Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ibadan regeneration (ongoing)

Over the past few days remarks made by Mallam Ribadu the former Chairman of EFCC during his lecture at the late Bola Ige birthday event has earned caustic response from the Oyo state government through Chief Gbade Ishola. Without rehearsing both angles I think it is a welcome thing that regeneration of Ibadan has become a topical issue. It is however an issue that requires a different discourse than that of a partisan political nature. I will avoid choosing sides because what is at stake is far more significant than who is right or wrong nor is it about the coming election.

The city of Ibadan represents a totally unique space in the history and potentially future of the nation. It has been the largest indigenous city of its kind in Africa but also the intellectual cradle of the Nigerian state. If we valued anything in our current transactional mindset it would be this city that evolve through a unique, meritocracy into a warrior republic using a constitution experiment that remains largely intact today. She carries three powerful dimension for our future, a habit of cultural innovation that includes the first television station; a platform for intellectual curiosity and academic expression that spawned the first university; a network of informal commerce that is translated into scores of open air markets including the largest market for indigenous textile in Oje. To say that Ibadan has regressed is not to focus blame on any one party in what should be a partnership to preserve her legacy and generate a vision to renew her.

Ibadan is perhaps the only city in Africa that is bucking the trend in urbanisation especially in the number of young people she has lost. The downward trend for the city started with the much vaunted Structural Adjustment Programme of the Babangida regime in the mid 1980s. This policy that decimated the Nigerian middle classes destroyed the vibrancy of Ibadan which was the most middle class of all cities in Nigeria. The disdain in which the universities, research institutes and that almost uniquely local focus i.e. ‘publishing was treated wiped out the intellectual values, skills and industries. The lack of priority for education also destroyed the place as an education destination from across the country. The middle class values of community , perseverance and long term effort were killed and replaced with neo liberal individualism leading to the triumph of the hustler class. Shame died and became replaced with wanton materialism. Ibadan has never recovered. Subsequent governments, local and national have neither had the desire nor have had the resources to prioritise Ibadan above other things they feel necessary . It does not start with the present government in Oyo sate. There is of course the inevitable structural problem of a potential ‘world centre’ in a largely rural, agricultural state. Maybe the challenge of renewing Ibadan might be a drain to ‘development’ in other parts of the State?

These challenges have not been helped by the false division amongst the citizens of our metropolis. The identification of indigene versus resident is a very poor choice. The founders of our great city came from all over Yoruba land to find fortune through valour and might rather than from birthright and bloodline. Nowhere is merit more forcefully enforced as the standard of excellence than in the ancient home of Oluyole. We as citizens have also failed our city in not creating a large enough umbrella as is our tradition. We failed to make talent, excellence and love for the betterment of our land as the only standard for determining whether one qualifies as Ibadan or otherwise. No great city is a creation of government alone but a result of the collective vision and contribution of her people , businesses, civic organisations and government in partnership. Even if the Oyo state government believes it has done some things the honest truth is that there is a lot more to do. Our city now has a shop front in every house, our roads struggle to absorb traffic because of the number of cars struggling for space. Nowhere is there more research institutes than Ibadan but they are not connected by the highway of this century in fibre optic broadband. The publishing industry in magazine road is a very pale shadow of the ‘capital ‘ of west africa that it was. I know from Mallam Ribadu’s comments that he cares and i know from my limited interaction with Chief Gbade Ishola that he is passionate about Ibadan. We can have a civil dialogue about the best way ahead.

Last year we started this process with Mesiogo initiative (outside of government and politics) to work across stakeholders for a long term regeneration for our city. We have a draft plan from robust dialogue that includes survey of nearly 5,000 citizens and a town hall meeting that involved all works of life. Lets continue this dialogue and effort without succumbing to self serving partisanship. No one has a monopoly of ideas or responsibility as we strive to continuously evolve Ibadan not just to the greatness of her pioneering past but also higher to the possibilities of prosperity for many more generations to come.

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