James Ojo Adakole
On a drab Thursday afternoon in June, Edith Bernard, 13, slung her life jacket across her chest and sauntered through a jetty off Apapa area with her friends to board a boat conveying people to Snake Island, a suburb in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area of Lagos State.
It was 3:30pm. Edith and her friends looked frail in their school uniforms, apparently exhausted by the rigorous academic exercise they had gone through in their school during the day. But they had a long distance to cover before thinking of resting. The three girls attend school in Lagos metropolis and as such, shuttle between the island and the city on school days using boat, the only means of transportation to the community.
“This is just the beginning of our journey,” Edith told Sunday Sun, suggesting the difficulty in frequenting the island and the city every day. “We are always scared whenever we are in the boat because anything can happen. That was why our parents bought us these lifejackets to help us in case of any eventuality. But we are a bit calm now compared to the past,” she added.
“We normally leave home by 6:30 am so as to meet up with the school. My first day in the boat was rough for me. But I as time went on, I got used to it,” disclosed Angela, Edith’s friend.
Like Edith and her friends, residents of Snake Island brace the odds to carry out their daily activities in Lagos metropolis, shutting their hearts against possible mishap that may occur as they ride in the boat. Sunday Sun visited the island and found out that there was no road linking the community to other parts of the metropolis, except through water.
The journey to Snake Island begins from the jetty at Coconut Bus Stop, located along the ever-bustling Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. To get to the city, the residents use either wooden or fibre boats powered by outboard engines. Wooden boat operators charge passengers N100 while a chartered of fibre boat costs about N1000 for 15 passengers.
When Sunday Sun visited the area, the island was relatively calm. As the passengers alight from the boats expectant commercial motorcyclists greet them, hoping that they would be hired. The island has two government owned schools namely: Local Authority Primary School, Igbologun and Igologun Secondary School, which comprises Junior and Senior schools respectively. Most teachers who work in the schools come from Lagos metropolis.
Aside schools, the island is home to Niger Dock, a shipyard. Swathes of land in the area lie idle, taken over by bushes. There are also churches, few hotels and a police station on the Island.
Chief Amisu Alao Gegeyawo, Baale of Igbologun, one of the communities that make up the island, explained how the island derived its name.
He said: “Why they named this area Snake Island was because of its snaky shape on the map. As for Igbologun, it derived that name because the person who first stepped on this place was a soldier who fought at Awule. So, when other people who came consequently to settle down here met a warrior, they named it warrior land. So, it is called that way because soldiers were the first occupants of this area.”
Also commenting on the historical formation of the Island, Chief Liasu Modiu-Dosunmo, the Baale of Oke-Medu, another community on the island said: “In those days during the World War, that rattled various parts of the world, history has it then that a warrior went to war while returning from the war front, he could not locate his way, so he decided to settle down here, which was then a thick forest. So, when he died, those around decided to name the place it after the person. So that was why it was called Igbo-Ologun, which means ‘forest of warriors.’ Some people also called this snake island, but it is not because there are snakes here. It is because of its snake-like shape. We don’t have any other occupation than fishing, farming and hunting. Those are the ancestral occupations of those who first settled here. My father for instance was a great and renowned hunter, so when he died, I took over from him. That was what we were doing before civilization came and our children started getting education.”
Sunday Sun investigation in the area revealed that the island lacks good roads connecting the various communities that make up the place. Majority of the roads are not tarred, making it difficult for motorcyclists to navigate due to their swampy nature.
On the various challenges confronting the community, Chief Amisu today Sunday Sun: “In this community, we need good roads, pipe-borne water because the water surrounding this area is not good for consumption. What we do most times is to boil water before drinking it. We also have issue of epileptic power supply. We have been in darkness for a about four days now with no hope of getting light back anytime soon.”
On his expectations from Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Amisu said: “We are expecting many things from the governor. We want this area to be developed and like you know, when they want to develop any place, they put many things into consideration, especially those that the common man can benefit from. We need roads connecting this community to other parts of Lagos. Anytime we are going out, we normally use boat which is not really safe. Had it been we have a bridge that would have been good. Most people here will never think of buying cars because there is no road to ply. If there were roads we would not be riding on water. So, we really need a road linking this area to the town. We also need streetlights. Therefore, we need so many things.”
On his part Chief Dosunmo observed that the area’s present state was due to lack of basic amenities on the island. He went to further to allege that successive governments have neglected the area, only remembering that people there just before the election cycles.
“This community has been like this because there is no road. That has been our plea and tussle with the Amuwo Odofin Local Government. Now, they brought a bill called ‘Land Use Charge recently and asked us to pay. Yet they are not doing anything tangible for us in this area that could encourage us to pay all the levies slammed on us. The only significant thing we got from them a primary and secondary schools. But should that be the only thing we can boast of as a whole community, in spite of our various efforts in the state and nation building? We vote even inside sun and even when it is raining. So, despite all our efforts, we are not elevated the way we should, especially in Okemedu Area. In other areas, there are lots of things, but there is nothing to show for our numerous sacrifices. They only come here to beg us for vote. Is that what we are going to eat? We want to see our children being given sound education, that is one of the things we want the government to attend to.
“Also, we don’t have good water and good toilets. What then can we say the government has done for us that we would live to remember? If possible, we want a university here which our people can also lay claim to. The Lagos State University situated at Ojo, Lagos, was part of efforts of my father and the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s struggles. But despite my father’s sacrifices alongside other people, our children don’t have access to any of those things. Let our children also gain admission into the school. My father really tried, but what is our gain now? We need to enjoy all basic amenities that other areas are benefiting from too. Those are our pleas to the governor of Lagos State.”