James Ojo Adakole
It was drizzling on a drab afternoon. The time was 3:02 p.m on a Tuesday in July. This reporter disembarked from a motorcycle conveying him to Maracana Stadium in Ajegunle, a popular ghetto in Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State.
The dingy environment surrounding the stadium was the first to catch this reporter’s attention, as he meandered through a connecting swampy path leading to the stadium.
Close to the stadium were refuse dumpsites. The decomposing odour of wastes mingles with puffs of cigarettes. This reporter struggled for breath within few minutes of arriving in the area, spitting intermittently, as a result of the putrid smells oozing out of the dumpsites.
None of the children playing football on the pitch seemed to care. Ostensibly they are used to it. Lost in their world, they giggled and smiled as they kicked the ball in different directions. The children were not the only one who cared less about the environment. The adults too were unperturbed.
It has become a way of life
Surrounding the stadium are houses of different shades- shanties, mud houses and those made of cement bricks. Also, around the stadium are makeshift shops where people sell items such as beverages and alcoholic products.
Welcome to Maracana Stadium. This is the home of football. It is a slum arena where stars are made. Many children on the pitch want to become popular footballers in the future. Indeed, some prominent Nigerian footballers had practiced in the Maracana pitch.
One of the football hopeful is Life Sign, 12. Wearing a jersey which had Kylian Mbappe, No.7, manually inscribed on it, he wedged himself on a concrete pavement in front of a store around the stadium, dipped his hand into a polythene bag, reached for his boots and laced them up as he awaits his team.
“I want to be a footballer in the future,” Life Sign told Sunday Sun, adding that “I like Maracana Stadium because it is big; there is enough space for us to play footballer,” as his innocent face etched with smiles.
Life Span is not the only one with big dreams here. Other children also want to become a footballer. Austine, a Senior Secondary School 1 student in the area also has big dreams. “Maracana is a place where future players are groomed. It is where stars are made. Odion Ighalo started from Maracana, he played here before he got into limelight. We too are toeing the same path, to become professional footballers in the future,” Austine told Sunday Sun.
Austine and his friends who play for Super Angels Academy come to the stadium every day to train by 4:00p.m. Oluwatimilehin, one of his friends, told Sunday Sun: “This place is fantastic. Our coach teaches us many things about football. So, Maracana is a place where people come from different areas to enjoy their football.”
Ajegunle has a history of grooming stars. Music stars such as Daddy Showkey, African China and Solid Star rose from the streets of Agegunle. Aside music stars, football greats such as Odion Ighalo and Taribo West were said to have played football in Maracana in Ajegunle before they hit limelight.
“Many stars have made it to the top through this stadium. Super Eagles of Nigeria striker, Odion Ighalo, who recently call time on his international career was one of them,” Mr Prince Anyadi, Ighalo’s primary school teacher, who is now the Baale of Ojoku where Maracana is situated, told Sunday Sun.
“There are many of them that I cannot mention. Ighalo was my student in those days. I taught him at Oluwa Primary School, Lagos. So, there are many super stars who have emerged from here,” he added with a ting of pride.
Explaining what informed the name Maracana, Mr Anyadi said: “The name of Maracana emanated from Brazil. Brazil has a stadium named Maracana, which was once the largest stadium in the world then. So, this place was named Maracana Stadium because of the largeness of the stadium, which is similar to that of Brazil.
Neglected, left to fate
Ironically, the fertile area for raising stars remains in shambles many years after. Sunday Sun’s investigation in Oluwa, Tolu, Ilaje, Omowa, Ajowa, Adeolu, Temidire and Ojoku Community Development Associations (CDAs) revealed that residents in the area live in a pitiable state. The atmosphere in the area is largely unfriendly due to offensive odour emanating from clogged drainages in the enclave.
Aside clogged drainages, the streets, mostly untarred and impassable for motorists due to potholes were littered with wastes of different kinds.
