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A DAY WITH LAGOS FLOOD VICTIMS

By NBF News
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At exactly 1:14pm, she inhaled her first breath outside her mother's womb. Being the first baby to be born at the Lagos State Relief Camp, Agbowa, she was temporarily christened 'LASEMA BABY' by camp officials and nurses. As the mother, Uchechi Victor, 19, fed her first child, tears rolled down her cheeks.

They were tears of sadness, loss and uncertainty about the future of her child, she told Daily Sun at the Agbowa General Hospital.

'It is not that I am not grateful to God for my child. I am sad because I don't have where to take my baby when we are asked to leave the camp. I also don't have any money to take care of her. Everything I laboured for with my husband was destroyed by the flood. I now live at the mercy of the Lagos state government,' she said.

Besides her, there are about six pregnant women at the point of delivery at the camp, while 42 others are at different stages of pregnancy. They each share the same feeling of despondency about the future of their unborn children.

These women and thousands of others are victims of the recent monumental flooding in Lagos. The flood affected communities in Ikorodu Local Government as well as Ikosi-Isheri and Agboyi Ketu Local Council Development areas. For weeks, horrifying scenes of houses overrun by water, of helpless families trying to survive in the flood dominated television screens and pages of newspapers. Hundreds of the victims, who lived in Mile 12, Owode-Onirin, Owode Elede, Ajegunle, Itolowo, among other communities,are temporarily being sheltered at the relief camp, the first to be completed among the three proposed in the state.

Sited on one hectare of land in Ikosi Ejirin Local Council Development area, the camp is fenced round and has a family dormitory with a capacity to house 60 families. It also has male and female dormitories with 20 rooms each, with each room having double-decker beds. There is also an administrative block, 12 female and male toilets, kitchen, an automated laundry unit with industrial washing machines and dryers as well as football and basketball pitches. Also within the camp is a clinic and two ambulances, a multi-purpose hall equipped with LCD televisions and four giant cooling units.

All these can hardly suppress the feeling of helplessness among many of the victims, however. Life in the camp, for most of them, has not been easy. For those not familiar with a regimented lifestyle, the place is like a prison.

Funmi Adesanya, whose two-bedroom apartment and bar were overrun by the flood, told Daily Sun that she was glad to be sheltered in the camp with her three children, even though the place is devoid of real luxury.

'I lost two freezers, two fridges and about 100 crates of eggs in my shop to the flood. I lost all my cat fish and my frozen chicken and turkey worth over two hundred thousand naira were destroyed. This incident happened less than two weeks after I paid my children's school fees. So, I don't know how I would start life afresh,' she said.

While noting that the flood has been a yearly occurrence, Esther Ighodalo, who disclosed that she lost goods worth over one million to the flood, said they were overwhelmed by the magnitude of what was experienced this year.

'I sell frozen foods and had just stocked my shop when the incident happened. My only prayer is that Fashola should help us start all over again. Most of us in this camp are widows.'

For Funmilayo Christopher, widowhood is definitely coming at a higher price than she anticipated. Left with six mouths to feed after losing her husband a year ago, she is further burdened with getting a permanent shelter for her family. She is contemplating getting a room apartment in Agbowa, but she is constrained by finance.

'I don't know what to do now. My youngest child is barely two years old while the others are in school. I need help,' she appealed.

The men's demeanour revealed little about their inner turmoil, yet their frustrations were right there in their eyes. But for the children, life and fun must continue. Already well adjusted to camp life, they played happily about on a football field in the camp. Their education has also not been aborted by the disaster, as they are daily driven to Methodist Primary School, Baptist Primary School, LG Primary School and Lagos State Model College in Agbowa where they have been relocated.

Facilities at the Agbowa Camp are presently over stretched, as the place originally constructed to accommodate 500 internally displaced persons now houses more than double that number. According to statistics made available at the camp, the victims comprise 206 men, 278 women and 519 children. There are also 50 Lagos state officials working there.

Available spaces within the camp have been converted to drying areas for clothes, while people without bed spaces sleep on mats in the multi-purpose halls. Amidst this insufficiency, stealing of phones, mattresses and mats thrives. Daily Sun was told that most of the flood victims steal and throw their loot over the fence, only to cart them away when they find an opportunity to leave the camp. A victim was so unfortunate to be caught by vigilant guards at the camp gate, as she tried to make away with a mat.

Speaking on the overstretched situation at the camp, the Camp Commandant, Mr. Wewe Adeboye said the facilities became overstretched due to the incursion of fake flood victims into the resettlement camp. The development, he said, has denied the authentic victims access to available facilities.

'That particular problem is under check as we are investigating to identify those who are not meant to be here. We are working with the community development associations and the officials of the local governments of the affected areas to evict the gatecrashers,' he asserted. He said officials are constantly carrying out repair works on facilities damaged by victims due to bad handling.

How long would the victims remain in the camp? According to Adeboye, that is at the discretion of the Governor Babatunde Fashola. He noted that those who are willing would be trained in various skills by the state's Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation.

Managing Director of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Femi Osanyintolu said the camp was built to ameliorate the suffering of the people when faced with unexpected disasters.