In the second part of this report detailing how Otodo-Gbame evictees are living in pain in crowded Lagos slums, PREMIUM TIMES’ Oladeinde Olawoyin, who visited the communities, reports that many children have been evicted from school as their parents wallow in abject poverty.
More than five minutes after we arrived the host’s premises and stood before her talking about Otodo-Gbame evictees and the plight of out-of-school children, Benadict Ojo was not aware of our presence. Her son, Abel Hunsa, says she is trying to catch up on some sleep after a long, sleepless night.
Mrs Ojo, an octogenarian, didn’t sleep throughout the previous night because it rained and she had to stand all night with one of her grandchildren strapped behind her back in the open space the family squat, Mr Hunsa explains to PREMIUM TIMES. The family consists of Mr Hunsa, his mother (Mrs Ojo), his wife, their children, his elder sister and her own children. The open space, located behind a wooden one-story structure in Oko-Agbon, houses Mr Hunsa’s family and two others.
“Grandma (Benadict Ojo) didn’t sleep throughout yesterday night,” Mr Hunsa explains. “It was raining and she had to ‘back’ one of our small children since the plank was wet too. That’s why she is dozing off like this. Everyone didn’t sleep except some of the children.
“We are really suffering here; no good food, no good place to sleep.”
Mr Hunsa’s elderly sister, Beatrice Age, is busy in front of the building frying fish. She complains of mobile police officers who always extort her in nearby Sabo-Yaba where she sells her fish, adding that they make life miserable for her and other dependants around her. Back in Otodo-Gbame, she says, life was pleasant.
“I used to sell rice and groundnut oil in Lekki before the eviction,” she says. “Everything was fine. I used to make a monthly gain of N40,000 after removing money for feeding and other expenses. Here, we struggle to make a gain of N500 daily; sometimes we make no gain. No money at all.”
Mr Hunsa says the challenges they face feeding is less troubling compared to what they go through when it is time to sleep in the night, especially whenever it rains.
“The place we stay here is leaking so we barely sleep when it rains here. It is just a little better than ‘Woli Topa’.”
‘Woli Topa’ – Shore of the Prophet
There is a part of Sogunro and Oko-Agbon communities that is visible from the Third Mainland bridge. Lagosians who ply the bridge, reputed together with Eko and Carter bridges as the second longest bridge in Africa, can observe the communities and their people from afar. That area is called ‘Woli Topa’ – an Egun phrase that loosely translates into “The Shore of the Prophet”.
‘Woli Topa’ area is dear to many Otodo-Gbame evictees because for more than six months after they arrived Makoko and environs, the people slept in the area, inside wooden canoes.
“This is where we first settled,” Mr Hunsa says, stifling a tear. “For many months, we were inside these boats, during rainfall and sunshine. Our children too were there. Many fell sick due to the congestion. But after a while, we couldn’t cope anymore and many people began to leave.”
The place has a spiritual significance for many of evictees, Mr Hunsa continues, as it is considered sacred because it was where they got temporary relief when they arrived. “It is coined from the two words ‘Woli’ – meaning prophet – and ‘Topa’ meaning ‘Shore’ in our dialect. It is dear to us.”
Many who didn’t sleep in the canoes got makeshift apartment beside ‘Woli Topa’, ostensibly to have access to many customers living inside the canoes and sell goods to them.
Kuti Ayigbe, a beans seller, is one of such traders. But since the people vacated the shore, sales have been poor.
Few Customers, Many Traders
Ms Ayigbe explains that the major problem created by the eviction in the local economy of Makoko community and environs is that many people now struggle to compete in few businesses.
“Our men are predominantly fishermen and we women mostly sell beans,” Ms Ayigbe says. “Now, there are many people selling beans and fishing and that’s why there is problem.
“I have not realised N500 today; too many beans seller in this place already.”
Ms Ayigbe’s ordeal is similar to that of Mary Toyon, a fashion designer in Otodo-Gbame, who now sells packs of noodles in Sogunro.
