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FESTAC: Once a haven now in throes of decay, abandonment

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Living in FESTAC Town from 1977 when it was built, to the late 1980s and early 1990s was the dream of any forward-looking family. Reason: The facility was neat, and its ambience lush and exquisite. The water systems in the buildings were in order, electricity supply regular and the sewage system functional. Simply put, things were working and FESTAC Village, as it was then called, was the envy of many Lagosians, and indeed some Africans. In fact, any first-time visitor to Lagos would always want to take a tour of this Federal Housing Estate, constructed outside the heart of Lagos, along the Mile 2 Badagry Expressway.

Sitting on a large expanse of land, the estate designed to house participants in the Second World Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), held in the state in 1977, was at the onset adjudged the biggest residential estate on the African continent.Apart from the beautiful houses, planners of the estate made provisions for markets, parks, police station, playgrounds and buffer zones, among others. The streets were well tarred, while hedges and trees not only added to the aesthetics and splendour of the area, but also facilitated sweet breeze, just as lampposts facilitated the illumination of the entire neighbourhood at night.

There were no dark corners for street urchins or miscreants to take refuge, or lay ambush for unsuspecting residents, or their visitors. That notwithstanding, security operatives were up to their game. Indeed, FESTAC Town during its good days was a beautiful place to live in, and residents took pride tell whoever cared to listen that they lived there.

Now, the once splendid town is in total mess and a shadow of its old self. All the facilities that made it a world-class residence, and the envy of some African countries are no longer functional. The sewage systems are broken down, and sewage pipes blocked with fetid water oozing from the wreckage.

For instance, residents of 402 Road must always close their windows to prevent themselves from being assailed by the obnoxious odour from broken down sewage pipes, where human faeces always make sudden appearances. Also, the once spotlessly clean and well looked after environment has been taken over by heaps of refuse, which dot different locations. Some of these household waste find their way into the clogged drains, causing adjoining streets to flood even when there are no rains.

As a way of averting an epidemic outbreak after state-hired waste collectors abdicated their responsibilities, some residents now resort to use of outlawed cart pushers to dispose off household waste. Unfortunately, some of the cart pushers empty the thrash into canals or dump them at buffer zones thereby adding to the sanitation problem.

Another worrisome practice going on in the facility is the gradual disappearance of buffer zones, playgrounds and parks, which have been bought over by the nouveau riche and religious groups.In the place of these facilities meant to facilitate recreational activities, the new owners have erected choice structures and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), the supervisory agency appears to be in a deep slumber.

A source close to the FHA claims that for a fee and with the right connection, purchasing plots of land in the town can be swiftly done, not minding the implications the alterations would have on the original master plan.The source further alleged that some officials of the FHA, in concert with other government officials sell off these spaces reserved for recreational purposes to private individuals and organisations since the Federal Government appears not to have interest any more in maintaining the estate.

As matters stand, the various residents’ associations have little or no powers to check the excesses of these new landlords, the source said, adding that since the seat of government was moved to Abuja, attention paid to the wellbeing of the estate has ebbed tremendously.Restoring the estate’s glory, experts say would gulp hundreds of millions of Naira, and the Federal Government appears unprepared to spend such for now.

However, government staying aloof has also not helped matters as all forms of breaches are being committed daily, ranging from altering the structures to violating of rules and regulations, some of which forbid residents from renting and disposing of their property to third parties.

This change in ownership structures has also led to the emergence of all sort of outfits ranging from retail outlets, religious homes, open markets, schools, hospitals, hotels, and sundry cottage business in areas that are not meant to play host to such. Consequently, this makes some parts of the estate rowdy, and leads to increase in human and vehicular traffic. While the emergence of these businesses has its own advantages –– that is encouraging small-scale business enterprises, it has also created fears in some residents, who see the increased tempo of activities as the major cause of crimes such as burglary, kidnapping, trade in hard drugs and prostitution.

The swelling number of youths from the Boko Haram ravaged Northwest, popularly referred to as ‘Adamawa Boys,’ is another phenomenon, which is worrying residents of the estate. These young men settle for all manner of jobs in order to keep body and soul together. While some are into gate-keeping, and street trading, a good number of them work as commercial motorcyclist and tricycle operators. Because of their peculiar lifestyle, they dwell in substandard colonies, and have built shanties alone the buffer zones and around the canal, just as they also take up residence in uncompleted buildings. One residence said they are daring and not ready to operate their businesses by the rule.

