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Police: Making up charges to fleece innocent Nigerians

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Police: Making up charges to fleece innocent Nigerians

Relying on instincts to make arrest

Police have a penchant for arresting people based on their manner of dressing. Although different Inspectors-General of Police have warned against such practices, termed rights violation, these persist. In this report, JULIANA FRANCIS examines why police still make arrest based on the way people look or dress

 

Yinka Badmus, 24, a photojournalist, looked pale. He could barely speak; he mumbled his words and one has to strain to hear him. He had just been granted bail from the Ikoyi Prison, Lagos, less than 48 hours earlier.

He was granted bail after spending 11 horrifying days in the prison. He was arrested by operatives of the Nigeria Police for sporting dreadlocks.

The young man described the days of his arrest and eventual remand in Ikoyi Prison as, “days of hell.”

Badmus said that since his arrest and incarceration, nightmares had become his bed mates.

As Badmus gathered his scattered thoughts to tell his story, he stared into space, looking into the activities of the past days.

He said: “We were 16 young men that were ushered into the Ikoyi Prison on that day; every one of us was transferred from Gbagada Anti-Cultism Unit. We were given garri to drink in the prison. I couldn’t drink it. I kept asking myself; what am I doing here? I’m not a criminal!”

Badmus, who said that he was arrested for sporting dreadlocks, disclosed that his journey to prison showed him a whole new scaring world of crime and the human race.

Badmus, who said that sporting dreadlocks was his creative way of expressing himself, was not the first Nigerian who had been arrested and labelled a ‘criminal’ because of their fashion sense. Many had often taken to social media to air their outrage. Many had to part with money before they were released.

Before Bamdus came to Lagos, he was in Ibadan, Oyo State with his parents and siblings. His singular purpose in venturing to Lagos was to pursue a dream; the dream is to become one of the renowned photographers in Nigeria.

Before he was arrested for his dreadlocks and labelled a cultist, he had already won an international scholarship, to further his study in photographing. He almost lost the scholarship owing to his arrest. On the day the school called him on Skype to have an interview with him he was in prison, battling not to lose his mind.

His mentor, Stephen Oguntoyinbo, who also doubles as his boss, had painfully explained to the school the whereabouts of Badmus and the reason for his incarceration.

The school was said to have become shocked and had promised to keep the slot open for him until the following week, hoping for a bail. And then, showing an incredible solidarity for Badmus, the school went on twitter to demand his liberation. Before the international scholarship, Badmus had just completed a three-month scholarship in September with Shola Animasahun’s Academy.

The drama that led to Badmus becoming one of the inmates in Ikoyi Prison started on December 31, 2018, at Olatilewa Street, Surulere. He had just returned from a photo session. The time was about 11.45p.m. People were already in churches, waiting for the clock to strike 12a.m., so that they could start screaming, “Happy New Year.”

Tired and hungry, Badmus quickly sighted the heavily pregnant Iya-Abike. She was still at her stand, where she sells noodles. Badmus made a beeline for her and placed an order. He had not eaten more than a few forkfuls, when policemen appeared from nowhere and all hell was let loose.

Badmus said: “I was eating noodles at Olatilewa Street, Surulere, when I saw policemen chase some boys. One of the policemen moved towards me. He is tall, huge and light in complexion. He has tribal marks. Immediately he came near, he used his rifle to hit my plate. The plate and its content fell to the ground. I was shocked and simply held my fork, gaping at him. The policeman said, ‘so, this is the fork you use to oppress people isn’t it?’

“The next thing he did was to slap my face. I told him that I was in my street, I pointed to my house. I told him I had not done anything wrong. I introduced myself as a photographer. He didn’t listen; rather, he slapped me again and again. I lost count of the number of times he slapped me.

“He kicked me and then held my shirt. He dragged and bundled me into a bus, painted Lagos State commercial colour. I met six young people in the bus; they were in handcuffs. They were shouting, ‘we were going to church, we were going to church. We didn’t do anything.’ On the way, the police started shooting tear gas. One of those arrested is an asthmatic patient. He was about to had a crisis. He couldn’t breathe properly; he suddenly jumped out through the bus window. The policemen caught and dragged him back into the bus.”

Badmus said that about 12.20a.m., the bus driver drove into Itire Police Station in Surulere. The following morning, which was January 1, the policemen came and started asking each of them if they had anyone they wanted to call; someone who could come for their bail. Some of the detainees quickly called their relatives.

Badmus narrated: “Relatives, who came to bail people paid as much as N30,000, N40,000 and N50,000. I didn’t have anyone I could call, at least anyone with that kind of money for bail. My mentor, Stephen, had travelled. Moreover, I kept telling myself that I didn’t commit any crime. I thought they would have a rethink and release me, but they didn’t.”

He said that by Wednesday, more relatives came to bail their loved ones. The rest of the detainees and Badmus were moved to Gbagada, where the police have Anti-Cultism Unit.

When they got there, Badmus and others were asked to sit on the ground, while machetes were allegedly placed in front of them. Later, they were asked to file into   an office.

He said: “We were asked to pull off our shirts. The policemen started writing statement for every detainee. I refused to allow them to write mine. I didn’t want them to write what I didn’t do. When I insisted that I wanted to write my statement myself, one of them hit me on my back with an axe. Later, they marched every one of us into the cell. We were there until Thursday.”

Badmus said that while in detention, he met Segun, who stayed in the same community with him. Unfortunately, he didn’t know Segun, but Segun knows him. He said that Segun and his friends were bailed for N75,000. Segun is about 18-year-old. He and his friends were returning from a Catholic church when they were all arrested.

“They even had the Catholic church bulletins with them. When he was leaving, I begged him to alert my friend. On Thursday, my Uncle, Stephen, came to the station,” he said.

Stephen took over the story, explaining that he was in Abeokuta, Ogun State, when he received the call that Badmus had been detained. When Stephen received the call, he abandoned his conference and headed to Lagos.

He said: “When I got here, Yinka saw me and was shocked. He was shocked because he didn’t know how I got the information. To be truthful, I had repeatedly warned Yinka to cut off his dreadlocks. The policemen further told me that the Investigating Police Officer (IPO) in charge of Yinka’s case was not around. I was asked to return tomorrow. As I was leaving, they asked me to ‘bring something’ when I would be coming tomorrow.”

The following day, which was a Friday, Stephen went to the station. He was shocked to discover that the detainees were being led like sheep going to a slaughter slab into a waiting Black Maria.

 

Stephen hurried to find Badmus’ IPO. He tried to facilitate the lad’s bail, but the IPO was allegedly rude to him. Badmus and others were moved to court. Stephen rushed to court. He was approached by a lawyer, ‘Barrister’ Bright. He thought Badmus could be granted bail through the intervention of Bright. Stephen said that he thought he was dealing with an experienced lawyer, he didn’t know that Badmus was the first case Bright had ever had since he left Law School. And before he knew what was happening, Badmus was remanded in prison custody. He was asked to get some documents ready for Badmus’ bail on Monday.

 

Monday seemed like hundred years away, but the day finally came and Stephen quickly called Bright. But the lawyer said that he was not around. By then, Stephen had got all the items that Bright asked him to get, including utility bills and passport.

“He said that I would pay N25,000 for bail bond. I reminded him that he didn’t tell me about that. Before then I had transferred N10,000 for the tax clearance. He then said his bill was N25,000,” Stephen said.

He said Bright was making too much demands and everything was becoming all too confusing. By the time Stephen called Bright the next day, stating that he had raise the N25,000, the lawyer said that the money had been jacked up to N75,000. Stephen became livid.

When Stephen learnt that Bright didn’t know what he was doing, he started making calls and moves to get Badmus out of prison.

He said: “I know Yinka very well. He is not a bad boy. Once its 7p.m., he is back at home, in his room, pressing phone. I don’t stay out late myself, except when we have jobs somewhere to shoot or have a conference. We just had a conference on story telling; Yinka was one of our best students.”

 

Stephen disclosed that at a point, everyone, who knew Badmus, including President Muhammadu Buhari’s photographer, Bayo Omoboriowo, reached out to people he reasoned could be able to facilitate the lad’s release. “Yinka had worked with many of these notable Nigerians. They know he doesn’t smoke or drink. Yinka stays with me. You can’t stay with me without meeting certain standards and principles. People know me for that,” said Stephen.

 

On Monday Stephen tendered the documents required and later Badmus was released.

When the noise over Badmus’ arrest became too much, the Lagos State Police Command came out with a statement, insisting that Badmus was arrested for cultism and for being in possession of Indian hemp. Police further said that he was arrested along with other cultists.

 

The police had previously told Badmus that he was arrested because of his dreadlocks.

 

When the stories hit the dailies, everyone focused on the illegalities of arresting Nigerians because of the way they chose to dress.

 

The statement, which was signed by the state Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), a Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP), Chike Oti, reads in part: “The attention of the authorities of Lagos State Police Command has been drawn to the news making the rounds on the social media and published by some sections of the print media to the effect that Yinka Badmus, a photojournalist, has been arrested and remanded in Ikoyi Prison, for allegedly sporting a hairstyle, which some policemen felt made him look like a cultist.

 

“Ordinarily, the command would not have responded to the news but because of numerous phone calls and enquiries from well-meaning Nigerians, it decided to put the issue in proper perspective. To start with, it is ridiculous to say that the Anti-Cultism Unit of the Lagos State Police Command charged a suspect to court because of his hairstyle. Yinka Badmus and 13 others were charged to Ogudu Magistrate’s Court on January 4, 2019, on a two-count charge. The first count is conspiracy, for conspiring among themselves to commit felony to wit membership of unlawful society contrary to and punishable under Section 411, Cap CH, C17, Vol. 3 Laws of Lagos, 2015. The second count holds them for belonging to an unlawful society known as Eiye Confraternity contrary to and punishable under Section 42(a), Cap CH, C17 Vol. 3, Laws of Lagos State 2015.

 

“The suspects were, however, granted bail in the sum of N50,000 by a court of competent jurisdiction. However, those who could not meet the bail conditions were remanded in prison custody pending when they would meet the stipulated conditions for their bail. This is an issue that is neither within the purview of the Force nor its control.

 

“For the avoidance of doubt, there is no section of the Lagos State Criminal Law and indeed the Criminal Code that criminalises hairstyle. Therefore, there is no way Badmus could have been charged to court for wearing dreadlocks by the police. Suspects are charged to court based on the existing law and not for mundane reasons.”

 

Stephen said that when he saw the police statement, he was disappointed and also found it very funny.

He said: “The police twisted the story. I don’t even think the commissioner of police or any of his men bothered to go to the scene of the arrest to carry out investigation. They all relied on what the policemen who arrested Yinka told them.”

 

Badmus told our reporter: “I never knew what made the police to arrest me until when we were being transferred to Gbagada. When I saw the policeman that arrested me, I asked him what crime I had committed? He responded in Yoruba, that it was my dreadlocks. I told him I was a creative photo artist; the dreadlocks were my way of expressing myself; it was my signature.”

At Ikoyi Prison, Badmus was placed in a cell dubbed, ‘Welcome cell.’ He said new inmates like him were made to squat by other inmates.

He said: “We were over 70 new inmates in the ‘Welcome Cell’ on that particular day. We were called Alejo (visitors). The way we were made to sit was very painful. We sat facing one another, some people were screaming in pain. Inmates on death row told us to call and tell our family members to transfer recharge cards of N2,000, if we wanted to leave the ‘welcome cell’ and moved to a better cell. I didn’t call anyone. I was tired and my legs were sore, but I couldn’t complain. Those that complained were beaten with belts. When it was about 7a.m, we were given beans and garri in a single bowl; a bowl for 10 people. I couldn’t eat.”

Badmus noted that beans were usually taken with garri, while eba was taken with watery soup. He noticed that some new inmates, after a few days in the prison, developed giant boils all over their bodies.

 

Further recalling his experience, Badmus said: “Later someone came that they were going to cut off our hair with blades. They were using one blade for six inmates. I didn’t allow them to touch my hair. I called a friend to send me a recharged card; he sent N1,000 worth of recharged card. I used the card to ensure a new blade was used to cut my hair. The inmates had phones with them. There are barbers in the prison. The prison is a complete nation or community. We were then distributed into different cells. Mine was B4. We had a DPO, Mopol and elders.

 

“They told us to respect the elders. When we as ‘Alejo’ are called, we should respond by answering sir.”

 

Badmus was further advised by one of the elders to plan well or else he would suffer inside the prison. He said that to have a good bunk, an inmate has to pay between N30,000 and N60,000. Badmus’ voice drifted off as he remembered some other things, shook his head and said: “That place was hell.”

 

Veering off into another train of thought, he said: “I’ve always had a dream; to be a filmmaker. I also would like to venture into movie writing, fashion, lifestyle and street photographing. Right now, I cover events, shows and I have won scholarships. I’m even going for one, but they said until I finish this court case. As for me, I want to express myself because I’m a creative person.”

Our reporter embarked on an investigation to Badmus’s community, to find out what truly transpired. A motorcycle ride from La wanson Bus Stop takes the reporter into a community with network of streets.

One of these streets is Olatilewa, where Badmus was eating his noodles, when the policemen arrived. Olatilewa is a stretch, but snakes off to different streets. One of those streets is Odunlami, where Badmus lives. Odunlami and Olatilewa are close.

A resident of Odunlami Street, Juwo Lere, 22, gave an insight into what truly transpired on that fateful night.

 

He said: “As you can see, there are many streets in this community. Some boys, from two different streets, fought over a girl. Police came to raid those fighting and everyone started running, while police chased them. Police started firing tear-gas. People that were sleeping ran out because of the tear-gas.

 

That was how they arrested Yinka. In fact, he travelled, I was expecting him. I was in church, chatting with him to meet me in church for the Cross-Over service. But he was not responding to my chat. When I returned from church, I heard what happened.”

 

Lere, an undergraduate, who is into printing, added: “Everyone was shocked when they heard that Yinka had been arrested. He is a quiet young man, who likes keeping to himself. His discussions are always about life and how to be successful. He came to this community two years ago; he doesn’t even know anyone. But people know him. He is into entertainment. He is always busy; always travelling. If he is at home, he stays indoors and only comes out when it is time to buy food to eat. He avoids conflict. I have never seen him exchange heated words with anyone.

 

“What police did was wrong. They didn’t ask him anything just bundled him into their bus. In fact, many people with dyed hair were arrested. Others, when they heard about the police raid, rushed to shave off their dyed hair.”

 

Lere’s grandmother, Alhaja Raliat Ayoka, who is over 90 years old, chips into the conversation: “Yinka is not a bad boy. He sometimes comes to my shop to sit and he wouldn’t say anything to anyone. He keeps to himself. I studied him and began to like him. Whenever he comes here, I give him food. If he is a bad boy, I wouldn’t allow him into my shop, let alone close to my grandson.”

 

Our reporter went to look for Iya-Abike, the noodle seller, but she doesn’t live where she sells. She lives some streets away. It was also discovered that she was delivered of a baby a few days earlier. After visits to two streets and moving from one building to another, asking of a “noodle seller” who sells at Olatilewa Junction and that was just delivered of a baby. The woman was finally located, in a boys’ quarter.

She said: “It was a terrible day! Yinka was just eating his noodles when the police came and grabbed him. He had just returned from a journey. He didn’t do anything. They fired tear-gas, we couldn’t breathe. There was panic and confusion everywhere.”

 

Incidentally, Badmus is not the only Nigerian who had been arrested because of his fashion sense.

 

Abdulkareem Thompson was arrested thrice by policemen from Sango Police Station, Ogun State for having a tattoo. According to him, each time he was arrested, he was made to pay N10,000.

 

He said: “So having tattoo now is a crime in Ogun State? I was arrested all because of my tattoo at Sango Police Station. If you don’t pay, you’re going to court. My N30,000 is with Sango Police Station. A lot of innocent people are in their custody because they didn’t have N10,000 for bail. Is tattoo a crime?

 

Aniekan Williams, who recently returned to Nigeria, was arrested for not combing his hair.

 

“I took the decision to leave Nigeria after an unpleasant and unexpected welcome to Lagos less than two weeks after I arrived the country. I have been robbed, slapped and made to spend a night in police cell just because I didn’t comb my hair,” he said.

 

Mrs. Juliet Bumah, an editor, was flagged down because she had dreadlocks.

 

Many others have been arrested for looking young and driving expensive cars. Others have been arrested for looking like cybercrime criminals aka ‘Yahoo Yahoo boys’. And still many people for looking young, but wearing expensive clothes, wristwatches, shoes, using expensive phones and driving expensive cars.

 

Many local and international stars, ranging from sports icons, musicians, down to actors and actresses do have tattoos, dye hair and have dreadlocks.

 

The Director, International Press Centre, Lagos, Lanre Arogundade, condemned Badmus’ arrest.

He said: “It was unconstitutional for Yinka to have been detained for many days before being eventually arraigned.”

 

Miriam Obioma Okoro, Esq, said she didn’t know of any law that forbids dreadlocks and tattoos in Nigeria. She said that most times, individuals, particularly the youth get harassed unnecessarily by security agents because of their looks.

 

According to her, this has to change as such practice is a huge infringement on their fundamental human rights.

 

She said: “No one deserves to be harassed or even arrested as a result of whatsoever a security agent thinks about his appearance. Therefore, it can’t be termed a ‘criminal offence’ since no Nigerian law suggests that. However, security agents must bear this in mind while carrying out their duties in order to avoid complex issues arising from unlawful detention.”

