As was shown in the essay posted last Wednesday which was a re-issue of a 2004 essay, “Containers everywhere but not a ship in sight”, the mess that the Ibadan environment has become did not creep in on us. It started a long time ago with the arrival of churches as private businesses as well as traditional businesses need to be advertised. I know, “nobody owns churches” as I read just this week in an essay about Nigeria’s “five richest pastors” but that statement, itself, is not new. In Polyanna, perhaps my all-time favorite movie, the little star of the movie named Polyanna, Haley Mills, in the title role brings a little town’s pastor who kowtowed to her Aunt, the rich but hated Miss Polly Whittier – down to earth with the memorable line: “nobody owns a church …” The little girl had delivered, as usual, what her Aunt Polly wanted Karl Malden’s “pastor” character to deliver as the Sunday sermon and the little girl had dared the pastor to call the bluff of Jane Wyman’s character, Ms. Whittier.
Of course that was 1960 and no pastor or anybody for that matter owned churches – yet. With the exception of the old churches these days: Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, etcetera, most Nigerian churches are owned by families.
Here are the reported worths that are driving church ownership business, pardon me, preaching The Word: Oyedepo, $150m; Oyakilome – $30 – $50m; Temitope Joshua – $10 -15m., etcetera. No matter the denials, the conspicuous absence of Adeboye’s name on this Rich List raises more than eyebrows, a fact that made me blog the essay by Mfonobong Nsehe, Forbes.com: “I had been wondering at the loud silence of the essay on Adeboye before I read your response to ‘Dianeawunah’. If “Pastor Adeboye does not exactly own the church … just the General Overseer … doesn’t own the assets of the church or any other vast estate”, who are the trustees? The sincerity of this claim will be bared for the world at the Pastor’s passing.” When a husband dies, the wife is “called” by God to lead and, perhaps, when the wife goes home, the children would be “called” one by one, on and on.
Readers will agree that a $150m business needs a big advertising budget. My only gripe is that these so-called “men of God” – entrepreneurs for all you care – do not shake a little of this dough down to ad agencies. The messages get to the public via humongous billboards.
Another source of defacement of Ibadan are political posters, especially during this last election season. Everywhere you turn they are there to assault the senses, including the walls of the Secretariat. Then there are the zillions of petty traders who clog the sidewalks – where they exist – and crowd pedestrians out to duel with danfo and okada – commercial bus and motorcycles.
It’s so bad everywhere that I believe the new government has to do something about what has turned a legendary dirty city into a disgrace to state and local governments. Lagos is already cleaning up its own mess which poster-mania did not happen in 2007. Now, the appropriate agency has started cleaning up all defaced surfaces but why start what would gulp millions to clean off?
Cleaning Ibadan is not impossible.
In “Slum dwellers, all” in The Comet on Sunday in 2003, I recalled how Late Chief Bola Ige curbed ad deluge in Ibadan. We had an office on Polytechnic Road where we engaged in all sorts of buying and selling: bakery at the back; printing in front and a consultancy office upstairs. To announce these petty trading dressed in an incorporated garb, we promptly put up a billboard measuring about 2 feet wide by 4 feet. Within a month or so, we had government visitors who came with a bill befitting our status as displayer of a billboard that strains the environment. We took it down before the officials left! I think non-government collect-for-a-percentage can be put to pursue all the billboard owners. Those who really need them would remain while zillions would disappear. As for the banners, they have no place at traffic lights, etcetera.
Here are my suggestions: those who erected all the political posters and humongous billboard – some as high as 30 feet – must be made to remove within a number of days after which a sort of bill-o-meter can start running. The posters on the Secretariat walls are disgraceful; the owners are also on the pictures. They must remove them by scrubbing everything off the walls after which the mild defacing of the ancient ‘POST NO BILL’ should be done to the walls. Jemibewon overpass at the Secretariat should never again be used to display – no metaphor – larger than life images of a sitting governor or to advertise the party of the governor in power. As governor, Senator Ajimobi is for all: ACN, Labor, PDP, etcetera.
Posters are not the only menace to our environment. Everywhere has been turned to retail space, including the rare sidewalks. These should be reclaimed by government. If market women in Cotonou can stay in their stalls, why can’t Nigerian women stay in theirs? The frontages of houses should also be visible from the road ways.
When I first arrived in Ibadan in 1966, shops were built into houses just as in all parts of Western Nigeria; not anymore. I’ve seen balconies of houses built up while an extra meter or two of space has been pilfered off the mandated setbacks to create space the balcony used to occupy!
Wouldn’t it be more than nice if the builders’ village that Iwo Road has become could be eliminated by creating a real Builders’ Village or Building Supplies Village somewhere between Egbeda and Asejire? A vast area can be cleared and allocated, grouping each type of supplies together: plumbers’ supplies; electrical … and, of course, the cooked food sellers. Each seller can build his/her own up but government’s enabling assistance would include linking the place to the NEPA grid as well as water supply. Of course these retailers would have to pay monthly charges. Apart from the slum that Iwo Road has become, the danger is ever present of very heavy iron rods or “light” 8,OOO-gallon water tank tipping on the road one of these days. Parking and traffic problems on a road that has over fifteen (15)commercial banks on a less-than half a mile stretch would be greatly minimized.
Finally, I hope Governor Ajimobi will resist the poster-mania being already put into sycophantic service on his behalf. One was on the lawn outside the Government House two weeks ago but by this past Friday morning, a banner had been strung across the Secretariat -Government House Road; won’t be long before others follow. We are yet to recover from huge personal pictures of the last governor that used to assault not just the eyes but the senses.
Let’s make Ibadan attractive again; happens to be one of my two favorite places on earth.