TURNING SLUM TO CITY: THE SOUTH AFRICAN EXAMPLE
We find them everywhere we go in cities the world over. Dwellers that live there have special features and character. They are raw and dreaded even by those who live, work and die there. Most of its youths live by the day because everywhere, in the country, state or local government, they always have a date with destiny. On such days, they are either shot dead, wounded or arrested, finally detained and jailed by law enforcement agencies when they are swopped on. They have running battles with the Police always and in fact have indelible hatred for them. I am talking about the city SLUMS. In United States of America, it is christened Ghetto, Downtown or Harlem. In South Africa it is called South Western Township or SOWETO for short. Here in Nigeria, an example of it is AJEGUNLE (AJ).
In the slum, dwellers have their takes regular futures there among those survivalist are the macho men. Hence when Arnold Slazenger, the tiny Austrian arrived the United States of America, he learnt to develop muscles and adapt well. Arnold late became an A list actor and now the governor of the richest state in the USA. James Brown didn't have the energy to face the thugs. He persuaded all with his songs and got away with great stride. Name any first generation actor or musician who ever made it, slum was their abode. Sydney Portia, John Waye, etc. they all contributed their quota from the slum.
The slums in South Africa, is that gave the White rulers endless restlessness in their desire to have self rule. And they won. Not without paying the price though. Steven Bike the activist Medical student paid with his life in 1977 after the 1973 uprising which produced the Sonny Okosun hit song FIRE in SOWETO. The slums everywhere have produced great men and women in various human Endeavours. Residents of the slum are frequent guest of Police stations and prisons. But in great contrast, in AJ, as in South Africa great people have be then produced as a proof that being bad guy is not synonymous with slum. Nigerian great footballers, actors, comedian have emerged from there. South Africa has produced noble greats – Elder statesmen – Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These two are not only SOWETO indigenes; they still live there today, on the same Vilakazi Street! This story could have ended here and become happy ending. But it is t only part of the beginning.
SOWETO, with a population of more than two million people, once very dreaded township is today a township with commercial allure. Ronnie Mamba of Network Africa says “…this gigantic fearsome enigmatic constituency is fast ditching its image of thuggery and malaise ��SOWETO is now embracing its new status as a commercial hub of the city of Johannesburg.” The government has caught up with the vision and has decided to develop the once feared city into an economic power house. Good thinking! It has metamorphosed to Central Business District (CBD), and the best Malls and schools are fast relocating to SOWETO to identify with South Africa transformation. Why not? The once hated district is now adorned with street light, special security network and arrangements so much so, that all means of transportation to, and from Johannesburg is free of any security threat. That is the success story of a country which few years ago, Nigeria spent huge sum of money to bring to light. What is the secret of the success story of SOWETO?
Here in Nigeria, Ajegunle is home to the down trodden, hoodlums, drug addicts and worse. In fact Ajegunle can be called a creation of anything bad just like SOWETO. A community hated by its owner – Lagos State and the Federal Government. It is a city with its own code of conduct, rules and decrees. The main dwellers are of course Igbo's from the east of the Niger, Deltans, from the Niger delta region, and pockets of people from other states dots the place now. The major factor in AJ is that one has to have a very big heart to visit or live there.
