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Surulere Now!

29 July 2015 | 12:00 | English
From international to local: recently I have become a columnist for Surulere Now!, the free newspaper in my neighbourhood in Lagos. Fellow Surulerans can get the paper version for free in plenty of hotels and shops in the area. Its online presence is still quite minimal, so let me give the non Surulere dwellers a sneak preview: in the latest edition of my column Navigating Surulere, I decide to take my citizenship more seriously.
Navigating Surulere - No be my wahala

KLONK-SQUEEEEEAK!!! It happens on my way to the mechanic in Aguda. I am driving down Brown Road when my car bumps to a stop with a KLONK-SQUEEEEEAK!!! Now, KLONK-SQUEEEEEAK!!! is not a sound any car owner wants to hear while driving. In this instance it is the sound of the front wheels plunging into an open manhole – KLONK – after which the rubber tyres skid against the manhole edges – SQUEEEEEAK!!! There are two things one can do in such cases. Look around for able bodies willing to help you push your vehicle out of its entrapment in exchange for some naira notes; or, in my case, activate the four-wheel drive mode of Wilma, my poor 13-year-old Rav4, for the first time since she and I came to Lagos. With another painful squeak she pulls herself out of the manhole. Relieved she hasn’t forgotten how to use her back wheels, Wilma and I continue our journey to the mechanic.
On the way I have to slalom around coverless manholes about every twenty meters. The road workers who are fixing the street simply have not bothered covering the square gaps, let alone putting up some warning signs for oncoming traffic to avoid KLONK-SQUEEEEEAK episodes.
As we drive on, I try to remember if I ever saw Brown Road not under construction. Passing down that long street has been a challenge ever since a friend introduced me to my roadside mechanic over two years ago – as an alternative to the Globe Motors garage that had tried to con me out of 250K by claiming that my brake booster, upper clutch cylinder, and valve cover needed replacing, all of which I am still happily driving with today.
Wilma and I find Aguda one of the hardest places to navigate in Surulere. Jaunting through Brown Road, an undertaking to which Paris-Dakar rally pales in comparison, it occurs to me that it’s hardly surprising Aguda did not vote massively for APC in the just-past gubernatorial elections. It seems to be an area forgotten by the state government, judging at least from the state of its roads. Or could it be the other way round, that the area has been forgotten because they wouldn’t vote for the powers that be?
The mechanic shrugs when I narrate what Wilma went through on the way to his workshop. He’s so used to the situation that he doesn’t even warn his customers that there is no road. In Lagos’ asphalt jungle it is every driver for himself. Thinking of Wilma’s tortured tyres, I’m getting slightly irritated. Why wasn’t I warned by passersby who saw Wilma nearing the manhole? And cars must get trapped every day on Brown Road, so why haven’t the residents approached the workers to demand that they put up some kind of warning? And why on earth didn’t the supposedly professional road workers place safety cones there in the first place?
Then I calmed down, thinking of the number of times in Lagos I have passed by dangerous or undesirable situations without bothering to warn anybody behind me. I guess most of us figure it would be a waste of time, accustomed as we are to public services not working. So when we see a broken wire dangling down an electricity pole, or a burst water pipe, or even government equipment abandoned in the street for months, open for anyone to steal or vandalize, we do nothing. No be my wahala.
Maybe, I thought, I should try and take up my citizenship more actively.
Just before the gubernatorial elections, I left my house one day to find a short section of my street – a street which has been in an abysmal state since I moved in – miraculously paved. A few days later, just one day to the elections, they had paved another part of it with quick hardening asphalt. Yet after the elections the frantic roadwork stopped. The two vehicles, a giant road roller and one with a trough for applying the asphalt, that had performed such miracles, stood parked idly by the roadside, a traffic nuisance.
At first, as expected of a smartphone-owning citizen of the digital world, I tweeted about it. Week one after elections: nothing happened. Week two and three: same. But after about a month, someone on Twitter responded that he had the contacts of the executive chairman of the Lagos State Public Works Corporation, and also that this official wanted to know where exactly his roadwork vehicles were parked.
When I got in touch with Mr Gbenga Akintola of LSPWC, he explained that the job was ongoing, but had been suspended for the time being ‘due to paucity of funds’. He also apologised for any convenience caused. And within the hour, the two vehicles were gone, and the cars in our street could pass each other again without fear of scratches.
So thank you, Mr Akintola, for proving that in Lagos the public works sometimes work. I am not entirely sure though what ‘paucity of funds’ means. I just hope your little monster trucks will return some day to finish their business, because they have left half of my street still looking like its usual bombed-out landscape.
O, and maybe, just to prevent future KLONK-SQUEEEEEAK episodes, could you ask your workers to put safety pylons near the death traps they create on Brown Road?
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