interviewBy Josephine Igbinovia
Concerned about the plight of residents of popular Lagos slum, Makoko, a group of women under the aegis of Gender & Child Care Advancement Initiative-GCCAI, went to the community with some gift items. In this interview with Vista Woman at the event, Barr.(Mrs.) Phil Nneji, Executive Director, GCCAI, debunks the claim that giving aids to people in such communities makes them lazy, and also calls on government to consider having a round table discussion on a viable way forward for Makoko instead of a one-sided decision like the demolition exercise with which the community was threatened with months ago.
What's happening here today?
We're just trying to put some smiles on the faces of the poor and indigent persons in our society. As you can see, there's abject poverty in this particular area. The choice of this place- Makoko, is because it touches my heart. You can see the environment, detached houses, and a picture of a community in shamble.
They are able people, but then, disadvantaged. Most times we might be thinking of putting smiles on the faces of the physically challenged, motherless, and all, but when you look at these people, even in their physical abilities, they are disadvantaged in respect to their environment. I've been imagining how they sleep or manage to stay in this environment for one hour, not to mention 24 hours. These people really need help.
Several groups like yours have been visiting this community with food items and several kinds of aids, but do you think this is the attention they really need; aren't these making them lazy?
Not at all! As you can see, we didn't come to them with just food, but with some basic necessities of life like foot wears and clothing for children and mothers. I actually felt bad when I first saw children walking bare-foot in this sort of place. The food is just for them to make merry.
Are we seeing you here again after today or are you going to forget about these children?
If I would forget about them, I wouldn't have been here today. I'm a member of the Lagos State Chapter of the International Federation of Women Lawyers- FIDA, and during our Law Week recently, we were at Makoko to give pro bono medical and legal services.
I however decided that I should do more, and that's why I decided to go back again to Makoko. Apart from that, I feel these people need something very important, and that's a habitable environment. I believe something could be done. If we can sand fill some parts of Lekki, Maroko and Dolphin, why can't we do something about Makoko. This is what one group or individual alone cannot do, and I therefore want to call on government to do something.
Talking about sand filling this place, do you realize the structures here are awful?
They can also be relocated, but the issue is for government to have a good rapport with members of the community before taking any decision, because they've been here for generations. A round-table discussion would go a long way because communication matters a lot.
Are you saying the government did not carry them along when they last came to demolish the place?
I wouldn't say they did not carry them along, but my point is, if they had a round-table discussion with them to find out how they will feel about being relocated to another environment, the move would have been successful. If they say no to being relocated, then government should weigh their points.
Talking about sand filling, why can't groups like yours mobilize other well-meaning individuals to come in?
There's nothing bad in mobilizing private individuals. The issue is not just about starting from somewhere but about being able to finish. If private individuals can have synergy with government, definitely, something positive would come out of the synergy.
What other societal issues are you concerned about at GCCAI?
Most times, we concentrate on the physically challenged, motherless, old people's homes, and the likes. The focus however changed when I visited this place with my group, FIDA Lagos, like I mentioned earlier. I never knew about the living conditions at Makoko until then! In our own little way, we've always tried to put smiles on the faces of indigent members of the society.
Your advice to the general public...?
There is love in sharing. The good Lord who created each and every one of us did not make a mistake by making some rich and making some poor. So, if you're well-to-do, you should be able to share; learn to show love and care unto others. Also, always have the golden rule at the back of your mind- do unto others what you want them to do unto you.