BY Tope Templer OLAIYA

Oke-Afa dumpsite to passersby, may just be another raised ground dedicated to warehousing human waste and refuse, but this is not the case for the hundreds of Lagosians, who have found solace, succour and shelter at the site.

Located beside the swamp that swallowed up the Ikeja bomb blast victims in 2002, the dumpsite is an enclave of ghetto dwellers and street urchins. Though mostly populated by Nigerians from the northern extraction, it is a ready home to all, especially those struggling to eke out a living in the ‘Centre of Excellence’.

Aside from this, the merchandise of recycling waste materials is the major attraction of many to the hill, which is not just the abode of refuse handcart boys. If Isaac Durojaiye, managing director of Dignified Mobile Toilets (DMT) says “shit business is serious business,” what is evident to a first time visitor to the hill is that scavenging is, indeed, a more serious business.

The site is an open dump, meaning any individual is free to enter and scavenge for any reusable item and the dump is a source of employment for close to 2,000 scavengers. The scavengers sort metal and plastics into huge piles ready for resale.

The dump is also home to many of these scavengers who build shanties among the rubbish. This may be a very harsh existence but it is a clear example of how waste can be turned to wealth.

There are several chains of businesses. A section of the site is devoted to sorting out bits and pieces of refuse. And very often, goldmine and money-spinning objects are dug up from the dung. No piece of metal and plastic is wasted. The useful plastics are thoroughly washed up and packed in bags to be sold to the highest bidder, while the damaged ones are also neatly folded to be grinded into small bits. The crushed plastics are also packaged into bags, ready to be sold off to would-be buyers.

There is a buzzing sound of iron and metal being melted into different shapes and sizes, with a standby goldsmith turning iron bits into work tools. There is also a mini spare-parts market, where every bit of machine equipment and human work tools can be purchased. This is besides a cluster of retail outlets for provision stores, food sellers and many other human consumables.

The dump is also expanding to accommodate other line of unrelated businesses, such as a ram and cow market, carpentry workshop and a general market area for women.

On the hill, there is an unwritten code of brotherhood. At once, a stranger is smelt 100 metres away and is stared at by several pairs of eyes. Huddled up in their makeshift sheds, many of the hill settlers spend much of their day idling around while living on the crumbs from the spoils of scavenging.

Like vultures, they patiently wait for you to dispose your garbage before they swarm on the dump and sieve, with bare fingers, through the decomposing, smelly rubbish. They are seemingly dead to the stench and health hazards. What get registered in their sub-consciousness are the pictures of loads of metal and copper scraps, and any such things that can be turned into cash.

They have transformed that pastime into an art. They understand scavenging like a stockbroker understands the stock market. They know what sells and what sucks. They know where to pick, what to pick and where to sell what is picked at a peak price. They are the lords of the hill, where living in Lagos is given a new meaning.

Daniel Donatus is one of the many youths who have taken up residence on Oke-Afa hill. He came from Anambra to Lagos in 2003, in search of one thing – the good life. He had grown up in his village like every other Youngman to dream about the city of Lagos, where the streets are paved with gold.

Citizens of Refuse Dump in Lagos, praying on a Plateau of dirt.

Rainstorm, Construction Work Stir Fears Of Another Disaster At Oke-Afa Canal

By Tope Templer OLAIYA

MONDAY morning in Lagos State is often described as a ‘no nonsense’ day. As expected, every part of the city is alive to the hustle and bustle heralding a new week. It is definitely not the best of time to rain, but it did last week and when it ended, the unusual gust of strong wind wrecked havoc on so many buildings, reportedly killing two.

Among areas most affected was low-cost housing buildings at Jakande Estate, Oke-Afa, where over 300 high-rise buildings lost their roofs. To many, it was a one-off incident of an act of God, but for most residents of the area, there is a growing apprehension about what they tagged ‘Decade of Disaster.’

Call it premonition or a downbeat hunch, Ejigbo has had its fair share of disasters. First, a military aircraft crashed into Ejigbo canal in 1992, killing all the 45 military officers and crew on board. 10 years after, precisely January 27, 2002, thousands of unsuspecting children, women and men perished in the same Oke-Afa canal while running for their lives as a result of the explosion of bombs from Ikeja Military cantonment.

This explains why nobody knows what the future holds for residents of Ejigbo, particularly those on the banks of the canal. During the 10th year commemoration of the Ikeja bomb blast, community leaders had urged government to channel all efforts at ensuring that they break the jinx of occurrence of a major disaster every decade in the council area.

Two weeks after the plea was made, last week’s rainstorm pulled down the roofs of not less than 200 buildings. Mercifully, no life was lost to the rain in Ejigbo, though the cost of damage to properties has been estimated at over N70 million.

Site of the Ejigbo-Ajao Estate link bridge construction... at the weekend

AFTER much agitation, Oke-Afa community has benefitted from the bomb-blast disaster with construction of the Ajao Estate-Ejigbo bridge to pass over the Oke-Afa canal, even though it took the government nine years after the promise was first made in 2003 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the blast. But the ongoing construction by Chinese firm, CCECC is posing a threat to those living on the banks of the canal.

At the site of the construction, the canal has been filled up with sand since December for engineers to test the piling, which would carry the weight of the bridge. As a result, residents, though happy with the project, fear that with the advent of the raining season, which had been predicted to come earlier before its scheduled period, the banks of the canal might burst leading to a deluge of the area.

According to a resident, there is usually no threat from the canal, “but now that it has been blocked, the water is not flowing and the water level when it rains would be higher than our houses. Once that happens, it will be a big problem here. In the event of a heavy downpour, we are at risk of being run over by flood.

“The construction company should have worked with the schedule of the weather forecast in mind. Last year, it was predicted that there would be more rainfall and we witnessed it. This year, we have been warned that the rains would start early, and they have to respond to that too. Instead, they are concentrating on gutters and the road leading down there. We want them to finish this piling by the end of March and remove the sand they used to block the canal before the rains come. We all remember what happened last year, especially on July 10. If not, we are doomed for another disaster at this canal,” he said.

The project manager of CCECC at the site assured residents of no cause for alarm, as the pilings to test the strength of the bridge would be removed in two months time. “Before then, we will install a bigger ring hole in the canal for water to pass through, before the piling and the sand is removed after two months.”

CHAIRMAN of the Oke-Afa Canal Community Development Association (CDA), Adedapo Oyedipe, however, believes that the construction holds no harm to residents of the area. “The road construction is a welcome idea, it could not have come at a better time. At the rate work is going, I believe it would be completed before the rains come fully. The project would go a long way in averting another major disaster.

“However, there will always be threat either from an act of God or caused by human error. While the state government through its Ministry of Environment is working on canals and drainages across the state, this is not the case in Oke-Afa. The canal is full of hyacinths and needs to be dredged.

“Primarily, what is important is for the people in the neighbourhood to be aware of the appropriate method of disposing their waste. This is the reason most of the drainages are blocked. Majority of the problems faced here is caused by abuse of the drainage. Government should, therefore, carry out a serious enlightenment campaign on how Lagosians can best dispose refuse.”

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