Friday, March 20, 2009

Lagos, USA

Lest I be accused of being overly pro-hawker, I am spending plenty of time getting the perspective of the hard-working men and women who are charged with enforcing Lagos' ban on street trading. Here I am with KAI Commander Ajay Oluwafemi yesterday in Oshodi, which is the front line in the government's war on vendors.

Commander Oluwafemi expressed his dream to me that one day, "everywhere here will be like New York." This is something I hear a lot -- the desire to make Lagos more like cities in the West. It reminded me of a very similar statement by some Lagos police officers in this excellent Current TV video I've been meaning to post for a while.

As a New Yorker, I can appreciate the sentiment. But here is what is puzzling and backward to me: why chase after street vendors to make Lagos more like New York? In fact, as I tell Lagos vendors, to their astonishment, we have thousands of vendors in New York! Why not build an excellent subway system, like we have in New York, to reduce road congestion? Why not improve the water supply to make it as good as New York's famous water works?

There must be a million ways to make Lagos more like New York without stifling the one thing both cities are so well known for - their cultures of self-sufficiency, ambition, and bootstraps entrepreneurship. No?