Everywhere in Lagos, amidst lack of infrastructural maintenance, posh suburbs are springing up by the day. The real estate market in Nigeria and Lagos in particular, is booming. Some don’t even allow the erratic nature of PHCN to deter them; these estates boast of independent power generation.
Many of these so called estates are actually just a street off the main road, gated off with very obvious restrictions to commercial motor bikes (Okada) and other means of public transportation. Even taxis are forbidden from entering most of them.
Some of these “special streets” begin beside an open, blocked and overflowing drainage system, which lies a few feet below the jagged edges of a main road that was last maintained decades ago. Many of these new estates, particularly in Lekki and its environs, are surrounded by huge slums. The hawkers and sellers that peddle their wares on the sides of the main road or “express” as they are popularly called, live close by or in these slums.These growing slums and rate of unemployment are a constant reminder of the need for us to open our eyes to the increasing levels of poverty around us and the growing insecurity we’re all faced with.
Many who live in these ‘’special streets’’ live in high-walled buildings, often laced with electric or dangerously spiked fences.The question is:“do our high walls protect us from the criminal intent of the many who are deprived and desperate? If these high walls have protected us so far, is there any guarantee that they’ll continue to protect us from harm?
The average Nigerian who survives well below a dollar a day is poor. His family is poor and except he is lifted out of poverty, chances are that he’ll regenerate poverty down his lineage. The poor who give up on society’s ability to create economic opportunities, give access and instill a good measure of equality take laws into their hands. They break down our high walls in many ways: They make us reinforce our homes till some of them look like lion cages; they make us pay dearly for armed security guards in our homes and offices; they break into our homes; they accost us armed at ATMs; they kidnap kith and kin and ask for ransom, they make us unable to allow our children play freely on the streets like we did growing up; they make us buy cars with tinted windows and drive overly self-conscious. They break into our freedom to be and steal our ability to trust and be trusted.
The most vulnerable to social harm is the rich and growing middle class – not the burgeoning population of the poor, many of whom have no dream or hope and therefore, have nothing to lose willingly breaking down high walls.
For the few poor who eventually get the opportunity of a good education and good job, they would compete and compete very fiercely with the children of the rich or privileged. Being street smart may serve the children of the high wall breaker some advantages. Mingling in the streets sharpens their sense of manipulation and fight-for-survival. These instincts would be called to play at the perfect time. During national crises like environmental disasters, wars or revolutions, our high walls would be broken and our vulnerabilities exposed by the miscreant who would survive better without electricity, transport, water, sanitary systems, dependable health care, and foods with little or no nutritional value.
So, why have we become more passionate about erecting high walls than nipping the factors that are making them our way of life unfortunately? How well do our high walls protect us and our families? What are we doing individually and collectively to help reduce the growing levels of poverty we see all around us? Do we see poverty as a collective responsibility to help reduce by little sacrifices and sustainable societal contributions or do we see it as a government problem and continue to rely on high walls? For those of us who own or manage businesses, what can we do to keep growing our businesses and their potentials to employ more people, even at low or no skill levels? What can we do at the individual and community levels to help millions to own and manage their own small businesses that can in turn employ 2 or 3 more persons? How can our spiritual centres help the poor in their congregation to create wealth? Can our spiritual centres get more involved in large scale farming, bakery, manufacturing, etc, and employ millions of the poor idling in our streets?
We love our children and want the best for them. Many of us think Nigeria is not “that best” thing that we want for them. The U.K in a few months will impose a 3,000 Pound bond selected travelers. Many first time travelers going to the UK to study are likely to be affected. Even if you can afford the bond, the UK’s retention of foreign students after graduation – especially Nigerians, has dropped dramatically. The country is saturated with Nigerians already. Seventy percent of blacks in the U.K are Nigerian. The U.S’s admittance of Nigerians into the Visa Lottery scheme is near zero percent, as Nigerians have over shot the quota per country in recent years, being the highest winners of the scheme. Canadian tertiary education is one of the most expensive, and before long, they’re likely to be oversaturated with Nigerians too and Canada would want to place stringent restrictions like the U.S and U.K.
So, many of our children currently studying abroad will have no choice but to return home as some are already doing. They would return to the high walls and the vulnerabilities we have been too delusional to face and tackle.
We have reached that level in the socio-political climate of Nigeria where we need to look around us and really “give back” to the community. Nigerians are a giving people and there’s no doubt that the extended family system has checked the tendency for the majority of the very poor to take on extreme measures to alleviate their poverty. But, we also tend to prefer giving handouts as a quick fix than empowering people to find a sustainable means of earning an income, even when we can. The latter is where communal effort has a significant role to play. Most companies only practice Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility (CSER) as a public relations stunt or when there is something in it for them. The ‘sustainability’ component of CSR is often neglected and with the poverty levels in Nigeria, this is to our detriment. CSR is one good way to break down high walls. High walls have shifted from signifying ‘privacy’ as they did decades ago to ‘fear’.
There is no place like home. The more we can make our society less dependent on high walls, the better for us all. If we do not develop and make Nigeria better, no one else will. The ball is in our court.