by Abigail Anaba
And the video went viral…and so did the narrative.
In case you missed it, social media was treated to a viewing of the Comrade Governor trying to enforce the rules prohibiting street trading. The ‘offender’ at this time was a woman, who claimed in tears that she was a widow. She had also said she wasn’t trading but was waiting with her goods for some form of commute. Her goods, in this video, did appear packed ready for commute.
Let me say that while watching the video, the emotional side of me shed tears. It wasn’t so much for the fact that she claimed she was a widow but for ‘oppression’ in general – oppression by a system that forces people to engage in all sorts of activities just to put food on their tables. Sometimes, they end up on the foul side of the law.
In my daily commute to work, there is a stretch of road where motor cyclists ply. I had made quite a few ‘friends’ among the ‘okada men’ as the motorcyclists are known. A few weeks ago, I arrived at my usual spot only to be told that, there was a new rule as to them not playing the route anymore as it had been designated a highway. Truth be told, I had been advised severally not to board bikes on this route, but hey, I love bikes and well, this is my way of helping these guys make a living (this in no way excuses them from breaking the law). One of my friends lamented that their earnings had depreciated. Sometimes, it was hard even to eat.
Street trading is a menace. People who knew Oshodi, Lagos, some years ago still find it hard to believe that entire area could be sane with traders now restricted to market places. Of course, in the course of sanitizing the area, people lost a living. There is always an opportunity cost to every type of development. There may also be some collateral damage.
Sometimes, I watch law enforcement agents in action and I wonder if they do not have a heart. I had a conversation with a friend recently where he affirmed that policemen are heartless. If they weren’t, how can you plead again and again with them but they do not listen. I would rather say that they have been conditioned to be heartless maybe. When you are on the streets like they are every day and you see certain things happen repeatedly and hear people tell the same lies over and over, a part of you would surely begin to doubt everything you hear. It surely must take a certain level of detachment to enforce the law.
I still do not know why the governor was the one leading the task force in that video. He surely made some unguarded statements. One of them was asking the woman to ‘go and die’. I could actually decide to take that literally but this statement can also mean ‘I don’t care’. Governor Oshiomole’s entire mien showed he was angry, provoked perhaps by the fact that the woman in question started off by claiming she wasn’t trading. And built up by the fact that she claimed to be a widow. This was like saying, ‘please allow me to trade on the streets, I am a poor widow’. If the governor allows her to trade because she is a widow, should all other widows who wish to trade of the streets also be allowed to?
Which brings me to the question: was this woman treated unfairly? For instance, will she get a fair hearing if indeed she was just waiting for commute? Will her goods be returned to her so she can go trade in the market? Is there any structure on ground to ensure that she will get a fair hearing?
It is quite easy to react emotionally, create a hashtag and donate money for the widow, but of even more importance is ensuring that there are places where citizens who feel they have received an unfair treatment from anyone in authority can go and have their grievances aired without fear.
A cosmetic remedy can solve the problem of this ‘widow’ in the video, but what about all other ‘widows’ that were not caught on camera. How many people will you donate money for? At a point, it becomes tiring. But, if there is a strong citizen advocacy group on ground, it is much easier to help people who find themselves in situations like this widow and have a genuine case to make.
As for those calling on the governor to resign, I am yet to find that part of the constitution that says a political office holder should resign for this type of ‘offence’. Perhaps, Governor Oshiomole has provided fodder for the ‘opposition’ in the next elections. Perhaps, the governor is reinforcing the narrative that a certain political party is not interested in the poor. I don’t think he however committed an impeachable offence. But again, I may be wrong.
Governor Oshiomole showed aggression in that video, but this will not be the first time. Perhaps, we chose not to notice when he turned up the heat on a teacher who ‘could not read’ some time again. And then again, have we not argued that Nigerians need an aggressive leader to whip them in place?
I have come to the conclusion that leadership is not an easy task and sometimes spur of the moment errors may be our own undoing. Sometimes, we are forgiven because we are generally liked by people and they are willing to look at the bigger picture. And at other times, people remember our acts of indiscretion for a long time.