By NBF News
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World of slum dwellers
Sunday, March 14, 2010

•The river used for transport, toilet, dustbin and the buldings

The Lagos metropolis has its share of the poor and the downtrodden. In various parts of the city, there are the slum dwellers who against all odds, believe that one day, their story would change for the better. They even hope to be stars or celebrities and possibly change the world. One of such slums is the Ayetoro Village Waterside at Ebute Metta, which harbours thousands of immigrants who had come to Lagos to get rich and live happily ever after.

Ayetoro Waterside perhaps houses the poorest people in Lagos whose preoccupation ranges from idleness to menial jobs and sundry services. They live in those ramshackle cut-and-join cubicles, hundreds of them built back to back to hold the other from sudden collapse, all standing on stilts and interconnected by a long rickety footbridge snaking through the area. There, they live and breed children, most of who turn out to be street urchins otherwise known as 'Area boys'.

Obinna Igwe is one of the slum dwellers.
A prospering salesman, Obinna had been trailed by a two-headed devil, the government of Bola Tinubu which destroyed his shop and a fire outbreak that destroyed all his belongings. Both incidents happened simultaneously in 2006. Left with no choice, Obinna had moved in with four of his friends to the room in the waterside where he stayed for over six months without a trade or any means of livelihood, and everyday, he prayed for God's liberation. Help finally came in the form of Ubong, who taught him how to make Sporting Waves hair-relaxer. With knowledge of the right chemicals to use, about N5000 in his pockets, Obinna began to make and market the product.

Unhealthy environment
The slum is a dangerous place to bring up children. There are usually half-clad little children playing hardly bothered about their unhealthy environment. They are mostly kids of the actively virile young men and women whose sex life is really alive probably due mainly to idleness. They occasionally go down into the muddy riverbed when the tide sets. Inside the shanties built with rafters on top of the river, the residents defecate, bath, cook and other activities associated with life and living. In some cases, the kids fall into the shit, or even into the river, taking in cupfuls of the filthy water. A woman who spoke to Sunday Sun said the kids fall into the dirty water once in a while and all they have to do is pick them up and clean them. 'Sometimes dem go fall inside, drink the water. E dey make dem sick, but we no fit do anything'.

Multipurpose river
Apart from holding the plank buildings, the filthy water also serves almost every other purpose for all the residents. Also, close by the 'face-me-I-face-you' rooms are the lavatories. This is made up of tiny bathrooms with a hole in the floor that serves as toilets. When pressed, people who use the lavatories defecate directly into the water. The water also serves as a refuse dump as the residents freely throw their wastes where they deem it fit in the river, with the hope that the rising tide will sweep them away. The kids also wash plates and throw dirty water and leftover food into the poor river with a 'big heart'.

The Ewu people from Benin, as well as the Ilajes whose main occupation is fishing, use their canoes on the waterway to convey their goods and fresh, borehole water which they sell. Each 25litre can sells for N20.

Below poverty line
Probably due to the high level of poverty, most residents are usually idle. Their meager sources of income include trading at traffic hold-ups. The goods they sell include fried groundnuts and garden eggs for most of the women. The younger men and women usually get involved in odd jobs like driving, mechanics, hawking, welding, hair-dressing, motorcycling, vulcanizing among others. These people most of the time, work so hard and earn so little that you would expect them to be driven to despair. But no. Prince Akuma, one of the residents says that the reason they live in the squalor is to enable them cut costs, from rents to electricity as PHCN hardly remembers to supply the area with power. He said the rent for a little room is between N1, 000 and N1, 200 per month, and they can stay four or five in one room. That means each person spends N200 per month on accommodation. But another grand reason is that slums are a haven of sorts.

A poor life, a happy life
They never despair. Instead, they resort to mind-boggling night life that chase away all sorrows. For here, alcohol, drugs and women are in abundance. Every evening, the men who live in groups, at least three to a room gather together to smoke, drink and gist, to ease off the day's turmoil. At night, their girlfriends and wives far from being shy joins them and as is obtainable in such communal environments, they eat together and of course take to pleasurable frolicking to round off the day. That way, the drudge and weariness hardly ever get to them.

Perhaps, it was in one of such adventures that Abigail Nwoka, a former student of Ayetoro Secondary School got pregnant and was forced into matrimony.

Today she lives with her young husband, an interior decorator along with their five-month old baby. She has no answer when Sunday Sun asked why she has not advised her husband to move from the unhealthy environment. Hear her 'My husband and his parents all live in this waterside. I cannot force them to go anywhere because I am under them. We are poor, I know but we do not starve. I do not like it here at all. It is just that we do not have enough'.

Obinna, who had lost everything to fire and government policy agreed with Sunday Sun that the pleasures of Ayetoro may well surpass its pains. 'My brother, its true that we are in squalor and poverty, but we are happier than most rich people. You don't know how much I enjoy the warmth of the community. It is a brotherhood. It is a spirit, guarding our private joys'.

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