For about 30 years they have been abandoned. Now, the council authority and state ministries are working for Akoka community. WOLE OYEBADE reports on how they are doing it.
A hundred-naira note can buy very little for an individual today. Maybe a bottle of soft drink, a litre of petrol or a bag of sachet water for a family; nothing more. But there is a Lagos community where N100 can now buy households potable water, good roads, streetlights, and still have enough left to protect their lives and secure their properties too.
Welcome to Akoka community, in Somolu-Bariga area of Lagos, where a handful of rumpled N100 notes and sheer will of the people are making life tolerable – after endless wait for government’s intervention that never came.
Akoka, a rather sleepy little town on the fringes of Lagos Lagoon, is one of those communities government had abandoned and the people know where their shoe pinches. The last road tarred by any government in the area was by Lateef Jakande – the first executive governor of Lagos State some 30 years ago.
Besides the parlous state of roads in the community, the residents also travel kilometres to access healthcare or patronize local drugstores, popularly known as Chemists.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government also has a major stake in the area, though the community has benefitted nothing from all the three tiers of government. A federal institution, wherever it is sited anywhere in the country, comes with a lot of goodwill and literally a blessing to the host community, but not Akoka.
Akoka is notable for having two federal institutions – University of Lagos (UNILAG) and Federal College of Education (FCE) – both of which turned out to be a curse for residents who live in perpetual unease and sometimes under siege. Almost on a daily basis, they have watched bloody cult-clashes and crossfire of daredevil gangsters play out on their streets in broad daylight.
Apparently fed up by the state of utter helplessness, a group of residents began to weigh their options on the challenges. What to do and how to carry it out, however, divided them into two camps.
A section reasoned that the community members must take up the gauntlet if anything must change, to which opposing camp gave equally compelling argument that they would, by so doing, have usurped the function of the Local Council Development Area (LCDA) to whom they have always been remitting their taxes.
Apparently not giving in to the sit-down-and-look option, the former group, led by Segun Adesanya, took the bold step of self-help to address its pertinent issues.
“It was tough and we had very little hope of succeeding because many people were not persuaded to work for the community but we forged on,”
Adesanya, a businessman and resident of more than 20 years, told The Guardian.
Two years later, the Lagos State helmsman, Babatunde Fashola has not only called to congratulate Adesanya and company but the Lagos Ministry of Rural and Urban Development is already considering their development strategy as a model for over 8,000 community associations in the state.
Barely 24 months after residents were divided on what to do on community work, 18 drainage channels have been constructed, nine roads resurfaced and lit by streetlights mainly from contributions of the people.
Dotting the streets is tap water coming from boreholes that have been sunk on each street. There is a running tap in every home on Ayetoro Street, and same goes for Olanrewaju, Finbarr’s Road and Wulemotu Ayoka Street.
For their efforts, Fashola awarded the Akoka CDA the seventh best among 8,023 Lagos CDAs at the last community day celebration. All the first six were highbrow estates.
It was gathered that the governor has also pledged to refund their expenses on street lighting projects.
Explaining their model of community development, Adesanya, who later became the CDA Chairman, said that they started by coordinating all 18 streets in Akoka, with each having representatives in the CDA to work on a blueprint of development.
He said that though they know funding was important but this was de-emphasised to get the people to be committed.
According to him, all they could agree on was a monthly contribution of N100 per house, yet some still didn’t pay! The plan, though ridiculous in modern sense, was to embark on some community work and then call on local government authorities to assist.
“Under two years, we have been able to get state and local governments’ attention, which had eluded them in 30 years.
“Our original source of funding is through contributions of the people, before we mount demand on the LCDA and the state Ministry of Works. That is the essence of the CDA really; for us to tell the government what we need in our area. We have now been able to achieve 70 percent of our blueprint,” he said proudly.
Adesanya admitted that Akoka, Bariga and Somolu are crises-prone areas of the state but in the last two years they have not recorded any cult-clash or midnight robbery.
Here is how the CDA’s security committee did it, using a strategy that no government has thought about. Security think-tank of the CDA simply identified leaders of the rival groups, seven in number, and summoned them to a meeting.
A member of the committee, Remi Olaniyan, said the only reason people become miscreants and cultists is because they have nothing to live for.
“So, we sat the leaders down and told them that they could do more than they were doing.” In their names, savings bank accounts were opened to which they were advised to be remitting money on weekly basis.
“One of them has paid over N700,000 into the account in the last three months. I told him to invest it in car-hire business and helped him get a car. Today, it is bringing him N40,000 – N45,000 every week. That encouraged others and they followed suit. Three of them are now in car-hire business.
“They now trust us and know they can live a better life. It is not as if all of them are entirely bad. Now they are very useful to themselves and to the community. If any problem is about to happen, they would call me and say ‘chairman, this thing is going to happen o,’ and we would nip it in the bud. There is no way any violence will happen without any of these seven persons knowing about it. They now see this community as theirs and ready to protect it. If you don’t provide leadership, don’t expect anyone to follow you. For me, you don’t have to be a politician or be very rich to develop your community or make impact,” Adesanya said.
Even the doubting Thomases and sit-down-and-look Joneses have been compelled to lend a helping hand.
“That is why we are still collecting N100 per house, instead of N100 per head. We have shown responsible leadership and they can see that you are not out to embezzle their money. The fact is you don’t run a community with money but with people’s desire to work together.
“One of our drainages still under construction is on Tunde Bello Street, worth N2.5m. The project is aimed at addressing the problem of ocean surge. One of the residents, who saw what we are doing, gave us N1m for the project, adding to the N100,000 that the houses on the street had contributed. That is what trusted leadership can do,” he said.
In Akoka today, virtually everyone knows where he or she belongs among the existing committees – all working in common interest. The traffic committee, made up of even the unemployed residents in the community, controls the traffic prone junctions like Pako, as early as 6:30am.
The sanitation team swings into action on Thursdays, with the mindset that no government will come and develop the community for them.
Legal adviser and resident of the community, Wale Adekola, said their CDA was a testimony of what could be achieved with proper coordination and commitment from the grassroots level.
Adekola, a lawyer, joined the voluntary service to support the cause of proper leadership at the grassroots, which he identified as the bedrock of national development.
“I’ve been here (as resident) for five years and everyone knows we’ve never had it this good. Traffic around Pako used to be hell but through the proactive efforts of the CDA and effectiveness of the traffic committee, there has been an improvement. Our model is participatory leadership; that is people getting involved. It was when the local government saw what we were doing that they came to support us,” he said.