•Potholes, garbage, hoodlums take over Lagos community
By Perpetua Egesimba ([email protected])
In the beginning, Gowon Estate in Lagos was a beautiful place. It was a place to reside and relax. Everything was shipshape and many people desired to live there.
In those days, the community looked smart. The buildings were spruced up and the underground drainage functioned optimally. Whenever the heavens opened, the rainwater disappeared within minutes. For the residents, therefore, life couldn’t have been better.
But times have changed. The estate has lost its charm, the spick and span swept away by the ocean of neglect. It has been reduced to a painted sepulcre, with some of the buildings crumbling. Indeed, the general environment is in a mess.
The estate is in utter ruins. The roads are broken. It has become an estate of filth, as mountains of refuse sprout in some corners, exposing the residents to the danger of an epidemic. Worse still, illegal structures and squatters have taken over the landscape. In fact, the monument is an eyesore, a national embarrassment.
Gallery of decay
Walking through 41 Road by Ponle Bus Stop into the crater dotted roads full of smelly stagnant water, you would think that you are walking into one of the slums in Lagos. But no, you are actually headed to what used to be a smart residential area desired by the average Nigerians.
Located in Egbeda, Mosan Okunola Local Council Development Area of Lagos State, Gowon Estate shares similar history with Festac Town on the Lagos – Badagry Expressway. It was built over 41 years ago by the Yakubu Gowon regime, to house participants during the World Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC 77) in 1977.
After the event, the buildings were allocated to Nigerians on owner-occupier basis through what could be called a transparent ballot system. Some of the blocks of flats were acquired by the Nigeria Police, the Nigeria Navy, the Nigeria Air Force, the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigeria Airways and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), among other agencies. Subsequently, these agencies allocated the flats, as residential quarters, to some of their officers.
When Daily Sun visited the estate recently, it was a sorry sight to behold as the roads were in deplorable condition even some of the buildings were begging for renovation.
Going into the Estate through the 5th Avenue, one could easily see new shops being constructed under the high tension cables at the market. The 5th Avenue road itself is defined by potholes, posing danger to man and machine.
At Prince and Princess junction, 1st Avenue, 12 Road, in front of a popular hotel and event centre, it looked like a badly constructed swimming pool. It was gathered that the road became a ‘river’ because it rained two days earlier. In fact, during the visit, the reporter saw an Okada rider, washing his machine in the stagnant water.
A newspaper vendor beside the ‘river’ explained that the condition of the road had made business to be dull for him. “Whenever it rained, some of my customers would look for another way to pass thereby making me lose money. So, to augment the poor sales, I ride okada in the evening,” he lamented.
Almost all the buildings in the estate, except for the newly renovated Navy blocks, have illegal structures attached to them. Interestingly, there are also illegal structures in front of the Federal Housing Authority block of flats, along the 41 Road.
The Nigeria Police blocks are arguably the worst, as illegal structures have taken over all the sorroundings. Parts of the pathway to the Nigeria Airways area look like a ghetto.
A young lady, who gave her name as Kemi Balogun, said that the area was a no-go-area at night, as some bad boys always loiter around the place harassing people, especially small girls. She added that her parents had warned her not to pass there at night, adding that girls got raped often there.
Some of the girls in the area corroborated Balogun’s position. In a nutshell, they stated it was a danger zone for them at night, adding that cult boys congregate there to disturb the peace of the estate.
According to Henry, who is in his late twenties and who was born and brought up in the estate, the estate now has high rate of out of school children, adding that it is only 10 in 100 that go to school.
“In the past before the advent of Yahooyahoo, the kids and the youths of the estate used to go to school but from early 2000, the story has changed, partly because after their secondary and university education, there is no job. I am a graduate myself and I know how difficult it is to find a job.”
He said those majority of who went to school had no jobs, leading to other kids deciding not to go to school n the estate.
Another youth who gave his name as Ayo said, the estate was becoming something else, as cult boys have taken over the estate. According to him, almost every block of the buildings has some bad boys living in them.
“That is how bad it is in this estate. We don’t sleep at night, we hear gunshots almost all night. There are areas you dare not pass at night or sorry will be your name. There are bad boys everywhere. Most of them are into Internet fraud,” he said.
When Daily Sun visited 41 Road that links to Masalachi by Ponle Bus Stop, the road was nothing to write home about. It looked like a canal. It was also learnt that the area is ‘office’ of area boys. Some portions of the road have been taken over by grasses while a section has been turned into a mechanic workshop. Commercial buses are parked indiscriminately even as residents created a small path to the mosque.
In broad daylight, layabouts could be seen in their numbers puffing on cigarretes merrily. They smoke Indian hemp and other substances openly, without a care in the world. They look menacing with their bloodshot eyes and hippy-like attires.
Investigation revealed that residents live in utter fear of the roughnecks. Like Satan, they are always on the prowl, looking for whom to devour. Enveloped in palpable fear, a resident whispered: “I cannot tell you my name or anything about me. These boys are very dangerous; they can do anything. They have nothing to do but smoking all manner of stuff all day long. We actually avoid them because they are deadly. If there is anyway you can help us, please, do.”
