There used to be one old beverage advert which ended with the pay off line: “If only you know the taste.”
I often recall it with another old adage I first read in Ola Rotimi’s “Kurunmi.” It says: “Cactus is bitter, to him who has tasted it.” It is another version of the Golden Rule and it has guided my sense of humanity, to be careful not to give bitterness to another.
So, I understand that on September 1, the government will commence the eviction of users of the National Stadium, Lagos, for business.
That facility hosts about two hundred businesses with over 3,000 employees.
The business owners had been allocated spaces by the stadium management with the knowledge of the Federal Ministry of Sports. They paid rents, invested their savings to set up, stock up and had anchored their livelihood there.
Then came the Force Majeure of Covid-19 for which the facility was locked down, forcing them out of operations and income for about seven months now.
They bore the hardship for the long, praying for the situation to ease so they can return to piece their lives back. The thousands of employees had also been calling their employers to enquire when they can return to work.
As businesses were returning to normal nationwide, they anticipated an announcement of the reopening of the stadium when the authorities invited them to a meeting a fortnight ago.
Sadly, they got bad news. Government declared it was embarking on a process of renovation towards the concession of the facility and they have only one week to vacate the premises. When they expressed shock, government added another one week as respite.
They have incured terrible loses of millions of Naira in goods which went spoilt during the lockdown. Now they face a bigger trouble in the sudden eviction.
I saw the anguish and hopelessness in the faces of the hundreds of old and young men and women as they scampered to remove their properties, many not knowing where to take them to and how to begin a new life.
To be sure, the National Stadium has been in shamefully bad state, unbefiting of our nation, for years, and no one can argue against its renovation and concession to people who can handle it well.
However, government must always be about the people whose interest and well being it must consider in the implementation of its policies and programmes.
Besides security of lives and property, the next important duty of government is the provision of opportunities for and protection of businesses and jobs.
It seems really brutish to summarily dislodge thousands of people from their means of livelihood without the reck of, at least, reasonably pre-informing them. It is especially so at this unusually tough time.
I do not see how government would be hurt by exercising some patience with its citizens to enable them prepare to adjust. Say a year or six months, to replan and relocate. Say a plan to relocate them to a section of the stadium in the meantime. If only to enable them recover from the economic disruption of Covid.
They are our citizens. They have been out of income for long months due to Covid. They are now dislodged from business and employment. Schools will resume soon and they have to send their children back and pay tuition, boarding and all what nots. How can they?
Even so, we are not about to host the World Cup or the Olympic Games to warrant this urgency of their displacement.
We are talking here about the people. Our people.
They ain’t crimimals. They didn’t forcefully start operating at the stadium. They applied to be allocated trading posts. The stadium management, acting on behalf of the sports ministry and government, granted them. They pay rents and are receipted and they have contributed to the internally generated revenue with which the facility has been kept awake through the long years of its abandonment. They haven’t committed any offence by being there. They just wanted a place to strive for life and the authorities accepted them in. Why now just stab them in the back?
Yes, no one can fight government but we must learn to treat our people as humans, no matter how lowly placed they may be. They have blood. They feel pain and frustration.
Remember: “Cactus is bitter.” It’s only those who haven’t tasted it that will force it down the throat of others. Or, as they say, “those whose palm kernels have been cracked by benevolent gods should not forget that the kernel is a hard nut.” Let us do unto others as we would wish to be done to us.