Sad tales of slums tucked between upscale Lagos Island neighbourhoods
By Tessy Igomu
Seething with anger, Kola stared angrily at a chauffeur-driven Range Rover, as it glided past his ramshackle, makeshift home. His home, if you would call it a home, lay among the many shacks located in a slum opposite the Lekki Homes on Lagos Island.
Even though what separated his abode from the posh estate was just a terrace road that terminated just by a waterlogged footpath that served as entrance to his community, he hardly ventured from his squalid environment to the estate.
Bemoaning the life of squalor and extreme want he lived, despite being a neighbour to the rich and famous residents in the estate, Kola was irked that despite priding himself as a Lekki resident, he knew he was no better than a refugee.
A city and its contradictions
Moored along the Lagos Lagoon shoreline, for as far as the eyes could see, are weather-beaten canoes, which had become rough around the edges from years of rigorous dredging trips as well as consistent battering by the elements.
Daily, the boats, powered by wind and propelled with sails made of rice sacks, are tugged out to the lagoon by half-naked muscular local sand miners.
With athletic agility, they dive deep into the waters and emerge moments later with buckets of sand, which they empty inside the boats. When the boats are filled up, they return to the shore and empty the boats. Then they return to the waters. After the day’s work, they tug their canoes home. This they dangerously do daily for a pittance, to survive against all odds.
Ironically, not far away, in a manner akin to mocking the efforts of the men, giant, mechanical dredgers were at work. Docked and looming larger than life, they furiously spew massive volumes of sand sucked from the lagoon floor. Effortlessly, the machines mount giant sand dunes that would probably take the itinerant local sand miners years to scoop with buckets, one at a time.
Still on the brackish waters of the Lagos Lagoon, sitting and idling away, are luxury yachts, beautifully dancing to the rhythm of the waters. Their presence was quite a contrast to the rustic sights of the fishermen, paddling away and casting their nets into the Lagos Lagoon.
These idyllic scenes are a part of the daily Lagos scenery. It captures Lagos, a city of aquatic splendour, a chugging engine of growth, opportunities and contradictions. It is a city of realities, challenges and possibilities. Lagos is the city of the breathtaking lagoon where half-clad fishermen paddle all day to earn a living.
Slums and more
Besides the glamour, Lagos is also a sprawling city of countless slums that are home to millions of people. At the heart of Lagos are its islands, which are home to banks, high-rise buildings and high-brow serene estates inhabited by the crème de la crème of the society. The roads are tarred with manicured greenery.
Lagos is where you’ll find exquisite and affluent neighbourhoods like Victoria Garden City, Banana Island, Victoria Island, Ikoyi, Lekki and Ajah.
But these posh estates, in most cases, sit next to slums. And they are quite many. Places like Bamboo Estate, Agungi, Marwa, Otodo Gbame, Jakande Low-cost Housing Estate and many more are mere shantytowns. Many of the estates even share fences with the most appalling settlements.
While the rich behind the high walls with barbed wires live in opulence, those in the shacks nearby barely struggle to survive. It is a case of two extremes.
In these slums, life pulsates with a different beat. Families are crammed like sardines into shanties and contraptions hastily built out of necessity, with no consideration for comfort. Here, the idea of privacy appears a joke, as one person’s backyard leads to the front of another’s apartment.
Here also, residents can practically shop for their basic needs and feed within their means in shacks that pass off as canteens.
Each day, slum dwellers witness how their next door neighbours swim in affluence while they drown in penury and squalor.
And the rich take over
Apparently seething in anger and speaking to no one in particular, a resident of one of the slums, Austin (not real name), rued the gradual takeover of his settlement by the rich. For over 20 years, he has been a resident of Bamboo Estate at Ikota, Ajah, in Eti-Osa Local Government Area. His abode is among the existing popular slums, sticking out like a sore thumb in the area.
He was forced to relocate to the slum to avoid the economic pressure of the city, especially as his family swelled by the numbers, he informed the reporter.
Austin, who sells in the traffic to make a living, informed that he shared a room with his three siblings and seven children. After his eviction from the erstwhile Maroko where hundreds of people lost their homes, he was forced to erect a derelict wooden structure to serve as home for his family. With no money to provide other necessary basic amenities, he said the shack also served as kitchen for the family while the family’s waste and raw sewage are channelled directly into the murky waters that run just behind his abode.
