By Tunde Odesola
(Published in The PUNCH on Monday, March 19, 2018)
It is not the red piece of cloth waved by the matador in a bullfight that enrages the bull. Bulls are colorblind. The red piece of cloth is to mask the blood of the gored bull. Sheer animalistic instinct propels the bull to charge at one of the three matadors, who rides a horse, taunting the brawny beast. Bullfighting is common to Spain, Portugal, France and some Latin America countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru. Basically, bullfighting is in three parts: the entry, the planting of the banderillas, and the killing of the bull. The entry sees the bull being released into the bullring with one of the matadors approaching it. The planting of the banderillas is the thrusting of wooden spikes into the bull’s neck muscle to weaken it, and the third and final part is putting the bull to the sword. After the bull is felled, harnessed horses come in and pull out the unfortunate animal, which would be cut up and sold in the local market. The head of the matadors that kill all six bulls could be awarded one or the two ears of the bull. And if the spectators feel he did the job with panache, they would root for him to be given the tail of the bull. If the head matador is injured and leaves the bullring to receive treatment, the remaining two matadors must kill the bull. But if by fate and grit, the bull survives the fight, which is a very rare occurrence, it would be granted a pardon called ‘indulto’ in Spanish and returned to its home ranch to become a stud for the rest of its life.
A few days ago, the Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, and Lagosians were locked in a bullfight over the state’s an-arm-and-a-leg Land Use Charge. The matador and the bull were in the bullring – sizing, guesstimating, eyeballing and assessing each other. Who will blink first? The matador did; he backtracked, dropped his sword headlong into the sandy arena. He also dropped the red cloth and sauntered out of the ring with a grim, sad frown etched on his brow. But the bull will not be fooled. It continues to watch intently, muscles taut, head lowered, body angled back like a catapult ready to fly. Lagos is on the cross.
The contempt unfolding in Lagos today couldn’t happen over 2,000 years ago in the whole of Rome and Judea when Jesus Christ was dragged before Pontius Pilate. The priests and the elders of the time couldn’t unilaterally pronounce Jesus guilty; they had to take him through the law of the land. And Pontius Pilate, who represented the law, openly asked the traducers who they would love to be released between Jesus, the Messiah and Barabbas, the notorious criminal. The people shouted, ‘Jesus!’ Pilate tried all he could to deliver Jesus Christ from the priests and the elders because he knew they wanted to kill him out of envy. Pilate stalled. The shouts of ‘Crucify him!’ became intense even as Pilate inquired what Jesus’ offence was. Absolving himself of Jesus’ impending crucifixion, Pilate washed his hands off the case and released Jesus to them. In a mutual respect move, one would have expected the Lagos State Government to make wide consultations with all the various segments of the Lagos economy before arriving at the controversial Land Use Charge which saw rates increase by 400%. Did the Lagos Sate House of Assembly meet with all segments of the economy? If it did, did the opinions of the segments reflect in the 400% increase? How Ambode, a chartered accountant, assented to the record-breaking increase in an economy that just moved from recession to depression was an ultimate betrayal of voters’ trust. Chinese philosopher, Confucius, never lived in Lagos but in an enduring epigram, he says: “To see and listen to the wicked is already the beginning of wickedness.”
I had thought the governor was a different breed until this shocking action that revealed his underbelly and disrespect for Lagosians. To think that the state-in-council sat and approved the increase showed that the political hegemony bequeathed by Governor Emeritus, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in Lagos State, is low on benevolence and high on malevolence. To think that Ambode expects Lagosians to applaud the reduction of the rate shows the hypocrisy in the prebendal politics of ‘Baba so pe’ (Baba says), which is always quick to describe the opposition Peoples Democratic Party as wicked and greedy. Really, I don’t think there’s any difference between the nest-of-killers’ politics and the politics of a godhead, who determines who get into posts within vicious transport unions, local government councils, state executives and legislatures, federal parliaments, federal cabinet, churches, mosques, banks and palm wine drinkers’ club. Ambode and his cabinet must have thought that Lagosians remained the puppets which subsequent administrations controlled on the strings of deceit and coercion; bringing the word of promise to their ears and breaking it to their hope. Methinks announcing a price increase and reducing same to gain cheap political popularity had faded out of governmental fad. If any state was to return to that vomit, it shouldn’t be our Almighty Lagos.
Not a few Lagosians saw through the politics of the rate reduction. Many are still shocked as to why the government decided to trifle with its immense goodwill earned on the platter of non-lousy service delivery. They contend that if the governor wasn’t playing politics and taking the masses for granted, he shouldn’t have, in the first instance, assented to the unholy increment. They’re also quick to note that the governor shouldn’t have embarked on a superfluous reduction after all the hues and cries, but should have returned the law to the assembly for a proper amendment – when the spirit of the disturbing law still lives. Some of the questions on the lips of Lagosians are: How would the government check landlords who are sure to increase rents astronomically? Is the new law not unfair to property owners whose buildings or lands aren’t in use? Did the representatives of the masses in the Lagos State House of Assembly truly enact a law that stipulates 100% increase in charge if payment was not made between 75 and 105 days? Does the increase reflect the economic realities of the citizenry? Defending the law, Lagos State Commissioner for Finance, Akinyemi Ashade, said property of N10m and below constituted 75% of property owners in the state, who were expected to pay N5, 000 per annum as land use charge. But the commissioner failed to state how much the owners of property above N10m were expected to pay.
The caliber of people Ambode is building his new Lagos for is probably encrypted in the revelation by the senator representing Kaduna-Central senatorial district, Shehu Sani, that each of the nation’s 109 senators monthly receives a running cost of N13.1m and a consolidated salary of N750, 000, in addition to N200m for constituency projects. The labourer, teacher, civil servant, commercial motorcyclist, unemployed, petty trader, struggler appear to have no place in the future Lagos. Aside from senators and privileged members of the political class, other Nigerians whose citizenships are guaranteed in the new Lagos, on account of their earnings, include big-time kidnappers such as Evans, big-time assassins such as Ade Lawyer, transport union kingpins, herdsmen, sweepstake winners, armed robbers, ‘pen robbers’, security chiefs, corrupt judges, big-time prostitutes, rich clerics, successful sycophants, shylock businessmen, smart blackmailers, foreign-based footballers, expatriates, etc.