 

Okoro said that arrest before investigation was illegal and unconstitutional going by the provisions of Section 35 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides for the fundamental rights to personal liberty. This, however, is what is obtainable in the Nigerian society, among police personnel.

 

She said: “It also extensively stipulates the circumstances under which a person could be deprived of such liberties. Also, the courts in several cases have expressly determined that before an arrest is effected, you must have investigated the matter and established a prima facie case against the individual.

 

“However, the security agencies have the right to invite certain individuals to their station for questioning but must not detain such people in their custody for over 48 hours, going by the provisions of the constitution.”

 

A legal practitioner, Mr. Oluseye Banjoko, said: “It’s not an offence or a crime for a youth to wear dreadlocks or draws a tattoo on his body. There is no law in Nigeria that states such appearances as a criminal act.

 

“I think the police are just being overzealous in discharging their duties by making such an arrest. It is totally wrong for police officers to arrest anyone in this country, simply because the person was seen wearing dreadlocks or tattoos.

 

 

“Also, on the issue of investigation and arrest, I think it would have made common sense for the police to investigate first before making an arrest. Except they find themselves in the position where making that arrest would help them conduct a proper investigation. But ordinarily, it doesn’t make sense arresting someone who you are not sure has committed any offence. This is simply because you cannot arrest someone without knowing the exact offence which you would be charging him/her for. And if you have arrested someone you are not sure has committed an offence, how do you intend to deal with it especially in terms of arraigning the person in court?

 

“The law stipulates 48 hours to arraign a suspect who has been accused of committing an offence. So how do the police intend to arraign such a person in court without having a record or iota of evidence against the person? Therefore, it would be more proper for the police to first conduct an investigation to be sure who has actually committed an offence and then proceed in making an arrest in order to take the person to court within 48 hours, as stipulated. This would help their case and also not result in the filing of a charge entirely different from what the person actually committed.”

 

The National Coordinator of Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN), Okechukwu Nwanguma, said: “The arrest and detention and eventual arraignment of Yinka Badmus by the Anti-Cultism Unit of the Lagos State Police Command represents a major setback to the efforts and successes recorded by the Lagos State Police in changing the way police officers conduct themselves or treat citizens.

 

“It may not, however, be the official position of the command that a citizen could be arrested because of his hairstyle. The fact that an officer of the police could say that and then go ahead to arraign innocent people because they could not pay money to be left off the hook after they were wrongfully arrested indicates that there still exists within the police, elements who continue to resist change and want to continue to indulge in unprofessional conducts that portray the police in bad light and alienate them from the community they serve.

 

“This refusal to accept change and continued indulgence in misconduct and crime also explains why, despite warnings by police hierarchy to the contrary, some police officers continue to stop and invade the privacy of citizens going about their legitimate businesses by searching their phones, laptops, wallets and especially young people.

 

“The commissioner of police, who is clearly on a mission of cleansing the police of bad elements should look closely in this direction and ensure that officers who continue to indulge in these misconduct are fished out and neutralised.”

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Lagos communities where dumpsites threaten potable water, human existence (2)

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Lagos communities where dumpsites threaten potable water, human existence (2)

CONTINUED FROM YESTERDAY

 

 

In this concluding part, Muritala Ayinla reports that thousands of residents of Lanre community and other areas on LASU-Igando Road are at the risk of an outbreak of epidemic and sudden death

 

 

In the beginning

Investigations revealed that what has now become a major challenge to these residents came about as a result of government’s failure to envision the consequences of the action. Recalling how the government forcibly converted their environment to landfill, a community leader, Joseph Showunmi, 65, knocked government for not considering their plight and that of the general hospital in their area before converting the place to a landfill in the first place.

According to him, the area converted to landfill commonly referred to as “bowler,” is a site where red sand was dug and sold by illegal sand miners about 20 years ago.

“Tippers of different sizes came to load red sand which they used for filling the road and building construction sites. Part of the sand was used in the construction of LASU-Iba Road. Uncontrolled sand mining led to a serious hole and ditch in the area. Then around 2006 or thereabouts, the government converted the areas to landfill by depositing trucks of refuse in the ditch.

“The heaps of refuse supposedly meant to level the land have also become like mountains threatening our lives and making life unbearable to us today. It is depreciating out lives and property daily,” the visibly angry man said.

Lamenting how his efforts at making water available for his household were frustrated, Showunmi added: “I have wasted hundreds of thousands of naira in digging boreholes and domestic wells. When the first one became polluted, I dug the second one. I kept buying chemicals to treat the water until it was apparent all the entire underground water in this vicinity has been contaminated by the landfill behind our houses.

“And when the government started this, we warned them, we appealed to them to even consider its general hospital located here, but you know whatever the government wants, it will always have its way.”

Laboratory Examination on water samples

A cursory look at the water in these communities clearly paints a picture of effluents from an industrial area being discharged into a canal or drainage. Whether from the borehole tap or well, water in these communities is usually dark, soapy, foamy and contains visible particles with odour. Further laboratory investigations carried out by New Telegraph on the samples of water taken from houses situated near the three landfills in the area, revealed that the water in the area is dangerous for human consumption.

In the investigation, water samples were taken from the houses and firms including the general hospital in the vicinity of Solous 1, 2 and 3 locations and were subjected to a laboratory test. Locations from where the water samples were taken and screened are: One Love Car Wash besides (Solous 3), No 8, Johnkay Crescent (Solous 1 ),  No 4, Rami Ajibowo Street and Alimosho General Hospital, Igando, (both in Solous 3) No 22 LASU­-Isheri Road, (Solus 2). The Laboratory results of the water from all the locations are said to be unsatisfactory according to the World Health Organisation’s recommendation.  The quality of the water samples was pronounced substandard due to “presence of a very high Alkalinity, high total hardness, chloride, iron and microbial loads.”

For instance, the water samples from the houses were said to have higher chemical substances such as alkalinity, acidity chlorides, nitrates and other substances inimical for human body.

Health implications of polluted water

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, a quarter of the diseases facing mankind today occur due to prolonged exposure to environmental pollution.  The organisation said the unsanitary environment can encourage the spread of malaria fever, typhoid fever, cholera, tetanus, eczema, dysentery, dengue fever and inhaling carbon dioxide can worsen such ailments as emphysema and asthma. Experts also say water-borne diseases account for the deaths of 3,575,000 people annually which are equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every hour, and the majority of these are children.

Speaking on the inherent health risks of living close to dumpsite, Dr Alao Olumiyiwa, an environmental scientist, said that aside from exposure to stench coming from the landfills, infectious diseases can be spread through contaminated water. He listed some of these water-borne diseases to include typhoid, cholera, paratyphoid fever, diarrhoea an typhoid and dysentery, jaundice, amoebiasis and malaria, adding that attraction of flies and mosquitoes from the polluted areas will also cause people to have frequent cases of malaria and other environmental induced diseases.

Effects of heavy metal in water

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, heavy metals can leach into drinking water from household plumbing and service lines, mining operations, petroleum refineries, electronics manufacturers, municipal waste disposal, cement plants, and natural mineral deposits.

Also giving analysis of the chemical substance in the water and the health implication on human health, Olumuyiwa, who is also a hydrologist, added that chemical substances in the water also have negative effects on the health of the people in the area.

He said: “Pesticides as chemical substance in water can damage the nervous system and cause cancer because of the carbonates and organophosphates that they contain. Chlorides can cause reproductive and endocrinal damage while nitrates are dangerous especially to babies that drink formula milk. It restricts the amount of oxygen in the brain and cause the ‘blue baby’ syndrome. Nitrate is one of the most common groundwater contaminants in rural areas. It is regulated in drinking water primarily because excess levels can cause methemoglobinemia, which is also known as ‘blue baby’ disease.”

Excessive lead in the water content, the scientist explained, can accumulate in the body and damage the central nervous system. He added that Arsenic contamination in drinking water can damage one’s skin, liver, and eyes and may also cause cancer.

“Too much of Flourides can make your teeth yellow and cause damage to the spinal cord. Petrochemicals, even with very low exposure, can cause cancer. These are just to name a few of the dangers in untreated water people can be exposed to in such areas,” he explained.

Olumuyiwa explained that while some of the chemicals can react quickly, others will take a longer time and damage body organs slowly.

Corroborating Olumuyiwa on the health risks of chemical pollutants, another hydrologist in the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, who pleaded anonymity, said heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, pesticides and nitrate fertiliser are dangerous in the water, adding that “Once they’re ingested, these toxins can cause a host of health issues, from cancer to hormone disruption to brain function. Children and pregnant women are particularly at risk.”

He added that even swimming or bathing with such water can pose a risk. People can contract health issues such as skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, and hepatitis from sewage or refuse-laden waters.

WHO said contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause more than 500,000 diarrhoea deaths each year. It said that health costs associated with water-borne diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea and worm infections represent more than one third of the income of poor households in sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, millions of households still don’t have access to good water or ignorantly use polluted water.

On the dangers of wrongly sited dumpsite and the consequence of underground water pollution, Adedamola Oyedele, an Environmental Communication researcher, added that surface water contamination and soil contamination are common when hazardous chemicals from the refuse leach into the soil. He said plants and animals that come in contact with such pollution are also affected.

He added that gastrointestinal issues and skin irritations have been traced to excess alkalinity in the water intake. Too much alkalinity, he explained, “may also agitate the body’s normal pH, which leads to metabolic alkalosis, a condition that may produce symptoms of nausea and vomiting.”

Other hazards of living close to landfills

Other health and environment experts including the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, confirmed that poorly managed and wrongly sited waste dumping sites are pathogens and epidemiology centres where germs breed and disease spread among residents and passers-by.

According to them, viruses, bacteria and fungi which breed regularly in waste dumps, landfills, waste tanks and waste-bins can produce infectious diseases, toxic gases and radioactive elements, adding that waste dumps and landfills may emit toxic compounds or harbour radioactive materials that are dangerous to human health and wellbeing.

Corroborating their submission, Dr Ibrahim Hassan of the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital, said that emerging research has shown that exposure to dumpsites also has grave consequences for pregnant women. “There is anatomical problem of deformity in the physical structure of the animals living in the vicinity of waste dumps due to availability of therratogenic substances (therratogenes). Carbon monoxide poisoning in pregnancy is the most fatal cause of birth defects and fetal death. Carbon tax and pollution tax are introduced to curtail excessive carbon emission by vehicles and industries,” he said.

Hassan listed other health risks of leaving close to a dumpsite to include: Skin disorders resulting from fungal infection, allergic dermatitis, pruritis and skin cancer; respiratory abnormalities arising from bacterial upper respiratory tract infections (pharyngitis, laryngitis and rhinitis), chronic bronchitis and asthma. He added that inhabitants of the landfills area are also at the risk of abdominal and intestinal problems such as bacterial enteritis, helminthiasis, amoebiasis, liver cancer and renal failure. “They can also be suffering silently from dental disorders, ear infections – otitis media and bacterial infections, skeletal muscular systems also known as back pain, central nervous system, impairment of neurological development, peripheral nerve damage and headaches, eye infections – allergic conjunctivitis, bacterial eye infections. They can also have problem of blood disorders resulting from iron deficiency anaemia and other health risks are– malaria, chicken pox, septic wounds and congenital abnormalities, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.”

A call for Action from Lagos Government

While the Lagos State Health Commissioner, Abayomi, concurred with other health experts that a polluted environment cannot have a healthy population, expressing fear that as long as waste is dumped and burnt openly, there would be continued pollution which will further threaten the lives of the residents.

Hence, he advised the residents to abstain from such water,

He said: “For now, they can’t take the underground water anymore; the water is already damaged. The state government, through its environment protection agency, Ministries of Environment and Water Resources, Health and Agriculture, is developing policy on how to address this situation especially on landfills.

“We are moving landfills all the way to Ogun State. At least that needs to be done properly because there is no space in Lagos. The water level is very high and Lagos being coastal city is faced with challenge of space.”

Even though the waste is still being dumped in the community, the Managing Director of LAWMA, Dr. Muyiwa Gbadegesin, insisted that the agency had concluded plans to decommission the Igando landfills and the one at Olusosun near Ojota due to “urban encroachment and increased human activities around the areas.”

He said that the process of winding down activities at those landfill sites has commenced, explaining that there was not much human activity close to the sites at inception but fast-paced development in the state has seen houses built around them.

For a sustainable environment and dumpsite-free community, the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) General Manager, Dr Dolapo Fasawe, pointed out that the state government has begun moves to tackle the issues of environmental pollution with the recently launched Blue Box Programme aimed at encouraging the separation of recyclable materials. The state Health Commissioner, Abayomi, hinted that government through LASEPA, in conjunction with the World Bank, was currently working on the permanent solution to the air pollution in the area.

“We are going to put things in place to reduce air pollution and we are going to measure impact on health and correlate with improvement in the air quality of life,” the commissioner said.

Last Line

It is crystal clear that with the presence of landfills and continued flocking of waste compactors around the Lanre, Oko filling and its environs for refuse dumping, Lagos is sitting on a time bomb with more possible outbreaks of deadly diseases that may affect countless number of the residents just as it recently raised the alarm of 400 cases gastroenteritis also known as vomiting and diarrhea which claimed 11 lives.

Consequently, experts  said that if government is passionate about healthy living of the citizens, it’s high time Lagos ‘worked the talk’ by decommissioning the landfill sites at Igando as repeatedly promised and commence massive clean-up in the area with a view to  guaranteeing  healthy living for the residents.

Olumuyiwa, on his part, said just as the residents pointed out, lips services have been paid to the planned closure of the landfills within the state metropolis, adding that that siting of the landfill sites close to a general hospital of the state most populous environment doesn’t only portend grave danger for the communities but also rubbishes efforts of the state Ministry of Health on campaign on personal and environmental hygiene.

Hassan submitted that LAWMA must come up with a safer and more effective waste management strategy and campaign to effectively curtail the growing challenges of waste management occasioned by the continued influx of people into the state which results in increasing waste generation.

Oyedele advised Lagos to prioritise the safety of the residents through relocation of the landfills, saying “the waste dump should be located inside buffers or green zone where they will not be eyesore to residents”.

According to them, drugs, medicines and medical wastes like drug remnants, syringes, needles and bottles must be professionally managed so as not to transfer diseases.

As the harmattan season approaches which may necessitate refuse burning on the dumpsite, they appealed to government to do everything possible to prevent what will lead to inhalation of poisonous gases over a long period of time which could affect the immune system and lead to cancer. Pregnant women who inhale high levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other poisonous gases, they said, may give birth to abnormal children or have premature birth.

 

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Lagos communities where dumpsites threaten potable water, human existence (1)

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Lagos communities where dumpsites threaten potable water, human existence (1)

As waste management continues to pose serious challenge in Lagos, Muritala Ayinla reports that thousands of residents of Lanre community and other areas on LASU-Igando Road are at the risk of an outbreak of epidemic and sudden death due to the increasing dumpsites overrunning the habitats and polluting their water

 

 

As the weather changed with powerful winds threatening to remove the roofs of houses in the neighborhood of Unity community,  a burgeoning settlement in Igando  overrun by heaps of refuse,  Mrs Bunmi Aribedesi, 54, a food vendor,  was also  busy cooking with her charcoal stove. She joined other residents and property owners in silent prayers against the downpour that could flood the dumpsite and consequently spill into and submerge their community.

But it appeared the rain was more than prepared to descend heavily. As the atmosphere became cloudy with intense lightening which heralded an impending rain, flames from her charcoal stove went off with powerful winds which almost upturned the pot and its contents; she hurried to fetch a wooden plank to cover the violent breeze. But in one fell swoop, the rain began in torrents and in the twinkle of an eye, the flood enveloped the community. The flood carrying heaps of refuse from the dumps took over the community and rendered the environment impassable.

For nearly two hours, it rained heavily and throughout the day, Aribidesi, the Oyo State-born trader could neither display her food items nor sell as the flood water from the dumpsites which surround her house had submerged her environment, forcing some residents to remain indoors for days while some pupils couldn’t go to school until the flood subsided.

Her sad tale is one of the frequent experiences of residents and business owners at Lanre, Oko Filling, Ile-Epo, Unity and other suburbs where dumpsites are situated on the Lagos State University–Iba Road near the ever-busy Igando town in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos.

Residents of these communities in the heart of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, literally live and procreate in the midst of mountainous refuse sites which occupy the large expanse of land in the community. The dumpsites are one of the major recognised landfills by the Lagos State Waste Management Authority, LAWMA, the agency saddled with the responsibility of managing waste in the state. They are officially referred to as Solous Sites and classified into three namely:  Solous I, Solous II and Solous III.

The Solous (Landfills)

The landfills otherwise referred to as Solous are located at the extreme east-west area of metropolitan Lagos in Alimosho Local Government. Like other landfills, they receive waste of different kinds ranging from domestic, commercial and industrial sources from major parts of the state metropolis. The sites were originally pits for lateritic soil, bordered by residential housing. The wastes brought by trucks are dumped haphazardly without the use of daily soil cover and are sorted by the on-site waste pickers.

