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The Economist and limits of beer parlour journalism



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FOR sure, there is nothing wrong for a media organization to write a critical piece on government and its policies. After all, that’s one of the roles it should play if we are to achieve meaningful development, especially in an emerging and fragile democracy like ours.
But when the media is being used to settle scores or as agents of destruction, it can be described as bias, unprofessional or at best, using our local parlance, beer parlour journalism!
That was exactly what The Economist magazine, did in its last week edition. The newspaper disparaged the Lagos State government under Governor Akinwunmi Ambode with an article, titled: Paralysed, Why Nigeria’s largest city is even less navigable than usual is filled with mischief, contradictions and unprofessionalism.
The Economist over exaggerated the traffic situation in Lagos by describing it as ”a way of life”. Haba! Yes, there’s traffic in Lagos, especially during rush hours-outbound and homeward movements just as it is in Brussels, Antwerp (Belgium), Los Angeles (USA), Milan (Italy), London (England, where The Economist is based), Paris (France), Honolulu (USA), Rotterdam in Netherlands, Manchester in the UK.
I checked the list of cities with worst traffic situation in the world and interestingly, Lagos did not come up among the top cities with traffic congestion on a scale of twenty.
The list parades cities like Instabul in Turkey occupying the number one position, followed by Moscow, St. Petersburg, Moscow city, Chongqing in China, Recife in Brazil, Bucharest, Rio de Janeiro in Argentina, Shenzhen in China and Los Angeles in the United States in that order.
This writer had once been in bad traffic in Houston Texas, also in the United States and to me, that should not mean that the governor of that State is incompetent as The Economist attempted to make Lagosians believe Governor Ambode is.
I almost missed a flight from London to Lagos simply because I relied on travel time of about an hour from my location in London to Heathrow airport. But alas, a terrifying traffic situation on my way to Heathrow jerked up my journey by additional 2 hours-I pleaded to be air-lifted to Nigeria on that fateful day, simply because of the unpredictable nature of traffic in London!
It should have been convenient for me to conclude that the Mayor of London or whoever was responsible for administering the city is grossly incompetent! No, I won’t say that unlike the Economist, I understand that heavy influx of people into such cities will certain take a toll on vehicular movements.
However, that’s not to say traffic situation should be condoned, no. A lot can be done to improve the traffic gridlock in Lagos, both on short term and long term. I am certain that Governor Akinwunmi Ambode knows this, as he always talks about it at every given opportunity and he is doing everything to ensure smooth flow of traffic. That was presumably why he ordered the restructuring of the traffic management agency (LASTMA).
We are also witnessing the short term measures that his administration put in place as palliatives to curb the menace. This includes fixing of roads that require immediate attention, clearing of drainage channels and redirecting the state’s traffic managers to do more to bring much desired free flow of vehicles on the roads.
I smelled mischief when the magazine stated ”Akinwunmi Ambode, is full of excuses, but few solutions, for the worsening gridlock. Traffic is always bad during the rains, he says Nigerians are migrating to Lagos en masse in search of work in a worsening economy, his office adds. Yet the root of the problem is in policy: Mr Ambode cut the powers of traffic controllers by banning them from impounding cars. In retaliation, some of the officers for obvious reasons refused to enforce the law”.
The magazine clearly exhibited total lack of understanding of Lagos, its challenges and in the end could not proffer any meaning solution.
If only the reporter knew and understood Lagos; the topography, its position in Nigeria, in terms of the economy, where hundreds of thousands rush to in search of greener pasture, he wouldn’t have had proper understanding of the issues involved and why the problem did not suddenly arise. Yes, Lagos usually experience traffic congestion during the rainy season for the simple reason of poor or inadequate infrastructure. This has been the situation as long as I can remember. Ambode inherited it and we can only hope that it won’t be the same from next rainy season when he would have spent a year or more in office.
But why didn’t The Economist mention the fact that the governor has started a quick fix for a quick win on traffic? I guess the writer or the promoters are more interested in mischief than putting the facts on the table.
The magazine further insulted the collective intelligence of Lagosians while trying to praise the former governor, Babatunde Fashola that ”Cars were terrified into order by a state traffic agency, LASTMA, whose bribe-hungry officers flagged down offending drivers”. Pray, is this who we are as a people? Must we be terrified into order like animals, especially by ”bribe-hungry” government officials?
We need to inform The Economists that its description of Nigerians in this context is not only uncharitable, but an insult on our sensibility.
The magazine should have been a lot more circumspect, stayed a bit more in Lagos, understands its dynamics and complexities before going to town with its half-baked story which was clearly not in sync with the realities on ground.

Gboyega Akosile is a Lagos-based media practitioner

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