By Job Osazuwa, Sarah Akinlose and Ifeoluwa Lawal
With undiluted excitement, the children busied themselves playing in the murky waters. The other kids, no less elated, careened down the garbage-infested streets at full speed, giggling and weaving between chickens, goats and mangy dogs.
At first sight, they looked a happy lot, living in peace in their tranquil environment. But the children and their parents, numbering over 1,000, live in a repugnant, sordid slum. With no identifiable name of its own, the slum is spread along the banks of a canal that separates the Mazamaza neighbourhood from Monkey Village in the Agboju area between Oriade Local Council Development Area and Apapa Local Government Area of Lagos State. It is a sprawling, swamp settlement mostly built from materials cast off by the rest of the city.
The settlement has no particular address, but everyone in the area knows the place. It is inhabited by people from different parts of the country. Cramped alleyways and mishmash structures, all on the water, dot the landscape like mushrooms.
The buildings are made with bamboo sticks, and virtually all the roofs leak. The residents have their own canteens, provision stores and other small-scale businesses. There are also streets, if you would call them that, and footpaths linking the numerous shanties.
As Daily Sun dashed down some narrow paths in the community on a Thursday morning, amid an overarching stench in the air, many of the residents went about their duties normally. Most of the shanties had their doors open, even though the residents were not around.
A resident, Mr. Loveday Opia, led the reporters through a narrow passage, one of the many entrances to the slum. After a couple of minutes, he turned a corner and extended his arm towards a hut, “This is my house.”
The ‘house’ was built on planks and bamboo stilts and a dark river flowed slowly underneath.
Opia said he wasn’t unperturbed by the dirty environment, but it was the only place he could afford.
He noted that the slum was beginning to witness some development. Boreholes have been sunk by some of the new landlords, he said: “My wife is inside sleeping. I am managing here for now. I came here in 2007, and gave birth to my two children here in this house. This land belongs to my boss and he is living in the United States. I am the person taking care of it. We rented out some of the portions to a church.
“I will soon move out of here so that my children will be safe. In this kind of place, anything can happen. I can survive it but I am afraid for my kids.”
Moving around the community was not an easy task. On many occasions, one had to cross several dark streams to reach different areas of the slum.
Churches compete for space
On Yaya Street, leading to a section of the canal towards Mile Two, there was a new church, St. Stephen’s Catholic Parish. Many of the people in the slum came out to participate in the church’s Thursday Mass, which commenced at 6am.
But Ogu Street, which opened to a very notorious part of the slum, is where the churches are located, all practically competing for the residents’ souls. They include Gate of Heaven Healing Ministries International; Assemblies of God Church; The Apostolic Church; God’s Favour International Deliverance Ministry; Kingdom Wealth Ministry International and Christ Apostolic Church.
When the reporters visited, a young man in his late 20s quietly sat at a corner, puffing smoke into the sky. When one of the reporters greeted him, he stared at the cigarette in-between his left index and middle fingers and chuckled. His expression was neither here nor there. Then he gave a vague description when one of the reporters further engaged him about meandering his way around the neighbourhood.
A walk further through Ogu Street to another side of the slum led the reporters to the front of a shack where about seven youths sat, smoking marijuana. It was learnt that smoking was a daily pastime for men young men in the area, an early morning ritual for the men before they go to their various places of work.
Mansions in a slum
Ironically, the shacks are scattered amid some giant buildings in the repulsive environment. Daily Sun found out that some rich folks had acquired plots near the canal and were able to fill them with sand before putting up some exquisite buildings. Some of the buildings were two or three-storeys high. The rich landlords graded their roads to their doorsteps and pushed the water further into the shanties, thereby compounding the woes of the less-privileged.
Also living around the slum, although his home is on solid ground, was Mr. Obi Linvinus. He said his late father legally acquired the land from the Lagos Government, where he built the house that Obi inherited from him four years ago.
Living with snakes, crocodiles
Mr. Opia, from Delta State, said when he got to the area in 2007, it was a thick forest abandoned by the state government and the people.
“Only a few people were here at that time. On many occasions, big snakes would come out from the river and enter my house. There was a time a big snake swallowed my dog and my neighbours’ fowls. But now, we see small snakes. I kill them before they disappear into the water. But when I’m not at home, my wife and children would only shout (to scare them off) without killing the reptiles,” he said.
Another resident, Mr. Afolabi Moses, said he saw a crocodile last year in front of his house and he quickly raised the alarm, but that the animal backed into the water before anyone could reach it.
Open defecation reigns
In these settlements, open defecation is the order. The canal is at the mercy of faeces and other nauseating wastes.
At every corner, one sees children, two to 10 years in age, defecating either on the water or in the nearby bush. The river serves as a toilet for most residents, it also serves as the major source of water for most residents.
For most of the adults, they defecate in a bowl or a plastic bag inside their shanties before hurling the rubbish into the water, Daily Sun gathered.
Confirming this, Opia said: “There is no toilet in this community, except for few people that recently built standard houses. Since 2007, I have been using the river. But there is one new building near my house; when it is completed, its standard septic tank will serve the rest of us.”
Mrs. Uchenna Victoria, another resident, was asked whether she was aware of the health implications of living in a slum, especially for her children, but she shrugged, as if to say, so what! She noted that she was poor and would not steal to rent a better house, but it was not her children’s portion to contact any infection.
Her words: “We pay very a small amount as rent here. I pay yearly, but, at times, I beg my landlord and he allows me to stay for some months free. It is not easy staying here because this is not the kind of house I prayed for when I left my village many years ago. My husband’s job can hardly feed us. He is paid on a daily basis, but there are days he won’t have any job to do. Then what else do I do? If God answers our prayer, we will soon leave here.”
Speaking on the health hazards for people who live in such an environment, a Lagos-based Consultant Public Health Physician, Mrs. Bola Olusola-Faleye, told Daily Sun that the children were prone to malaria, worm infestation, malnutrition, diarrhoea and other infectious diseases.
She averred that it was only poverty that would compel many people to live in such places and warned that childhood mortality was usually a consequence of such filthy habitats. She explained that death in children under the age of five was usually rampant in most slums.
“In such places, residents lack potable water and proper hygiene. You see children playing with their bare feet in the sand and in water. There is lack of hand-washing. Stunted growth is common there because intestinal worms disturb normal child development.
“Mosquitoes breed permanently there. There are bacteria and other viruses in slums, which predisposeß the occupants to different diseases. The best way to overcome all these health dangers is to relocate from such an environment,” Olusola-Faleye said.