Solous (1) Landfill encompasses an area of 7.5 hectares and located on N060 34. 307’, E0030 15.  It is the oldest of the sites. It began operation in 1993 and closed in 2006 without the use of a final cap or cover. It was reopened in 2011 and has since been in use. Solous (2)  which occupies (N060 34. 286’, E0030 15. 146’) spreads over an area of 7.8 hectares and it started operation in 2008 and on an average about 2,250m3/day of waste is dumped at the site.  Solous (3) is located (N060 33. 897’, E00 30 15. 082’) started operation in 2008 and is estimated to receive about 2,250m3 wastes daily. It is divided into cells with access roads. It is the largest of the three sites, spreading over an area of 12 hectares. It is flanked by Alimosho General Hospital, Igando.

With the growing refuse dumpsites which are fast degrading the environment, life is gradually departing these communities as residents only exist but are losing everything that makes the world worth living. They exist without freedom to fresh air to breathe and ambience environment to live. They are limited to their rooms or apartments while many hardly open their windows for fresh air as their atmosphere is constantly polluted.

In these neighborhoods leading to the state university and playing host to the general hospital of Lagos’ most populous settlement, Alimosho, every passer-by, whether in the vehicles or walking through the area, is usually welcomed by the disgusting stench from the compactors conveying refuse usually parked haphazardly on LASU-Igando Road. The air pollution in this part of Lagos is intense.

Speaking on the agonizing experience of the residents, Aribidesi lamented that for over 10 years they had been virtually living amidst refuse dump, saying that the government had practically looked away while their once serene environment is being turned to ‘refuse city.’

“This is no longer a community where you can sit comfortably outside your house to relax and get fresh air, our air has been polluted. What we breathe in is polluted air and toxic air coming from the burning dumpsites surrounding us. When you open a bottle of drink, hundreds of flies besiege your drink,” she said.

According to her, beyond the fact that the existence of the residents is constantly being threatened by the refuse and the reek oozing out from the area, businesses and other economic activities are collapsing rapidly while shops and businesses are closing down due to the stench which has enveloped the community.

“No matter how I make my shop environment tidy and attractive in spite of the filths in our community, customers have stopped to eat in my shop, since I can’t control the polluted air that comes from the dumpsites. Now, it is difficult to sell four cups of rice daily. The sets of people left with me as customers are the scavengers and cart pushers from the dumpsite. We only hope that someday, a governor with heart of gold will pay attention to our environment.”

If Mrs Aribidesi is still hopeful about the possibility of government’s intervention in the area, Funsho Olalude, 57, who owns and operates a relaxation centre in the area, seems to have given up hope in the likelihood of government coming to his rescue. The businessman said that the proximity of the dumpsite has hampered his multi-million naira investment from growing; saying so much has been lost and still being lost with the presence of refuse dumps.

He said: “It is ironical that successive administrations in Lagos, which boasted of growing the state’s economy, have also killed so many businesses in this environment through siting of dumpsites on this axis.”

Olalude, who owns a big restaurant and relaxation centre in the area, added “our kind of business requires a serene environment where people can relax in a good ambience. But we no longer get patronage like in the past because of the terrible smell emission from the dumpsite. Foul odour from decomposing garbage has dominated the air. We perceive the stench as oxygen while the whole environment is a ‘no go area’ whenever it rains; it is terribly flooded. We are living in a world of pollution; our air, environment and most sadly our water.”

Polluted water as a major burden

Besides the pain of having to live in the perpetually putrid stench hanging thickly in the air threatening their existence, the underground water in these communities has also been badly polluted with the presence of the landfills in their vicinity, which experts described as a clear indication of failure on the part of government to carry out environmental impact assessment tests before the siting of the landfills in the area.

From Lanre Street to Alhaji Sekoni Way, come the lamentations over contaminated underground water; from Raimi Ajibowo to Somoye Ogundairo and other areas in the vicinity, nobody could boast of fresh and clean water. From the streets filled with murky water where people make use of rain boots to navigate to the ones where makeshift wooden bridges were made for accessibility, no single house in these neighborhoods has potable water. Sadly, virtually every house has a borehole sunk or a domestic well dug for their own use but none could use the water. The landfill gas and heavy metals, among other hazardous elements in the landfills, have polluted their underground water which is threatening their existence.

Environmental degradation on this side of Lagos is not limited to air pollution; inhabitants of these communities are constantly at the mercy of water-borne diseases.  Not even the staff and patients at the Alimosho General Hospital located in the area are safe from the contaminated water. Boreholes and domestic wells within the hospital are also badly infested with contamination from the landfills.

For over a decade, the experiences of these categories of Lagosians comprising property and business owners and tenants could be better imagined. Throughout the year, whether in the rainy season when the flood from the dumpsites submerge their buildings and sack some of them from their houses or in the harmattan, when the flood subsides but leaves their environment in perennial air pollution occasioned by frequent open refuse burning on the dumpsites, there is no time their water is safe for drinking or other uses. The water from their boreholes and domestic wells has become frothy, dark and smells to the extent that they could hardly do anything with it. Evidences are bound that these residents die slowly and silently owing to myriads of pollution they are exposed to. Firms, hospitals and other people in the area depend on water sourced from Egbeda, Ikotun, Isheri and other areas far away from the dumpsites. The state water corporation that could have come to their rescue hardly supplies them water.

Like their counterparts in other parts of the state, they have spent huge amounts of money to sink boreholes and dig domestic wells but could not have access to good water due to their proximity to the landfill.  Water runs from their taps and filled their well, but they couldn’t use it. While some have practically abandoned and condemned the water, others still use the water for domestic use. Yet some dangerously ignore the colour and smell of the water to manage it for other uses, an act, experts described as “deadly mission.”

As most residents lament the untold hardship over perpetual search for clean water in the area, it was a double jeopardy for Mrs Adesuwa James, one of the landlords whose lives and property were threatened by the dumpsites. Mrs James, like many other landlords, had to flee her residence when the flood submerged her buildings and others numbering about 15 on Raimi Ajibowo Street. According to her, the landfill near the General Hospital has blocked all the drains in the area such that whenever it rains heavily, their houses are usually flooded and sometimes submerged during the rainy season. Before she abandoned the property, she said water from one of her two boreholes was used only to flush the toilet why the other was completely useless.

When this reporter visited her house, it was observed that houses numbering about 15 were already immersed in the dark water from the landfill. Only the roofs of the houses were seen while some have been completely covered by the flood.

“Before we fled the house, we had two boreholes; none was useful to cook anymore. We started noticing the pollution of our water about 11 years ago, when cholera, dysentery and other borne diseases were prevalent in the community. Since then, we have stopped to use the water for anything except to flush the toilet,” James explained.

If one thinks only the residents cry over lack of access to fresh water, interactions with business owners in the area also reveal that entrepreneurs are also groaning over the dwindling fortune of their investments in the axis. Mr Kayode Mukaila, 54, who operates a sachet water business also known as “Pure Water” in the area, said he had begun the process of closing down his business completely because of the menace of the dumpsite.

According to the Osun State-born, entrepreneur, it has become glaring that his business couldn’t longer survive in the environment as nothing suggests that their environmental challenges will be addressed anytime soon.

Mukaila, a father of six, who took this reporter round all the boreholes he had sunk and condemned following the contamination of the water, said that what had kept his water business was that he had other branches in Ikotun and Ijegun where he also operates.

He explained: “I would have left these premises earlier, but I thought the state government would fulfill its promise to decommission the landfill. Our sources of water in this area have been contaminated. With more trucks coming to deposit refuse here, it is evident that there is no end in sight.”

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Retail malls gasping for breath under poor economy

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Retail malls gasping for breath under poor economy

One retail mall, many      empty stores

 

 

Despite the growth in the retail sector going by the number of shopping malls adorning Nigerian cities, DAYO AYEYEMI reports that the success is gradually dwindling due to a rise in empty stores in many of the retail malls

 

 

W

ith growing population of over 180 million, Nigeria offers enormous opportunities for real estate, despite structural weakness in its economy.

Besides, the nation’s cities with a population of over one million people and growing middle class have presented several possible markets for investors to enter.

 

It wasn’t therefore a surprise when multinational investors launched the foremost Palm Shopping Mall in Victoria Island and Ikeja Shopping Mall, Lagos in 2005 and 2011 respectively recording outstanding success.

Many other retail malls have come on board in major city centres since then.

 

There is no doubt that the emergence  of retail malls have changed  the face of shopping in Nigerian cities of Abuja, Ibadan, Enugu, Port Harcourt  and Asaba  among others, revealing new generation of consumers.

 

However, despite the excitement that followed by shoppers and fun seekers, a visit to some of these new malls, especially in Lagos and Ogun States lately, showed that all is not well as many of the stores are still empty.

New Telegraph’s investigation showed that empty stores were evident in the Palm, Ota in Ogun State and Novare Mall, Sangotedo, Lekki-Ajah, Lagos State.

 

As these malls are not fully subscribed to by retailers. Further  findings showed that the  Palms Shopping Mall, Victoria Island, Ikeja Shopping Mall and  Ceddi Mall at CBD Abuja were full of activities.

 

 

Aside the formal malls, New Telegraph also discovered that empty stores were prevalent in the popular Tejuosho Shopping Complex at Yaba, while the newly-completed Ogba Multipurpose Shopping Complex  is yet to be occupied.

According to a report, retailing in Nigeria posted slow growth in value terms at constant 2018 prices.

 

Reasons such as gloomy economic climate and fluctuations in the exchange rate were adduced to the slow growth.

 

Besides, economic uncertainties served to limit the budge of most consumers, who focused on buying basics goods and reined in their spending on non-essential products.

 

According to the Managing Director of Financial Derivatives Company, Mr Bismarck Rewane, in his latest report on the real estate sector, there was rising vacancy factor in the Nigerian malls.

 

Analysts from the company pointed out that empty stores in Nigerian malls were on the rise. These, they noted have reflected dwindling consumers’ purchasing power and deteriorating state of the economy.

 

According to the analysts, service charge was eroding profitability of retailers in the malls. Besides, advent of online shopping by Jumia, Konga, Kara and PayPorte, among others has reduced human traffic to the malls, as consumers can order their goods online and get deliveries without leaving their home.

 

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), internet-user penetration in sub-Saharan Africa has grown from 0.5 per cent in 2000 to 10.6 per cent last year.

Although the figure is still far behind the world average of about 30 per cent, an increasing number of Africans are becoming more familiar with online shopping.

 

Detailing  the retails’ vacancy rates in a report,  analysts from Tayo Odunsi-led Northcourt Real Estate, said the Palms Ota and Atlantic Mall, Lagos led the pack with 77 per cent and 75 per cent vacancy rate respectively.

These were closely followed by Jabi Lake, Abuja- 40 per cent; Apapa Mall, Lagos- 38 per cent; Gateway Mall, Abuja -38 per cent and Silverbird Entertainment – 28 per cent.

 

The retail malls’ vacancy rates are Port Harcourt Mall -8 per cent; Genesis Centre, Port Harcourt – 25 per cent; Big Treat, Port Harcourt -15 per cent; The palm , Lagos -0 per cent; The Lagoon Shopping Centre – 13 per cent; Silver Bird Mall, laygos – 8 per cent; Novare Mall, Lagos – 28 per cent; Maryland Mall, Lagos- 8 per cent;  Leisure Mall, laygos  -12 per cent; Ikeja City Mall, Lagos – 2 per cent; Festival Mall, Lagos – 14 per cent; E-Centre Lagos – 7 per cent;  Circle Mall, Lagos -12 per cent ; Atlantic Mall, Lagos- 75 per cent; Apapa Mall, Lagos- -38 per cent;  Adeniran Ogunsanya Mall, Lagos – 9 per cent ; Silverbird Entertainment – 28 per cent; Jabi Lake, Abuja- 40 per cent; Grand Towers, Abuja- 15 per cent;  Gateway Mall, Abuja -38 per cent;  Ceddi plaza,Abuja- 21 per cent; they Palms, Ibadan  -25 per cent; and The Palms, Ota, Ogun – 77 per cent.

 

 

In a report, analysts from McKensey and Company estimated that between 2008 and 2020, there would be a $40 billion growth opportunity in food and consumer goods in Nigeria, the highest in any African nation.

Consumers’ views

According to a shopper at the Palm, Ota, Ogun State, Mr. Simeon Adelanke, who lived in Agbado Area of Lagos, unlike when the mall was opened for business newly, traffic to the mall has reduced tremendously.

Besides, he said there were mini retail malls in inner streets that served as alternative to the big retail malls.

According to him, except it was compulsory, people did not need to travel long distance to Ikeja or Ota, malls.

He also attributed gridlock and people’s low income to low patronage of malls.

 

Another shopper in Ogba, who identified himself simply as “ Chris”, said the high rent is space in some of the malls was responsible for rising vacancy rate and  empty stores.

 

He pointed out that sale of a space per square metre in newly completed Ogba retail mall was put at N720,000 per annum, queuing the rationale behind the high rental value.

“What is the person going to sell there? Who will buy the items?  How is the owner going to sell and make profit with such exorbitant rent,”  he said.

 

Others also blamed low income, traffic gridlock and emergence of mini stores within neibourghoods for rising vacancy rate in the malls.

 

‘How can it be subscribed to when the developer puts the rent of space per square metre  at N720,000.?” one of the  shop owners  built by the Association of Police  Officers Wives built in Ogba, Mrs Cecilia  Obi,  said.

 

Another trader in cosmetics, Mrs Tina Godwin, said that  high rental values  of stores in most of the shopping malls coupled with current economic challenges  scared prospective tenants  away.

 

 

According to Mr. Sunday Ajayi, a banker, many mini retail malls such as QuickPick,  Supper Shoppy, Hubmart and Shopmart, among others  were being opened within streets and neibourghoods  in Lagos and other locations, pointing out that people, rather than travelling long distance, preferred to shop nearby.

 

This decision, he said took tenants and consumers out of big retail malls, except shoppers and fun seekers who are interested in cinemas and others exclusive services offered by the malls.

 

 

On Tejuosho Shopping Centre, a trader, Alhaja Serifat, who owns a shop nearby, said that many of those who rented shops in the ultra-modern market are regretting doing so due to low sale and high rent.

 

According to her, many of them have been battling to recoup their investments, adding that those who bought stores outright have not been able to make enough sales to justify their investments.

This, she said made many traders to abandon their stores and moved to open shops in the fringes of the market complex.

 

 

An impeccable source at the Palm mall, Ota, said many of the stores have been rented out, but owners/ tenants were yet to open for business.

According to him, some of the tenants have not opened to business due to reasons known to them

 

Further investigation by New Telegraph revealed that the amount of money for space per square metre in the mall was beyond what people around could cope with.

 

According to the source, the least lettable space in the mall was 30 square metres, while the highest was 60,000 square metres, adding that per square metre of space costs N30,000 each.

 

 

By implication, anyone seeking lettable space in the mall must be ready to pay N900,000 minimum, aside  from service charge and others.

Except Shoprite store that people besieged to buy loaves of bread and household items, other stores in the mall suffered low sale.

 

Also, a source at Novare Mall  Lekki said the facility was still new and that as time passes by,  the mall would get maximum subscribers.

Experts’views

Lagos based estate surveyor and valuer,  Mr. Stephen Jagun, adduced  low purchasing power of citizens and poor economy as reasons for rising vacancy rate in some of the new retail malls.

 

“The purchasing power of citizens is very low; hence patronage is poor. The shops can come up with ways of driving traffic to their shops. Because if they don’t sell, they’ll not be able to pay their rent,” he said.

 

Jagun, who is the Principal Partner, Stephen Jagun and Associates,  also  blamed long  distance for low patronage and  higher percentage of vacant stores in   Novare Palm, Lekki and The Palm, Ota.

 

He said: “For Novare and Ota Palms, distance is a great factor to their performance. Road to Otta is horrible and those around the shop are not really buoyant.

 

“For Novare, you have to be in long traffic to visit.”

He, however, expressed hope of a better patronage for the malls  when various estates around them  are fully occupied.

 

Another estate surveyor and valuer,  Mr.  Richard Olodu, stated that the advent of value of reality, affordability problem due to economic reality, and competition due to property market penetration by the available alternatives were responsible for         rising vacancy rate in most of the retail malls.

Besides, Olodu added that wrong location, inaccurate demographics, assumptive development appraisals, expensive construction rates and wrong lifestyle focus, among others could be responsible.

 

 

According to Olodu, the malls spent too much money on lighting and heating because of imported design not utilizing natural lighting and ventilation.

This, he said  made the cost of the shops to be expensive. “Only few shops (anchor shops) like Shoprite, PEP and SPAR (the biggest hypermarket chain in Nigeria) can survive the heat. Location of the malls is not the issue but traffic problems in Lagos. Purchasing power is also generally low,” he said.

Olodu added that the most killing of the reasons was high  e-commerce patronage (online purchases).

 

 

He said : “People are buying increasingly from Jumai, Konga, PayPorte, VConnect, Kara, Printivo, OLX, Jiji, Obiwezzy and Ajebo market. Only Palm shopping mall at Oniru, City Mall at Onikan and CEDDI Mall at CBD Abuja are doing well.”

Chairman,  H.O.B.  Estates Limited, Chief Olusegun Bamgbade, also blamed serious economic crisis, which has squeezed cash from pockets of low and middle income Nigerians for the rising vacancy rate.

Bamgbade emphasised that the rising vacancy rate in the malls was a reflection of serious economic crisis in the country.

 

 

He added that people did not have enough money to patronize retail malls.

 

 

“There is a serious economic crisis in Nigeria. People don’t know yet. You’ll only know when you listen to people of varying categories.

“You’ll hear people complain of no money; no shelter; no job; no one to run to; no one to help; etc. That’s why the suicide rate in Nigeria is now endemic. It wasn’t so before.”

