Community ravaged by nature, neglected by govt
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 my-self 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 floodprone.
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.