It is a hell-on-earth place to live. In Itoki, a border town in Ogun State, there is virtually nothing that gives the residents, both landlords and tenants, joy. Daily life is characterized by endless suffering arising from lack of infrastructure, abject neglect by government and non-responsiveness of utility service providers.
The town has a storied history. Prince Funsho Adewodun recalled its halcyon days when it was the centre of trade in the old Agbado Railway axis.
“It was the centre of farm produce. It was the meeting point for all crowned kings in Ogun State. It was a place where once all old kings of the South West used to meet. Itoki is a gateway town to other countries, with a direct route to Porto Novo and onward to Cotonou, both in the Republic of Benin. Locally, it is a stone throw to Lagos State. It was once a beautiful place,” Prince Adewodun reminisced.
All that the Prince rhapsodized about are old glories. The town is presently languishing in great penury, stricken by the poverty of infrastructure and social amenities, giving rise to a dire situation that forced many homeowners and tenants to abandon their accommodation and relocate to other areas.
From Segun Osoba Road, the entrance to the town from Lagos State, the road was an eyesore. Most houses in Ope Ilu, the first community, have been demolished to pave way for road construction that remains uncompleted after many years. In Olaogun and Jafa, where the construction has not reached, you’d find able-bodied young men waiting at the roadside, like beasts of burden, they bear commuters on their bareback across the cross a canal of water. For their service, they take a fee. At Lemode, Sharp Corner and others, residents pray hard that it never rains.
The last time the town enjoyed dividends of democracy was during the tenure of Governor Gbenga Daniel. Prince Adewodun recalled: “It was a period of prosperity and people moved into the area with cars.”
The problem stemmed from the road construction abandoned halfway when a railway project started. Both projects, ironically, handled by the same contractor.
The project was started in 2012 by Governor Ibikunle Amosun, the immediate past governor of the state. Now, it has been taken over by the incumbent governor, Dapo Abiodun.
“We did not enjoy any dividends from the last governor,” Adewodun reiterated.
Prince Adewodun categorically stated that the incumbent governor of the state, Prince Dapo Abiodun had shown up for them in the past when he personally provided money to sand-fill some parts of the road close to Agbado crossing. “We can’t forget what the governor has done. There was a time he brought sands to fill some parts of the road that were terrible to pass. He did this immediately he was sworn in and we believe he could do more for us. Prior to his assumption of office, we have not felt much love from the state government which should not be so. We need Governor Dapo Abiodun to come to our aid,” he stated.
Frequent loss of life
People frequently hear of someone who fell from commercial motorcycles and sustained grave injuries or death. There are other types of plagues in the town. Narrating some of the ordeals, Mrs Elizabeth Clement, lamented how her family lost a huge fortune because they invested so much in the town’s real estate.
“We moved into this area since 1999. And for 12 years, erosion has been a pain in the neck. Our last tenant moved out a week after they parked in. They had just had a naming ceremony for their first son when the town was hit by a heavy downpour. The couple lost their baby to the flood and they moved out in anger. I could not hold them down because they also lost properties. If you look beyond the house, other houses have a similar problem; all the homeowners have abandoned their houses to become tenants in other places,” she stated.
The Clements house was located at Abule, a bungalow permanently submerged in a pool of stagnant water. A drove of egrets can be seen feeding in the pond surrounding the house.
Abileko Omotoyosi Ayuba, who resides at Gateway Sharp Corner CDA narrated a pathetic story of a friend who lost her life and her unborn child. Because the community lacked a medical centre, pregnant women either attend antenatal at Ifo, at the cost of a horrible four-hour drive or register at a hospital along Segun Osoba Road. Concisely, the two choices were like between the devil and the deep blue sea.