“Where people get employment opportunities, they don’t have transport fare to get there,” he said.

 

Bamgbade also pointed out that retail malls created veritable quantum of job opportunities, but their operators did not usually have enough funds to run it.

 

“Where there is fund, they don’t have ready staff for obvious reasons earlier stated. Where there’s fund, and ready staff, the purchasing power of the people is not available,” the HOB chairman said.

He explained that if there had been concerted efforts to improve money supply in circulation, things would have fared better.

According to him, if housing and construction sector have benefited immensely from government policies and actions, there would have been money in circulation.

“If there’s money in circulation, retail malls would benefit more,” he said.

 

 

New Telegraph also learnt that due to the unfriendly economy climate, Nigeria did not record any deliveries of new space in the formal retail market as at the end third quarter of 2019

According to the report by Broll Nigeria, although some projects were nearing completion in the core and secondary markets, they are yet to be delivered.

 

These  uncompleted projects, Broll analysts said  measured below 10,000 square metres (m²) and included the Landmark Retail Boulevard (approximately 6,000m²) and the Simbiat Ikeja Mall in Lagos State (4,900m²); Oshogbo Mall in Osun State (roughly 5,000m²) and a retail project in Port Harcourt of approximately 9,000m².

 

However, analysts said there have been notable revisions upwards in rental values in the core market, noting that asking rentals in the successful malls in Lagos were  above $100 per square metre per month for 50m² – 250m² boxes.

 

“While, average asking rentals in other core market locations generally range from $40/m²/month to $75/m²/month, up from $30/m²/month to $70/m²/month recorded in H2:2018, rentals are flat in secondary market locations at $15/m²/month to $25/m²/month,” they said.

 

According to analysts, landlords in the core market retail malls were less inclined to offer discounted rentals, as was once the case during the economic recession, especially as vacancy rates declined in certain malls.

 

 

Analysts said: “Landlords are also generally unwilling to accept naira denominated rents in core market locations, however, with the exception of a small minority, naira rentals are welcomed in secondary market locations

.

“In the near term, landlords largely see no capacity for rental growth from current levels, and even though new deliveries are set to increase supply, it is not anticipated to be at a magnitude capable of disrupting current rental rates.”

Analysts stated that landlords were able to highlight certain factors that existing occupiers now require to enhance the usability of their current space.

 

Such factors, according to them, included improved amenities, additional seating areas within the mall, free onsite parking to improve dwell time, early lease terminations and service charge reconciliations.

One of the analysts said: “Possibly, the most important factor that has been highlighted by existing tenants is a reduction in occupied box sizes.

 

“Medium to large box sizes have proven difficult to lease in both core and secondary retail markets as prospective tenants are unable to justify the financial costs attributed to acquiring these premises which range from 100m² – 1,000m².”

 

 

On overall vacancy rate, another analyst said it averaged 20 per cent across core and secondary market locations, noting that the very successful malls were operating below two per cent.

 

On rental values, the Broll report stated that rents have remained largely unchanged in first half of 2019 in secondary market location

 

 

However, until the nation’s economy improves, rising vacancy rate in the retail sector will continue.

 

 

 

 

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Eyesore: Community where people sleep in toilets

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Eyesore: Community where people sleep in toilets

A community in Igando part of Lagos State is under siege in various ways. Despite the health and other dangers inherent, the residents are reluctant to leave the area. Juliana Francis reports

 

Seventy-one-year-old Mrs. Deborah Awoleru has been living at Odubanjo Street, Igando community at the dumpsite by Oko-filling Bus Stop, Lagos State, for years. She bought the land and built her house as a retirement benefit.

Awoleru, who looks pale, told our reporter that she has been sick for months and had been told by her doctor to move out of her immediate environment. She said that she had nowhere else to go.

She said: “I’ve been sick now for over six months. Every one of us living in this community is inhaling the horrible stench from the waste landfill. We didn’t know that years of living here and exposure to the flood and waste landfill could endanger our lives. But right now, that’s what happening to us. I have been sick for a while now and couldn’t understand what was wrong with me. I finally had to go to hospital; I was asked to move out of this community. But where can I go? This is my home! I only leave here whenever any of my children has a baby. I go, but still have to return to my house.”

When Awoleru bought the piece of land and built her house, she felt it was a wise investment. Today, however, she’s not so sure. The reason is simply because the community is continually being ravaged and buffeted by nature’s fury; flood. This happens whenever it rain.

There was also the problem of the monstrous waste at the landfill, which has taken over a major part of the community, emitting putrid stench, incredible heat and sometimes causing fire outbreaks.

The stench is an everyday ‘companion,’ while the flood occurs mostly during the raining season. Whenever the sky becomes cloudy, worry and anxiety cloud faces of the residents. They don’t want rain.

The community is not conducive for human habitation, but in a city like Lagos, otherwise dubbed Mega City of Nigeria, housing has become one of the greatest challenges of the people.

The housing challenge in the city has made many Nigerians, who have buildings, to hold tight to them. Those who didn’t, do everything legal and illegal to acquire land, including attempting to steal land and buildings from original owners.

Every resident of Lagos has come to understand the wisdom and survival in Lagos; you either own a piece of land, build your own house or you’re at the mercy of shylock landlords and landladies.

Since the rain started this year, houses of many families have been taken over by flood, while a good number of families, who had other options, had moved out of the community.

The rain didn’t just flood the community, but took over apartment, forcing those who couldn’t afford to leave, to look for elevated places to sleep.

The rain in its fury floods homes with feaces, maggots and refuse. Snakes and pigs also plague the community.

According to the residents, every year, they live in fear; because of rain and flood, which had become nightmares. And when it’s dry season, they face another challenge; the stench from the dumpsite and fire outbreaks.

Some of the refuse from the dumpsite has blocked major drainages. Fences, which have become saturated with the flood, have started crumpling like pack of cards.

Mrs. Adeoye Abosede is one of those, who took to sleeping in the toilet with her child after her apartment got flooded.

The toilet, built outside the main apartments, is on higher grounds. It becomes a safe haven for her and her child.

Abosede said: “I’ve been living in this community for the past eight years with my child. This is how we’ve been living here, and it’s affecting my health, including that of my child. The place is no longer conducive for us, but we can’t afford another place. Whenever it rains, I and other women fight over right of space in the toilet. But most of the women allow me to have the toilet because of my age. I’m married, but my husband abandoned the children and I. I hustle for myself and children. All the property I moved with into this community had been destroyed. If we are at work, it starts raining, we worry and panic. We know there wouldn’t be a place to sleep that day. It means a night of trouble, cold and mosquitoes. Whenever we return home to see our homes flooded, we go to bed hungry because there wouldn’t be a place to cook and the stove would have been filled with water.”

Abosede, who said that she also cooks and eats in the toilet, said that the community seriously needed government intervention.

“Sometimes, it’s like we don’t have a government. We pray that God should touch our government. We badly need help,” she added.

Residents insist that the community had not always been flood-prone. The flooding and stench started after the Lagos State Government decided to use part of the community as waste landfill.

On June 29, our reporter went to the community, which has become one of the eye sores in Lagos State Centre of Excellence. The crew stopped at Oko-filling bus stop; a walk from that bus stop takes one straight into Odubanjo Street.

Immediately one gets to the bus stop, the person is assailed by the nauseating stench from the waste landfill. The roads are impassable; refuse, flood, mud, pigs and grasses have taken over the better parts of the road.

Our reporter borrowed a rain boot and trudged into the flooded, stinking and sinking community. Even as strangers recoiled over the stench, members of the community went about their businesses unconcerned.

Rough looking youths loiter near the waste landfill, smoking Indian hemp. The stench from the landfill competes with that of the Indian hemp.

These youths work for one of the leaders in the community. While residents are crying for government intervention in the community, these youths and their masters have turned the waste landfill into a goldmine.

They collect money from every cart pusher that comes to the waste landfill to deposit refuse. Every week, these youths remit a certain amount of money to the community leader.

Whatever balance remains after paying the leader his required money, becomes theirs. This is why, most days, these youths are at the edge of the dumpsite, unmindful of the stench and flood, waiting and watching eagerly like hawks for cart pushers.

Our reporter sighted several, squealing pigs, blocking pathways. Residents disclosed that the pigs sometimes used to launch attacks. Ironically, the owner of the pigs does not live in the community.

Residents, whose homes were flooded, were sighted dragging out soaked mattresses, clothes and other items. It rained the night before the visit of the reporter.

After four hours of going through the community, our reporter discovered that the flood, waste landfill and stench were slowly killing the socio-economic life of the community.

Schools, hotels and churches have run out of business and the owners, filled with despair, knowing they would never recover money invested into the business, have close shops. Most of the houses have been submerged. The faces of the people are filled with hopelessness.

Whenever it rains, the mortuary in the community gets flooded. The flood drags corpses out of their trays. Residents see corpses anywhere in the community.

The day our reporter entered the community, she found another lady, Fatimo (30), sleeping inside the corridor of the toilet.

The toilet is the only place in the axis, which the flood had not taken over. She and her daughter lay on a mat. Fatimo is an orange seller and has two children. Her first child is nine-year-old, while the second is five-year-old.

She said: “I was married but my husband left me for another woman. We’re no longer together. I came to this community two years ago. I fell sick after last week’s rainfall. We were sleeping when it started raining. It was the flooding of our apartment that woke us. We were soaked to our skins. I had to move to the toilet with my children. That’s where we eat and sleep. I had to go to my sister’s place yesterday, to beg her to assist me in taking care of my children because they had fallen sick. Whenever our community gets flooded, our children wouldn’t be able to go to school for weeks. Their books and uniforms would have been soaked. The flood is a menace here. The government should please come to our aid. We’re dying here. Personally, I’m tired, but what can I do? I only sell fruits to take care of myself and two children. The fruits, if you total all, are not up to N5000.”

Mr. Agbara Sunday (45) is another victim. Our reporter found him living in a makeshift tent, which he built himself. He built it after his apartment got flooded.

He said sadly: “My wife left me because of our living condition and this flood. She left with five of our children. Only one is here with me. He is 14-year-old. My wife said that she could no longer cope with the flood and stench. I have been living here now for 15 years. When we moved into this community, it was not like this! These challenges started about 10 years ago.

“That was when the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) started dumping refuse here. Now, whenever it rains, my son wouldn’t be able to go to school. Look at my tent over there; this is the way we sleep whenever it rains. Most of our valuables have been destroyed. You can see our stoves; they got filled with water, we can’t use them to cook. We are forced to eat outside until everywhere gets dry. This environment is not conducive for human beings. We take drugs every day just to be in good health. Living here, in this sort of condition is costing us a lot of things. Sometimes, we buy drugs for each other, just in case the other person runs out of drugs. The stench from that dangerous dumpsite affects us. We urge and pray the Lagos State Government to help us in anyway it can. We also urge LAWMA to stop dumping refuse here. The flood and fluids from the waste landfill have contaminated boreholes here. Government should come to our aid.”

Sunday added that his colleague, Seun, was also left by his wife because of the flooding and condition of the community.   “This suffering is unbearable. We earnestly need help,” Sunday said.

The community is better known as ‘Zone One community’ under the Igando Estate Phase 3 Community Development Association.

The CDA comprises six streets; Odubanjo, Alamu Olaleye, Ovwighoyoma, Kajola, Ogunmer and Otunba Oladokun.

More than a thousand buildings and over half a million residents are at risk of losing their homes as the rain and floods continue every year to ravage the community. The residents want the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to look into their plight and assist them in checking the flood and relocating the dumpsite.

The Secretary of the CDA, Mr. Samuel Ohwerhoye, said: “I have been here for over 22 years. It used to be the best place in town, but today, everything has changed. As members of community, we have repeatedly tried our best, including spending our personal resources to channel the flood but nothing seems to be working.”

Ohwerhoye continued: “Immediately it starts raining, we wouldn’t be able to stay in this community. The dumpsite here is also another problem; it pushes water back into the community. We want Governor Sanwo-Olu to come and look at our situation and proffer a solution. We’ve complained before to previous administrations, but nothing had been done. Most times, engineers from Alausa would come to look around and then they would leave, but after that, we wouldn’t hear from them again.”

Ohwerhoye explained that when he first moved into the community, there were bushes everywhere and it was a lovely place. He said that trouble started after the state government decided to construct a highway. In the course of the construction, the workers came into the community to dig and collect sand.

The government workers ended up creating a gully, which they then needed to fill after the road construction. The government decided to fill the gully with refuse. Since then, flooding has taken over the community and the refuse has gathered and increased over the years, emitting stench, heat and fire.

Ohwerhoye said: “It was in an attempt to fill the gully that the dumpsite came. Odubanjo Street is on a lower level; it receives water from other parts of the community, which are on higher level. Whenever it rains, water rushes towards Odubanjo Street because it’s on the lower side. Before, the water used to rush into the canal, but after the construction, water started lodging in the community. Government created the dumpsite, but didn’t create a channel for the water in the community to move into the canal. After so much cry, government attempted to create a channel for the water, but ended up doing a shabby job. The community is lower than the highway and so, the water doesn’t go anywhere.

“We have schools, hospitals, and water and health issues in this community. Residents always fall sick. We’ve been to LAWMA and Town Planning. Nobody is paying attention to us. People are moving out in droves. Our community today attracts a lot of miscreants. These miscreants are a threat to us. Our community is prone to robberies. Just two weeks ago, someone was killed here. This year alone, three people have been killed. The gutter you’re seeing today is our little effort to channel the water. LAWMA made the roads inaccessible, but we made them ‘motorable.’ We take alternate routes to enter the community, which is longer and quite stressful. If there’s a medical emergency, we wouldn’t be able to get access to the road on time.”

Ohwerhoye disclosed that landlords and tenants alike have been known to abandon their property and homes. A particular building, which has six flats and six families, was abandoned the week our reporter visited the community.

One of the landlords, Chief Offe Abiodun Michael, said that the flood, coupled with fluids from decomposed materials from dumpsite, penetrated boreholes, making water filthy, not fit for drinking.

His words: “I buy bags of sachet water every day; and this is after spending money to build a borehole. It’s painful. In order to bath, we had to go around looking for water. I’m asthmatic, once its rains, stench and heat start discharging from the dumpsite, causing crisis for me. Our boreholes have been contaminated. Children and adults are plagued by sicknesses. Robbers and miscreants have taken over the community.”

The residents appeal to Governor Sanwo-Olu to help them in building drainages and grading of streets. They also want the government to check the dumpsite by spraying it with the necessary chemicals, which will not be harmful to human beings. They believe that the chemical will check the stench, mosquitoes and fire outbreaks.

Another resident, Engineer Ogunsaya Ramon, noted: “Even during dry season, we wear rain boots. We keep changing shoes.”

Mr Chris John, another perturbed resident said: “The dumpsite invites snakes. We have killed many snakes; even inside apartments. There was a time one of the snakes fell into the midst of playing children. If not for God’s intervention, one of those would have been bitten. We’re no longer safe because this community has become a den for thieves, robbers and hemp smokers. Once its 8pm, people are scared of going outside. Women going to markets in the early hours of the morning are often raped and robbed.”

The resident Pastor of ‘Awareness of God Church,’ Pastor Chimezie Uche, has been living in the community, along with his church for 12 years. Reminiscing, Uche said that when he came into the community, “there was no gulley, no dumpsite”

He disclosed sadly that it was because of the flood, dumpsite and stench that his members abandoned the church.

“Nobody wants to die because they want to worship God. In this community, children are having difficulty in breathing,” the Pastor said.

Our reporter discovered that schools, which still have pupils, are majorly pupils from the community. They attend because they don’t have a choice. Schools like, ‘Sweet Valley Nursery and Primary school has shutdown. A boarding school in the community barely has students left. The windows of the boarding school are opposite the dumpsite and the stench hits it the most.

Ohwerhoye added: “We’re not crying for electricity, we just want government to dislodge water from our community. It is this flooding that led to the shutting down of Rosellas, the biggest Amusement Park for children in Igando.”

Apostle Sunday Ojokole said: “We’ve been writing to the government on our situation now for 15 years. We started since the era of Asiwaju Tinubu. Whenever we complain, they would send people called engineers to the community. They’ll go round and then leave, but the situation remains the same”

Dr. Bayo Onajole, a Professor of Community Medicine and a Consultant Public Health Physician at the College of Medicine University of Lagos (CMUL)/ Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), said that as long as people continue to live in the community, they would continue to experience health challenges.

Onajole, who said that people shouldn’t go building at dumpsite, insisted that the only solution to the situation of the resident was for them to leave that community for their own good. While arguing that the fluid from the dumpsite will contaminate their water, he added: “There’ll be snakes and rodents in such a place. These animals go to the dumpsite to feed.”

“Buildings in such a community could crack or easily collapse, because they are built on a dumpsite. The solution for them is to leave there, but we all know they wouldn’t want to leave.”

The Special Adviser on Drainage and Water Resources to the governor of Lagos State, Joe Igbokwe, when contacted said that something would definitely have been done about it.

His words: “I’m working on drainages and do not want to be talking. I want to do more works before I start talking. Yes, we’ll get to that community. I’m aware that trucks carrying refuse, which dump refuse on that dumpsite, used to block roads while discharging. Before there were plans to relocate the dumpsite, but I don’t know the situation now. But the last time we visited that area, the trucks were still there, causing traffic. Let’s see how it goes, something is going to be done about the situation.”

