The estate is owned by a federal government agency.
The relief Bose Ajinodu felt as she completed her Christmas shopping on December 21, 2010 was short-lived. As the mother of six returned to her apartment in Gowon Estate, Lagos, she was greeted by devastating news. Two kids playing outside the three-storey tenement building where she resides had been squashed to death by a concrete slab that fell from the top floor of the building. One of them was her 7-year-old son, David.
Officials the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), the government agency responsible for maintaining federal government built estates such as Gowon Estate, hurried to the scene, took the pictures of the dead children and promised to look into the matter and to also commence renovation of the building.
That was the last time she saw them or any officials at all. The building has since deteriorated to an almost inhabitable state.
“You can see for yourself how bad this place looks,” she says, pointing at precariously handing concrete slabs built as safety barriers on the balcony. “After what happened, I no longer allow my other children to play outside.”
Mrs. Ajinodu’s fear is shared by the over 50 thousand residents of Gowon Estate. In a petition to the House of Assembly, they said they live in the shadow of death. With the complete neglect of the estate by its managers, facilities valued at hundreds of millions of naira have rotted away and residents have been reduced to the most undignified level of human existence.
The estate was constructed 37 years ago at the height of the oil boom of the 1970s as an annex to the bigger Festac Town; to accommodate guests for the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977 popularly called Festac 77. During this period the country’s economy was doing so well that former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon (after whom the estate was named), was quoted as saying the now infamous one-liner: “money is not our problem, but how to spend it.”
Though intended to be a working class community, Gowon Estate was built to showcase the country’s nouveau riche: an underground sewage disposal channel connected to a sewage treatment plant that is attached to an organic fertilizer producing plant; huge water treatment plant; a robust drainage and rainwater evacuation network; spacious recreation ground; well laid road network – facilities that are now only found in expensive ritzy communities.
After the curtain came down on Festac 77, the government allotted apartments in the estate to men of the armed forces as well as officials of government agencies. Then the government gradually turned its back on federal housing projects.
Today, Gowon Estate is a perfect analogy of the erosion of public services and the decay of infrastructure the country is known for.
Stripped of its original splendour by years of disuse, the tenement blocks now stands gaunt like monstrous death traps. Many of them are on the verge of collapse baring structural defects that are noticeable from metres away. Deep cracks runs from their roofs to foundations like arteries on emaciated dinosaurs and huge concrete slabs used as balconies hang menacingly overhead as if suspended by invisible threads.
Residents say they live in constant fear of an outbreak of epidemic due to the disrepair of the sewage disposal facility in the estate.
“It’s not something you want to experience,” said Ifedapo Funsho, a resident of the estate. “When it rains human waste can be seen floating in flood water.”
The decay of the sewage disposal facilities has forced residents to resort to unhygienic self-help measures. Excrement is channelled into open makeshift gutters that lead nowhere. Several puddles of human waste scattered around the estate provide thriving breeding habitats for swarms of flies and disease causing microbes. Close to one of these puddles, kids innocently play football amid the putrefying stench of excrement.
At one end of the estate, a huge sewage treatment plant, which should have handled all the waste, sits completely derelict, overtaken by tall grasses and its premises encroached by churches and beer parlours.
Roads and drainages are even in worse conditions.
Early this year, dozens of kindergarten pupils were hurriedly rescued from a school bus submerged to window level in slimy floodwater. One resident said school buses wouldn’t dare to enter some streets during rainy seasons.
The previously shinning tarred roads are now just collections of gullies and caverns.
“If you don’t know how to dance Awilo, bring your car here and you will learn fast,” says the Chairman of the Community Development Association (CDA), Chituru Okoro, describing the bumpy vehicular movement.
Even the estate electrical connections are not spared the disrepair. Naked electric cables protruding from beneath the ground, the whole estate feels like a giant minefield.
“Government has not done anything here in the last 25 years,” said Mr. Okoro
But the FHA disagrees. Spokesperson for the agency, Tunde Ipinmisho, told PREMIUM TIMES that unwholesome practices by the residents are responsible for the decay of infrastructure.
“The authority’s houses are solid and structurally sound. Building collapse should therefore not occur in a normal situation,” he said.
“The drains in Gowon Estate are blocked because of the careless dumping of solid waste and channelling of sewer lines by residents.
“The present condition of most of the houses in the estate is due to abuses and lack of maintenance by the residents. The common unwholesome practices by the residents include placing water tanks and generating sets on the balconies. It must be said that this is a dangerous practice as it places stress on the slabs. Water leaks and enters the concrete and gradually corrodes the iron rods in the slabs. This eventually compromises the integrity of the concrete. The continuous washing and spreading of wet clothes on the balconies also has the same effect on the long term.”
He said residents should desist from pounding pestles on mortars in the upper floor of the tenement building.
Mr. Ipinmisho said maintenance work was recently done in a section of the estate but the “blatant refusal” of residents to pay statutory fees and charges means proper makes proper maintenance impossible.
Illegal structures and sale of open spaces
Residents say their efforts to get some of the facilities working are seriously impeded by the erection of structures in open spaces and the construction of buildings they claim are illegal on drainages.
They say FHA officials are running a lucrative racket of land allocation. The estate recreational centre have been taken over by a motley collection of churches, artisanal workshops, beer parlours and restaurants, that residents claim are beneficiaries of FHA officials racketeering.
In fact the FHA office in the estate is now a welding workshop. The occupier said he has the approval of FHA to use it after it was abandoned.
One school proprietor told our reporter he has valid land documents issued by FHA after he paid an undisclosed amount of money to procure the land from the original owner.
Ajao Adebayo, a retired FHA official and the owner of a house allegedly built on the sewage channel, says original residents of the estate are being dishonest.
“This land was duly allotted to me. How can they claim my building is impeding the sewage channel when it is an underground channel? They should blame themselves for erecting concrete structures that have blocked the passage of sewage,” he said.
FHA did not directly answer our questions on the legality of the sales of land and those responsible. They, however, said notices have been given to owners of illegal structures and soon bulldozers will be brought in to clear them.
Still a long wait ahead
Though residents have cried out for help several times, it looks like it may take quite some time before they receive any help. The petition the CDA sent to the House of Representative seems to be lost in the haystack of bureaucracy.
“We have over 2,000 of them. I wouldn’t know whether that one has reached my clerk’s office. I don’t know the status of that one,” said Chairman of the House of Representative Committee on Public Petition, Uzor Azubuike.
Mr. Azubuike then described a labyrinth of legislative process that a petition has to go through before it is given a look-in. He said there is no way of knowing how long this will take.
The Controller of the Federal Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Temitope Onaeko, said severe budget cuts make it difficult for the government to manage most of its housing projects. He however said government is working on a system where the maintenance of facilities is transferred to the resident associations as government can no longer keep up.