By Lawrence Enyoghasu And Vera Wisdom-Bassey

The Holy Book talks about the Prodigal Son who broke company from his father to travel to a far place, struggling for food with pigs, at some stage of his wretched life. Although no place was mentioned in the story, many Lagosians are prepared to swear with a copy of the Holy Book that that place is Otto Ilogbo in Lagos.

In this thriving community of filth located underneath the bridges and flyovers located between Iddo and extending to the National Theatre area, human beings and animals cohabit. They probably greet one another. But Saturday Sun findings showed that the place, which serves as home to the dregs of the society, lacks basic amenities like water and electricity. It also serves as a hotbed of crime like prostitution, robbery and kidnapping and a ready market for illicit and fake drugs.

 

Fights and arguments

Indeed, the Lagos riverbank community is in a world of its own as pigs could be seen foraging for food in the unsightly mire. But history has it that it started off as being an abode for displaced Egba indigenes in pre-colonial times. Today, the only thing that seems to lend some sanity to the place is the railway and bridge constructions going on there. Otherwise, all other human activities in the community seem to be in a continuous state of flux or organised confusion. Sometimes, you could see some haggard-looking ragamuffins battling one another in a devil-may-care manner over daily spoils. They didn’t disappoint expectations on the Sunday that our correspondents visited. On this day, they threw everything they had into the fight: handsaws, screwdrivers, etc. Enquiries showed that the boys were fighting over a particular amount of money said to have been given to them by one of the construction companies.

In a twinkle of an eye, the whole place became rowdy as everyone gathered to watch two muscular young men battling each other with all the venom they could muster over the money. In the end, both sustained injuries from the weapons they were using. Ironically, the one wielding the handsaw was more injured. This is because, during the fight, his left heel had hit the debris from some broken shops. This misstep made him not only lose balance but also go crashing to the ground. Sympathisers gathered to lend a helping hand when they saw blood rushing out of his gaping wounds. They also helped to rescue him from his aggressive opponent.

But that fight in a place known for such notoriety and nuisance is not the first thing that welcomes you to the community. Rather, if you are coming into the place through Alhaja Fawehinmi House, you would see a group of boys sitting around a locally constructed gym and arguing about the wealth status of two Nigerian musicians.

An old woman called Iya Warisi, who seemed to take some exception to a police officer’s participation in the argument, quipped: “Oga Olopa don join (has joined) an argument that might start a fight soon.” Then she turned to one of our correspondents who had earlier asked how to locate Amoo Suleiman, the councillor who once represented the community at the local government council, and said to him acidly: “Did you say you are looking for the Honourable? Please, don’t join them o.” Truly, before Suleiman could arrive, the boys’ arguments degenerated into a big fight. It prompted the prescient woman to say:”I told you that they would fight. If you had joined them they would have messed you up and got your friend annoyed when he comes.”

Kidnapping a new scourge

Apart from senseless arguments and fights that erupt from time to time, Otto is a relatively quiet community. Children could be seen roaming the place. The older ones could be seen hanging out either at barbers’ saloons, restaurants, beer parlours or bars. Residents of the place are said to be indoors most of the time because of their fear of snakes or other harmful reptiles. But they dread kidnappers the most because they seemed to have become the scourge of the place in recent times. Dawodu Bamidele, one of the residents narrated how kidnappers had been prowling the community before one of them was recently caught.

He narrated what happened with some gusto. Pointing to a narrow pathway, he recalled: “The suspect came in through that path. Barefooted! He looked haggard and dirty. Children were playing around in our compound. I called out, asking where he was headed to. He responded that he was trying to exit the compound to the main road. I told him there was no exit there. Rather than turn back, he pushed my son, Khalid. When I saw that, I quickly moved to save the situation. My instinct told me that I should trail his movement. I suspected that he had an ulterior motive. As he was walking out of the compound, he held out a N100 note for Ayomide, a four-year-old boy among the children. Immediately he stretched out his hand to collect the money, the man covered his face with his T-shirt. I ran to him and ordered the boy to drop the money on the floor. He did. I told the man to pick it up. He refused. That’s how I started beating him. I raised the alarm and others joined me to beat him. What saved him was Oga Olopa who intervened and quickly took him to the police station. Otherwise, we would have killed him and burnt his corpse here.”

