Lagos’ Snake Island has a huge potential for economic growth and development, but its abundant resources remain untapped, writes Ugo Aliogo

It is nestled in the deep flowing waters of the Badagry creeks. Existing myths about the island say that it was a place where condemned prisoners and slaves were thrown into in the past. For these prisoners and slaves, it was a place of no return. Like a caged animal, these slaves were caged here by the overstretching vegetation in the Island. Another myth stated that it was an Island filled with snakes in the past. Hence, the name ‘Snake Island’.

These myths are not entirely misleading. But there is a more nuanced view. According to a community secretary, Mr. Adebayo Adams, the island is called ‘Snake Island’ because of the topography of the land, which is shaped like an ‘S’. He also said that the Yorubas, who migrated from Ile-Ife about 400 years ago, are the original natives of the community. “The main works of our forefathers were farming, fishing, and other traditional works,” Adams said.

The Island has a large deposit of sand and it is usually very flooded during rainy season. It has a few modern amenities such as a public health centre, police station, private hospital, hotel, primary and secondary schools. Life in the community is slow and steady. Commercial motorcycles are used for transportation in the community. The community is relatively safe. There exists a standby team of foot soldiers who provide security in the locality. The community has a fishing minority known as the Egun people. These groups of individuals are not Nigerians. Findings in the community revealed that they are foreigners from neighbouring Benin Republic and Togo. Many of them don’t understand English language; therefore they prefer to speak Yoruba language or their native language.

In some cases, the children are able to understand Pidgin English and communicate with it. While in other cases the children may not understand, but expressing themselves is a big challenge. They live on the water in wooden makeshift tents. Children from these families don’t go to school. For them, fishing means a lot and been a trade they inherited from their parents. It is not just a source of livelihood, but a lifestyle handed on to them by successive generations. THISDAY gathered from a neighbour living nearby that the Egun people buy most of their fishes from other people in the creeks. The neighbour also stated that the Eguns give their female into marriage at a very early age between 10-11.

The community has different festive seasons and each is accorded its own traditional observances and ritual rites. The festive seasons are Oro, Egungun, Gelede, Osun, Obaluwaye, Awonga, and Akaka. The sources of drinking and cooking water in the community are through wells constructed in residential homes. There is also borehole water, and free tap from Niger Dock Yard.

Boat riding is another viable business which most youths are involved in. These boat riders are under an association known as Association of Tourist Boat Operators and Water Transporters of Nigeria (NATBOWAT).

However, despite the claim by Adams that the land is originally owned by the migrating Yoruba settlers, there is still a struggle over the ownership of the land, between the community’s Oluwa family and Niger Dock Nigeria Limited, an oil and gas company.

“The Niger Dock Yard has been here for 20 years now. The Niger Dock paid compensations to the Oluwa family who claimed that they owned the community. We are also in court with Niger Dock Yard. The compensation paid to Oluwa was very wrong. They are not the rightful owners of the community. On June 22, the case was also taken to court. Niger Dock yard is also claiming ownership of some piece of land with us,” he added.

He said there is also a claim by Niger Dock Yard that about 250 hectares of land in the community belongs to them. While noting that they (Niger Dock Yard) affirmed that they acquired the plot of land from Oluwa family without the knowledge and approval of the community, “this caused a problem about four years ago, then we took the case to Federal High Court in Ikoyi. But at the moment they are trying to settle amiably with us.”

Adams added: “The case is still in Ikoyi Federal High Court. Niger Dock Yard has not done anything for the community since their establishment here over 20 years. Though they employed some indigenes of the community as security men, but many are still on ground for them to employ. We have only one primary school and one secondary school which were built by Lagos State government.

“We have a health centre which was built by the Amuwo-Odofin Local Government which the Island is under. The health centre is functioning very well. People go there for treatment and there are nurses. Here we do various works in order to make a living. Some are into apprenticeship, craft, and individual computer training schools. We had only one Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Stay Alive which came here 12 years ago. They taught youths tailoring, hair styling, and computer training.

“The state government, through the local government council, built the Igbologun Township Hall here. We have the Amuwo-Odofin Local Council here which employs most of our people. Before now, we had coconuts trees in the community. It was our cash crop, but due to oil spillage, our lands were destroyed and we cannot farm any more. We also have cassava and vegetables as other food crop in the community. Men in the community get married at the age of 20-25, while the women marry at the age of 17-18, (those are accidental marriages in the case of women). The women are into tailoring, hair styling, and trading works.”

The community is made up of six other communities which are Igbologun, Igbese-yore, Igbosu, Ilase, Imore, and Ibeshe communities. These communities are called the Badagry creeks. However, the community scribe, Adams, remarked that despite being among the Badagry creeks, they don’t pay homage to the King of Badagry because they have a Baale who is the paramount ruler of the community. He also added that presently they are proposing for a king.

He went on to call on the state government to build a standard technical school for the community in order to enable youths learn craft works. Adding that electricity is a major challenge in the community, and it needs to be improved upon to boost the growth of small-scale businesses.
“Electricity was brought by government, but after sometime, it stopped working. Therefore we are appealing that we have regular electricity. This will boost economic growth in the community. Welders, hair stylists, and computer operators all need electricity to do their works. We also need a large and organised market for our women. Women here sell in small kiosks shops only. We don’t have market here, we have been proposing for it,” he said.

Adams also appealed to the government for the construction of a standard road network which would link Igbologun with Igbese. While reacting to speculations that there are plans by government to build a bridge from Kirikiri to Snake Island, he said “If government can do such for us we will be very glad. This will enable people to cross to the Island apart from using canoe.”

Building a linkage bridge from Kirikiri is one sure way of opening the community up for development and commerce. Presently, in the community, there are a lot of arable lands which the public and the private sector can use to build to establish industries. This will open the community up for development, and employment opportunities will be created.

Small-scale businesses such as hair styling, tailoring, carpentry, wielding, and others is another aspect of the community which are growing at a fast rate. Many youths have taken to these small-scale businesses, not only as a means of livelihood, but also to meet the growing needs of the community. If there is an appreciable support from government and the private sector, more youths will be trained, equipment will be provided and seed capital will be given to support them.

There are three health facilities including a Public health centre built by Lagos State government through Amuwo-Odofin Local Government Area, the Igbologun Medical Centre, a private clinic and Mercy Home, a maternity home. An indigene of the community, who pleaded anonymity, said that the Igbologun Medical Centre is well equipped with up to date medical facilities and drugs, but their bill is very high. Therefore people prefer to use Mercy Homes, a maternity run by a mid-wife. But the challenge is that the maternity does not have facilities, and it makes referrals to the medical centre frequently.

He added: “The Igbologun Medical Centre is which also known as Tolu. The reason is because the doctor came from Tolu in Ajegunle Local Government Area. In Mercy Home, they carry out delivery, treatment of malaria, typhoid and other minor illnesses. But cases such as surgery and tests are taken to Tolu. While in the community health centre, the women go there for immunisation and collection of shared mosquito nets.” When THISDAY visited the public health centre, the health workers declined to speak to stating that they had no approval from the Chief Nurse of the health centre.