Tuesday, November 13, 2018
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This Is Lagos 

By Ernest Sumelong

CameroonPostline.com — Having journeyed more than twice out of the country, I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed by the kind of excitement I had when I embarked on a few days to Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, recently. For the simple fact that Lagos is one of the nearest of foreign cities to Cameroon, not many would be excited about any trip to this former capital of Africa’s most populous country.

But I was, apparently because of the tales of this legendary city of enjoyment. I was pleasantly embarrassed that I did not find Boko Haram militants at the airport, taking people hostage and blasting the place with bombs. Understandably, Boko Haram is the most outstanding thing one gets nowadays, about Nigeria from the media. I had a rethink on that after spending three enjoyable days in Lagos.

Much seems to have also improved at the airport, considering the horrifying tales often told of hoodlums trying to steal one’s money and corrupt police officers trying to corner foreigners in order to deprive them of money. On the contrary, I found smartly dressed police officers with a sense of professionalism and politesse. “Here, sir”. “Please, sir, queue up behind others”. Others, more colloquially, said “Oga, please, take the left, not the right”. To put it simply, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport is great, even when construction work is on-going to upgrade the standard.

Leaving the Douala International Airport and landing, an hour or so after, at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos was, to say the least, an embarrassment to me. There was such a big dichotomy between the two countries that I wondered why Cameroon is so left behind. The difference was so clear about disorder and lack of vision on the one hand, and order and focus on the other. Douala represents the former, while Lagos represents the latter.

After due consideration, the “air strip” in Douala should not be called an international airport because of, among other things, its disorderliness and its dilapidating state. While I must admit that some effort has been made at sanitising the Douala airport police and, to an extent, organising transportation from the airport, nonetheless, much needs to be done to revive the overall state of the airport.

Also, more efforts should be made to get rid of stench and squalor, as well as the layabouts at the airport who give the country a bad image. Lagos, by all indications, has been built over the years by sheer determination, political will and the audacity of men and women who made valiant efforts to wean themselves from the breast of socio-economic and political mediocrity, by instilling a culture of good governance.

In Nigeria, citizens fight and debate from the Senate and Parliament to the streets for the improvement of the country, the common good if you will, while Cameroon seems to be managed without any agenda, or better still, handled like a rudderless ship. The business of the Parliament and the Senate in Nigeria is run like daily civil service work, where the President’s position is contested and constantly challenged, while he makes it a duty to appear before the people’s representatives regularly to explain issues of the State.

Flyovers and gigantic bridges run across Lagos like okadas (commercial motorcycles) ply the streets of Douala. Going by the size of their roads, it is easy to read the bigness of their vision. Till date, it is taking a life time for the Cameroon government to build a second bridge over the River Wouri, while billions of Francs CFA are lost daily due to hours of hold-ups in traffic because of lack of roads.

Apparently, one will be built when the present bridge collapses from overuse and epileptic repairs. While, to me, Lagos is a modern city (understandably because I was coming from a big village called Cameroon), Nigerians are the least satisfied with the state of the city. They believe that it could be better, and so, press government to do more. This is exactly the contrary in Cameroon, where citizens flood the President in oceans of thanks when just a foot path is cleared.

Another thing I learnt in Nigeria is that those seeking to get to the civil service are considered lazy, less creative and have subscribed to poverty. That is apparently why there is a continuous outburst of talent, creativity, self-dependence and enterprise in Nigeria. Nigeria made another huge impression in my mind regarding their economic vision. As an indication that the country’s economy is buoyant, banks (not tiny micro finance institutions) are found almost everywhere in Lagos. Someone said, rather jokingly, that even a mad man in Nigeria has a bank account. And it is easy to believe the statement.

There is a sense of business in all walks of life in Nigeria and this, to me, accounts for the strides this country has made, despite its huge challenges due to its demographic size. Nigerians seem to know that anything and everything is business and I found them serviceable, smart, humble and focused, with a smile always planted on their lips. This is the attitude I found in restaurants, hotels and other places open to customers.

Lagos, as I saw it, is a city of flyovers and banks, broad roads and big visions and men with dogged determination to make it big. In fact, it is a city that never sleeps. This article does not try to suggest that I didn’t see the downside of a big city like Lagos. However, I have chosen to focus on what Cameroon can learn from this former Nigerian capital and thus move a step forward from our current state of apparent stagnation, in spite of overwhelming potentials that can trigger wealth creation and wellbeing for the teeming masses of Cameroonians.

First published in The Post print edition no 01378

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