 

Educating the community children

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The agony of children born here seems signposted by the kind of schools they attend. A popular school, Faith Children School, built of wood structure is typical of those schools. A careful watch showed that there are no doors as such but openings used as entrances. The teachers pass through the back of studying pupils to access another class. Suleiman said that even though they know that the school does not meet any standards, all the same, they trust that with it they can inspire the children to read and acquire education for their own good.

He said: “Faith School is what we have on this side of Otto. The school started as a humanitarian service outreach to our people, with teachers volunteering before we could start paying them. We can monitor our children. Most people think that because it is a slum, we don’t have security or we don’t have anybody to speak for us. That’s why kidnappers feel that they can come here and kidnap our kids and go. We do have people speaking for us. We have fingered many of them in this area. It is one of the reasons we are begging the government to look at our ordeals. The vote here is massive, yet we don’t have dividends of democracy.”

 

Lack of houses, water, electricity, etc

The community is said to be one of the biggest take-off and discharge points for transporters and has contributed much tax returns into the state coffers. Yet many of the community’s houses are built with wood and tarpaulins. What passes as bathrooms in some places in order to hide one’s nakedness from the public eyes are built with tarpaulins too. Water is scarce in the community. The stuff is usually supplied by water carriers even though water is all around them in dirty puddles.  But illicit drugs of all kinds abound and are on sale. So are also substandard or fake drugs.

Iya Aliyah whose shop is sandwiched between two barbers’ saloons, on the same lane, said to have the biggest pig farm in the area, appeared jittery as she spoke to people who, to her, were total strangers. She insisted that she sold the original drugs although there was no way of confirming her claim. The residents living in shanties hardly see electric light even though they live near the National Electric Power Authority office at Ijora Olopa. There are no electric poles mounted to draw electricity from the source to the community. Only the bars and wooden brothels located at the entrance of the community have access to electricity.

The call girls could be seen dressed in their usual half-nude and see-through clothes. The day was bright yet they beckoned on any man that looked in their direction as if he needed their services. They deploy different verbal antics and eye movements to attract prospective customers.

Chibueze, a bartender in one of the wooden bars, explained: “They can make you feel at home while you wait for your bus. They charge as low as N1000 if you want to have the best. We have ones who work with our establishment and we can guarantee you maximum satisfaction. But if you rent a room and bring in anybody you like, you are on your own.”

 

Anatomy of the community

Otto community is made up of 14 major streets. They include Appetizer; Palace Road, Akinfuje Street, Osuro Street, Ajayi, Omidiji, Bridge Road, Iddo, Esugayi, Ogundimu, Akinlolu, Bello Street, Fagbayi Lane, and the Fagbayi Street. The popular areas in the community are the mosque, houses, church, school, barracks, and Quranic School. The slum could be connected through the Otto footbridge.  On any given day your nostrils are bound to be assaulted with nasty odour from the gutter and footbridge itself where a lot of rubbishes are packed.  The footbridge is said to have been abandoned for years.  Some residents in Otto are said to be afraid to use it, especially in the night-time because robbers take advantage of the lack of illumination to rob them of their phones and other valuables.

Ndume, one of the bus loaders and a guy our correspondents met in one of the restaurants lamented that Otto footbridge is fast becoming a death trap for innocent pedestrians. At the end of their narration, they charged them with the following words:  “Tell the government to come to do something fast about all these people stealing around these bridges. Often, people would lose their personal effects there, especially handsets, without knowing how it happened.”  The restaurant guy added that some traders were also clogging the bridges with their wares.

Accommodation in Otto is cheap as most of the houses are made of wooden structures and corrugated iron sheets. But most of the habitations are without modern toilets as residents make use of the murky water below to do their thing. You must also be willing to sleep with animals, especially pigs which are reared in large droves in the community. The proverb, he that fights with the pig, is sure to get muddied and muddled up holds true here in both physical and mental senses. A source said of the rooms, most of which are without toilet facilities:  “You can get a room for N10, 000 per annum. When you combine that with agents’ and agreement fees everything could come up to N20, 000 per annum.”

Tunde Ajagungbade, one of the biggest pig farmers and a real estate dealer in the community, added that one could buy a portion of the watery space for a paltry sum and build structures on it if one wishes. Pointing to a portion of the river bank, he said: “Whatever you need the space for, this place should be enough. You can also use it for your fish farming because there is a market for it in this place. As we discussed earlier, the rent is N15, 000 but you need to pay for the agent and community fees and for security also.”