“There is no drinkable water here, we buy water. Sometimes, we even suffer before we see where to buy with your money. There are also no good roads in this community. Most of the amenities we have are proceeds of community efforts. The community came together to fix electricity problem in the area financially, so that we won’t be in darkness,” Mr Anyadi said.
He appealed to the new administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to come to the community’s aid, saying that it was unfortunate a community which has nurtured different stars for the country and unites people of different ethnic groups, has been neglected for long.
“If the government can help us with social amenities here, that will be good,” he said.
Also speaking, a resident of Adeolu Street, one of communities in Ajegunle, Mr Akinwunmi Akinbule, said that the community’s situation seemed to have defied workable solutions, alleging that various efforts to fix the area has been stalled due to selfish interests of leaders in the area.
He stated that aside the dearth of some amenities in the area, the street has become home of cows.
His words: “I lived in this area for a long time before leaving about 17 years ago. I do come around to visit my mother and children. What baffled most since I have lived here is the movement of cows along the streets every time, which is unusual in the past. Are cows expected to be roaming the streets, jostling for space with human beings? Sometimes, they abandon them here and that is really worrisome. We have a police station here and I believe they are working. Another challenge here is that we buy water.
“Since I was born and grew up here, most proposed government projects have gone down the drain because of some selfish interests of leaders in this area. I am not a politician, but that is the reality. So, I don’t think there is anything government can do to help this people here. This street has been existing for years and it is one of the pioneering streets in this area because building started from the river side. But there is no development of any kind here. For me, I am not expecting anything from the government because we have enough of expectations in the past which have largely been dashed,” he said in a blunt voice.
Alleging that the area has been neglected by the government, Mr Idowu Ajibola, the Baale of Tolu, said that several petitions to the government to fix the area have gone without any result.
He also noted that the area has been grappling with cases of hoodlums.
His words: “Our roads are terrible. Most streets in this area lack good roads. We are not seeing the impact of government in this area at all. We are appealing to this new government; in the past, we have made countless efforts for government to help us, but nothing positive ever came out of that. What they do most times is to visit us to assess the situation with promise of returning to fix it. Most times, they come in the guise of starting road projects and start demolishing houses, but at the end of the day, nothing will be done about it.
“My four shops in the street were broken the last time they came about six years ago, yet nothing was done in the end. There is nothing we haven’t done about that, but nothing seemed to be working. When elections come, this is where they get most of the votes. We can only hope they remember us and come to our aid.
“In terms of security, our community has always been peaceful, but now some hoodlums are terrorizing the area. We don’t know how they come about. Once it is 7:00p.m-8:00p.m, you will see them with cutlasses, terrorizing residents in the area. The police are trying their best about that, as well as the elders and youths.”
Urging Governor Sanwo-Olu to come to the community’s aid, Mr Ajibola said: “There is nothing we are expecting than for the new government to bring about dividends of democracy to the people here. We are not telling them to share money to us, all we want is impactful governance.”
In the same vein, Alhaji Saddiq Bamgbose, the chairman of Tolu Community Development Association (CDA) said: “We are expecting the government to come to our aid to fix the bad roads in this area. We have also been grappling with hoodlums and gangsters in this area.”
Similarly, Bashiru Oladejo, secretary to Tolu CDA told Sunday Sun: “We need government’s support so we can rid the area of hoodlums. We have been living peacefully before. But now, things have changed. Sometimes, we contribute to clear some of the clogged drainages around here.”
‘We’re used to living in unhygienic environments’
Asked how residents of the state cope with the unhygienic environment in the area, Alhaji Bamgose stated that the people have developed thick skin on the situation.
“I have been living in this area for 51 years. We are used to it already, but we want the government to come to our aid. We cannot continue like this,” he said.
Also speaking, Mr Akinbule said: “Nothing can change the unhygienic situation of this area. People have been living with it for years. I was born into it. My mother and children live here. I am not arguing that the hygienic situation of the area is not bad, but it seems okay for the people. Nobody is complaining about it.”