“From January to this month, I have seen two pregnant women die on this road. The first one was because the vehicle she was being conveyed with broke down on the road. While the husband was making an effort for an alternative when she fainted inside the car and died. The other incident happened a week ago. The victim was popularly known as Iya Joshua. She died because she abandoned her car to take a bike to the bus stop. Two weeks ago, when rain fell, a 12-year-old boy was almost washed away by the flood at Tipper Garage through Lemode and Abule.”
She concluded with her predicament: “My tenants don’t stay in their flats in the raining season. They move out and return during the dry season.”
A town of retirees
Itoki is majorly inhabited by senior citizens, people who after retiring used their life savings to erect a single building to serve as their resting place. They wanted to live away from the hustle and bustle of Lagos, but not too far away.
One of them is a British Airways retiree, Godwin Adeoye Bamgbopa. He was a victim of the town’s poor road network, having lost his cars to bumpy roads. He also missed out from so many things because he could barely afford to fill his generator. The octogenarian said he is poor because his house has not been rented since the past five years when the last tenant packed out.
“I have lived here since 1997. It is the only house I built while I was working. I retired in 2000. I can’t work or do anything. I don’t think I can raise money to rent a house otherwise I would gladly move elsewhere,” he lamented.
Bamgbopa reconstructed the agony of living in Itoki: “If you are going to Ijaye, or Lagos, you need to first manoeuvre through Fagba, that is a two-hour drive, a distance of about seven kilometres. If they can build a flyover from Itoki to Ajegunle, it will serve us well. We can’t drive our cars more than two times a week and not visit the mechanic. I felt like a fool recently. I went to Agbado on a Thursday to buy some foodstuff but I didn’t see anything to buy because I didn’t know that the government had ordered a closure of the market. I didn’t have the information because there was no light to listen to the news.”
Another retiree, Prince Ilesanmi Ajimokunola, a chartered accountant, resides at Sharp Corner. He has spent 23 years in the suburbia. Some of his friends had died, he claimed, when their houses were demolished, others from the erosion inadvertently channelled to their homes by construction activities on the road.
“Erosion has sent some people to their grave,” he stated matter-of-factly. “My next-door neighbours and friends have abandoned their houses to rent apartments elsewhere. One of them told me that the road virtually spoilt all his cars; instead of him to be buying cars every year, he should pack out. I am no longer expecting people to knock on my door for business again. Our apartments have been put up for sale or rent for donkey years, yet, we have not seen anyone showing interest.”
Only three transformers served the entire Itoki town. One is located close to an electricity company’s office at the entrance of the town. The second is at Sharp Corner at Al Maruf Street while the third one is located at Lemode market. These three transformers serve the town of about 40,000 houses. It was not surprising to hear Makinde Kayode’s affirmation of frequent skirmishes over whose turn it was to have light or not.
According to Kayode, one of the leaders of a group of CDAs (Sharp Corner Gateway, Sharp Corner CDA, Imodoye and City of God): “The CDAs share the same transformer and this has been the source of grudges. When they put on the transformer, I might have a light but others won’t have because they live further away and the strength of the transformer can’t cover the entire area. Some areas are permanently on low current.”
Caught in the cross-fire
The tragedy of Itoki can be summed up by the proverb: “Where two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” Residents believed the town bears the brunt of the tug-of-war between the federal and state governments. Architect Soji Onayemi posited: “The state government probably abandoned the project because the federal government wished to handle it. Either way, we are the ones suffering now. It is high time governments agreed and bring respite to the town.”
In their little ways, the residents had, at some time, taken the fight to the government. Segun Adediran, a resident told Saturday Sun how he once accosted Governor Ibikunle Amosun.
“I stopped Governor Amosun two years ago here at Rema Bus Stop in Lemode community. We had a 30-minute discussion before he directed me to one Adebayo Ekun, who introduced me to one Mr Chen, the MD of the Chinese company constructing the road.”
Adediran claimed the community will get its own back at the appropriate time. Hear him: “Ogun State government has always treated us as outsiders. Election time will come again. We have the largest vote in the whole state. We have plans for them.”