By: Lookman Seriki
‘Despotism Can Govern Without Faith, But Liberty Cannot’ – Alexis de Tocqueville
The last week of April and all of May, 2017, was a season of prayers in Lagos. People of diverse origin, faith, interest, and class – including the atheists – were united in an entreaty to God Almighty, to guide and quicken the drive to a Greater Lagos – a SMART City that will rival the best on planet Earth.
Prayers flew from all directions, in churches, mosques and shrines, at club houses, social functions, homes and meetings. Prayers soared on the wings of songs, drums, dance, drama and fanfare, exalting the Supreme Being for His blessings and favours that put Lagos in an enviable position in the country; kindling hope of improved humanity, affirming durability of concord among diverse social and political groups in the state, showcasing the beauty of multi-ethnic cultural heritage, propagating messages of care and love and restating our determination and commitment to confront present and future challenges.
During this colourful celebration of 50 years of peaceful co-existence and unprecedented socio-economic progress in the state, Lagosions earnestly requested for more of the same in the journey to SMART City as a collective aspiration. Indeed Lagosians love God.
God loves Lagosians. This is the bedrock of the people’s faith, rising hope, courage and confidence to focus collective dreams and pursue them with religious firmness until the dream comes true. The question is not whether our supplications will be answered, but that the SMART City destiny of Lagos is assured.
Some skeptics might say western nations have achieved development with little emphasis on religion. While this is a fallacy, as will soon be pointed out, the definition of development will not be complete when the spiritual needs of the people are downplayed or ignored.
Those who have travelled to nations in the West, before September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Centre was attacked, could easily come to a conclusion that people there were living in paradise, as they enjoyed state-of-the art infrastructural facilities, uninterrupted power supply, comprehensive health insurance scheme, superb social safety net, fantastic integrated transportation system, near zero unemployment level, stable democracy, predictable conveniences, comprehensive health and medical scheme, high level of safety and security and unfettered freedom and liberty.
It is thus easy for one to conclude that, these nations must have evolved enduring development templates that other developing nations in quest of progress and good living must adopt to succeed.
Yet, discerning ones know that not all citizens of these nations were in that level of happiness descriptive of persons in paradise. Before 2001, it was not unusual to hear reports of anti-social behaviours, such as drug abuse and addiction, hooliganism, robbery, suicide, rape, murder and arsons. And, in the past 16 years, matters have taken a turn for worse.
With increasing level of intolerance and racism, radicalism and extremism, violence and terrorism, cities in Western Europe and United States of America are becoming more unpredictable. Things are falling apart; life is becoming less safe. These shortcomings have shown that Western development models seriously lack some basic ingredients.
Definitely, it is not a model that Lagos should adopt unconditionally. Paying appropriate attention to religious issues and prayer is crucial in the state’s development thrust.
Religion is a big asset that is being strategically combined to produce a tidy result. In fifty years of Lagos’ history, we have not witnessed any major religious conflict, despite the fact that Lagos harbours far more faith-based groups of varying denominations and far more ethnic groups than any in the country!
Indeed religion and prayers are working for us in Lagos. Religion and government travel in different but parallel tracks. They are most successful and most effective when they protect and encourage one another…(And) too much secularism can lead to moral decadence not good for society,” says Elder Wilfred W. Anderson.
Something ubiquitous can easily be taken for granted, like air, water, sand and sunshine, yet our Planet Earth cannot sustain lives in the absence of one of them. So is becoming a reality with religion. From cradle to grave, we are immersed in religious rites and experience. Hardly can we write the history of a nation or group of people on earth without mentioning their religious experience.
For Lagos to continue to excel and transmit models for other states in the country and beyond, it must continue to benefit from the best of what is available around the globe and marry them with the best in our clime; to produce results that are appropriate and comprehensive enough to accommodate all the citizens’ needs and aspirations – without destroying their ways of life.
Lagosians are religious people. Overwhelmingly, we are either Christians or Muslims.We have some other Lagosians, who are traditionalists and some atheists, whose interests have always been factored in development thrusts.
The Lagos State Government has been working hard to protect all religious groups, without preference for one. You cannot, for instance, see a worship centre within the State Secretariat complex, but across the road, there is a mosque and a church – constructed by the state government; each overseen by a governing council, which takes care of the spiritual needs of more than 95% of workforce, residents and visitors in Alausa and environs.
For instance, in the United Kingdom, Roman Catholic churches still enjoy some form of government patronage. In United States, while it is not allowed to directly finance religious activities, states fund social or charitable activities carried out by faith-based organizations, and during Thanksgiving Day, federal and state governments’ presence are quite visible. In the Netherlands, the state funds schools established by religious institutions; in the Republic of Ireland, priest and religious leaders have great influence in governance.
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, as were his predecessors, appreciates the importance of religion and prayer in pursuit of avowed objective of Greater Lagos. He has been protecting religious freedom without favouring any group over the others.
Through the Ministry of Home Affairs, he has been able to sustain harmonious relationship among all faith-based organizations. He has fostered durable peace and his peace initiative promises to become more comprehensive and self sustaining when the state chapter of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), is decentralized for ownership at the grassroots.
Under the Ambode administration, Lagos has been adjudged the best in the country in pilgrimage operation to the holy lands of Mecca and Jerusalem, with expressed approval and satisfaction of pilgrims. The state will continue in that manner to satisfy the spiritual yearnings of its citizens. Kidnapping, which is threatening harmonious existence, is foreign to the state and is being robustly addressed.
It will soon become history when more security measures, such as the planned deployment of commissionaires trained by Nigerian Legion (Lagos Chapter), construction of watch tower and installation of close-circuit televisions come to fruition in education institutions.
That Ambode’s administration has been outstanding is because he has been implementing a Lagos Template, which has all the beautiful components of the western version, with important local components that will transform the state from a mega city to a Smart City.