Long before now, it was unthinkable that a place like Bamboo Estate would experience massive invasion by many rich Nigerians. The estate shares close proximity with Chevron Estate; a place described as a playground for the rich.
But right now, that is a reality that the likes of Austin are forced to live with.
Living in Bamboo Estate is close to living at the precipice of hell. It also shares similar characteristics with various resettlement centres within the area that house evictees from 52 villages in the long-forgotten Maroko.
At the moment, however, private estates with terraced roads, leading to them are increasingly sprouting around these slums. This, Daily Sun gathered, is happening because of the increasing quest for lands. The rich are massively invading Bamboo Estate, consistently and brutally uprooting the poor from the areas hitherto left as wasteland suitable only for the impoverished residents of Lagos. This is further fuelled by the population boom in Lagos, which has inadvertently increased the demand for housing.
And so, in those places where only shanties once stood, luxurious apartments are springing up, thus chasing away the slums.
However, the slum dwellers have remained obstinate. They are not ready to relinquish their hold. They are fighting the perceived threat of having their areas totally taken over by the invaders. Part of their attempt to hold on to their prized jewel is by retreating inwards to reclaim new territories.
Now, that is how, like Siamese twins, luxury and squalor have come to sit side by side in some places in Lagos.
A visit to any of these slums tucked in between gleaming mansions is like taking a journey into another world. One is instantly hit by sights of crammed shacks built with wood, sheets of tarpaulin and polythene, rusted corrugated iron sheets that serve as homes to teeming families. The contraptions, which are poorly ventilated, sit on absolutely sordid environments. Children are bred and raised there.
Most of the slums sitting close to posh neighbourhoods have their houses so close to one another that entire communities would be razed in case of a fire outbreak. And these slums lack basic infrastructure like health centres.
Poverty amid opulence
Sitting close to the exquisite Victoria Garden City on Lagos Island is the Ikota Housing Estate in Eti-Osa Local Government. Placed side by side with this neighbourhood that houses the rich and affluent, Ikota appears like a misnomer. For a first time visitor, it would be hard to believe that such a place exists in such a reputable environment. In the estate, social amenities and good roads are absent. What abounds in copious quantities is filth and drainage systems, overflowing with waste.
Looking incongruous yet conspicuous among the strips of malls, urban homes and other emerging developments in Lekki is the Otodo Gbame community. A recent visit to this old fishing community revealed a people surrounded by riches but living in abject squalor. Right before the real estate boom, this community was spread across the landscape. But today it has been reduced to just a few disorganised rows of rust-covered houses, standing on stilts above the lagoon and on marshy ground.
Here, residents practically live, sleep, wake, eat and procreate amid waste and garbage. Having lived there for a long time, some of them appear less concerned about the health dangers posed by the dirty environment. This nonchalant attitude, however, was to blame for the outbreak of measles that claimed the lives of 70 children between the ages of three and nine early this year.
In Otodo Gbame, the dream of having a good road network remains a pipe dream. Daily, residents are left with the choice of navigating labyrinths of filths and murky water to get to the tarred, interlocked roads serving the rich.
Dredging activities, Daily Sun was told by the residents, had inflicted years of suffering and hardship on the community. Even at the moment, it still threatens their existence.
According to a member of the community, the dredging had caused water from the main lagoon to stop flowing freely to and from their community. This, he disclosed, was responsible for the repugnant stench that pervaded the area when the reporter visited the place.
“The dredging has made water from the main lagoon to stop flowing freely to and from our community. We can’t fish again within this place unless we go deep into the lagoon. The odour from the now stagnant water overwhelms the senses, such as we never experienced before now. It is also affecting our health and also caused the disease that killed many of the children in our community. We have written letters to the state government and have also protested. We are just managing to survive here,” he lamented.
For these slum dwellers, getting water to drink remains a big challenge, as they have to travel by boat to Yaba on the mainland to purchase water. A two-litre container costs N10.
For most of Otodo Gbame residents, the state government had simply refused to recognise their existence. This they alleged, explained the absence of any form of social amenity in the area even though the residents are surrounded by opulence and grandeur.