A shop owner, who identified himself as Reuben Ade, who does business along the abandoned road said he has been doing business in the area for over 10 years and find it difficult to move due to the condition of th e road and the economic situation.
He said he would have moved to another location if he had the means, as people no longer pass through the road due to its condition.
Said Ade: “Man must survive. I have been doing business here for over 10 years. Can you believe that this is a Federal Government road? You can see the condition of the road; they dug a hole somewhere in the road and abandoned it. Now it has turned into a ditch, it is just about a kilometre road. What will it take the government to repair this road? They are just punishing the people in this area.”
Daily Sun met with the Chairman of the Estate’s Community Development Association (CDA) Mr. Nathaniel Okoro, who has lived in the estate since 1985.
He narrated how peaceful and well maintained the estate used to be in the past and the problems the residents are facing currently. He described the condition of the estate as pathetic.
On what he has done on the condition of the estate, as the CDA chairman, he said he spoke not from the perspective of those who point fingers because he had been there. He stressed that whatever an individual said that the government should do, that individual should play a little part because it is when the person is on a high moral ground that he can blame somebody else for not doing what they are supposed to do.
He said: “We are glad that Governor Ambode came and reconstructed 41 Road but it is only one road. There is another one built in the LCDA but it is not in the estate but links the estate.”
He said 41 Road by Ponle bus stop was the major junction because that is the major entrance to the estate. He added that it led to Egbeda, the market and the gate out of the estate.
Okoro said: “The road that leads to Masalachi also leads to the major road. By stopping where they did, it’s like they have added to the problem instead of giving us a relief because they dug up the road, leading to Masalashi for whatever reason and left it. Now that road is totally blocked and flood has taken it over. So, they have added to the problem on 4th Avenue.”
Your heart will bleed if you move around the 5th and the 3rd Avenues. The roads are broken down completely and needs reconstruction. Also in a sorry state are 51 Road and 411 Road. The 12 Road junction that leads to 3rd Avenue is another road in bad condition. When it rains, one cannot pass through the axis because flood takes over the place.
According to Okoro, the people living around 411 are the worst for it because “all the rain water goes there.” He commended government for fixing 41 Road but like Oliver Twist, he wants some more. “They say that if you praise a wife that cooked local beans for you, next time she will add more ingredients for you. We will say that we are glad for 41 Road but it is too little,” Okoro said.
On the illegal structures scattered over the place with some hanging over high-tension cables, Okoro said the FHA was aware of the illegal structures in the estate and the poor condition of the houses.
Daily Sun noticed that those who were supposed to check the construction of illegal structures are neck deep in it. Right in front of the FHA buildings are illegal structures. In other words, those who are supposed to maintain the law are flagrantly breaking it.
However, when the FHA liaison office in the estate was visited, the place was bushy and about three men were seen at a corner, struggling to start a vehicle. An old man that takes care of the place, who was receiving fresh air outside refused to answer questions. He maintained that he had no authority to entertain questions.
The reporter did not see any recreational centre in the neighbourhood. Offering insight into the matter, Okoro said that the only place known as Kuwait Field that the residents used as recreational centre had been taken over by the Omoniles (land grabbers). He said that the youths wanted to fight with the Omoniles but they were advised against taking the law into their hands.
“Look at an estate of this size, there is no recreational centre and nobody seems to care. The Kuwait field is the only place people used to go for recreational activities. FHA is in court over it but while the matter is still in court, they are busy putting up structures and the government is not doing anything,” Okoro lamented.
He wondered why some people jumped the gun and nothing was done about it while the other party is told to be patient.
He added: “That’s not the way it works. I blame myself partly because the youths were ready to go and challenge them but I advised against it. I told them, let’s report it and see the way it goes because the FHA was in court. I was thinking that since the matter is already in court, everything will be left the way it is until the court makes its pronouncement. But unfortunately, we see them building. At this stage, and at each stage, we informed the FHA. Why is it impossible for the court to tell them to stop?”
On why the local government also abandoned the maintenance of the estate despite collecting dues from shop owners, Okoro said the reason they always gave was that they had no money to carry out any project.
Some of the residents also complained about power supply, saying that since the beginning of this year, they have never slept with electricity.
According to Mr. Tobias Atasie, who is in charge of electricity, the most annoying thing is that their surroundings always have electricity but the feeder that serves Kuwait Gowon Estate North, does not supply power to them any more at night.
Madam Harriet, a fashion designer, regretted that government had forgotten all their electoral promises to the people. She said that while the politicians were campaigning, they claimed that if the same party was returned at the federal and state levels, every problem of the estate would be fixed. “In any case, we are used to the promise and fail of the politicians. I would have been surprised if they acted otherwise,” she noted.
Daily Sun discovered that most of those who originally won the flats by ballot had either sold them or rented them out to other people. Also, most of the flats allocated to parastatals and agencies are now being occupied by people, who have nothing to do with such organisations.