I REMEMBER as kids when Jimmy Carter visited Lagos. We were only awed by the optics of colour, dignity and the starchy bravura of the head of state. Carter was white and upbeat. Obj was infected all over with the lofty brio of a host. Our gratitude was the momento of their joyride through town. Today we know it was more than that. When we cut a path through the Lagos waters, we invoke his name. It’s Carter Bridge.
We also have Eko Bridge. For all the shadow of June 12, IBB may have memorialised his name with the glory of the Third Mainland Bridge. The gap-toothed fellow scored that for the hearts of the Lagos commuter as the monument for a mobile city.
For the fourth time, Lagosians have been waiting. It looks like the time is coming. They will not have to linger like the old man in Hemmingway’s short story who would not proceed from the foot of the bridge. Lagos seems set to begin the loop, and leap from island to mainland all the way to the far-flung Ikorodu. The BOS of Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is set to make it a signature project. With the coil and majesty of a python, the Fourth Mainland Bridge will make interlocking presence in Lekki/Epe, Arepo, Lagos-Ibadan Express way. Names of streets and villages will jump out of obscurity. Ado Badore, Bayeiku, Igede, Isawo et al, will bump into royal dialogues. The project hopes not only to reconnect the city but to recast its landscape.
As the governor has noted, “The project allows for the first time ‘direct access’ from the large suburb of Ikorodu to the Island and the Lekki Free Zone area.” It is a three-part affair: Island, lagoon, mainland. At a recent stakeholders meeting, it was revealed that it had reached an advanced stage for take-off. The partners have dialed in. We can draw the outlines in our minds. We can paint the picture for our eyes. Sources say in the past, partners often suffered cold feet. The train is about to move.
For Nigeria’s essential city, it is not only good news, it is a hope for relief. Bridges of this nature are not mere projects. They are the items of transformation. To move a city from rural to urban. They raise the stakes of prestige and prosperity. The make the city dwellers not just move, but want to move. They can move in the morning for the joy of labour. In the sunshine blaze, they can cruise and watch the water shimmer beside as the sky presides. At night, they can take in the crystal dark and serene path on asphalt.
It is not just the bridge. It is the economy. To make a bridge is also to reinvent commerce. It starts with huge outlay to get it done. The billions will mean bringing in sand, steel, iron, blocks, cranes, etc. it will be a feat of engineering. It means going deep into the lagoon, dredging, remapping. It is labour, and salaries and sub-contracts, and men hawking wares and the women selling akara and bowls of eba and egusi soup. It is like building town. When David McCollough wrote his famous book of rigour, The Great Bridge, he unveiled engineering detail. It was not just about connecting two great towns –Manhattan and Brooklyn – it is a story of politics, a family that devoted its life to a lifetime project, even living at times under the water, about those who labored, loved, caught a disease and died.
The Fourth Mainland is a story of immense devotion. As the Trojan of works minister Babatunde Fashola noted, it is expected to beat Cairo’s long bridge in length. I don’t know how long it will take to complete it, but it is a project for a generation. A project in endurance. It has to start and then it is up to the city to bring it to an end. IBB started and finished the Third Mainland. But the Fourth Mainland is a long, winding behemoth, the longest on the continent. It will change the lives along its path. Real estate value will rise. Status of people there will rise. Lifestyle will change. It will redesign the architecture, the business model, how they wake up and sleep, how they worship, who they bow to, who to vote for and against, where to party and where to die.
And what way to raise their children. It will tell which gods will fall and what myths to ignite. The story went that a river deity resisted a bridge during the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in the Obasanjo era. A white man drove into it as sacrifice. This new bridge may weave its own tale. Schools will have to reflect the new status of the place. It is not about the flyover or the trajectory of the loop, but the loop of their lives. The Nobel Prize-winning novel, Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, details how travel is in everything we do, even when we eat.
We have had bridges across the country. Even in Lagos, the Lekki Bridge is not just a bridge. It is now a Nollywood icon, a lover’s tryst, the jogger’s flexing point, where Mark Zuckerberg’s caught his breath. We remember the Asaba Bridge during the civil war. Biafran artillery paralsysed Murtala’s army, almost like Hemingway old man. In Port Harcourt, we have seen trophies and atrophies, projects ended and others abandoned. In the east, some colonial bridges remain prostrate since the civil war. A bridge is also a segue between from one world to another. Of course, to go to Ikorodu from Lekki is an astral trip, like landing in a new dimension. In Japanese top writer Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84, a man enters a new dimension of the city just by walking out of a traffic jam on a bridge.
We hope, in the words of Prophet Isaiah, we shall see in the Fourth mainland a highway for the wayfarers of holy intentions who will make the city a place of refuge and growth.
Grand master and two other plays
IT was such a cheer to hear that former finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala clinched the WTO job. This is the second person from the Jonathan administration to be so honoured by an international agency of prestige. The last one was former agriculture minister Akinwunmi Adesina, who stared America in the face and rode back to the glory of his job. It is an irony that these two individuals who did not perform well as ministers could flex as champions on the world stage. I am, nonetheless, happy for them.
NOI ran an economy as Nigeria’s “prime minister” that teetered. Adesina promised a piece of bread that we did not see. But I supported their victory. Their grand master Goodluck Jonathan is seeking a second act, it seems, although this column has shut down the kite being flown by the so-called Buhari Boys. They want him to be a sort of Buhari third term, so that the north can say the south has had its share. Therefore, the north can begin another eight-year berth. It is also a snare for Jonathan. They know Jonathan’s record, so they can blackmail him on what they know to skew any attempt at an assertion of strength. But that is not going to work.
I know some Jonathan diehards want him back. They want another footloose reign. They want to enjoy a slave’s holiday before the servitude kicks in. If they want someone, as I noted last week, they can get other candidates from the south-south. After all, I will be happy to see somebody from my region become president again. But that is not how politics works. Let the people decide.
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