Amid all these, Otodo Gbame dwellers have tenaciously held on to what they described as their last holdouts amid the burgeoning real estate frenzy. They have vowed to protect their ancestral homes at all cost, yet, they daily live with the gnawing fear of constant attacks by urchins allegedly unleashed on them by landowners and estate developers out to make brisk cash from land sales.
Another settlement in the Lekki axis is Marwa. For the rich and middle income earners resident in the axis, the sprawling settlement poses both security and health risks due to the unhealthy lifestyle of the dwellers.
Though the filth and gripping poverty can only be seen as one ventures past the Second Round-about bus stop, it becomes quite unbelievable that such absurd style of living still thrives amid the magnificent real estate development around. Here, environmental rules are brazenly flouted, even as families live without a hope for the future. The shanties and shacks made of large pieces of nylon twined to wooden poles and stuck in the white, beach-like sand, also serve as homes to all sorts of social misfits, especially street urchins, drug addicts and prostitutes.
Fear of ejection
Interestingly, the reporter was told that the place also accounts for the many children seen on the streets of Lagos Island, meandering through heavy traffic to beg and clean car windshields. Like their Otodo Gbame counterparts, they also daily live in fear of eviction by property owners and enforcement agencies.
A prominent member of the community that wouldn’t want his name in print, said fears of forcible ejection, risk of being knocked down by speeding vehicles while crossing the busy highway as well as fears that their kids might disappear mysteriously are factors that have prevented most parents in the area from enrolling their wards in school.
Not far from Marwa is the Jakande Low-Cost Housing Estate, by the Roundabout Bus Stop in the Ajah area. The estate was among the many that sprang up due to the failures of federal and states government to provide affordable housing for the people. But with several illegal shacks taking over every available space, this novel idea has been defeated. Now, the place has become a notorious Lagos slum.
Across the slum, filth and murky waters have taken over the roads. The picture that confronts a visitor is that of total decay, dilapidation and complete neglect. Most of the buildings have roofs that have either blown off or have caved in, while the estates drainages are filled with refuse indiscriminately dumped by residents. Confronted with a collapsed central sewage system, residents are forced to do the needful; discharge waste into the open drainage system. The place looks more like a glorified refugee camp than an estate.
What has unwittingly become a lifestyle for some ladies here, and which the residents are kicking against, is prostitution. Commercial sex workers with daring business-like attitude dominate the entrance to the estate. They also brazenly ply their trade in the day, with pockets of them sighted, soliciting customers in-between the shacks that indiscriminately lined the estate.
Ironically, like other slums in this axis, the estate is also surrounded on all sides by upscale developments.
For Richard Uzor, who lives in one of the estate’s shacks, each time he sees how the rich live a comfortable lifestyle, he feels sad. For him, while the rich have everything within their reach, they on the other hand, live like paupers.
For him, the inequality and gap between the rich and the poor is far and needs to be bridged to avert the consequences of possible hate crime, brewing among slum dwellers.
“No be the same world we come. For here, we dey live with thieves, prostitutes, bed bugs, rats and mosquitoes. Any time rain fall, water go full everywhere. The only thing na to pray to God. We go continue to pray because na bondage we dey live,” he said in smattering English.
For Funsho Awoniyi, a town planner, the slums will remain an integral part of Lagos life and an end to such settlements might just not be in sight.
He explained that the existence of slums was a combination of several socio-economic and security factors, posed by poverty. Poverty, he said, has to do with lack of job, finance, infrastructure, social amenities and other things that make life better for the citizenry.
He stressed that the wrong manner at which slums were being dealt with in time past, particularly the forceful relocation of residents, especially in the case of Maroko residents in the early 90’s, aided the proliferation of slums in Lagos. The existence of slums, he warned, portended danger due to its ability to be a fertile ground for crime and criminality.
“The slums located on the Island, especially those in the Ajah-Lekki axis, are the fallout of the wrongful solution employed by the military in dealing with the Maroko situation. Today, Ajah has become another Maroko, with the tendencies that informed the demolition of that once vibrant community now more pronounced in the place. What we have now are slum-like communities existing in abject want. In these places wastes are channelled directly into the drain. Daily, people keep migrating from villages to the city-centre, without adequate understanding of the realities on ground. There is the need for a more practical approach to dealing with this distressing reality,” Awoniyi said.