Our reporter also contacted the Public Relations Officer of LAWMA, Mrs. Shade Kadiri, to know if LAWMA was aware of the flooding caused by refuse being dumped in the community and also to find out if the speculation that the dumpsite would be relocated was true.

She promised to get across to her boss with the issue and revert to our reporter, but as at the time of filing in this report, she was yet to do so.

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Abia schools: Grooming future leaders in squalor

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Abia schools: Grooming future leaders in squalor

In most schools in Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State, it is now a tug of war between pupils and urchins in the midst of faeces and drug peddling, writes EMMANUEL IFEANYI

 

Madam Ogechi Edeh, a widow and mother of two, wished her husband was still alive to help her save and secure her innocent children from the future-ruining academic environment of public schools in Aba, Abia State.

Edeh, whose two children are among the pupils at the Township Primary School, Aba, one of the numerous public schools converted to public toilets and centres for smoking marijuana, lamented that the future of her children looked dark. However, the woman is helpless.

She told New Telegraph that the only reason why she still allows them to attend the school is because she does not have money to take them to a private school where they will escape the dangerous learning environment at the Township Primary School.

“Every morning, young and innocent children have to pack faeces excreted by senseless adults before lessons start. Go inside there and see how everywhere is smelling.

“Nobody is comfortable, not even the teachers. They are helpless and cannot even talk. I’m speaking to you because I don’t work there and nobody can sack me from this my table of groundnuts and oranges. 

“Those hoodlums have broken almost every part of the fence from that side of Cemetery Market and are now showing innocent children how to smoke and defecate recklessly.

“If only I had money. And if my husband were alive today, I know he would not watch our children attend such school because I don’t know what they are learning in the midst of marijuana smokers.

“Government does not care. No single security man is there. It is only God that is keeping and protecting those innocent children from human traffickers and child rapists roaming everywhere as well as diseases.

“You need to visit that school when it is raining and see what my children and other innocent children there are passing through. If it rains, almost every classroom becomes River Niger,” she said.

Edeh is, however, not the only voice crying about the situation of public schools in Aba. She is joined by pupils, students and teachers who are facing the worst challenges of their lives as hoodlums are currently making learning and teaching unbearable.

Indiscriminate open defecation by hoodlums, smoking of marijuana and sales of other hard drugs have made most public schools in Aba unsuitable for learning and worst places to bring up any child.

New Telegraph’s investigations in schools around Aba South and Aba North local government areas showed that parents are massively withdrawing their children from public schools owing to the activities of hoodlums. The criminals have turned public schools to breeding grounds for all manners of social vices.

Another reason discovered to be responsible for the massive withdrawal from the public schools is the deteriorating infrastructure which seems to be receiving attention in some schools, but not enough as many buildings are dilapidated.

Investigations revealed that the Okigwe Road Primary and Secondary School, Osusu Primary and Secondary School are the worst hit by the terrible situation in Aba North Local Government Area.

In Aba South Local Government Area, the City Primary School, Township Primary School and the Railway Halt Primary School, especially the two earlier mentioned, had already become public toilets and residential homes to many homeless hoodlums.

The situation at the City Primary School and the Township School both located at School Road is very pathetic as hoodlums defecate indiscriminately in classrooms, pull out ceiling boards to make beds at night and make the environment to stink beyond description.

The situation is even messier at the Okigwe Road Primary and Secondary School, where hoodlums are currently making learning impossible where they sell and smoke marijuana every morning and evening.

If what New Telegraph discovered in the above-mentioned schools was bad, then the situation at Hospital Road Primary School, Cameroun Barracks Primary School, East Street Primary School and Clifford Road Primary School is hellish.

As at 7.30a.m., when pupils should start their morning assembly, a football match was still going on at Cameroun Barracks Primary School, while drug peddlers were selling and smoking right in front of innocent pupils.

These unscrupulous elements, on a daily basis, prevent pupils at East Street Primary School and Clifford Road Primary School from conducting morning assembly as they use the school premises for smoking and selling of drugs while football match goes on until 8.30a.m.

Further investigations by New Telegraph revealed that almost all valuable items in the listed schools have been stolen, as the hoodlums usually ransack the entire offices at night by breaking through the ceilings.

One major problem discovered by our correspondent is the fear of the suffering teachers to open up on their situations. Every one of them feels it is not safe to speak out on a situation as terrible as described and gradually killing the future of Abia youths.

Investigation also revealed that both the Hospital Road Primary School 1 and 2 usually become nuthouses in the day, as almost all the hoodlums around there pretend to be mad, but in the night they put on their criminal nature to perpetrate crimes like bag snatching, phone snatching and shop looting.

The Headmistress of Hospital Road Primary School 1, Mrs. Blessing Ubani, lamented that hoodlums had turned the school to toilet, hideout, kitchen and drug peddling ground.

She said: “Go there and see a full grown man naked in the classroom. When you visit the school in the day, they will pretend to be mad.

“They will remove their dresses and stay naked inside the classrooms making life uncomfortable for a teaching population that is mainly female.

“In the night, those who claimed to be mad in the day will suddenly become well and start stealing from people, bringing their loots here and later selling the stolen items to some buyers.

“They have stolen almost all nursery school chairs in this school and have sold them to some buyers. They will steal them and use some chemicals to clean the names on the woods before selling them.

“They have converted two large classrooms to toilets which is now a breeding ground for all kinds of faecal-oral diseases.

“They have converted another classroom to their kitchen while they have turned another one to their leaving room.  We have lost many classrooms to them and they are still not comfortable. They keep pushing us out by applying the tactics of messing the whole place up.

“Wherever they mess up, we run away from that side and they will take it over. This has made the population of our school to reduce drastically.

“Every morning, we have to plead with them to give us space to learn. They enter my office and take school registers for toilet tissues. They use it in cleaning their buttocks after defecating. Most times they defecate on the register directly.

“The school operates with free lunch and free tuition, but nobody wants to come. I even introduced free uniform and free Physical Education (PE) wear, but you can enter there and see how empty everywhere is.

“These hoodlums have pulled all the ceilings off and are now pulling the planks used in roofing the classrooms as firewood for cooking inside one of our classrooms they converted to their kitchen.

“They have pushed down the other side of the weak perimeter fence to enable them to gain easy entrance into this place.

“We need help. We need government to come to our aide. If nothing is done fast, these people will take over this place and this school will be history.”

Also, the Principal of Okigwe Road Secondary School, Mrs. Agatha Nwaoha, described the situation in her school as horrible and called for help.

She said: “When you come to school in the morning, you will see multitude of people inside this school premises. You will think that something is happening. They are just disturbing the school.

“We cannot open this place by 7a.m. or 7.30a.m. We usually open our school by 8a.m., before doing any other thing. Hoodlums, all types of them, are here.

“They defecate everywhere; destroy the ceilings and school property provided by government for the children. They sleep on top of the ceilings.

“I have asked people and they told me that if I come here in the night, I will see that the hoodlums that stay here are more than 200.

“They open teachers’ drawers and steal chairs. The police are aware of what we are passing through here.”

Mrs. Jeremiah, a petty trader who said she has her three children at Railway Halt Primary School located on Market Road, bemoaned the level of neglect in the school.

She said: “Almost all the families in this area usually send their children there, but the whole situation has changed. Those who can afford private schools have pulled out their children.

“If there is any other nearby public school that is better, I would have changed them, bit look at what I sell here. I’m not happy because even as uneducated as I am, I know that the environment there is not suitable. No water, no security, bad buildings and coupled with the presence of hemp smokers.”

The Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) Chairman of Okigwe Road Secondary School, Comrade Caleb Asouzu, said that on several occasions, the association had tried to sanitise the school environment, but hoodlums did not allow that to be achievable.

He said: “The hoodlums use this place as a hideout and a dumping place. At the back of the school, you see a lot of things dumped there. Some parts of the school have become defecating zones for them.

“We have been making efforts to stop this. Academic session of the school is suffering. In the morning, people will gather here to play football while hoodlums stay around to smoke Indian hemp which has now become a threat to the children who come to school in the morning.

“This school starts academic activities by 10a.m. every day because of the activities of these people I just mentioned. Some said they are footballers, but the truth is that we don’t know who is who.

“This school is facing a lot of problems. You can see what hoodlums have done with the entire ceilings here. We are making efforts to see that things are done well.

“The other section of the building you’re seeing, the PTA contributed money to ensure the reroofing of that place, when they removed it entirely.

“This place used to be just primary school, but for some years now, we have a secondary school inside here doing well, but hoodlums wouldn’t just let things be.

“These hoodlums sleep on the ceilings. Can you imagine someone, after smoking weed, will climb up the ceiling to sleep there? These people are a big danger to our children.”

The pupils refused to speak with our correspondents on the school premises. But some of them later spoke with the supervision of their parents, who also feel helpless about the situation.

One of them, Miss Victory Kanu, a primary four pupil at the Okigwe Road Primary School 1, Aba, told New Telegraph that she was frightened by the situation in her school. According to her, she usually sees huge, strange looking and fearsome faces moving around from morning till closing time.

She said: “I’m not comfortable with the environment. Everywhere smells. You see big people who are not with us always around moving on every window. Most times I’m afraid because their faces are too terrifying.

“I feel sad. The teachers always tell us to be careful when we want to go to urinate. We plead with those in authorities to help us to be happy like our friends in other schools.”

Also, Jennifer Onyemaechi, a primary 5 pupil of Township Primary School, Aba, said she was tired of always cleaning faeces on a daily basis before she could learn.

She said: “I wish I could be taken away from that school. Everyday I go to school, every morning, I will be cleaning faeces.

“Every time you will see papers used in cleaning faeces in our classroom. I feel very bad because of the stench. We don’t even have good classrooms to sit and learn.

““If it rains, everyone will just cluster in one safe place. Our study books have all been damaged by water dropping from the leaking roof. I beg government to help us. I hate my school. We fetch water from outside to clean up the school every day.”

The National Secretary of Easylife Initiative for Rural Youths, Emeku Udensi Uche, described the situation of public primary and secondary schools in Aba as that “of terror, horror and anxiety”.

He said: “On several occasions, we have raised their voices concerning this matter, but it is unfortunate that the government and relevant agencies seem to be playing to the gallery.

“Go to the World Bank Primary School and Old Court Primary School, you will see drug peddlers, drug smokers, street urchins and miscreants all over the place. The matter is very worrisome as the little ones no longer have their normal school activities.

“This does not show Abia as people who are interested in bringing up good children with sound moral values. It appears that our moral values are going down the drain. When these children who are watching adults smoke in their schools without anyone stopping them, they will think it is normal.

“It’s not cheering news as we are heading towards total anarchy. We have approached some law enforcement agencies and instead of doing the work for which they are paid for, they only go there to collect money from the drug peddlers and urchins.

“Honestly speaking, I pity the teachers handling those children in such environment because it is an environment of terror, it is an environment of horror and it is equally an environment of anxiety.

“So, I don’t know how they are able to teach in such environment with horrible looking human beings.”

A cleric, Pastor Reginald Okolo, said that the manner with which public schools are going in Abia State, soon the story would be that Abia State once had schools.

He said: “The worst thing that could happen to a society is when people keep silent while evil reigns. Government, parents, residents, friends and well-wishers are watching and seeing those doing this, but nobody wants to talk.

“The security agencies even know some of them, but they only apprehend their errand boys whenever there is a disagreement on returns they ought to pay them.

“The question we should ask ourselves is this, if we say people are selling drugs on our school premises, who are those people? Do they live in Aba or not? If they live in Aba, don’t they have names, homes and other things they can be identified with? They are not ghosts.

“At a point in Osusu Primary School, people saw how hoodlums usually force school to close by 11a.m. so that they can take over. You and I know that Aba is in trouble because those who should stop them are not interested in doing so because of returns.

“The big drug bosses employ some street urchins to market these drugs while they stay away. Tell me why the Ndiegoro Police Division (Cameroun Barracks) will be watching people sell and smoke weeds at the Cameroun Barracks Primary School that is almost under their care?

“I can’t understand it. Whether fenced or not, that school should have been exempted from all these mess at least because of the proximity and the name it shares with that police division.

“What about Okigwe Road Primary School that is just adjacent Aba Area Command? Five footsteps away from the school gate is a permanent police checkpoint at No 1, Okigwe Road by the Railway, but all these things are happening there.

“We must begin to re-examine ourselves and see what is happening to us. I fear for the innocent little ones. Every day they come back hearing the name of one hard drug or the other or even seeing people take them.

“Why is it too difficult for the government of Abia State to put perimeter fencing in all the schools and probably hand over the security to Man O’ War? You can go to Asaokpuaja Community Primary School; that is exactly what they did. The Man O’ War train there and their presence has made it impossible for hoodlums to penetrate that place for any illegal dealings.

“They can also employ permanent security guards. Many schools in Aba do not even have an ordinary gateman and you expect someone to send his child there. No matter how free you make such a place, it is a terrible option considering the security challenges in Nigeria.”

When New Telegraph contacted the state Commander of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Akingbade Bamidele, to ascertain what his agency is doing about the ugly situation he said that his organisation was aware of what was going on in the public schools and had been doing its best to stop it.

He said: “We have carried out raids at Osusu Primary School, Okigwe Road Primary School and Etche Road Primary School. In one of these schools, we arrested a boy with a gun. So, that means that they don’t only go there to take drugs, but to also plan other criminal activities.

“In one of the raids, one of them was transferred to the Department of State Services (DSS) for further investigation. In two of those schools that I mentioned to you, we have prosecuted two persons.

“I quite agree with you that we need to do more. So, we are going to intensify actions in some of those schools you just mentioned now that the rain is subsiding. And we need to do this with the cooperation of the authorities of these schools.

“So, we are calling on the authorities to cooperate with the NDLEA to sanitise that place. Another problem is our youths who are using the school premises for football. We appeal to them to use it for football only and not other criminal activities.

“The NDLEA will not fold its arms and watch drug peddlers ruin the lives of innocent children. We will cooperate with other security agencies to end this ugly situation.”

The state Commissioner for Education, Dr. Kennedy Nwangwa, said the administration of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu was on top of the situation.

He said: “We are working very hard with the PTA to see how we can start to put perimeter fencing and then try to bring in some security for some teachers to live in the school compounds.

“I think by the time we start doing that, the compounds will no longer be isolated which is giving all those hoodlums the opportunity to come there and have a field day.”

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Old, sick and dying LUTH pensioners demand gratuities 10 years after

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Old, sick and dying LUTH pensioners demand gratuities 10 years after

Pensioners of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) are old men and women, who retired about 10 years ago. They have been waiting for the balance of their gratuities totalling over N1 million each. During the 10-year wait, many have fallen sick, many have died while others are dying. Those alive say they want their money before death comes. JULIANA FRANCIS captures their story

 

Traders, workers hurrying to their offices and motorists at the Ojuelegba area of Lagos State, took some minutes to stand and watch in sympathy as old men and women gathered under the bridge, chanting soulful solidarity songs. The time was 10a.m. and the year was 2018.

These old folks are retired workers of the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba. They were armed with placards, claiming they were short-changed in the payment of their gratuities 10 years ago.

Among all the old and frail looking pensioners, it was Mr. Bamgbeelu Adetayo that caught the attention of everyone. While others stood, armed with their placards, Adetayo sat on a slab with his. He sat, not because he wanted to, but because his fragile legs couldn’t bear his weight for too long.

When he tried to get up everyone rushed to help him so that he wouldn’t trip over.

Adetayo is 65-year-old and a stroke patient. The fact that he was at the scene, indicated just how desperate he wanted his money. He said he had to come because he needed government to act fast so that he could have some money to buy his medicine.

The old man said he had to nag and beg his son to take him from their Ogijo, Ikorodu residence to Ojuelegba, the venue of the protest.

It was quite challenging especially since he and his son had to reach the venue in public transport. His tired and frustrated son left him at the venue, promising to return anytime Adetayo called him, to take him back home.

Adetayo said: “I left home as early as 6a.m. I got to Ojuelegba about 10.30a.m. I worked at LUTH Security Department. I worked there for 20 years. After all my efforts during my active years, they planned and took our money. We were duped!”

Adetayo said that for years now, he and his wife had been living on the groceries she sells, right inside their apartment. This was even as he revealed that his monthly pension was N15,000. He wished that the balance of his gratuity would be paid because of his failing health.

He said: “My medicine is very important. Right now, many of us don’t have money, thus we now have to resort to shouting, so that government will hear us.”

As Adetayo’s feeble voice narrated his ordeal, song of, “All we’re saying give us our rights,” rend the air.

These pensioners said that the protest was to alert the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation and President Muhammadu Buhari of their plight and hope something would be done swiftly.

Before they agreed to meet under the bridge for the protest, they had paid many visits to different media houses. Indeed, they had been to the New Telegraph Ikeja office more than 10 times, demanding that their story be heard and justice be done. They came, armed with several documents. Each time they come, they come with additional story of pains, despair, frustration and tears.

Since the beginning of 2018, the pensioners had renewed their agitation to get balance of their money from the Federal Government. These pensioners are former drivers, kitchen workers, cleaners, security guards, nurses and matrons.

Ten years ago, they were supposed to be paid their full gratuities and expected their cheques. But when it was time to pay, they discovered that the money the Federal Government was supposed to pay, which was already spelt out on the ‘Retiree Severance Pay Slip’ was cancelled by an unknown person, with a pen.

The bankers, who came to pay them, handed them already filled out bank tellers. When they checked the tellers, they realised that their gratuities had been slashed. They were nonplussed and outraged.

