Of politicians, poetry and prose

ITS was the former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, that said politicians “campaign in poetry, but govern in prose”. Since the news broke that the Lagos State governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has denied saying that he would resolve or clear the Apapa gridlock in 60 days, this popular Cuomo quote has continued to pop up in my head. For anyone who studied or appreciates the arts, the import of this saying should sink in. Poetry is sweet to the ears, especially when read to you. However, with prose, you are more deliberate. Now to the issue: I was not altogether surprised at Governor Sanwo-Olu’s denial because I had always known that after the initial euphoria or gragra, reality would set in and the new helmsmen would begin to recoil and recant. The experience is the same from Lagos to Imo,  Oyo to Kwara, and Adamawa to Bauchi State. Where they are not recanting, they are either reversing one action or the other of their predecessors, or engaging in needless media war over projects and/or pronouncements. While I do not want to argue or haggle over whether or not he said so or not, like the lawyers would say res ipsa locuitor, I believe that our politicians and leaders should learn to be circumspect when they speak. American author Jodi Picoult said, “Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”

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Assuming without conceding that Governor Sanwo-Olu never promised to resolve the Apapa traffic gridlock in 60 days, why did it take him this long – exactly one month – before denying the statement? How about his comments on the same Apapa gridlock at the governorship debate organized by the The Platform? On that occasion, he said, “Within the first 100 days, I will tackle the gridlock at Apapa. I will need to clear up all the traffic and all the trailers at Apapa. I’ll make sure it’s a nightmare we will not see again.”  Was our governor also misquoted or quoted out of context? Or didn’t he say so at all? It will also be recalled that when he visited the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) recently, Governor Sanwo-Olu made some promises and declarations. For me, the two headliners were that he would increase their allowances by 100 percent and that even if his brother committed a traffic offence, he should be arrested.

Buoyed by these sound bites, LASTMA personnel, aided by the police, have practically been on the prowl since penultimate week or so. While I do not support indiscipline on our roads, the emphasis on punitive measures disguised as enforcement is, to my mind, misplaced. The potholes on our roads should have been fixed and the street gates and inner-roads opened up with the provision of adequate security and enlightenment campaigns before anyone talked of enforcement. The other day, I heard that a mobile court ordered that two traffic offenders should forfeit their vehicles to the Lagos State government for driving against traffic. Isn’t that too harsh? How is that corrective? What if the vehicle is the only means of livelihood of those concerned? If the trend continues, will it not send more people into the unemployment market with attendant security implications? On a personal note, I had a taste of a combined team of LASTMA personnel and some policemen on my way to work last week. I was approaching the Anthony Village Bus Stop by Shodex Garden when a policeman flagged me down. I stopped, thinking he wanted to cross the road or meant to use me to stop a supposed traffic offender behind me. He asked me to wind down. I did. Before I knew it, another of his colleagues had jumped into the front passenger side. I asked him what was the problem and he said I should park and I obeyed, wondering what was amiss. And then, he fired, “Oga, why were you using your phone?”  Although I was in utter shock, I managed to ask him, “How and when?” In seconds, other members of the team in mufti and LASTMA uniforms had swarmed round me. Quickly, I brought out my phone and told them “It’s 7:01 a.m and you claimed that I was using my phone while driving. Now, let’s check my call logs to see if I made any calls at that point or anytime close to when you alleged I did.”

Upon seeing that I never made any calls at the time they accused me of doing so or anytime close to it, they stormed out of my car and left in shame. But I disembarked and told them that if I did not put a lie to their claim, that was how I would have been ‘roped’ into what I    never I did. I told them that their conduct was as disdainful as it was criminal. One of them threatened to slap me if I did not get into my car and leave the scene. By then, I had identified one of the policemen. Yes, I got into my car and left the scene, but the thoughts of that incident and what fate could have befallen me could not leave me. Put together, my experience and those of other Lagosians who may not be predisposed to sharing their experiences or holding our leaders accountable could be said to lend credence to the axiom that politicians “campaign in poetry, but govern in prose”. Perhaps our political leaders should be a lot more circumspect when they speak. They should not allow the pressure and/or pleasure of the office they seek or are elected into to push them to say things that they may not be able to do or deliver on – as promised. As it is said, it is better to under-promise and over-deliver  than to over-promise and under-deliver!

  • Oniyokor lives in Lagos

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