This is the second and concluding part of a report focusing on Internally Displaced People (IDPs). This series focuses on malnutrition ravaging children of former residents of Otodo Gbame, who were forcefully evicted by the Lagos State Government. Read the first part here.
No Food For Otodo Gbame Evictees Children
“The attack started at night. We heard the sound of gun. That was how we started running. They burnt houses and killed many people. Some of my relatives died. So, we escaped through the boat and landed here,” said Rebecca Hungbo, one of the nursing mothers forcefully evicted from Otodo Gbame, while narrating her experience.
After a series of threats and attacks, the dwellers, comprising mostly fishermen were forcefully evicted allegedly through police gunfire and the actions of hoodlums, who set fire on their houses in April 2017.
Otodo Gbame was once a lively waterfront community on the edge of the Lagoon in Lekki area of Lagos State.
Amnesty International said the eviction, which started since 2016, was carried out ”without any consultation, adequate notice, compensation or alternative housing being offered to those affected left 30,000 people homeless and 11 dead”.
Rebecca’s husband’s case was one of the most tragic during the onslaught. His body was found hanging in one of the abandoned houses in the community, a week before the final attack. His reason for committing suicide is not clear as he did not leave any note; but his kinsmen are convinced he died due to frustration.
Mr Hungbo was one of the active youth in the community who repeatedly resisted series of evictions; but this came at a great price.
His house was one of the first to be attacked, even before the final attack which the dwellers alleged to have been coordinated by the Lagos State Government.
It was midnight of April 9, 2017, on a Palm Sunday, when the final eviction was executed. And thus started a life of suffering for Rebecca and her three children. They are now displaced in a city where they used to live as home owners.
The family now lives in a partially covered plant-built room at Makoko in Lagos. The room occupied by flies in the day and mosquitoes in the night ensures breeding space for diseases. Often, Sarah, 12, Omolaja, 8 and Ope, 6, fall sick with little or no attention. The kids have stopped going to school.
“Since we left Otodo Gbame, nobody has come to help me,” she lamented. ”I have been going through hell feeding my children.”
“We rely on gifts, whenever it comes, we eat once or twice in a day and if there is none, we starve for as long as possible. In fact, many days, it’s only once and it’s usually in the evening. If there is no gift, there is no food.”
The one or two meals would have been more beneficial to her children if they were balanced; but they have never been. The family mostly receives gifts of rice and garri and more often than not, these two serve as their daily meals.
A nutrition expert faults the intake of an all-carbohydrate meal by growing children.
President, Federation of African Nutrition Society, Ngozi Nnam, said an all-carbohydrate meal would rob the children of nutrients necessary for growth.
“They will have stunted growth,” she said. “They will not grow as they are expected to because the diet is lacking grossly in protein. Protein is required for adequate growth particularly in children. The diet will be lacking in micro nutrients like vitamins and minerals.
“The implication is that such children will not grow well. They will always fall sick. We know that some of the vitamins they are lacking for example vitamin A, the B complex vitamin and vitamin C they will not be getting enough. Their immune system will be low and they will be susceptible to any opportunistic infection. When they are sick, they will be using the little nutrient they get from carbohydrates to recoup and that will affect their growth.”
But Rebecca believes her children are not sick. She has never taken them to hospital except in December 2017 when there was a typhoid outbreak in the community. Even at that, she ended up at a local herbal shop.
“Most of the time their body ‘use to be weak’. Many people around will think my children are sick but I know they are not. You know how your body will be weak when you are hungry,” she explains unconvincingly.
No Gift, No Food
When her leg started bleeding in February 2017, Dorcas Torsihun, 21, thought it was a bruise, one that would dry up and relieve her in a matter of days. But the ‘injury’ turned out to be life-threatening.
“I went to the hospital but they told me it’s not a doctor’s work. They said the injury is spiritual,” Dorcas said of her leg when the injury was still developing in 2017.
Two months after manifestation of the mysterious injury, Dorcas with her then over one-year-old son, Soumaho, was forced out of their residence in Otodo Gbame.
Fast forward to June 2018, Dorcas is totally incapacitated, her son perpetually sick. She lives in a shattered world literally.
“I’m so tired of everything. Look at my son. He’s very weak. I can’t walk, I can’t work. There is no one to help me.”
The sick Soumaho was sleeping when this reporter visited on Wednesday, June 13. Even though the mum would provide the usual carbohydrates, Soumaho won’t eat.