Mrs Omotayo Oserinde, 63, spokesperson for the aggrieved pensioners, said: “We protested that we wanted our full money. We carried the protest to LUTH, where the Director of Administration back then, Ayo Olagunju, urged us to collect the money. He promised that he would do everything within his power to ensure that the balance of our money was paid. It has been 10 years already since the first half of the money was paid, yet we’re still waiting to be called upon to collect our balance.”

Oserinde, who said that they were over 500 affected retired staff, disclosed that so many had died while waiting for this money.

She added: “We live in poverty and we are losing hope, waiting for our money.”

Oserinde, who appears to be suffering from waist pains and could barely stand upright, added: “We want the Accountant General of the Federation to be aware of what is going on with the payment of the balance of our money.”

She said her story was similar to those of her colleagues, noting that she is a widow and had to bring up five children alone.

Asked why protesting now after 10 years, Comrade Agu Virgilus, 63, responded: “We’re complaining now after 10 years because it has become too late for some of our colleagues and we don’t want it to become too late for us. Just take a look at us, we started work at a very young age, we are now abandoned at our old age. They refused to pay us. Many of our members are dead! Many are in the hospitals.

“We’re asking President Muhammadu Buhari to urge the right people to look into our matter. We believe he can do something. He is the one that had been saying there shouldn’t be corruption. Buhari should come to our aid. What happened to us is corruption. We have nobody to fight for us. We believe that Buhari can question the Accountant General of the Federation and the pay masters who paid us half gratuity.”

Oserinde and Mrs. Florence Ikuregbe, 61, said that they were both employed by LUTH in 1975. They were asked to retire in 2007. Later, they were both recalled to resume work until 2008 which was their final retirement year.

Some officials were sent from Abuja, from the office of the Accountant General to pay their gratuities. The workers were allegedly taken to a place around Bode Thomas called Union Bank Sports Ground, an open field, where they were paid.

Ikuregbe said: “We were not allowed to use any other bank except Union Bank. The field where we were paid also belongs to Union Bank. We were also asked to use the bank because it was close to our work place at Idi-Araba.”

The old men and women alleged that their money was manipulated and that they were short-changed by officials that came to pay them their gratuity.

Ikuregbe recollected: “These officials, right before our eyes, changed the figure in the document that the Federal Government gave to us and put another figure. They filled out tellers and gave to each of us. We complained and even embarked on a protest immediately, but we were told to exercise patience, that the balance would be paid.

“We protested that we wouldn’t collect the money until it was completed. In fact, we went back to LUTH, where our Director, Ayo Olagunju, spoke to us. He was the person that urged us to collect the money, promising that our balance would be paid.

“It has been 10 years since the first half of the money was paid. Every time we complain, we would be asked to exercise patience.”

Oserinde shared how she managed to survive through the hard times. According to her, since retirement, life has not been too rosy for her. 

She said: “I’m a mother of five children. My husband is late. The only way I survived is through catering business.”

Recalling her duties at LUTH before she was retired, Oserinde, who worked in the Kitchen Department, explained: “I used to resume at 7a.m. and close at 3p.m., depending on the shift. I cooked as well as baked. I also catered for VIP patients.”

Ikuregbe, on the other hand, worked in the Cleaning Department, but tackled more than her own job.

She said: “I worked as a cleaner at LUTH. I used to resume by 7a.m. Aside from my cleaning work, I also do some other jobs at the hospital. Sometimes, I do the work of a nurse; I clean the floors, windows, toilets, and vomits of patients. I also run emergency errands even though I didn’t work in the Emergency Department.

“I worked at LUTH for 18 years. I assisted doctors and nurses in getting blood and oxygen for patients that needed them. In fact, sometimes I used to be sent to the mortuary to inform the attendants if someone dies, so that they could come to collect the body.”

Ikuregbe recalled that during most night duties, she and other cleaners were only allowed 30 minutes break. She said that there was a day she was sent to the mortuary to get attendants to come and pick up a body but she experienced a supernatural occurrence.

She said: “In fact, there was a time a Sister sent me to the mortuary to get the attendants; someone had passed away. I didn’t know I was not supposed to shout in the mortuary. When I got there, I didn’t see anybody. I did afternoon duty that day. The time was already 8p.m. I was instructed to tell the attendants at the mortuary to come and carry the corpse of the person that just died.

“The Sister said that she didn’t want workers that were coming to take over night duty to meet the corpse in the ward. As I got to the mortuary, I didn’t see anyone, so I started shouting, ‘Good evening.’ Suddenly, I felt my head swell; I turned and ran. I didn’t even wait for the attendants again. I told Sister my experience. I was in shock. I was admitted at the hospital. Even my husband came to visit me at the hospital that night. I really suffered! I was attacked by a spirit in the mortuary, due to my shouting.

“When I spoke about the incident to people, they said it was a dead person who answered my greeting. True, I didn’t hear anyone responding, but I felt my head swelling. When I said we suffered working at LUTH, I meant we really suffered. I need the government to give me that money because I really suffered for it. There was a time I was pregnant, a patient was having chronic ulcer and vomited clotted blood on me.

“I used to work in Emergency Unit and the Accident Department. I worked in those departments for 18 years before I told the woman in charge that I would like to change wards. Any time I wanted to leave the department, the top staff would stop me, saying that I was hard working. In the night, we would work without sleeping. We stay inside the ward until day break. My children would be sleeping at home, while I would be at work.

“After that payment, Union Bank got another manager, Mrs. Kofoworola. We heard that she discovered our money in an account and made enquiries. She was told that the money belonged to pensioners, and that it should be cleared. We thought we would be paid, but rather, we got information that the money was moved to another bank. I don’t know what they have done with our money.

“Those people that came from Abuja used pen to cancel the amount written on our documents and then wrote what they later paid us. Since that time, we have been waiting. We have been waiting for 10 years now and we’re yet to be paid our balance. They keep asking us to be patient.”

The pensioners claimed that as much as N1 million was removed from each of their money.

“My money was N2,350,000, but they paid me N1,502,95. We want the Accountant General to know what those people did. We want our balance. We are not the only one affected. Some of our members are dead. All we want is for our money to be paid,” Ikuregbe said.

Oserinde disclosed that on the day of the protest, when they had to gather under the Ojuelegba Bridge, she had to borrow money in order to be able to get to the venue.

The pensioners, who said that they had tried several avenues to make sure their plight was heard and their money paid, added that part of their efforts were visits to the Ministry of Justice, Citizens’ Rights, with office located at Alausa, Ikeja Secretariat. The move was, however, unfruitful.

Virgilus said: “We were retired from LUTH by the Federal Government. It was called downsizing. It was during the administration of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo. We were given letters in August 2007. We were also given another letter individually, asking us to go and claim our rights at Bode Thomas area. The letter was given to us with a certain amount written on it, but it was at Bode Thomas that the pay master used a pen to cancel and deduct money from each of us.

“This happened in 2007, at Union Bank Sports ground. We complained immediately; we even refused to collect the money. It was our Director of Administration, Mr. Ayo Olagunju, who implored us to speak to our members to return to Union Bank Sport’s Ground to collect the half money. He said that we should make photocopies of the amount paid to us, that he would fight for us to collect our balance.

“We did as he asked us. We did the photocopies and gave him, but he did nothing! When we took the matter to Alausa Citizens’ Rights last year, Union Bank was invited, their lawyer came and we all met in the conference room. The lawyers asked why we were just complaining now after almost 10 years. We told them that we had been complaining for years.”

Virgilus said that the LUTH management was also invited twice, but didn’t honour the invitation.

He added: “Where is our remaining money? Who is with it? Many of our members are dead, many are in the hospital. Look at my hair, all grey. We’re asking President Muhammadu Buhari to do something and help us. If our money goes because we have nobody to fight for us, it would be corruption. We believe Buhari can help us to question the Accountant General of the Federation and those that cancelled our money and paid us what they deemed fit.”

Spitting fire, another victim, Mrs. Inemona, said: “They called us to Bode Thomas, at Union Bank ground. Rather than give us cheque, they gave us bank tellers. The tellers were already filled out by unknown persons. They refused to allow us to use any other bank. We have been protesting this for years; we used to gather in front of LUTH, but they chased us away. We were ordered to carry our protest elsewhere. They threatened us with police.

“Many of our members have died. We’re old and getting older every day. Let them pay us our money. We are hungry, sick and have no money. We have nobody except God. Some of our members have fallen sick, but have no money to buy drugs and go to hospitals. Many of us are alive today because of the grace of God. Perhaps those who diverted our money are waiting for every one of us to die, but God will help us.”

Mr. Ros Fatomisin, 65, said: “We believe that the pay masters connived with Union Bank to short pay us.”

One of the documents the petitioners gave to our reporter is from the office of Femi Gbajabiamila, back then Majority Leader, House of Representatives, dated March 23, 2018, addressed to the Chief Medical Director, LUTH. It was also signed by Gbajabiamila.

The letter entitled: “Re: Petition Against LUTH management,” stated: “Following a careful study of the attached documents, I have decided to write you on behalf of all the individuals involved in this matter, with the hope that your office will promptly resolve the issue they have petitioned me about. Attached are the supporting documents for your attention. As I look forward to a swift but positive response from your office and the management of LUTH on this matter, please accept the assurance of my esteemed regards.”

Although Ayo Olaguju had since retired and had left the country, our reporter was able to get him on the phone.

Reacting to the allegations, he said: “It’s a very crazy allegation and I don’t know what exactly they are talking about. I also want you to verify your facts. I don’t know because I left that office four years ago. So I don’t have anything to do with that. I don’t know the exact thing they are talking about, but whatever they are talking about, they should be able to have the interest of justice and fair play because at the University of Lagos, were I also trained as a journalist, where I had my journalism degree, if we are doing investigation, everything must be true.

“As I’m speaking right now, I’m outside the country. Whatever claim the people are making, please I’m not an accountant. I don’t have anybody’s money, and it is not in my character. I will never take anything that does not belonged to me. I don’t know what this is all about.  I left the system four years ago, so I really don’t know where this is coming from. I did not work in Accounts Department. So, whatever allegation they are trying to claim, let them come and prove it!”

Attempts made to get LUTH management to shed more light on the incident proved abortive. Our reporter went to LUTH to speak with the Public Relations Officer (PRO), Kelechi Otuneme, he said he needed to speak with his boss and then get back to our reporter. Over a month later, he didn’t get back to our reporter. Our reporter sent him a reminder, but mum remains the word. As at the time of filing in this report, he was yet to do so.

Our reporter reached the Chairman, Medical Advisory Committee, LUTH, Dr. Femi Fasanmade, through a phone call.

He said: “I don’t know any pensioner, I don’t know which year. That person said 10 years ago, so whoever it is, let the person write and then we can go and check to see whether that is correct, so whether it is true or not, I don’t know. I am not aware of such an incident. What they need to do is to write. I will not say more than that until I see what they are talking about in writing. I don’t know anything about this. I’m not the director and I’m not the pensioner how will I know?”

Fasanmade said that instead of the pensioners to go to the media, they should have come to LUTH for the matter to be crosschecked.

He added: “Anybody that is making allegation should call the appropriate authority. It is the minister or government paying them; they should write to the Chief Medical Director (CMD), who is in charge. I’m not in charge of all this.”

Our investigation, however, showed that the pensioners had already contacted LUTH on the matter. Our reporter also went to the office of Citizens’ Rights, Ministry of Justice, at Alausa, Ikeja, to find out the outcome of their mediation in the matter. She was told that the PRO had gone home. Our reporter was further advised to leave a copy of the petition of the pensioners’ she came with, leave her name, phone number and media house, that the PRO would get across to her with the facts of the matter. Three weeks after her visit, the PRO didn’t call her.

Our reporter also reached out to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF). The Deputy Director, Information and Press Unit of AGF, Mr. Oise Johnson, urged the affected pensioners to come down to the AGF Office with proof of being short paid before making “unsubstantiated claims”.

He added: “The Office of Accountant General is not in heaven, it’s accessible. Whoever believes he or she has been short paid in his or her pension payment should come forward with provable evidence.”

Johnson said a pensioner, who spent 20 years in service, would be naive to expect to get equivalent pension with another pensioner who spent 35 years in service.

He added: “Like I said, our doors and records are open to any pensioner with complaint. Let them come here rather than resorting to unsubstantiated claims.”

The reporter urged the pensioners to petition the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the matter. The petitioners did so in a petition dated November 13, 2018.

In August 2019, the pensioners alerted our reporter that the EFCC Investigating Officer, in charge of their case was forcing them to retract their statement.

Oserinde said: “We submitted the letter in Abuja, but we were asked to come to the Lagos office. The EFCC man handling our case here in Lagos insisted that we should do a letter of undertaking, saying that we didn’t want to continue with the case. We don’t know why.”

Our reporter contacted the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, to find out why the pensioners were asked to write undertaking that they no longer wanted to continue with the case. He asked that time should be given to him to make some findings.

After some weeks, he said: “The case has been fully investigated and a report is already before our legal and prosecution department for advice.”

Our reporter also contacted Union Bank in 2018 about the matter and was asked to send the questions to an email, which the bank gave to our reporter. Our reporter sent the questions, but after months there was no response. Our reporter made further calls, but till filing in this report, there was no reply.

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Border closure: Rice importers’ loss, farmers, millers’ gain

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Border closure: Rice importers’ loss, farmers, millers’ gain

The current high cost of rice in the country has been traced to insufficient mill and supply deficit estimated at 4.79 million tonnes, reports BAYO AKOMOLAFE

 

 

I

nadequate mills and insufficient local production estimated at 4.79 million tonnes in the country have affected the price of rice in the market.

 

The country needs some 8.30 million tonnes of the grains to meet consumer demand.

 

Currently, a bag of the local grains is sold between N19,000 and N23,500 per 50 kilogrammes bag instead of the projected N6,000  envisaged by the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh.

 

Statistics revealed that the country depend on imports to support local consumption.

 

For instance, in 2012, the country’s ports took delivery of 2.8 million tonnes; 2013, 2.8 million tonnes and 3.5 million tonnes in 2014.

 

According to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the country spent about $2.41 billion on rice importation apart from those smuggled from the neighbouring countries between January, 2012 and May, 2015.

 

Government was forced to ban the grains importation from the land border in 2015.

 

However, despite the restriction in the last four years, findings revealed that the country had imported seven million tonnes of the grains from Thailand, Pakistan, India, United States and Vietnam owing to inadequate equipment, mills and high cost of producing the local grains.

 

Statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that the country imported 2.34 million tonnes in 2015; 2.3 million tonnes in 2016; while in 2017 it took delivery of 2.4 million tonnes and 2.2 million tonnes in 2018.

 

Issues

 

Regardless of the import restriction of the grains by the Federal Government, Nigerian markets are still filled with the grains.

Collectively, the local rice farmers are only able to   produce about four million tonnes per year.

 

Finding by New Telegraph revealed that the country needs additional 34.38 per cent or 2.51 million tonnes of the grains to meet domestic consumption estimated at 8.30 million tonnes.

 

It was further revealed that the country depends on 21 large integrated rice mills with a total processing capacity of 1.22 million tonnes yearly.

 

The mills are located in Kano, Enugu, Ebonyi, Kebbi, Anambra, Edo, Nasarawa, Benue, Kwara, Jigawa, Niger and Kogi states.

 

Ban

 

Trouble started in 2015 when the Federal Government imposed a ban on the commodity at the land border.

 

The ban sparked up massive smuggling of the grains to the country through the land borders of Seme, Idiroko, Calabar, Jibya and some creeks in Lagos and Calabar.

 

Levy on imported parboiled rice was raised from 40 per cent to 100 per cent in addition to the 10 per cent statutory duty at the port.

 

However, the levy died on arrival when  Benin Republic reduced its rice import duty from 35 per cent to 7 per cent to attract Nigerian rice merchants to patronise Cotonou Port, while Cameroon importers enjoy zero import duty per cent.

 

Sabotage

 

Findings by New Telegraph revealed that some rice merchants were forced to relocate to Benin where they enjoy low import tariff to ship the grains from Thailand and other major importers of the grains.

 

It was learnt that the Republic of Benin does not consume parboiled rice; 90 per cent of the imports are for Nigerian markets. Large volumes of the imports are shipped from Thailand, Pakistan, India, United States and Vietnam to Benin for transhipment to Nigeria.

 

For instance, parboiled rice from Thailand is sold at $421 (N151,568) per tonne or $21.05 (N7,578) per  50 kilogrammes at  a landing price as at October, 2019, as revealed by the Thai Rice Exporters Association (TREA).

 

It was learnt that the Beninioise Government had already licensed some Nigerian companies and several other rice merchants who are importing parboiled rice through Cotonou and Bollore port’s terminals.

 

It was also learnt that some Nigerian firms were given a mandate by the Benin authorities to import between 290 and 300,000 tonnes of parboiled and white rice each at 7 per cent tariff per annum.

 

Other small scale traders where licensed to imports 10,000 tonnes each.

 

In January, 2015, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) record revealed that some rice valued at N938.2 billion was seized from smugglers despite the grains restriction from the borders.

 

For instance, between January and August, 2015, N330.5 billion worth of the grains was intercepted by the service.  Also, NCS added that some rice valued at N597.7 billion was impounded from the various land borders in 2016.

 

Border closure

 

However, with the recent border closure since August, 2019, smugglers have been finding it difficult to move large grains out of the two Benin ports.