Lawless to a reasonable extent, some of the motorcycles and tricycles used by them are not registered and so have no number plates. Consequently, they pose immense security risk to residents of the estate, even as they ply their trade carelessly. Apart from the fruit sellers and some others among them, who venture out in the morning to sell their wares, the others that are into trading come out much later in the evening to hawk cooked food and drugs at street corners.

Not only have some of their activities broken the tranquility of the once peaceful community, a bridge has also been constructed by unknown persons around the Adamawa Community across the buffer zone, to the marshy land area sharing boundaries with the estate.Sources say the bridge could lead to Ije Dodo, Ijegun, Okota, Akesan and other communities in that flank.

When The Guardian visited the area, some men stood sentry and monitored the usage of the bridge. The security guards, however, declined speaking to The Guardian, even as feelers have it that the concrete bridge is used by some persons, at night. According to a resident, Oluremi Lawson, the bridge was hurriedly constructed by some unknown persons, and efforts by residents to establish their true identity has so far proved abortive.

However, it is alleged by some residents that some persons pass through the bridge to the other side of FESTAC at night, heavily guarded. According to Lawson: “The area is notorious for crime, and the recent kidnappings that took place in FESTAC happened there.”

While alleging that the bridge serves as an escape route for criminals, Lawson added that some resident associations drew the attention of Lagos State government to it and it was marked for demolition. Several months after the planned demolition, the bridge is still in place.

Chief Michael Ehimemen, a retiree, who has lived in the community for decades, said things started going awry after Mr. Fortune Ebie, the first General Manager, Federal Housing Authority (FHA) was removed from managing the estate.

According to him, before then, the estate was well run, facilities in near perfect conditions, and crime and criminality unknown in the facility.But Femi Oludimu is of the view that the decay experienced in the estate is as a result of lack of maintenance culture by Nigerians, adding that some of the facilities are over 40 years old and should have been replaced with new ones. He noted that the population of the community has increased astronomically, while the facilities remain what they were in 1977 when the estate was constructed.

Oludimu, who said facilities were falling apart because pressure on them has increased tremendously, called for the revisiting of the original master plan, with the intention of upgrading some of the facilities and even expanding the estate to accommodate more people.

He observed that until government or its agencies do this, the place would continue to depreciate in status and value.For Alhaji Adamu Balarabe, FESTAC Town has multifaceted problems, which include management of facilities, maintenance of the structures, security and others, which need to be handled by powers greater than the various residents’ associations.

Balarabe noted that the various residents’ associations were divisive and as such cannot come up with rules and regulations that are binding because attempts to enforce such rules and regulations might be interpreted as infringements on residents’ rights.

He said that some landlords in an attempt to reconstruct their buildings, damage some of the underground electricity cables, water pipes and even block sewage channels. This, he said, has contributed immensely to the problems besetting the estate.

Regretting how the once enviable estate has so deteriorated, former Chairman of Amuwo Odofin Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Comrade Ayodele Adebowale Adewale, said: “We know that the environment ha been abused, while law and order have collapsed, but the new government is working assiduously to bring hope, and restore the estate to what it used to be.”

He assured residents that the present LCDA boss would soon begin to open up blocked drainages and check the indiscriminate dumping of refuse on the streets and buffer zones.Adewale, a member of the newly constituted strategic committee that comprises representatives from the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Navy, as well as the Nigerian Police and community leaders, disclosed that the body has been saddled with the task of checking crime in the estate, adding that an action plan has been put in place to identify black spots and advise concerned authorities on the right course of action to take.

The former chairman noted that with this arrangement, crime rate would be drastically reduced in the estate.He, however, said the Adamawa Boys pose no threat to security of lives and property in the estate as government and the various community leaders were keeping an eye on them, and also engaging their services to make sure that they do not take to crime.

“The Adamawa people have no problems. They are entrepreneurs; they are into transportation, but it becomes a challenge when they squat in ramshackle structures, and it is the business of government to make sure that the environment is well structured and that is why you see us having intermittent meetings to engage them because if we don’t, the society will pay dearly for it,” he said.

While some residents are hopeful that with assurances given by Adewale on behalf of the new committee things may soon return to normal, others see it as mere words of encouragement. Francis Ajulo queried: “If the new committee handles security issues, would it also ensure that water runs in our pipes?”

Ajulo, who maintained that some of the problems plaguing the estate were beyond what an LCDA can handle, urged the Federal Government to partner Lagos State government and other stakeholders to make the estate worth living again.He said potable water is another thing that most people do not complain of, noting that since the central water tank stopped functioning, residents have had to depend on commercial water sellers.


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FESTAC Town

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