Since the 2017 eviction, Dorcas and three other mothers, with their 12 children have been living in a wooden shelter, in the murky Makoko slum.
The shelter was provided by a church, International Mission for Soul Salvation. The church also provides the four families with gifts of garri and rice – the only two items on the families’ menu.
For Janet Dosa, a mother of four, all she needs now is food for her children. Whether these foods are carbohydrate, protein or vitamins does not matter.
She is the mother of Brino, 9, Samuel, 7, Augustine, 4, and Ope, 3, all of whom are either suffering from malaria or typhoid fever, or both.
“The food we get is not enough for us. I feed them maximum of twice in a day. I feed them on rice, garri and any other thing handed to us by a Good Samaritan.
“The crisis in Otodo Gbame is so unfortunate. We couldn’t take the smallest of our properties from that place. In fact, all my children fell sick when we left. It’s the crisis that left me in this situation. I don’t know how these children will survive if things continue this way.”
Janet’s situation is similar to that of Blessing, once a fish seller in Otodo Gbame. Blessing said hunger would have killed her children if not for the church which came to her aid. She is the mother of Janet, 10, Justina, 7 and Christiana, 4.
Lari Gbokunmi, the fourth, is the oldest of the women. She is the mother of Isaiah, Bidemi, Eva and Emmanuel. She can’t remember the age of any.
Since she left Otodo Gbame, things have changed for the worse. The situation has forced her to send her children to ‘early slavery’.
With a daily pay of N200, Isaiah and Bidemi have become the breadwinners of their family.
“They wash plates at canteens for some of my relatives. We use the proceed to feed ourselves and sometimes they take from customers’ remnants. That is how we have been feeding. If not for that, my children would have been dead by now.”
Jonathan Zosu, also an evictee, who now runs a primary school in Makoko community, said hunger has forced many of the pupils out of school. A school which boasted of hundreds of enrolment in Otodo Gbame now gets a paltry of 10 to 20.
“I have some children facing such problems. They find it difficult to come to school. When you ask their parents, they will ask you how you expect them to send hungry children to school.
“They come to school without food. Sometimes early this year, two of them fainted the same day and I had to rush them to nearby hospital. That was the last time they came to the school.”
The Lagos State Government would not comment on whether it was concerned about the survival of the Otodo Gbame victims and if it has any plans to help them, particularly the children.
The Public Relations Officer of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Adebayo Kehinde, declined to comment on the issue saying he was not authorised.
He said the General Manager, who could grant an interview, was out of the country.
The plight of the malnourished Otodo Gbame children and their family typifies one of the reasons Nigeria may find it hard to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In 2015, the UN rolled out the SDGs as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.
Goal 1 of the SDGs, No poverty, seeks to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ and goal 2, Zero hunger, aims to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture,’ all by 2030.
To achieve this, nutrition experts says the Nigerian government must make a conscious effort to achieve the target while parents should inculcate the habit of feeding their children well.
The National Coordinator, Media Centre Against Child Malnutrition, Remmy Nweke, wants the government to ensure an improved budget for agriculture and end the farmers/herders clashes.
“We have to continue working on our SDGs especially doing what we ought to be doing. Moreso, mapping out the required percentage of national budget for improving agriculture and containing peace so that farmers or farming will thrive.”
Mr Nweke warned against politicisation of hunger issues.
“Rather than politicisation of hunger issues, we should work towards enshrining good governance where small businesses thrive. Rather than introducing policies that kill SMEs, provide infrastructure to help farmers move their produce and even store same until the right time to sell,” he said.
Mrs Nnam, the nutrition expert, also explains that even poor families if well enlightened may be able to provide their children balanced diet.
“There is need for aggressive nutrition education for the parents,” she said. “There are some fairly cheap proteins they can include in their diet but because of their not being aware, they eat bread, rice, garri all the time.”
For the poor and malnourished residents of Lagos forgotten communities, like the Otodo Gbame evictees, Happy Home IDPS and others, they first need to survive.
For Rebecca, there is little to eat now; but beyond this is the perennial problem of her children’s failing health, their education and the unsure route to their adulthood. If only she could get N10, 000 all her problems would be solved, she says.
“If I get anything in Lagos, like N10,000, I will buy beans and oil to start frying Akara (bean cakes). I don’t want my children to die in hunger,” she said.