 

The Customs Comptroller General, Col. Hameed Ali (rtd), said that since the commencement of the border closure only 21,071 bags of 50 kilogrammes of parboiled foreign rice were seized, while 317 suspected smugglers were arrested.

 

The Managing Director of Sceptre Consult, Mr. Jayeola Ayodele, while commending the government decision to ban the grains, said the Federal Government should have subsidised the price of the grains and supported local farmers so that consumers would not feel the impact of the ban.

Ayodele said that the insufficient of the grains was responsible for the high price of rice and other consumable goods in the market which could be averted if government had financial backing to consumers just like the fuel subsidy.

 

He added: “The Federal Government should have asked famers to sell the products at N5,000 for 50 kilogrammes bag and pay the farmers the balance of their cost of production before the ban was slammed. They can still do it if they have the interest of the masses in mind.”

The MD said that Kebbi and Ebonyi states, as well as multi

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Nigeria grapples with insufficient mills, 4.79m tonnes rice deficit

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Nigeria grapples with insufficient mills, 4.79m tonnes rice deficit

national companies who were into rice production and other individuals should be supported in order to lower the price of the grains.

He added that if rice was affordable in the market, prices of other food items would fall naturally.

Also, a stakeholder in rice production, the Managing Director of AgroNigeria, Richard Mbaram, said that the Federal Government’s determination to  end importation  of the  grains would be a mirage if it failed to address the issues of massive smuggling of rice into the country.

According to him, achieving self-sufficiency in the next couple of years is merely a pipe dream.

Local production

However, despite the ban, some of the traders at the Abakaliki rice mills in Ebonyi State have continued to celebrate the prohibition on importation of foreign rice. They said that the ban had led to high sales of Abakaliki rice.

A rice miller, Mr. Timothy Ude, said:  “We are happy that the Federal Government closed Nigerian borders.”

Ude said before the closure, his sales for a day used to be very poor, noting that at the end of the month it was difficult to pay his landlord and meet up with other needs.

He explained that people who used to neglect local rice had fallen back on it.

 

 

Ude explained that the decision of the Federal Government would help to promote homemade products in the country.

On her part, Mrs. Precious Idam said her sales skyrocketed.

She said that before the border closure, new rice was selling for about N5,300 but now new rice sells for between 6,000 and N7,000.

By this time of the year, according to her, the price of new rice is not supposed to be this high.

In order to promote the local grains, the Ebonyi State government has confiscated 663 bags of rice allegedly smuggled into the state.

The Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Stanley Emegha, said that the smugglers operating along Ndibe, Unwana and Akpoha beaches in Afikpo North Local Government Area of the state, had a small warehouse where they store the contraband.

The commissioner said the crack team of his office operating on a tip-off swung into action and confiscated the bags of rice, including other products.

 

He added that one of the perpetrators was arrested.

Emegha regretted that such illegal business was discovered to have been going on for a long time along those beaches unnoticed, adding that his office was poised to stop such sabotage across the state.

He recalled that government had earlier banned the importation and sales of foreign rice, raw or cooked, noting that such activities contravene the law as well as sabotage local rice farmers in the state.

 

The commissioner emphasised that Ebonyi State had enough local supply of the grains for both internal consumption and export to other places.

Emegha added that the era of dumping foreign rice products in the state was over.

 

He said: “Specifically last Friday, a tip came to us that some smugglers were bringing contraband rice into the state through the Ndibe, Unwana and Akpoha beaches.

 

“It is not only rice they smuggle; they also smuggle Cocoa among others. We were able to confiscate 663 bags and arrested one of them. There were still two boats that were roving our waterway trying to offload. But we are still on them to make sure that they stop such illicit business.”

Because of the government efforts, it was learnt that Ebonyi State has gained prominence as the state with the highest concentration of rice mills in West Africa.

The industry is a business enterprise owned by private individuals, where farmers process and market rice to buyers who come from all over the country and beyond.

Demand

The demand for Abakaliki rice has continued to increase because of its more than 400 mills. This has led to the increase in the price of the commodity.

People from neighbouring Benue, Kogi, Enugu, Cross River, Abia and other states come to Ebonyi State and place order to buy the commodity in different quantities for sales and consumption.

Also, buyers from Lagos, Abuja and other places often place order for the commodity because of its special taste which distinguishes it from other rice species.

The Abakaliki rice has Maths species which looks like foreign rice.

It also has CP species, R8 species and other species. All the species have their uniqueness but high class people usually go for the Maths species because of its beautiful nature while middle class go for R8 and CP because of its unique taste.

Former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Development, Chief Steve Orogwu, gave reasons why people outside the state rush the commodity.

He said: “Ebonyi rice has unique taste that is satisfying. Ebonyi rice is very nutritious, it contains carbohydrate, it contains protein, even some vitamins. Besides, the brand is very nutritious, and is even extracted and packaged for further industrial use.”

For the reason that its high demand and ban on foreign rice in the state, the price of Abakaliki rice has continued to increase. The commodity is sold at the mills, markets and shops in the state.

In the mill, a bushel is presently sold for between N6,000 and N7,500 depending on the quality. A 25kg bag of the community is sold for between N8,000 and N12,000,  depending on the quality while its 50kg bag is sold for between N18,000 and N22,000 depending on the quality.

Following its high demand, people of the state, including government officials, have taken to rice farming, production and processing.

The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Chief Ogodoali Nome, who is among those producing the community in large quantity, said he was planning to industrialise the business.

Nome, who is the managing director of Ogoani Farms, producing rice, fishery and poultry, said that Ogoani Farms produces rice from the farm for processing.

He said: “We have not gone into industrialisation; people think that it is only when you mill rice and package that you are into industrialisation.

“The next level of industrialisation is when you produce rice, process rice to finish production. When you go industrialisation, you start using the chaffs rice; the threshes of the rice into another material; you can use it to produce rice, you can use it to produce wine, energy, gas.”

Also, the management of Confluence Rice said they had embarked on massive production of grains locally.

The company assured Nigerians of higher quality, nutritious and affordable to all Nigerians irrespective of their class.

Its Managing Director, Mr. Olusegun Olonade, said in Lagos that the processes employed by the company in the growth, cultivation and refining of the final product were the best standards available anywhere in the world.

He said: “Although, our paddy rice is locally grown, the finished product is of very high quality and higher nutrition value than imported rice. Consumers will find our product quite enjoyable, smooth and excellent in taste as we hit the market.”

Olonade explained that the recent ban on importation of rice by the Federal Government had resulted in widespread increase in prices of rice, leaving the masses, who represent the highest consumers of rice, frustrated.

Patronage

The MD added that the company had received a lot of patronage since the commencement of its production.

Presently, Olonade said that there was a high demand from the company’s distributors.

He said: “Sincerely, the government policy has completely put a stop to illegal rice importation and for the first time in the history of Nigeria we have not witnessed such things.

“With the border closure, we are now feeding ourselves from complete local production. Our company is the second largest rice mill in Nigeria, under the auspices of Agri Integrated Services Africa Limited, in partnership with the Kogi State government.”

Olonade added that as a company the management had promised to make the rice available to every Nigerian. According to him, it is the only staple food for Nigerians and at affordable price.

He also commended the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, for his great initiative and investment in agriculture, thereby providing jobs and food for the people of the state and Nigeria at large.

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Uncovering mafia behind stolen prepaid meters (II)

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Uncovering mafia behind stolen prepaid meters (II)

Desperation to own prepaid meters has led to a surge in theft of prepaid meters.  In this concluding part, JULIANA FRANCIS unravels those involved the crime

 

 

Further months of investigations showed that there are other markets for such meters in Lagos State. Our reporter visited some of these markets just to establish the fact that meters are being sold there.

Our reporter visited the Owode-Onirin Market, Ikorodu. Our reporter asked one of the traders where to get prepaid meters. The trader gave our reporter a suspicious look and asked twice what the reporter wanted. The reporter told him that DISCO officials were killing him with estimated billing, that he needed a fairly used prepaid meter. He relaxed his suspicious stance and took our reporter to a shop at Area 11. The owner of the shop said that the only meter he had, was sold a day before the arrival of our reporter. He promised to take our reporter to another dealer. One of the dealers said that he had stopped selling prepaid meters.

He said: “I have stopped selling prepaid meters. I used to sell it before, but police used to raid here. But some of my colleagues in the market are still selling. Sometimes we buy the prepaid meters from DISCO officials. We also buy at Alaba Market. We, however, have stopped going to Alaba Market. We have a customer that used to bring the meters to us at Owode-Onirin.”

The first trader volunteered to take the journalist to Area 15 in the market at Owode-Onirin. The shop owner came out from his shop to ask his colleague what the journalist wanted. Immediately the first trader told him, he asked them to leave. He angrily screamed that he didn’t have money to bribe policemen anymore; stressing that he no longer sell such meters.

The first trader then urged the reporter to come back in two days’ time; that he would have ordered for a meter from Alaba International Market.

Our reporter learnt at Owode-Onirin Market that Alaba International Market was the depot where stolen meters are sold.

Our reporter also learnt that another depot is ‘The Arena Shopping Complex,’ Oshodi. Our reporter visited there on December 13. When our reporter entered the market, a security officer directed him to Electrical and Electronic Lines.

Our reporter told the first trader sighted that he wanted to buy fairly used prepaid meter. He was directed to Chubby Electrical shop. Our reporter claimed that he was told at Alaba International Market to go to Arena, that he would get the meter there. That Alaba Market had exhausted theirs. Chubby, however, said it was not available.

Our reporter also heard that stolen meters could be bought at Oluwole, Lagos Island. When our reporter got to the market and started walking about, appearing to be searching for someone, a guy approached, asking what he wanted. The reporter told him that he wanted to buy prepaid meter.

He responded sadly: “Ha! We no longer sell meters here because of police. They used to raid us every time and collect money from us. It has become a bad business for us.”

Our investigation showed that while the market for stolen prepaid is still on, dealers are careful because of police raid, harassments and extortions. Our investigation has touched much on victims of stolen prepaid meters, but what about the buyers?

A resident of Lagos, Mr. Rufus Wole, said that his neighbours had had cause to buy stolen meters twice and that till date the meters were still working perfectly and undetected by DISCO officials. Wole lives at the Yaba area of Lagos State.

He said: “I didn’t know that people can buy and be able to use stolen meters. It was an incident that happened in my compound that made me to know that there is a heavy racket of black market buying and selling of prepaid meters and DISCO officials are actively involved.

“We’re four tenants living in our compound, three of us have prepaid meters, and one didn’t. The man soon started complaining of the estimated billings DISCO officials were bringing. He complained to the landlord and we went to DISCO’s office to apply. Two years down the line, he was yet to get the meter and the estimated bills continued to come, and kept increasing. He came one day and said that someone wanted to sell a prepaid meter to him. We were surprised. In fact, we didn’t know that anyone could sell a used meter. We have been told several times that prepaid meters were not transferable and wouldn’t be able to work with another customer.

“The guy bought the meter and has been using it. A DISCO official came to code the meter and it is working perfectly. Another incident happened in our compound. Our neighbour’s prepaid meter got burnt due to high voltage. She called someone to carry out illegal connection for her. DISCO officials found out; they didn’t disconnect her, rather, they just kept coming to extort her. She got tired of it and went to buy fairly used prepaid meter. She also got a DISCO official to code it for her. She’s still using it till date. The two meters were bought at Iwaya, close to Makoko, a slum community.”

An IKEDC official said: “Of course it’s possible to steal a meter and give it to another person to use. First, remember that the meter was programmed by a human being, thus it can be reprogrammed. Most importantly, it can only be achieved using information provided by a DISCO official.

“Also, remember that we have Nigerians who are computer and programme wizards. They can get into the system or database.”

Speaking on the five stolen prepaid meters at Adebola Streets, a DISCO 2 boy, who didn’t want his name mentioned, said: “It’s only DISCO officials that can remove those prepaid meters and prepare another card. They will check the name in their system before embarking on the reconnection. They target the latest meters to steal.

“Ordinarily, the meters shouldn’t work because they have sensors, only DISCO officials can make it to work. It is supposed to have a code. In fact, with the code in the meters, they should be useless to other users. Prepaid meters in black market go for N95,000. I was told by a DISCO official that two among the five stolen meters at Adebola Street were already reading, meaning that people are using them. The official said that as long as the stolen meters were being recharged, that they had no issue with them. The stolen meters can be used by residents living within the jurisdictions of IKEDC.”

According to him, these new meters are the most targeted.

He added: “The main meter is mounted outside, while the CIU box is with the customer. Thieves target the meter mounted outside because they can recharge those meters with any other CIU. The CIU is not really important. In fact, if a customer’s CIU is bad, the person can go and buy another one from DISCO.

“The CIU box can be used for more than 50 meters as long as you know the serial numbers of the meters, which is like the engine house.  You can use the serial numbers on the meters to buy the recharged card. Once you get to where they sell card, you can use someone’s CIU to load the meters. Let’s say for example your CIU has a fault, you can write your serial numbers and go out to buy a card. After buying the card, you can go to any DISCO office and they will use their system to load it. As long as a customer is under IKEDC, the meters, stolen from Adebola Street, can be used at communities under IKEDC jurisdiction.”

Our investigation also showed that many DISCO officials, either didn’t know that code of prepaid meters are now being broken or they are simply living in denial.

An official of Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) stated that IBEDC had never received any official complaint of stolen or missing prepaid meters.

He added: “Yes, stolen prepaid meters can be utilised by another person, if the private code for loading credit is not guarded by the owner. No way of tracing it if the code is assessed by any thief.”

Head of Corporate Communications of IKEDC, Mr. Felix Ofulue, spoke on how cases of stolen meters are handled.

He said: “First, the customer is required to make a formal complaint after which the Ikeja Electric sends its officials to investigate by visiting the location to validate the customer’s claim. If the claim is valid and there is a meter available for replacement, it will be replaced. However, the customer bears the cost of replacement in line with appropriate Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) regulations guiding the loss/damage to a meter asset.

“Replacement of such meter, if available, takes up to two weeks from the date of complaint validation by IE. If replacement meters are not available, the customer will be connected directly and placed on estimated billing in line with the estimated billing methodology approved by NERC.”

Asked if stolen meters could be tracked and recovered, Ofolue said: “It is not possible to directly track a stolen meter but it can be detected during routine physical checks or whistle-blow from concerned customers.

“A stolen meter can be used by another person but not legitimately; if there is an internal connivance from an official, if the meter was stolen with the smartcard, if it is a non-smart, Standard Transfer Specification meter (the type that can be recharged online without recourse to the meter card, this particular meter does not require the smartcard to vend and are actually less than 30 per cent available on IE’s network). It also does not possess anti-tampering triggers to prevent usage when such meters are relocated. All of these categories of meter available in the system were installed before the privatisation of the power sector.

“There are people who already have the card readers of these smart card meters and can subject it to manipulation.”

Ofolue denounced customers’ insistence that DISCO officials are behind meter theft.

He said: “It is a very rare case for an existing staff to be involved. However, where such a situation occurs, we will immediately retrieve the meters and return to original location if not already replaced, while the staff will face disciplinary actions in line with our internal procedures.”

The EKEDC Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mr. Godwin Idemudia, also denied that meters are being stolen.

He said: “I have never heard of our meters being stolen. If they steal our meters, how are they going to use them? The meters are programmed, except there is an internal connivance and if we find out, that staff will be fired. All our prepaid meters are programmed into our data central system and if it is moved to another place, it wouldn’t be able to work. Again, except it is brought back into our system, through our IT and when that is done, it would be detected and whoever is responsible would be fired!”

The Kano Electricity Company (KEDCO) disclosed that it lost N180 million to vandalism, theft of its meters and tampering of the prepaid meter works. This is even as the company said it was spending N4 billion monthly to purchased energy but only generated between N1.8 and N1.9 billion revenue, making it to operate at high loss.

The Managing Director and Chief Executive of the company, Mr. Jamil Isiyaku Gwamna, said that it was  not only the meters which were been stolen on a daily basis, and tampered with, but that the company was seriously losing millions of naira to energy theft.

In Benin, Edo State, the assistant spokesman for Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC), Mr. Ibe Odoh, revealed that the company also had been experiencing cases of prepaid meter theft.

He added: “We don’t know why people are stealing our prepaid meters. It is affecting power supply. Each of those prepaid meters cost us good money. But I can tell you categorically that those that stole them can’t make use of them, except there is sabotage. That is someone from within.”

In Jos, Plateau State, the PRO of Jos Electricity Distribution Plc (JED), Saratu Aliyu Dauda, said: “There are cases of stolen prepaid meters across our franchise states of Bauchi, Benue, Plateau and Gombe states, but mechanisms have been put in place with the view to stemming the tide. A few of the prepaid meters were stolen upon JED PLC’s commencement of the metering exercise. The costs of producing each of these meters are in the region of N100,000 and so for each meter that is stolen, you should know that the company is losing a lot of money.”

Findings at the Abuja Electricity Distribution Company, Apo office, show that there have been reported cases of stolen prepaid meters, but the number is yet to be ascertained.

The PRO of Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), Mr. Emeka Eze, laughied off the suggestion that prepaid meter could be stolen.

He said that nobody would steal a prepaid meter because it would be useless to the person.

According to him, DISCOs configured and customised meters for customers and there is a process of doing that in the office before going for installation.

He said: “You can’t steal a meter from Building A and take it to Building B to use; it is not possible. It is not possible to break the code or short-circuit the process because EEDC has upgraded its system such that all meters are customised.”