Governments in and out since the 60's, 70's, '80's and early 90's never gave any thought about life in Ajegunle. The best they nave ever had from the government is passable roads and street lights. Yet the most thriving government industry there is the local government and state tax. The Ajeromi Local Government officials are special breed in tax collection. Whether the money goes to the government coffers is a different story. But one is rest assured that even the pure water, groundnut hawkers, road side Akara fryers are in the main list of those who pay daily toll to survive. Because the main industry is through personal effort, Igbo's are heavy in their stock in trade – Spare Parts of any kind. It is a truism that any vehicle spare part not seen in Ajegunle is not in Nigeria. These too are over taxed. Property development is in the hand of these people also. The highest government does is approve the plan. So weather they go by the rule is for posterity. Hence most houses there are structurally defective, obstructive and prone to collapse. Thanks to Governor Fashola who through his progressive leadership has decided to boost the road network, electricity and water. Schools are mostly privately run even when government receives taxes
Ajegunle, like SOWETO has produced her heroes. Amunike the footballer, whose singular effort coasted Nigeria to the first world cup, is a product of AJ. After him, the jungle city has produced many more footballers plying their trade within Nigeria and in Europe doing the country proud. In the music industry, one name stands prominent – Daddy Showky! After his successful exploit, many more musicians have emerged and are doing great to date. We have the likes of Africa China, Daddy Fresh, Golden Tones of Amai – a group from Ndokwa axis of Delta State but came to prominence through jungle city, to mention but a few of them. Concerned about the retrogressive life of the people, these front burners have been making attempt to better the lot of the citizens of AJ. Thus, Daddy Showky, after relocating to Ojodu, another suburb of Lagos, went back to his Alma mata to give back to the school. He promised then to make it an annual event, but who knows, with dwindling fortune if he has kept the dream? The footballers have on their own, organized series of competitions were local and international scouts have had a field day selecting great players. The traders have not been left out. They on their own have commenced the annual Football competition and engage their brothers in Alaba international market. All these efforts have continued to yield great and positive results. But what has been the contribution of the government which have benefited in the unsolicited positive public relations? We know how much the government desires to be promoted in great light before the international community, and people from this background have been rising to the occasion. Kano Nwankwo and John Fasahun have been great Nigerian ambassador through football. What has the nation done for them them and AJ people by extension? Compared to the volume of fund expended in promoting “Nigeria good people great nation” which has been more successful? We sang South Africa to prominence and late Lucky Dube and others took it from there since then, the world have been looking south. In Nigeria, since the 1994 World Cup appearance, the footballing nations have always had great expectations when Nigeria ply their trade, but have been grossly disappointed each time we perform below average as we so often do. What did it take or cost the government to go the extra mile in SOWETO? Nothing. Just raw will power and desire to better the lot of a people. that same will power is not lacking and is required to develop AJ and other slums in and around Nigeria.
Take note, developing the slum is different from modernizing the old township. For instance, in Tanzania, anyone who wants to know something special about the country is easily shown Mountain Kilimanjaro, the highest in Africa, and the historic slave market at Bagamoyo with the oldest house in ruin. Also in Zanzibar, the old town and its narrow streets are land marks to behold. In Nigeria, we have the old Lagos called Isale Eko, Igun street in Benin City and Kano city in Kano. All these places are land marks and tourist attractions. But how have we taken the advantages of these places earned money from them? Kenya and most other African countries do not have half the resort we have in Nigeria. Yet we maintain only one source of income – Oil in the country. Port Harcourt and Yenagoa in Rivers and Bayelsa state respectively have remained one city states. Any development outside these two state head quarters are at best peripheral and nothing is being done to decongest them.
Mr. president sir, for daring to make a valid demand, the people of Odi, Gbaramatu, Okerenkoko and many more in Bayelsa and Delta states were destroyed and left to rot away. No relief materials are sent them. NEMA does not know where they exist. But even as l write, people are being killed in Maiduguri in Borno State Bauchi, Jos Plateau state and their environs; and in quick succession, lopsided reliefs are being sent to the Muslims despite being the cause of all the ills. Should we continue to accommodate these killings? Sir, why has it been impossible to arrest, prosecute and jail most of these political and religious killers who ever they are and let us have peace once and for all?
The creation of the various states in Nigeria came about only through the decision of one man at a time – Generals Yakubu Gowon, Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida and Abacha in that order. The same desire and decision can be taken to affect positively our destroyed towns and villages and by extension Ajegunle which has produced more athletics and entertainers than any part of the country put together. South Africa's success story is our own creation and we can do better for ourselves only if we determine to. May our leaders develop the will power to do the peoples will no matter whose Ox is gored. Our is to advice. Yours is to implement. Do not wait until you will not be in a position to change things only to sulk in regret. We will keep writing.
Mike O. Akpati
08036757067; 08072335040 (SMS Only)