By HENRY OKONKWO and LAWRENCE ENYOHASU
RESIDENTS of Otodo-Gbame, a community in Eti-Osa Local Government area of Lagos State are seething in rage against the state government. They alleged, the Governor Akinwumi Ambode-led government cared less after measles outbreak killed 70 children in the community.
In January, Otodo-Gbame, a sleepy riverside settlement tucked behind highbrow Lekki area was ravaged by the scourge which resulted in the death of scores of children between the ages of 3 and 9 years. The state government, through the Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris attributed the outbreak to the squalid environment of Otodo-Gbame. He further said that the poor sanitary condition attracted diseases to the community.
Mr. Peter Pose is one of the worst hit by the epidemic. He used to be a proud father of five healthy children, now he’s left with only two after his three kids, including his twins, were killed by the measles scourge weeks ago. The tragic experience remains fresh in his mind. “It’s a sad memory for me and my family,” he recalls. “I lost three children; in three weeks. Each died one week after the other. When their sickness began, we thought it was just a minor ailment. We took them to the community clinic. When we got there and saw other parents complaining of similar ailment affecting their children. I had to sell all my property in order to save the children but all to no avail. Up till this time, the remaining two boys are asking after their brothers.”
Another victim, Mrs. Rose Edun lost two children in a space of two days. And up till today, she mourns their death. Amid tears, she asked to be left alone even as she begged government to come to their aid to assist them raise her remaining children in the community. “These questions will not bring my children back to me. All I want from the government is for them to help us keep my other child alive, in a safe and sound environment.”
But for some other residents, the state government should be held culpable for the death of their children. According to the community chairman, Hon. Hennu Solomon Akangelu, the state government should be held liable for the death of the children. Solomon told Saturday Sun that failure by government to immunize their children against measles and other deadly child killer virus was the major cause of the plague.
“Government representatives came here and took samples of the water and sand. But I’m surprised that they indicted us saying that the measles outbreak was as a result of the water we drink here. That is not true at all because they are hiding from their irresponsibilities. Before the incident, World Health Organisation (WHO) had foreseen and warned that there was going to be outbreak of measles. They ordered countries to carry out vaccination of the children but our children in Otodo-Gbame were left out of the exercise. So, when the measles broke out, my people were caught unaware. That was why many of our children died”, he alleged. measles broke out, my people were
Residents also blamed government for being responsible for the pollution of their waters. They speculate that the degradation of the aquatic environment was another factor that was responsible for the death of the children. They pointedly blamed the incident on the dredging activities taking place at the seas resulting in the pollution of their waters. They complained bitterly that their waters have been poisoned by environmental degradation taking place via dredging of the waters.
Speaking, Solomon disclosed that the state government indicted itself when it accused the community of living in a deplorable environment. “Our children died partly because of the dredging going on in the community’s shore. Our waters have been poisoned and turned to breeding ponds for diseases. We have called for help over this. We have written to the federal government agencies; our women have gone to Alausa to protest over this issue. Meanwhile, dredging is still going on even during holidays,” the community leader alleged.
Even though dredging was said to have been suspended in the area, Saturday Sun four heavy machineries suspected to be dredging equipment looming large at the seashore. “Recently they called us to the stakeholders meeting. There we agreed they suspend dredging until due process takes place. But Lekki Gardens is still dredging. DDI is dredging. And they do so without due process which is having adverse effect on us,” Solomon stated.
According to Hon. Solomon, dredging in the area is done without the recommended Environmental Impact Assessment (E.I.A). “Hence dredgers scour the seas with no care on the effects on the riverside communities. And because government did not take proper cognisance of the environment, it led to the outbreak of the measles. Because of the waters’ inability to flow freely, it remains stagnant, thus creating a habitat to breed different germs that could metamorphose into measles. In dredging, there must be a channel where the toxic water flows through, but that’s not the case.
The toxic water is flowing back to the bank of the river close to the community. This has led to the loss of aquatic life which leads to sabotage of the economy of Otodo-Gbame. The general occupation of our people is fishing. Ninety nine percent of the people are fishermen but dredging is killing their source of livelihood.”
After the death of the children, Lagos State government pledged to protect Otodo-Gbame slum with strategic plans, including proper sanitation and orientation among members of the community. Meanwhile, more than two months after the promise, the community still grope in neglect.
Drinkable water is a precious commodity in Otodo-Gbame settlement. Saturday Sun gathered that residents travel by boat to Yaba on the mainland to get drinkable water which they sell to residents of the community. For instance, two litres of water sell for as much as N10. “It is expensive but it is the cheapest method we can afford,” one the resident told our reporters.
The only existing, presentable edifice, a clinic owned by a staffer of the local government is more like a structure put up for extortion. According to residents, their community donated a two-room building to the government to start up a health post. But nothing has been done on this. “It was the NGOs that came to our rescue. They brought drugs and saved our children. The community feels betrayed. The local government that can’t give us a health post, yet their Medical Health officer, (name withheld), came to the community and established a health facility in the community for commercial purpose. You can’t be in government health service and be running your own private hospital. Even when the measles was ravaging us, he didn’t raise any alarm. He came on his own to treat people for money. It was after we cried out that he brought his people from the local government area. He knew that the community was recording a high rate of child mortality arising from measles attacks, but he never raised the alarm”, the community leader further alleged.
Effort to get the reactions of the Lagos State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Jide Idris proved abortive as Saturday Sun was told severally he was not on seat. The commissioner could not be reached on phone, neither had he responded to the questions sent to him. Meanwhile, an official in his ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that government had not commented on the questions posed to it because Otodo-Gbame community had dragged the state and the dredging company to court.