Residents of Kirikiri town, a coastal community in the Oriade Local Council Development Area of Lagos State, live in appalling condition due to the total neglect of their community by successive administrations in the state. But their situation is also not helped by the ongoing struggle for control of the community even as the activities of petroleum tank farm owners, who daily load petroleum products in what is purely a residential area, have become another source of worry. Olaolu Olusina, who visited Kirikiri town last week, reports.
The early morning rain had just stopped and the chilling weather was about giving way to a sunny day. The decrepit road leading to Kirikiri town, a coastal community in the Oriade Local Council Development Area of Lagos State, that Monday morning, was as busy as ever.
Articulated trucks ferrying containers from the various bonded warehouses in the area struggled with petroleum tankers as they tried to find their way in and out of the town. Private cars and commercial motorcyclists, popularly called Okada, had no choice than to be sandwiched between the trucks in what has become a daily traffic chaos amid hooting and screaming by drivers on that bumpy and pot-hole infested road.
As you enter the town, officials of the Lagos State security outfit, Operation MESA, could be seen at the main square, keeping watch of every movement even as officials of the Kirikiri Prisons Barracks were not leaving anything to chance in view of the general insecurity in the country.
Sitting on a Keg of Gun Powder
Moving up into Karimu Street, petroleum tankers of all sorts occupied a major portion of the road as their drivers waited on the queue to load from the various petroleum tank farms operating in the densely populated area. Petty traders eking out a living in the shops and houses dotting both sides of the street were left at the mercy of the tanker drivers who had completely blocked their shops and houses as commercial motorcyclists zoomed past as they plied their trade unhindered. And as another danger loomed large, they all seemed to have forgotten in a hurry the fire outbreak, which occurred in the area last year as a result of the activities of the tanker drivers.
But on the other side of the town, Pa Stephen Ugbade, a retired NITEL staff who is also an elder in the community, sat in front of his shop on Cardoso Street, watching as the petroleum tankers made their way out in turns after loading fuel from the tank farms at the end of the road.
Clutching a plate of Semovita flour meal and vegetable soup for his breakfast, Pa Ugbade shook his head momentarily, as he reflected on the imminent danger facing the town in view of the activities of the tank farm operators.
Kirikiri Residents’ Predicament
“You can see that it’s a double jeopardy for us here in Kirikiri town from the state of our roads and the lack of basic social amenities. We’ve been writing letters to the government to, at least, tare some of our roads, but no response has come. And to compound this is the menace of these tank farm operators. We have about five of them loading petrol right here in a residential area.
“Initially, they told us they would be lifting only diesel but later they started lifting petrol. They block everywhere with their trucks and people are complaining; even the prisons authorities too. We survived between three and five fire incidents in two months and we were only lucky that there was no casualty,” he told THISDAY.
Pa Ugbade, who said he has been living in the community for more than 30 years now, lamented the absolute neglect of the area not only by the government but also by the tank farm owners who make millions of naira on a daily basis from their operations in Kirikiri town.
“This place was designed as a residential area. It is different from the Kirikiri Industrial Area. But the encroachment started about five years ago when the fuel depots started taking over. The Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) started issuing licences to them, Nigerian Maritime Security and Safety Agency (NIMASA) as well as the Lagos State Coastal Revenue Agency started coming to take revenue from these people.
“If you go down the road, you’ll see the depots along the coast. They are the biggest depots after the ones in Apapa. Yet no consideration has been given to the development of the community. We don’t even have a maternity in the whole of this place,” Pa Ugbade said further.
THISDAY gathered that no fewer than five petroleum marketing companies have their tank farms located in Kirikiri town. Though a densely populated residential area, the area has now been taken over by the oil companies. When this reporter visited the area last Monday, the coastal area was a beehive of activities as petrol tankers waited for their turn to load from depots operated by Swift Oil, Techno Oil, Fatgbem Oil, Index Petrolube Africa and Bovers Oil. Capital Oil is also said to have a facility in the area. Motor boys, sales agents and other intermediaries in the petroleum marketing and supply chain as well as other miscreants were seen loitering in the area.
