Inside a Lagos community where residents build and live on garbage

An NGO documentary reveals the ‘dirty’ lives of residents of Lagos slum, Dustbin Estate.

Matthew and his friends use the little playground at the estate to catch fun. They play football, do summersault and perform acrobatics, often times, without footwear. Their playground is not the lush green playground of your imagination, neither is it a beach sandy playground, it is a heap of garbage.

Their home is not conventional too. It is an estate of shanties built on the city’s dump yard. To a guest, their home stinks and oozes of decomposing garbage, but Matthew and friends have learnt to live on it. They have adapted so well they hardly fall ill of the germs they constantly interact with.

Matthew and his family moved here 13 years ago, after hardship hit them in the city. He grew up here, on the refuse. He is one of the hundreds of kids living on refuse in Dustbin Estate, to cope with the economic pressures of the city of Lagos, Africa’s fastest growing city.

The Dustbin Estate in Awodiora, Ajeromi Ifelodun Local Development Area, Lagos State, is an expansive shack settlement erected on a heap of refuse located beside a canal, which drains waste, and floodwater out of Ajegunle.

Thousands of people now inhabit the area.

The area was a swamp, and a flood plain. Driven by the ever-increasing rate of decent accommodation in the heart of Ajegunle, Ojo, Ijesha and other adjoining residential areas, and the quest to survive in the city of Lagos, human activities began in the area now known as Dustbin Estate more than two decades ago.

Early settlers informed researchers from the Centre for Democracy and Development that the estate, hitherto a swamp, emerged after ‘refuse filling’ of the swamp started about twenty-five years ago.

In the estate, inhabitants build shacks erected with wooden planks, zinc roofing sheets and polythene to protect the structure from water. Those who do not have money to buy land to build rent the shacks at prices ranging from N500 to N600 a room per month.

Sanitation and hygiene in the Dustbin Estate is very poor. Repugnant stench from the refuse dump on the estate fills the air and almost chokes visitors. On rainy days, visitors often contact bacterial infections after visiting the estate.

“The first time I visited that estate, I threw up immediately,” Patience Atiloh, a charity worker said of her experience in August 2011. “I was hospitalised.”

Even at this, inhabitants of the estate live in total disregard of the health and environmental hazards posed by such an unhygienic condition, but with unusually high immunity, they continue to live there.

In Dustbin Estate, there are no toilet facilities, the inhabitants defecate in the open, high end residents use pit toilet that discharge into the open water passages.

Despite the unusual high immunity of some residents, residents report that malaria as well as other air and water borne diseases like cholera and diarrhea are common occurrences.

Such illnesses are at best treated with local herbs or self-medication, the residents said.

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Cheap education

Most children in the Dustbin Estate attend informal schools owned and operated by fairly educated residents who charge as low as N20 per day due to affordability and less stringent conditions by the owners.

The low cost pay-as-you-go schooling at the estate compliments the Awodi Ora Primary School, Awodi-Ora Junior Secondary School and Awodi-Ora Senior Secondary School, and few private schools in the estate.

Love on the Streets, LOTS, a charity foundation, operates a resource centre that offers free – after school and holiday – literacy and vocational classes for the children in the estate.

The foundation also organises excursions and charity events where clothes and medical supplies are distributed to the children and their parents free.

Hazy future

Every certainty about the future hurts inhabitants of the Dustbin Estate and keeps them in the cycle of substandard living.

For most of the inhabitants of the Dustbin Estate, the news of Lagos Megacity development saddens them.

While the reclamation of the swamp with refuse is ingenious, but lack of tenure security scares the inhabitants and results in shabby buildings, hindering better quality life.

The land registration process in Lagos is very expensive and cumbersome. Governments forced evictions and demolitions, and dearth of affordable mortgage facilities, combined, are aggravating poverty in the urban areas and pushing more inhabitants into Dustbin Estate.

Matthew, 20, says living in the estate has made him more ingenious. When his family hit rock bottom in finances, he was pushed to hit the forest, in search of fruits he sold to make money.

Mattew and his mates spend a lot of time learning gymnastic skill, not bothered by what the future brings.

Experts project that Lagos State needs more than 250,000 housing units yearly, for the next 20 years, to deal with its housing deficit. But the lack of interest by the state in building low income houses means the Dustbin Estate is not close to being upgraded to a better slum.

On the other hand, most residents of Dustbin Estate may not be interested in relocating from the area or allow for its upgrading.

Reporting by Idayat Hassan and Olarenwaju Adebola, Centre for Democracy and Development.


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