Lagos, Centre of Excess: Critique or bellicosity

By Tunde Animasaun

Sonala Olumhense is a respected and celebrated journalist who has successfully conquered the newsroom and translated successfully too, to a notable columnist and novelist. He is arguably one of the shining lights of the journalism profession.

Writing, as we know, is a creative endeavor. The writer, like other creative minds, is therefore not immune from personal incursions into the creative flow.  This is more likely to occur when you joggle the different genres of writings, the unfortunate thing is that when this occurs in a critical work, it mare the whole exercise and taint it with the tar of subjectivity in the sight of the discerning eye.

This is most likely the case with our revered writer’s piece on Lagos entitled, Lagos, Centre of Excess or how do one begin to explain the apparent warped and incongruent submissions in the piece?

Perhaps if Olumhense had chosen satire or story-telling to fire his volleys at Lagos State and its administrator, he could have succeeded in hiding his bias which became obvious from the very start.

A rejoinder in the Nation of june29 Entitled Lagos Is No Jungle as Sonala Olumhense Wants Us to Believe captured this when it says: “Criticism is good. However, passing lies and half-truths as criticism is petty – not worthy from a respected writer in the mould of Sonala Olumhense.”

A thorough analysis of the text and context of Olumhense’s piece will reveal that the writer willfully intended to demean and run down the State. He started his ‘criticism’ by giving us his judgement of how the Sanwo-Olu administration has fared in its six-point agenda by giving a sweeping comparison of Lagos and other mega cities in the world. At no point in the entire piece did he assess the Governor’s performance based on these agenda.

A correct and objective criticism would have looked at Lagos at the point governor Babajide Sanwo-Olutook over and where it stands now as far as the six points are concerned. So, one would readily expect a comparison of Traffic Management & Transportation; Health & Environment; and Security & Governance of the previous administration then and now, to arrive at an objective criticism.

Fixated on rubbishing Lagos using the instrumentality of the highly doubtable The Economist Intelligence Unit report, Olumhense continued his straight-jacket analysis by stating how Lagos fared in previous editions of this same report. ” In 2022, in a ranking of 172 cities, only one was worse than Lagos.  Ten years earlier, in 2012 and during the governorship of Babatunde Fashola, only one city was worse.  And 10 years before that, in 2002 and during the governorship of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Lagos tied for 127th out of 130 cities. Is the writer really comparing, if yes, what are the bases of the comparison? Jumping from assessing the present administration on its four-point agenda to a blanket comparison of the previous administrations with other cities or city administrators that we do not know and without stating the bases of the comparison is evident of internal incongruity and fragmented thought processing.

Olumhense accused Lagos of not being a functional nor modern city. He may have his idea of a modern city but this does not evidently tally with the general understanding and perception of it as “a city that is able to support a large population concentrated in a limited space. In order for a modern city to function well, it needs several elements. A well-functioning modern city should have a working local government and bureaucracy. Modern cities are often the centres of political power and administration, Trade and industries and are filled with educational and religious institutions as they were thickly populated”

While one must admit that it is not yet Uhuru in Lagos, the attempt to paint Lagos as a jungle where everything is haywire is a hyperbole taken too far.

Olumhense’s claim that “the traffic patterns in 2023 are the same as they were when Fela sang his famous “Ojuelegba” song about 50 years ago” is totally untrue. And his averment that “On almost every road, any driver or truck pusher can drive in any direction at any time, no government has productively reviewed or changed the use of any to enable traffic flow to improve pales cannot stand in the face of scrutiny as the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA, an agency established by the Tinubu Administration in 2000 has recorded such great successes in traffic management that it became a model for other states, the federal government and some other west African counties. Subsequent administrations have built on this by establishing the first traffic Radio in Africa, Traffic FM, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority, LAMATA that has led to commencement of BRT bus service, for mass transportation, mini buses for local commuting, Lagride taxis, a bludgeoning water transportation system , blue and Red rail transport.  All of these efforts in easing the transportation problem Lagos amounts to nothing for Olumhense because he has a hatchet job to do.

Irrespective of what Olunhense thinks or writes, Lagos is perceived and regarded as “a major African financial centre and is the economic hub of Lagos State and Nigeria at large. The city has been described as the cultural, financial, and entertainment capital of Africa, and is a significant influence on commerce, entertainment, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, and fashion”.

Olumhense’s piece is a classic example of ‘how not to write a critique.

In a critical review, one expects a dispassionate and balanced assessment of the issue(s) with all sides explored; all arguments and angles presented. If thereafter, a verdict is given, not minding a bias, the critic’s job would have be effectively done. Unfortunately, Olumhense’s piece on Lagos is bereft of this. Given the pedigree of the writer, one cannot but wonder whether the writer is hiding a bellicose intent behind his critique

Not minding this display of bellicosity however, Lagos is relentless in the pursuit of the vision of excellence. Soon, the naysayers will have no recourse than to accept the obvious.


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