Riddled with filth, bad roads and fast decaying structures, Gowon Estate in Egbeda, a Lagos surburb, is becoming an eyesore and perhaps another disaster waiting to happen
By Eric Dumo
Peter Uwem, 69-year-old retired police officer, looked very disturbed as he made to settle into the plastic chair in front of his apartment that hot Tuesday afternoon. His frustration is far from feelings that come with old age or retirement. It is the dilapidating state of their block and several others around it on 31 Road, Gowon Estate, Egbeda, in the heart of Nigeria’s commercial centre, Lagos, that is giving him deep concern.
As one of the oldest residents at this once bubbling Federal Housing Authority’s estate established by the military administration of Yakubu Gowon in the 1970s, he has seen the place morphed from a serene, beautiful environment to the crumbling neighbourhood it is today. Like many who have lived here for a long time and understands the dynamics, he nurses huge fears. “Look at the environment (pointing and casting his eyes at different directions), everywhere is dirty,”
Uwem said with sadness written all over his face. “Can this not cause sickness and even disease for us, especially the children? Nobody cares because everybody only takes responsibility for his or her flat. That is why this problem is like this today. “When I first moved into this place in 1982, everywhere was neat and good-looking. All the facilities where there and there was no need to bother about anything. But look at everywhere today, is this type of environment good for human beings.
Except you have money to buy tank and pipes to connect water into your flat, you would struggle to get clean water because there are many people who need it too.” That is not the only problem, because the issue of the roads is there too. “You cannot enjoy your car inside this place because all the roads are bad. Just go round and you would see for yourself what I am talking about. But my biggest fear is that most of the buildings are very weak because of lack of proper maintenance. Like this one I am staying, every occupant do his or her own renovation separately and this can affect the entire building if one is not careful. This thing is really giving me concern and I hope that something can be done about it,” he said. Last December, a building at Navy Block around 33 Road, collapsed, killing two children.
Even though it has since been rebuilt with people already living in it, one occupant who simply gave her name as Mabel, told the paper that some of them are not too comfortable with the state of the structure but have to live in it because they have nowhere else to go. On Road 41, one of the longest within this expansive estate, signs of weakness and decay could be seen on most of the buildings. Apart from the over-crowdedness in some, the faded coats on many of them, testify to the bad state of things here. For a first time visitor to this place, the sights could be shocking and really unpleasant.
Even though trucks belonging to the Lagos Waste Management Authority, LAWMA, could be seen collecting refuse at different roads and closes within the estate, most parts are still riddled with filth, exposing residents to all sorts of airborne diseases. Stagnant water could be observed in front and rear of several buildings in parts of the estate. It is a phenomenon that is reducing the area to an eyesore, in fact. “We enjoy electricity very well in this estate because most of us use prepaid meters.
But it is the bad roads and the dirty environment that is the major problem for now. Had it been that everybody partake in environmental sanitation as a group, maybe some of these things wouldn’t have been there. But because everybody is a landlord in his or her flat, it is hard to have people clean beyond the immediate surrounding of their apartments.
That is why you see filth in most places. In some places, people cooperate and do sanitation as a team but in many places every flat does their own separately. This is the major cause of this problem,” Gloria Philips, a mother of one told Aspire along American Junction, a popular intersection just by 41 Road. Established about 35 years ago to provide affordable housing for civilians and government employees like the Police, Navy, Customs and those in the civil service, Gowon Estate is one of the biggest of its kind in the country, boasting of over 500 blocks of 16 flats each scattered across more then 30 Roads and scores of closes.
While the majority of the buildings are three storeys, duplexes and bungalows owned by civilians also come into the picture to make a fine blend. Uniformed men who live here do not pay rents but forfeit their housing allowance to remain occupants of any of the flats. However, after retirement and full payments of gratuity, officers could buy over their apartments if they so desire or move elsewhere to begin a new life. But for the civilian occupants, it is either it is bought or rented from an existing owner.
Much has not changed in this system though; it is the poor environment and the degenerating state of most of the structures here that is eliciting the biggest concern lately. Some vehicle owners, who explained how difficult it is to drive through the pothole-ridden roads, especially during rainy season. A handful claims they have had to dig deep into their pockets to keep their cars in proper shape. “There is no two weeks that I don’t spend money on this car because of our bad roads here,” Friday Izuruonye said. “If it is not shock absorber this week, then it would be shaft or even bolt joint.
That is how we spend money here to maintain our cars. Ask any of the mechanics around and they will tell you. I don’t know if government is aware of what we are passing through or they just pretend as if they don’t know. We are really suffering in terms of roads here in this estate.” Other car users had similar tales to tell. For many of them, the present state of most of the roads and even the poor state of the environment is making life at the esate a little challenging. They want government and relevant authorities to come in and save the situation. However, apart from the poor sanitary condition of Gowon Estate and the terrible state of many of the buildings, there are other issues also agitating the minds of residents.
