The high level of debilitating poverty across the country is one of the factors leading to many citizens settling for slum habitations. One of such slums is the Ilaje-Otumara, a riverine community in Lagos Mainland Local Government Area of Lagos State.
Despite having two baales (paramount community leaders), their plight is not less worrisome amidst the affluence of wealthy settlements nearby.
Ilaje-Otumara community existing as a complete squalor, considering that it is situated in the heart of Lagos, calls to question the Lagos Mega City Project. Is it a smokescreen, ruse or reality?
With an estimated population of 900,000 residents, Otumara inhabitants exhibit uncanny complacency about the dearth of basic amenities despite being under the purview of policymakers and delegated legislators and neighbouring 'GRAs' and other wealthy areas in the local government.
To them, it is better to co-habit with dirt and squalor than being homeless.
"We are here and as inhabitants of Otumara, we are not just Ilaje people, we have all manner of tribes and ethnic groups living together for as many years as I can remember," says Mr. Jude Olakunle Ojo, a civil servant and resident of Ilaje-Otumara community.
He was one of the few community leaders who spoke with Daily Trust Saturday and select media houses that went on an empowerment drive organized by the Journalist Against Poverty (JAP) Initiative with support from ActionAid Nigeria (AAN) through its Strengthening Citizens' Resistance Against Prevalence of Corruption (SCRAP-C) project.
According to him, the community is under the Lagos Mainland West Local Government alongside Apapa and the rest.
"Our Senator is Oluremi Tinubu, and Olajide Jimoh is our current House of Representative member."
He added that Hon. Ibrahim Ajani Owolabi is their representative in the Lagos State House of Assembly.
Mr. Ojo said their community is a five-minute drive from Apapa Road, but with only one primary school, one Junior Secondary School and one ill-equipped health center.
He lamented the unavailability of drugs and personnel at the healthcare facility constructed over two years ago by the government and pleaded with the government to assist in making drugs available and affordable.
He said, "Thank God we have a proper healthcare facility built by the government but are drugs available, affordable, and are medical personnel always available? We advise residents to use the clinic because many of them are used to patronising patent medicine shops whose quality of drugs we are not sure of.
"We want the government to really assist us with drugs and for medical staff to always be on duty."
He said while the government of Lagos State has proposed a site for the construction of a senior secondary school in the community, the delay in its implementation should be urgently addressed as students who aim for senior secondary education must go outside Ilaje-Otumara.
Another community leader, Chief Aina, said, "The situation has been like this for over 40 years, even before I started primary school. I can tell you that in 1972, we had no water and as we speak presently, we still have no water. The electricity you see here is self-help; there is no proper electricity in the community. We formed our own electricity committee, security committee, and so on. We have to set up committee for everything.
"If this place is where you could dig a well to have water, so many people would have dug wells, but by the time you dig the surface by two to three meters, you have salty water, so you can't really dig a well here. It's the same for toilets and we have to find alternative ways to answer the call of nature."
How did Ilaje-Otumara community get there?
The community has been in existence for about a century and currently has two high chiefs (Baale) as community leaders namely High Chief Festus Oladapo Arowojolu, Baale Otumara 1; and High Chief Kehinde Kalejaiye, Baale Otumara 2 respectively.
"Our forefathers erected the first building on this land about 100 years ago. They were fishermen who found this place peaceful for their occupation back then. Ever since, successive governments have come and gone in Lagos State and our community remains underdeveloped," Baale Arowojolu said.
What are major infrastructures priority for Otumara community?
While the residents seem helpless, complacent and unperturbed about the deplorable state of the community, they however, hope for urgent intervention and complete restructuring in terms of basic infrastructure like motorway, drainage system, constant power supply, healthcare services and a senior secondary school which they said they have notified the Lagos State Government several times but are yet to receive a positive response.
"We have been hoping and praying for major development and transformation within our community as successive governments come and go," Baale Arowojolu said.
It was learnt that several letters were written to the Lagos State Government by the Ilaje-Otumara Community Development Association headed by the two Baales and signed by the members of the community demanding for senior secondary schools facilities to complement the existing junior secondary schools built many years ago but there has been no response from the concerned authorities.
One of such letters, addressed to the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education Lagos State on the issue, was seen by our correspondent.
Another resident, Mr. Gbolahan Hountonou, said he has lived in the community all his life.
"I had both my primary and junior secondary schools here but for my senior secondary school, I had to walk 10 kilometers daily to another community to attend school," he said.
Scores of residents, in their various contributions during the meeting, urged Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu to come to their aid and support them with basic infrastructure to make life better for them.
They blamed the present state of decay to the neglect of the area by previous governments.
The National Coordinator of JAPI, Mr. Wale Elekulusi, said the effects of corruption across Nigeria are clearly evident in the unavailability of infrastructure and lack of access to quality health care for Nigerians.
According to him, over the years, several investigations and reports have shown that children and women in Nigeria bear the greater brunt of unavailability of healthcare, poverty and inequality, which has left millions of them vulnerable to disease, malnutrition, and violations of their rights.
He said that in 2017, the Federal Government promised to ensure effective healthcare delivery at all levels, to construct 10,000 primary health centers that will implement the National Health Act that was signed into law.
He wondered how this can be achieved with less than five percent of the Federal Governments' annual budget for 2019, allocated to the health sector and which has been the trend for many years.
Fear of eviction
The Balogun of Otumara, Chief Majekodunmi Arowojolu, said there were some interventions in the past by newsmen which did not achieve measured responses, hence their initial reluctance to meet with the JAPI team.
The royal father said some residents were also concerned that reporting their plight may lead to the demolition of the community and their being evicted by the government like what happened voice out to reporters.
He however expressed optimism that this would not be their case as the government representatives who visited seemed impressed with the way the people have conducted themselves and made the place manageable in recent times unlike when it was practically impassable in the past, even for motorcycles.
The National Coordinator of JAPI, however, assured that the team had done due diligence and that the initiative would lead to positive development and not a backlash for the community.
The team later donated education materials, including pens and books, to the community.
The AAN Country Director, Ms. Ene Obi, represented by the Project Manager, SCRAP-C project, Mr. Newton Otsemaye, said they were committed to fighting corruption and eradicating poverty.
According to him, it is the people that have more responsibility to demand accountability and action from their leaders and those in positions of authorities to act appropriately in the interest of the nation and the wellbeing of the people.