An official with Ondo State DISCO admitted that meters are being stolen.

He said: “When we got information of any meter being stolen, we usually block the meter from our side, in case the thief wants to use it. We sort of place a red alert on it. Once it is being used, we would know. The truth is that stealing it doesn’t make sense because the person wouldn’t be able to make use of it.”

The Commissioner, Consumer Affair, NERC, Dr. Moses Arigu, said estimated billings, after meters are stolen, would soon become a past issue.

He said: “On stealing of meters, the customers should try to protect meters on their premises. Meters are inside private properties. On estimated billings, NERC came out with a strategy to address this by coming out with the Meter Asset Provider (MAP) regulations in March 2018 for private investors to come in, to meter customers.

“The procurement process is currently on between all parties. The dateline to end the process is October 2018. We expect meter roll-out by the end of the year or early next year. Also, an order from NERC to recap estimated billing for any unmetered customer is being worked on by NERC. The order is to discourage DISCOs from keeping customers unmetered. Basically, they will be the ones to be chasing investors to meter the customers quick. They will want customers to be metered quick because they are losing money as the capping amount is far less than if customer is metered.”

The Executive Secretary, Meter Manufacturers Association, Mr. Muideen Ibrahim, said if it was possible to steal meter and someone used such meter, it meant there was connivance with those working with DISCOs.

He said: “I mean those working in the control room. It is customised; there is no way Mr. A can use meter meant for Mr. B. But if it happens, it means those in charge of keeping the sensitive code, gave it out. If peradventure it happens, then there is connivance issue.

“Without adequate information, nobody can use stolen meters. What you don’t have, you can’t give. But from the manufacturers’ point of view, there are no way two units of meters are the same. They have different codes. And even if they are of the same batch, they are coded in different ways and each meter has units and serial numbers, so there is no way it will work. But the moment the meters get to the DISCOs, they will key in their inputs in terms of reference numbers. If there is an issue of a meter being used elsewhere, I have never heard of it. And if it is happening, then there is a third party involvement.”

According to him, people, whose meters are stolen, need to go and lodge a formal complaint at the police station and get police report.

He added: “The stolen meters must be mounted in order to be used and it must reflect in the DISCO’s control room. Once the meter is blocked, it becomes useless. I believe the thieves just tested the ground, and are selling dummies to people, because a lot of people are yearning for prepaid meters. Once people are yearning for something, there would be a rush.

“The point, however, is that there is no way they wouldn’t be caught. They would have to take the meters to the DISCOs for installations. The DISCO 2 guys can’t work without the insider. If there is a DISCO 2 boy, it means there is a DISCO 1. Also, DISCO 2 and DISCO 1 can’t function without those in the control room or server room.

“I suggest that anyone, whose meter is stolen, should quickly go and report at the nearest police station and DISCO, so that it can be blocked, so as to make the trend unattractive. Also, people should be careful with their smartcards. It’s like an ATM card, if someone gets your PIN, he can hack into your account and take your money.”

Our findings revealed that the best ways to shut down the cartel and stop customers’ meters from being stolen is for MAP to be effectively and quickly executed. Another way is for the bill by the House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, seeking to criminalise estimated billing to come to pass.

When the proposed law is accepted by the Senate and approved by the President, it will become criminal for DISCOs to issue estimated bills. Issuance of such bills will attract either a one-year jail term or a fine of N1 million or both. The proposed law would also compel DISCOs to provide prepaid meter to an applicant within 30 days, while barring the DISCOs from disconnecting the consumer after the 30-day period within which meter should be installed.

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Uncovering mafia behind stolen prepaid meters (1)

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Uncovering mafia behind stolen prepaid meters (1)

Many Nigerians are desperate to own prepaid meters to avoid estimated billings from Electricity Distribution Companies (DISCOs), believed to be exploitative. This desperation has led to increasing cases of prepaid meters being stolen, though it is said that meters are not transferable.  In this investigation, JULIANA FRANCIS seeks to unravel those profiting from the crime

 

 

Adebola Street is located in the heart of Egbeda in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State. The street is the shortest along the Baba-Oba area of Car Wash axis. The highest crimes that have occurred there are shops and apartments’ burgling and theft of vehicle batteries.

The sleepy community came awake in March 2018, after some residents woke up to discover that power supply to their buildings had been cut off.

They were still wondering if Ikeja Electricity Distribution Company (IKEDC) officials came midnight to disconnect power, when someone suddenly noticed that prepaid meters to the affected buildings had vanished.

When they took count, five meters were gone.

One of those affected is Mr. Oladiya Aruna of House 20, Adebola Street. Aruna runs an estate agency in the community.

He said: “We came to the office and discovered that our meter was gone. We heard that other meters were also stolen. The most shocking thing was that some of the meters were placed high on electric poles. There was no way an amateur could have climbed those poles and removed those meters. The theft was done by a professional. We also discovered that all the meters stolen were those placed outside. We reported to Ikeja Electricity (IKEDC). The officials came and collected information about our meters and then left. Since then, we have not heard from them. They said we should go and accept estimated billing.”

Another victim, Mr. Joshua Akimokwu, said that he had been to IKEDC’s office at Ponle bus stop four times for a new meter since the theft, but all his efforts had been futile.

The landlady of House 13, Adebola Street, Mrs. Simisola Bankole, said that two meters were stolen from her compound.

She said: “We went to IKEDC office because we wanted new meters, but they said it wasn’t their business, that we should have secured our meters.”

Mr. Isa Alimi, who has a shop at No. 1, Adebola Street, disclosed that two meters were stolen from his end of the street.

He said: “When it happened, I quickly alerted IKEDC officials. They asked me if we didn’t have security in our community. I replied that we did. But were the guards supposed to watch over our meters? The officials said a replacement was being processed, but that for now; meters were unavailable. They said I should go for estimated billing system, I said no. I decided to go to their Customer Care Centre. When I got there, they directed me to one Mr. Bello; he’s in charge of prepaid meters. He told me that at Abule-Odu area, six prepaid meters were stolen. He said that those stealing them wouldn’t be able to make use of them. I didn’t believe that. Why would they be stealing them if they couldn’t make use of them? Someone came here to borrow my Customer Interface Unit (CIU) to load her meter and it worked. I refused estimated billings. I’m now temporarily sharing with a neighbour, while I try to see how to get another prepaid meter. I want prepaid meter at any cost. With it, I know how to manage my money and the electricity I consume.”

A resident of Lawani Street at Egbe-Idimu in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos, Emeka, accused IKEDC workers of being responsible for his compound’s missing meter.

Emeka explained that the landlord had warned all tenants to keep mum on the issue, fearful that IKEDC officials would punish them by plunging the community into perennial darkness if they made too much noise about the stolen meter.

He said: “We’re very sure that DISCO workers were responsible for the theft. The meter was installed high up on the electric pole. The box housing the meter was locked and the key is with the officials, so who opened the box and stole the meter?”

There is, however, a funny twist to the theft of the meter at Lawani Street. Unlike those taken at Adebola Street, where the victims were immediately plunged into darkness after the thieves removed the meters, at Lawani Street, the thief removed the meter and reconnected the wire directly to the cable on the pole.

Asked how consumers got to know the meter was stolen, Emeka replied: “We have people in the area, who have knowledge of the prepaid meter boxes; they were the people that alerted us that our meter had been stolen.”

Mr. Tajudeen Adebanjo, also a victim of stolen meter, residing at Ilasamaja area of Lagos State, recounted that he and other tenants woke up and found out that five prepaid meters had vanished.

Four of the meters were later found. He and other residents suspected a man in the community, popularly called Foley, who has experience with electricity.

While Foley admitted removing Adebanjo’s meter to fix it, because Adebanjo had earlier complained that it was faulty, he denied removing other four. Residents didn’t buy his denial story and threatened to hand him over to the police. A day after Foley was threatened, three among the stolen meter surfaced.

Adebanjo said: “Five meters went missing. I went to Foley and he admitted taking mine, but denied taking others. I asked him why he didn’t tell me before removing mine. He reconnected me directly to the pole after removing my meter. I didn’t know my meter was gone until neighbours complained that they didn’t have light and that their meters had been stolen. I was the only person that had light, but I still decided to check my meter and then low and behold, mine was gone too. We wanted to go to the police, but decided to go to our supplier, Eko Electricity Distribution Company (EKEDC) to lodge a complaint.

“The meters surfaced after residents threatened to hand Foley over to police. The smart cards of three of my neighbours’ matched the three recovered meters. It was clear the meters were part of those stolen.”

But Adebanjo’s meter could not be repaired.

One of the guards in the community later told residents that while on duty about 2a.m., he saw a man with a black polythene bag. He ordered the guy to stop, but the latter took off. The guard pursued and at a point, the runner dropped the bag and fled. When the guard opened the bag, he saw three meters. The three meters were returned to the three tenants, leaving Adebanjo and another tenant without meters. EKEDC placed both of them on estimated billing.

Expressing his frustration over estimated billing system, Adebanjo said: “Our vending was usually between N2,000 and N2,500 every month, but on the first month of being placed on estimated billing, EKEDC brought N3,000, we complained; they promised to work on it. The second month, they brought N5,000, we screamed. The third month, they came with N15,000. We couldn’t take it anymore.”

The two men requested for prepaid meters but were told to exercise patience. But the crazy bills kept coming and each time the money keeps increasing. This was even as no electrical equipment was added to their household. When they finally got their meters, it was through the intervention of an influential personality.

He added: “This took a year. Everything started last January and we got the meter this January. It was not easy and we spent a lot of money.”

Our investigation showed that not everyone is ready to wait almost a year or more, like Adebanjo and his neighbour, for prepaid meters, reason desperate customers patronise sellers of stolen meters, accelerating the boom of the market.

According to experts, a prepaid meter is a special type of energy meter that can be installed in homes and offices. Many people have often described prepaid meters as ‘pay as you go’ tariff or you pay as you use.

The idea basically is that consumers use only what they had already paid for. Although Nigerians earlier thought it would be expensive to maintain, today, many prefer it to estimated billings.

Estimated billing gives DISCOs the power to determine the electricity bill to be paid by consumers in the event that such a consumer does not have a prepaid meter.

One of the advantages of the prepaid meters cited by experts is that cases of meter theft would be reduced “this is because every prepayment meter has a unique identification number that can be tracked electronically. Therefore, consumers can be sure of meters’ security.”

 

 

 

This belief, with the ongoing challenges of prepaid meters being stolen, has been invalidated.

Initially, DISCOs told Nigerians that the beauty of the prepaid meter was that it has a code, and that it couldn’t be used by anyone, except the buyer/owner, whose name is already registered on the meter.

Today, however, the same customised meters are now being stolen and resold at cutthroat prices. The prices almost triple those bought from official quarters.

One question begs for answer: Who can break the code of a meter to ensure that another consumer takes possession and starts using it?

Determined to get further answers to the missing meters, our reporter, on July 17, 2018, paid a visit to the IKEDC branch office at Ponle bus stop. Pretending to be a resident of House 13, Adebola Street, she reported a case of stolen prepaid meter at her compound and other buildings.

She was given complaint number 81 and asked to go home and get serial numbers of the stolen meters. This was even as she explained that the complaints of the stolen meters had earlier been lodged.

On July 24, our reporter returned to the same office with serial numbers of three of the stolen prepaid meters. The complaint number this time was 52. She was attended to by one of their customer care officers identified as Lekan.

Lekan said: “We have launched a search for the stolen meters. Right now, from what my computer is telling me, the meters are not being used yet.”

Our reporter asked him why anyone would steal meters and wouldn’t use it, Lekan, said: “I don’t know. But your complaint had been noted and we shall alert you if we find the meters. Meanwhile, what have you people being using since the incident?”

The reporter explained that she and other neighbours were sharing a neighbour’s meter. She asked Lekan how to go about getting a new meter.

Lekan gave her a cold look and snapped: “Madam, maybe you’re not hearing me well; we don’t have any prepaid meter on ground to give anybody! We’re out of prepaid meters. Go to our office at Abule-Odu, they’ll tell you how to go about getting estimated billing.”

When our reporter got to Abule-Odu, she was asked to look for Mr. Seyi, the marketing officer in charge of Adebola Street, to explain how to embark on estimated billing. Thus, the journalist is backed into going for the much detested estimated billing, which DISCOs prefer, but consumers loathe.

Every time a meter is stolen, consumers are forced to accept estimated billing, which is highly profitable to DISCOs.

A retired DISCO official, Mr. Ajele, disclosed that behind every stolen meter in any community are usually men in the communities, who have knowledge of electricity. According to him, those men are called, “DISCO 2 boys.”

He said: “Nigeria is full of crooked people and due to constant power failure nearly everyone now knows things about DISCOs and electricity. The situation is compounded by those we call ‘DISCO 2 boys’ who are often allowed to work with DISCO officials.”

Asked the meaning of DISCO 2 boys, he explained: “They are illegal boys. They are not DISCO officials, but work with DISCOs. They are in every community. They are often called upon to do the work of DISCO officials by members of the community. Many of them had heard about DISCOs and knew how DISCO officials operate. They know and have experiences. They know all the secrets of DISCO officials and electricity trade. Such guys, because they are unofficial, can do anything illegal. It doesn’t necessarily have to be DISCO officials that are stealing and decoding the meters for new owners to use.

“Also, these DISCO 2 boys are loose with information. Members of the public, armed with vital information, can do anything, including stealing and decoding meters.”

Several attempts by our reporter to locate markets for stolen prepaid meters were futile. Our reporter, posing as someone, who desperately wanted a prepaid meter at all cost, spoke with some DISCO 2 boys, but they all denied knowing such markets. This hunt ran into months.

Just when the reporter was about to give up, a DISCO 2 boy, who used to live at the Bariga area of Lagos and used to buy electrical parts at the Alaba International Market, promised to make some calls. Some weeks later, he called to say that he had found a market where they sell stolen meters.

In the presence of the reporter, he called a dealer and discussed with him. The dealer, who sounded happy, asked him to come, that he had fairly used meters.

On November 24, the reporter, posing as the DISCO 2 boy’s friend, went to the Industrial Section of the Alaba International Market, F-Line, to try to purchase the meter. The Industrial Section of the market is where anything electrical is sold. Indeed, our reporter discovered that even stolen transformers are sold there.

While there, our reporter noticed furtive movements and glances, from seedy looking characters armed with black nylons. The nylons are usually filled with cables or electrical wires. Once these men walk past a shop, they only needed to glance into the shop and quickly look away, and then the owner will step out.

Without words being exchanged, everything is done with the utmost economic of action. The man holding the bag quickly opens it for the shop owner to check. A heated, undertone chat ensures. Thereafter, the shop owner goes into his shop, returns to collect the bag and hands money over to the shady character. Business concluded.

When our reporter and the DISCO 2 boy got there, the dealer took one glance at our reporter and his countenance became hostile. When the DISCO 2 boy asked for the meter, the dealer told him that he didn’t know what the heck the DISCO 2 boy was talking about. It soon generated into a heated argument, with the DISCO 2 boy insisting that the dealer asked him to come for a fairly used meter, while the dealer told him that he was out of his mind, that nobody sells fairly used prepaid meters. According to him, it is only DISCOs that sell prepaid meters.

The reporter and DISCO 2 boy left the shop. The DISCO 2 boy told our reporter the dealer must have changed his mind after seeing the reporter, a total stranger.

The reporter decided to hire a fixer and told him what to look out for. A month later of patrolling the market, the fixer called to say that he had found the market where stolen meters are sold.

The operation is very simple; the supplier gets the meters from different parts of the country, from agents, who are sometimes DISCO officials and brings them back to the market. He sells directly to dealers at N7,000. The dealers use chemical to clean it up, and then invite their DISCO official partners, to code it. The coding is N40,000. The coding is to enable the meter to function for the new owner and to also make it rechargeable.

The dealers, after cleaning and coding them, place the meters in cartons specially prepared for that purpose, waiting for buyers. They are then sold to desperate customers for between N80,000 and N95,000.

It is, however, a fast business and most time, people who want to buy directly from the supplier have to wait in line. Our fixer, working with our reporter, bought one of the stolen prepaid meters and paid for coding.

It, however, turned out to be a meter from outside Lagos State. According to the dealers, meters brought from outside Lagos, for a Lagos citizen, cannot be recharged. The fixer got another one and the DISCO official, who was supposed to code it for the dealer, didn’t come. He said that everyone was keeping a low profile because of a change in the contractor/supplier of prepaid meters for DISCOs in Lagos State. The fixer was asked to exercise patience, that his meter would be brought, coded and mounted. But that is another story.

The fixer said: “It’s a syndicate and they have DISCO officials as insiders working with them. The DISCO officials’ role is to code the meters for the dealers. The supplier said that he used to buy the meters as scrap and sell to the dealers at F-Line, Industrial Section of the Alaba International Market. The coding makes the meter to work at a new destination or district.

“A meter stolen from either Ikeja Electricity or Eko Electricity can be coded to work at both jurisdictions.

“I was made to understand that before the change of prepaid meters in Lagos and the coming of a new contractor in Lagos State, meters from out of Lagos State could be coded to work in Lagos. The supplier said that he has agents in different states, who supply him with prepaid meters. Whenever they have such meters, they put a call across to him to come. The dealers have a way of testing the meters to know if they would work before buying them from the supplier. The supplier also said that he has people that used to sell to him at Owode Market.”

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