“I rarely make sales here. People just walk by and move on; they have no money,” she explains to PREMIUM TIMES during an interview. Mrs Toyon explains further that her condition is not too bad because her husband works outside the community and comes around on weekends to cater for the family.”
“Our hosts expect us to move out soon”
For many among the people hosting Otodo-Gbame evictees in Oko-Agbon, Sogunro and other parts of Makoko community, there is a limit to kindness.
Gaston Affia, another evictee rendered jobless after the invasion, says his hosts are already asking of when he would move out.
“The place is crowded and the people are ‘managing’ too,” he explains. “Already my family has been pushed away but we still manage a space outside. But the place is not convenient at all. I covered my body with nylon overnight when the rain became heavy.”
Mr Affia was a bricklayer back in Otodo-Gbame and his wife sold fishes. He explains that he and his family – a wife and two little children – now rely on family members to feed everyday.
“We don’t eat sometimes. We go hungry for long periods, if our people can’t get anything for us.”
Senu Abdulsalami, another evictee, says his hosts are accommodating but the situation is getting out of hand.
“People have different ways of managing crises and if the situation is tough, they would react in a way that may not be nice,” he says.
“Although they wouldn’t tell you to your face but the reaction would show that they expect you to move. Most of our hosts expect us to move out soon.”
For evicted residents of Otodo-Gbame, a peaceful fishing settlement on the edge of the Lagos Lagoon in Lekki Phase I, the challenges vary in many instances across different house. But one thing that seems common among them is the challenge of out-of-school children. Not one among the people who spoke with this reporter has a child in school, a development they attributed to the ripple effects of the forced eviction.
According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, UNICEF, primary school enrolment in Nigeria has increased in recent years, but net attendance is only about 70 per cent. Nigeria still has 10.5 million out-of-school children, the organisation said, representing the world’s highest number.
While sixty per cent of those children are in northern Nigeria, about 60 per cent of out-of-school children are girls. In riverine communities, access has always been a difficult concern. For Otodo-Gbame evictees, schooling is not an immediate concern when they can barely survive.
“We can’t afford to eat, so schooling is the least of our problems,” says Ms Ayigbe. She explains that her children are inside playing, adding that she struggles to feed them and worries less about school.
Mr Tosinhu, on his part, explains that many evictees cannot bear the cost of transport alone; hence, the reason virtually all of their children are out of school.
“When we first got here, some of the kids were going to school but the transport fare is just too much. Many of them were schooling in Lekki and VI (Victoria Island) when we were in Otodogbame. The transport fare from here is about N1200 to N1500. You will still pay for books and other expenses.
“Many families can’t even afford to eat properly. The last worry we have now is schooling. We are not happy about it but survival is a problem already.”
Ms Omolaja, the widow, explains that her three older children are worried that they are not in school but there is nothing she can do about the situation. “Their father is dead and the children themselves are the one feeding all of us now,” the pale-looking woman, who is battling an undisclosed ailment says, her legs gently folded on the cold plank that is her bed.
Beside the International Mission for Soul Salvation Church, there are kids playing in school uniforms. Mr Tosinhu explains that they are pupils of a private school in the neighbourhood, all of them children of original Sogunro residents.
“You can hardly see any Otodogbame evictee among them. They are mostly children of Sogunro people. Who among Otodogbame people can afford to eat not to talk of having a child in private school here?” he asks, rhetorically.
Jonathan Zozu, a school proprietor and assistant youth leader in Otodo-Gbame, explains the effect of the eviction on the education of the displaced children thus: “The children’s future is hanging in the balance here. Most of them are out of school and they may be pushed into criminal acts.”
Worried by how the children’s academic life has been disrupted, Mr Zozu, who now resides in Badagry, says he is in Makoko and environs to set up a primary school project. He used to operate a private school in Otodo-Gbame but the night the final invasion occurred, he says, the school building ”was brought down”.