Rumble for Control
A few metres from Pa Ugbade’s shop is the house of the Baale of Kikiriri, Chief Waidi Sunmonu Agunbiade, on Agunbiade Street, a street lying between Karimu and Cardoso Streets, where the Baale and the other elders of the Kirikiri community were meeting to discuss the state of affairs in the community.
Lamenting the total neglect of the community by both the government and the tank farms operators, Agunbiade said the pains his people had been going through were becoming unbearable. “Ours is a pathetic case. We have been abandoned by the government and those who make money from our domain are also exploiting us. It is painful that there is no development in this area and our youths have no jobs,” the Baale said.
His views were corroborated by the Tayese of Kirikiri, Chief Kayode Ewarawon, who is also the Secretary of Imore and Apapa Council of Chiefs. Ewarawon accused the tank farm operators of abandoning the community. “They have totally abandoned us and have no respect for constituted traditional authorities here. We invited some of them severally for meetings on how to move this community forward in view of the menace their activities is posing, but they have refused to honour our invitation.
“Instead, they have been dealing with a young man, Babalola Shabi, who has been parading himself as the Awujale of Kirikiri. Out of the five tank farms, only Swift employed three of our graduates last year after almost ten years of operation in the area. And out of the five oil companies operating in the area, only Bovers and Swift are cooperating with the community,” he told this reporter.
“Shabi was a land/estate agent to the Cardoso family of Kirikiri. His house is close to the tank farms and is suspected to have brought the tank farms owners. He has become a law unto himself and has been parading himself as the Baale, collecting dues meant for the community. He collects N500 on every truck and shares with his boys. He was also dropping the name of the governor to his advantage and has gone ahead to form an illegal community development association (CDA) in Kirikiri to dupe the community.
“We’ve reported his atrocities to the police but he succeeded in buying them over. He has money and connection in the area. His boys once vandalised the Baale’s house and borehole. He has polarised the community as he summons his own chieftaincy meetings,” the chiefs, including the Balogun of Kirikiri, Chief Oseni Adewale; the Secretary of Kirikiri traditional council, Chief Julius Ajanlekoko, and the Balogun Obinrin, Chief (Mrs) Bisi Dosunmu, further alleged as they condemned the activities of Shabi, whom they described as a property agent attached to one of the families in the community but has allegedly turned the table round to start calling the shot.
“Shabi is an impostor and has been going about collecting money on behalf of the community and diverting same to his private use. He has cornered almost all the property in the area and has successfully built a powerful business empire for himself to the detriment of the community. He brought in all these depot owners and has been protecting them by using his boys to give them protection on a daily basis.”
The result of Shabi’s alleged underhand dealings, according to the chiefs, is the total disrespect for the elders of the community by the depots owners, which has culminated in lack of development for the community. They cited the case of the Kirikiri Depot Manager of Techno Oil, Mrs. Odufuwa, whom they alleged has been ‘arrogantly’ rebuffing all the moves of the traditional council for a meeting, preferring to deal directly with Shabi instead.
However, the Kirikiri Depot Manager of Techno Oil, Mrs. Odufuwa, would not entertain any question from THISDAY when this reporter sought to have her reactions on the allegations made against her. “I don’t know anything about what you are talking about. If you want anything, go to our head office in Lagos,” she told this reporter on telephone.
But another elder in the community who spoke with THISDAY on condition of anonymity blamed those he described as shylock landlords in the area for the fate that has befallen the community. “I used to be a member of the Kirikiri Development Association but I had to resign because they turned it into a political umbrella. They are reactionaries. Lola Shabi is not well-lettered but has used his common sense to bring these people (tank farm owners) to Kirikiri. Some of us challenged them then but they rebuffed us, saying we have no say in the matter since we are not landlords. But they are now regretting. They are shylock landlords because they don’t think. They have sold their mind to a smart guy,” this reporter was told.