Though, the place appears relatively safe considering the large presence of uniformed personnel living in the neighbourhood, the growing numbers of gangs within the area has become a source of worry to more than a few persons. Several cliques of young boys were seen by the reporter smoking and gulping all sorts of alcoholic substances at ‘coded’ spots. There are concerns here that some of the boys could be involved in the petty crimes that take place around the area. Earlier in June, hoodlums were dislodged from their notorious joint called ‘Kuwait’ in the neighbourhood.
The place had been infamous for its cheap, illicit drugs and prostitution. It was a safe haven for criminals, who for many years, had held the entire area under their firm grip. Led by Agba Nchor, a Chief Superintendent of Police, CSP, a team of battle-ready officers pounced on the place in the early hours of June 18, while many of the drug dealers and criminals were still snoring. A collection of shanties, which had rooms used for all sorts of immoral activities, ‘Kuwait’ was grinded to dust by the fearless Nchor who is the Divisional Police Officer in charge of the Gowon Estate Police Station.
Several items including illegal drugs, charms and even dangerous weapons were recovered from the scene. Before that time, many residents of the estate rather than gang up against the hoodlums who had polluted their environment with their nefarious activities had chosen to stay back for fear of being attacked. Some told Aspire that the place was also havens for cultists, prostitutes and other category of evildoers. There had been several cases of rape linked to this notorious spot as well, leaving female residents to live in fear. Churches in the area also fell to the antics of ‘Kuwait’. More than a few came under severe attacks from the criminals who inhabited the place for years.
The confrontations, sometimes, were reduced to violence skirmishes. Several times during service, the drug dealers had stormed churches around, snatching offerings and tithes in the process. Darlington Ajitemisan, Pastor of Open Channel Bible Church, is one of those who are very happy to see ‘Kuwait’ bulldozed off the area. Having been around long enough, he understands how terrible it was those dark days when miscreants terrorized the entire neighbourhood. “When the church came here in 1993-94, it was the biggest in Gowon Estate,” he said. “But these boys started coming into the churches, during services to snatch tithes.
They were led by a guy called ‘hard man.’ No church could hold service without giving them money or else they’ll stop the service. I was not yet sanctified back then, I used to remove my shirt and engaged in free for all. I will do 20 press-up, pick their gym equipment and throw at them. It was total war! It was bloodbath! A lot of people used to think I was smoking Indian hemp too, but I was not! “In April 5, 2009, at about 1:00am, they broke into my mission house, poured petrol on me and set me on fire while I was asleep, but I was not burnt. I’m not a friend of the police because they collect bribe from these boys, I even fought with the then DPO. I petitioned that he should be stoned.
I even organized NDLEA, Police, soldiers, Airforce, Navy to team up and flush the drug dealers out of Kuwait, but they didn’t succeed. A pastor rented out his church to another, because he was tired of the troubles with the boys. “Pastor Joshua Patrick of ‘Chapel of Possibility’ was so provoked one day that he stormed out with a machete to confront the smokers. It was by sheer grace of God that he had not committed murder. They used to urinate and defecate in his church. We couldn’t send them away, no matter how hard we tried.
Whenever we tried, they would beat us up. But the police under the new DPO had been able to dislodge them. I’ll fervently pray for these policemen. They’ve done well,” he said. But even with that gallant feat in restoring sanity to the area, strange things have not stopped happening at Gowon Estate. In October, residents woke up to a horrible scene. A dead baby alleged to have been stoned to death by an unknown individual, was found at a spot within the estate. Eyewitnesses say the baby was dumped before dawn and had died as a result of injuries and exposure to the harsh weather.
The incident sent shocks across and beyond the locality. Indeed the present state of Gowon Estate is one that is drawing concerns from not only residents but from observes of events who fear that several lives could be endangered if structural checks are not done on majority of the buildings, especially with the number of occupants in each household swelling by the day. I O November 21, a three-storey building crumbled inside Jakande Estate at the Isolo area of Lagos.
Two sisters – Toyin and Bukky Coker – died in the process. Their mother, Adebisi, a 68-year-old widow, was lucky to escape but not without some injuries. She had been at a private hospital receiving treatment ever since. Immediately after the collapse, occupants in similar weak structures were given a two-day quit notice. The Lagos state government has penciled about 60 flats for demolition in the aftermath of the collapse. The buildings have been sealed off by the Enforcement Department, Oshodi/Isolo Zonal Office of the Lagos State Building Control Agency.
Investigations showed that apart from Gowon and Jakande estates respectively, several others like Abesan and the one at Ajah are also in deplorable states. Building experts and structural engineers have called for constant monitoring on some of these old low cost housing units as the way out of the present situation. Except drastic steps are taken to critically address some of these issues, places like Gowon Estate might continue to battle neglect, physical and environmental degradation in the foreseeable future.