By AYO ALONGE ([email protected])
like what happened to Maroko, a sprawling slum demolished in 1990, during the regime of Col Raji Rasaki as military governor of Lagos State, Otodo Gbame, a shanty community in the Lekki axis of the state was reduced to rubble a few days ago.
In the same way that Maroko grew at the fringe of Victoria Island, long before Lekki was conceived and developed into a swanky residential estate for the rich and powerful, Otodo Gbame sprang up as shanty community for the downtrodden in the society on the periphery of the several upperclass estates being developed in Lekki axis.
The demolition exercise left hundreds of people, men, women, children and teenagers like Mary, stranded and homeless. The 15-year-old came from school to find her home demolished. Under the mango tree, where Sunday Sun reporter found her taking shelter from the scorching heat of the sun, she cut a perfect picture of agony, unsure of where to lay her head at night, exposed to the torment of the elements. But in it all, what came across as the reporter beheld her is a stoic attitude even in the face of the devastation her family has experienced. Like some other victims of the demolition who have steeled themselves and seem to have accepted the misfortune that befell them and are trying to pick up the shards of their broken lives, Mary’s major desire is that the government would somehow implement a palliative measure to cushion the shock of the demolition.
Stepping through the rubble, the reporter walked towards Mary, for a brief chat, as she sat under the mango tree, still in her uniform. And this conversation ensued…
“Hello Mary, how are you today?”
“I am fine,” she replied in a rather reluctant manner.
“How was school today?” Sunday Sun correspondent continued.
“School was fine but they have demolished our house. I have nowhere to go. Please, help us. Our house has been demolished. Please tell the government to help us.” Even as she was prodded, Mary refused to disclose the name of her school. Instead, she tilted her head down, and buried it between her drawn up knees, effectively signaling her loss of interest in a further conversation. What could be going through her mind?
Pan across the landscape of the rubble, and zoom in on family of three similarly made homeless by the demolition exercise, which a Lagos based human rights group, Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), said was done by the Lagos State Government in defiance of a court which ordered that the demolition be put on hold.
For 32-year-old Jokebed Igor, his wife, Happiness and two-year-old son, Chris, life has become bleak. Igor who narrated his ordeal to the reporter disclosed that he had not been working for a long time, adding that his wife, a food vendor, had been bearing the burden of feeding the family.
His words: “I was born in Ghana, and I grew up there although my parents are from Abia State. Both of them are dead. They died when I was quite young, so I never really knew them. I don’t even have any sibling. My parents gave birth to me alone.
“I have been here for some years with my wife. The demolition will make the situation of my family worse. We are like fish thrown out of water. We have nowhere to go; we don’t have anywhere else to go. That’s why we have remained here. Can you see the rods fixed to the ground? When night falls, we simply use the rods to support the mosquito nets and sleep on the ground.”
His wife chipped in: “You can see that I am a food vendor. I sell food. It is from this business that we feed. Now, we are afraid to build again because if we do, they may just come in the middle of the night and still demolish it.”
The demolished shanty community is a rainbow community comprising people from different parts of Nigeria: Igbo, Calabar, Ijaw, Delta, Yoruba and Hausa.
Otodo Gbame is hemmed by modern housing estates for the nouveau riche. As Sunday Sun reporter found out, another community known as MTN suffered the same fate as Otodo Gbame. To the outsider, the proximity of the two communities gave the wrong impression that they were one as there was no clear demarcation. The second community took its name from the presence of the MTN mast in the area.
Despite the agony which the demolition has caused the residents of this community, one of them, known simply as Mama Yo, subtly justified the action of the government.
She said: “I am from Ghana. Let me confess to you, the government has been kind to us by allowing us live here. I have stayed here for so many years. I have witnessed a couple of demolition exercises by the government but where do I go to? See, we should even be grateful that this time around, they came in broad daylight. In the past, they used to come in the middle of the night to demolish and we couldn’t save anything for ourselves.”
On her present situation following the demolition of her abode, Mama Yo said: “I sleep outside when night falls. That is how I have been sleeping. Nobody is ready to build again. We are going through a lot in this community.”
Another resident, a good natured lady, warned the reporter not to attempt to go over to the MTN community, which is predominantly occupied by Eegun people: “Thank your God that we here are still talking to you. You dare not go there because at the slightest provocation, they have killed many of us. The next thing you see is that by daybreak, corpses are dumped all around their community. Taking a life means nothing to them because they use fetish powers a lot. We have never been friends with them.”
Another resident expressed his frustration this way: “You mean you want me to talk and then you take my photo and show my face in your paper? God forbid! So, you want them to say I am the one against the demolition exercise of Ambode? Abeg o! I like the way I am still managing to sleep on the open ground. Don’t come and complicate the matter for me here.”
With nowhere else to go after the demolition, many of the evicted residents were seen loitering around the area.