, what is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

But till then, Fashola must be reminded of the “Old Gunner’s” quip in Clay Randal’s LawMan(Amos Flagg) “And fellers Texas never growed a set of high riders that could outscheme a pair of Flaggs!” In the same vein, I assert that Lagos has never developed the pair of legs to outpace the rest of filthy and lagging inner cities of the other side of Nigeria like Benin or Awonmama. For her to prove that she has, Babatunde Fashola like a “Gunner” must engage in the “war of the flea.”