“It was the most painful thing to experience. My school was destroyed; many classrooms built with blocks. It’s even more painful because the school was run as a sort of charity to promote literacy in the community, at little or no cost for the parents. Now, look at what’s happening to the children here?”
Frustrated, Vulnerable Youth
Many young men and women had their plans disrupted by the eviction, PREMIUM TIMES gathered from interviews with people. Apart from the little children who were thrown out of school, many other young people in the communities recounted their ordeals and how they now struggle to put their lives together after the disruption.
“I was in SSS3 when the evictions started,” says Nicholas Richard, an evictee who now resides in Sogunro.
“Maybe I was lucky because I finished my secondary (school) education just before the final eviction. We wrote our papers and shortly afterwards, we were evicted,” he adds.
Richard’s younger brother, Nicholas Eden, was not as lucky as his elder brother. He was in Senior Secondary School 1 when the eviction occurred, a development that shattered his educational plan.
“I couldn’t complete schooling. We were attending Koramo Senior College, Victoria Island. I was in SS1 going to SS2 and the eviction came and ‘scattered’ everything,” he says, eyes bloodshot.
Like Eden, Ambrose Joseph too was not lucky. The 19-year-old who says he used to play football, explains that he too was in SS1 when the eviction occurred.
He says: “I stopped schooling after we moved in here. I used to go when we first came but the transport fare was not affordable. I spent an average of between N1200 and N1500 everyday. We can’t afford that.”
Elijah Atipo, my tour guide, says Joseph used to be a known and talented footballer back in Otodo-Gbame. But Joseph says he no longer plays football because, according to him, the eviction and its devastating effects have killed his enthusiasm for the game. “I don’t play football again,” he explains, head bowed.
The trio of Joseph, Eden and Richard sit idly in front of a ramshackle building as this reporter speaks to them. They claim they no longer do anything but ”hope that things will get better someday”. Behind them is the entrance to a room where there are some boys lying on a wooden plank, their bodies covered with loose clothes.
“We all sleep here in the night; many, many of us,” Eden says. “But we are more than this. Others will come in when it is time to sleep.”
Elijah fears that the boys, sitting idly all day, may be pushed into crime and other nefarious activities eventually. “No, we don’t do crime,” Eden says, smiling. “We will never do that, although we are not happy with the situation of things.”
Vacated Space, New Structures
The space previously occupied by Otodo-Gbame evictees now has a few new structures on it. The structures, PREMIUM TIMES gathered, are however, not meant for the evictees.
The Baale of Sogunro, Agbojete Johnson, believes the eviction are parts of plans to force the Egun-speaking people out of Lagos.
“But if you remove the Egun people, how many Lagosians will remain?” he asks. “We have no power to fight the government but government must allow justice to reign. The people shouldn’t be considered foreigners in Lagos.”
Rasheed Shittu, a human rights activist and conflict resolution specialist at Justice and Empowerment Initiatives (JEI), says the Otodo-Gbame people’s hope of getting justice after the eviction depends on the anticipated decision of the court.
“What we have before the court is a fundamental human rights case,” he says during an interview with PREMIUM TIMES. “We are waiting for the court.”
Although JEI has been of help since the first phase of the eviction began, Mr Shittu said the resources were not enough to cater for the peoples’ needs.
“When the first demolition happened, we gave them relief materials. We also trained some of them in all sectors. But our funding cannot be enough for the needs.”
In November, after the evictees protested at the Lagos House in Ikeja and many of them were brutalised in the middle of the night, the government promised to cater for their welfare. They were subsequently requested to compile a list of names of affected residents.
“It’s more than six months we submitted names, we have heard nothing from the government,” Mr Tosihnu says of the list submitted to the government.
More than five days after messages were sent to the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Kehinde Bamigbetan, for a reaction to the report, he is yet to reply.
As the canoe moves through congested waterways on our way out of Makoko and environs, Mr Atipo – tour guide – says it remains unclear whether the people would ever get justice in the court of law and ”be considered worthy of being catered for by the government”.
“But our hope is alive,” he says, as lagoon water flows gently into the canoe.