Prof Akin Oyebode

By Akin Oyebode

Introduction

The process of urbanization in the contemporary world is, quite frankly, an inexorable one which everyone has to come to grips with if they do not want to be left behind. This is more so in peripheral societies where the average lifespan is not increasing, infant mortality and maternal morbidity, unemployment and penury are on the rise so much so that the misery index has been exerting a tremendous push on rural-urban migration and the search of the vast majority for a better life. Indeed, in recent times, the search for greener pastures has been extended even abroad.

It is within this scenario that we are being called upon to interrogate the phenomenon of mass movement toward a meaningful existence and better standards of living thereby resulting in larger and larger towns and cities. The global trend is toward huge populations inhabiting large cities. Accordingly, it is intended to explore the problems and prospects of communicating development in the context of an emerging smart city such as Lagos.

Growth versus Development in the Periphery

It should be immediately stated that Africa’s largest conurbations—Lagos, Cairo and Johannesburg—are indeed no El Dorado, afflicted as they are by the contradictions  of mass poverty in the midst of plenty, oases of great affluence in a desert of want and squalor, horrendous traffic jams and unending lines of commuters waiting at bus stops, etc. The  despicable situation in which people have found themselves render them so desperate that they are compelled to throw caution to the winds in their bid to secure a future for themselves and children. The risks they endure under these circumstances are, quite frankly, unspeakable.

Faced with this situation, policy makers would seem to have their jobs cut out for them. The stark reality of  the contradictions of growth against development face them with unbelievably hard choices in trying to plot the graph of living in a bid to make life worth living and ensure that they attain life more abundant for their teeming millions. This is why many are faced with a losing battle as victims of the lottery of life with little chances of making it except, perhaps, in life hereafter. The epidemic of prayer houses and faith in all manner of gambling are symptomatic of the experiences of those Fela Anikulapo characterized as “original suffer head.”

As is well-known, exponential growth in GDP and other indices of production, distribution and exchange does not necessarily translate into development or factual improvement in the existential circumstances of the preponderant majority of the people. The gap between growth and development is so wide that no amount of statistics can whitewash. After all, Josef Stalin reputedly once observed that there are statistics and damn lies. The battle for survival makes a mockery of the proclamations of official statistics.

Accordingly, it is prudent to wash with cynical acid whatever figures of growth are thrown in the public domain regarding betterment in the living conditions of the people. The task of independent observers and, especially scientific students of society is to strip and lay bare claims of governments on the improvement of people’s lives through concrete empirical data in the hope that things would really get better, not in the long run, when Keynes reminded us we would all be dead, but in the immediate future and definitely before the next election.

The Role of the Mass Media in the Development Process

As the eyes and ears of the people, the mass media play a critical role in the development process. However laudable a government programme can be, the mass media can make or mar it. As is commonly said, the mass media are charged with the task of educating, informing and entertaining the people. Their task in disseminating information and availing government of a feedback mechanism ensures their crucial role in good governance, socio-political accountability and propriety. Wise political leaders should learn from Napoleon Bonaparte who once opined that a newspaper is to be feared more than a hundred bayonets.

Now, development is not a one-way street but a dual carriage way running between the government and the governed. There needs to be a thorough grasp of the input-output model such that the intentions of policy makers are accurately relayed to intended beneficiaries of same in order to enhance prospects for the realization of benefits of actions, programmes and policies of the thinking of the powers-that-be. Without the co-operation of the mass media, all this might end up in smoke. The social contract between the government and the governed becomes a meaningless and otiose proclamation except it brings about positive impact on their existential situation.

To the extent that development is never a unidimensional process, to that extent should the media be harnessed as agents of progress and utilitarian impulses and interests. As they say, the medium is the message. So, government needs to appreciate the communication skills of journalists and seek their collaboration in order to ensure effective understanding by the people and their co-operation toward realization of government’s aims, policies and programmes. A complicated and fuzzy policy is as good as dead hence the necessity for a break-down and disaggregation of lofty plans and programmes in order to facilitate optimal effectuation.

Lagos in the Matrix of Transformation

Different false prophets and protagonists of transformation, be it social, political or social, have extolled the virtues of change within the polity. However, the effort toward the end of radical change in infrastructure and other aspects of life cannot be more palpable than goings-on in Lagos state. From the status of Lagos as a mega-city, we are now being regaled with the metamorphosis of Lagos to a smart city where all can rest assured of ameliorated standard of living.

From Mega-City to Smart City

Having lived and studied in Kiev, Boston and Toronto, I believe I am in a position to evaluate the on-going efforts toward realization of this laudable intention. A mega-city, metropolis or, in fact, cosmopolis must evince the characteristics of a modern city in terms of infrastructure such as high-rise buildings, efficient transport system like a mass transit underground or metro system, network of buses, trolley buses, taxis, well laid-out lanes for cyclists, sidewalks for pedestrians, well-coordinated traffic lights, etc. In short, such a city must meet the standards of living in the 21st century. Before a mega-city can be transformed into a smart city, there must be abundant evidence of the employment of hi-tech especially, information communication technology (ICT) and a population sold on digital existence and attitudes as well as ability to navigate their way in the brave new world of contemporary life. In other words, there must be in place a certain level of contentment among the people based on the availability of basic needs and material sustenance so that the ordinary people can more appreciate the benefits of sojourn in the mega-city and smart city. The excesses of a social darwinistic social order would have to be whittled down in order to make living worthwhile and meaningful.

In view of the foregoing, it is simply stating the obvious that Lagos as currently situated is far  from being described as a smart city. Mega-city, yes  but smart city, definitely no, at least, not yet. Of course, its 24-odd million population and claim of being the fifth largest economy in Africa would surely make it a mega-city but transforming it into a smart city is still very much a work in progress. Agreed, Rome was not be built in a day and the efforts of the crusaders for the transformation of the mega-city to smart city should be saluted but we have to lower our sights and recognize that a lot of work still needs to be done before we can shout, “Hurray!”

Conclusion

In an age of the knowledge industry, practitioners of the mass media can hardly be ignored. Any government that intends to score successes in its plans, policies and programmes would be failing in its duty if it does not apprehend the necessity to solicit the support and collaboration of the mass media, especially in relation to a project as gigantic as the socio-economic and political transformation of Lagos from a mega-city to that of a smart city.

This is a daunting task requiring all hands to be on deck if the desiderata of transformation is to be realized. While it is axiomatic that change is the only thing constant, purveyors of change must be on top of their game by ensuring that nothing is left to chance in their endeavour. The push for change breeds resistance from adherents of the status quo but mercifully, this does not apply to the movement towards changing the status of Lagos from that of a mega-city to smart city. The population, it seems, are at one on the heuristic and therapeutic dimensions of socio-economic and political transformation of Lagos.

Although the on-going effort is a long way off, practitioners of the mass media have a special role to play in ensuring the success and realization of this epochal resolve. It is suggested that those behind this giant stride should stop at nothing to do whatever needs to be done to achieve this noble objective.

-Lecture delivered at the 2018 NUJ Lagos Information Press Week at the Combo Hall, LTV Complex, Lateef Jakande Road, Agidingbi – Ikeja on Wednesday June 27, 2018.

-Prof. Oyebode is a Professor of International Law