They Are All Blackmailers, Says Shabi
Shabi, in a telephone conversation with THISDAY, described himself as a major stakeholder in Kirikiri town. He dismissed all allegations against him as sheer blackmail. He also claimed to have contributed more to the town than those currently accusing him even as he denied parading himself as the Awujale of Kirikiri.
“I am the Managing Director of Earthmovers Nigeria Limited and a major stakeholder in the community. I am also the grand patron of all landlords in Kirikiri and brought all these oil companies to the area. I have my investments in the area. Of all those making the allegations, go and ask, what investment do they have in the community? I used to pity them but stopped when they started blackmailing me.
“Through these oil companies, I’ve created jobs for over 400 youths in the area. Is it easy? And yet they are saying that I was moving with 400 thugs. Ask them, is it possible for a man like me to be controlling 400 boys? As far as I’m concerned, there is no Baale in Kirikiri as the last Baale that used to be was dethroned. Oba Taofeek of Imore and Apapa is the person controlling the area from Satellite Town to Apapa. They are just there for nothing .Let them tell you if the man parading himself as the Baale of Kirikiri is recognised by the government. Let him tell you if his name is in the government gazette,” Shabi said.
Imore Chieftaincy Crisis
THISDAY gathered that the problem in Kirikiri town may have been further compounded by the chieftaincy crisis in Imoreland of which Kirikiri is part. Observers of the development believe that Shabi, being a smart young man, may have decided to capitalise on the vacuum the crisis has created to his advantage. Lending credence to this theory is Shabi’s reference to Oba Taofeek as the controller of Kirikiri, apparently knowing full well that the Baale of Kirikiri, Agunbiade, and his chiefs, may not accept Taofeek’s sovereignty because there is a court injunction on the Oba’s position.
The Chairman, Oriade Local Council Development Area (LCDA), Hon. Sanusi Ibrahim Babatunde, could not be reached for comments at the time of filing this report. He told this reporter through a text message that he won’t be available until Monday.
But the Baale of Kirikiri, Agunbiade, insisted that he is the real Baale, having been inaugurated since May 2, 1992. “Shabi has been going about saying there is no Baale, let him come out with the order for my dethronement,” Agunbiade said.
Lagos is Managing the Situation
As the struggle for the soul of Kirikiri town continues to take its toll on the development of the area, observers are still wondering about the propriety of situating petroleum tank farms right inside a densely populated area such as Kirikiri, especially with the attendant dangers. They contend that though the community may have been lucky not to have recorded any fatality in the previous fire incidents, the people may not be lucky next time. They also wonder what the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences (Enforcement) unit is doing about the menace of the tank farms owners in Kirikiri.
In a chat with THISDAY, the Chairman of the Task Force, Mr Bayo Sulaiman, said it is only the Commissioner for Transportation that could speak on the issue. “It is only the Commissioner for Transportation that can comment on it. That is the only place where you have tank farms (in the whole of Kirikiri). Oil is there and the oil is for the people. Ours is only to manage the situation. We’ve told them to maintain a lane and we are managing the situation,” Sulaiman told this reporter.
Commissioner Assures Kirikiri on Government’s Action
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mr. Ademorin Kuye, maintained that Kirikiri had not been deliberately abandoned but blamed the situation on paucity of funds.
Promising to visit the community before the end of last week to see things for himself, Kuye also told THISDAY that the chieftaincy crisis in Imoreland had nothing to do with the development of the area. “What you have seen is the result of insufficient funds given to the local governments as the plethora of roads the local governments are made to contend with are so many.
“ It’s a case of injustice and a deliberate action of the Federal Government to stifle development at the grassroots,” he told this reporter, adding “That is why we are advocating for a review of the revenue sharing formula to give more money to States and Local Government Areas.”
On the menace of the tank farm operators, Kuye said the government was seriously looking into the matter but did not want to be seen as being too harsh because of the sensitive nature of the business.
“You know these people and their union. They like to blackmail the government once you take an action. The next thing they will do is to go on strike and hold everybody to ransom. But government is seriously looking into the matter,” he said.