For many decades, the Agboyi community has remained a forgotten spot in Lagos State. In this report, Ugo Aliogo, who travelled to the community, examined their areas of needs and the role government should play to address these needs
I first heard of Agboyi community from a friend at a conference. The picture he painted about the area was quite disturbing and unpleasant. He said the community had no sewage system to manage human waste. He also said that he was joining forces with the group which he heads to build good sewage system for this community. My friend’s story represents the experience of a people excluded from the thrust of development. The community has been left to develop at its own pace, without government support.
Arm chair theorising is good, but they don’t provide real answers to issues. The journalism profession places emphasis on genuine findings and investigations to establish an opinion about a people or place. A boat ride to the sleepy village of Agboyi was not an exercise in futility if I needed evidence to substantiate my friend’s opinions. The expedition was meant to confirm the correctness of my friend’s opinions and to also tell the story of the community from their own angle.
Agboyi community is a riverine community usually flooded during the wet season, while at the dry season the water dries up. “We have flooding challenges, which is brought by the closeness to the lagoon. But we are lucky because when the flood comes after some time, it flows back to the lagoon,” noted Owolabi Ayo, a resident of the community. The occupants in the community are largely Aworis from Ile-Ife and they live near the water.
The men walk round the community folding up their pair of trousers to their knees, and holding their shoes. While for some, they walk with short dresses and shoes. The community has six villages under it, while Agboyi 1, which is the centre, has an Oba. The other two divisions have Baales as their paramount ruler.The Oba of Agboyi doesn’t pay homage to the Oba of Lagos because he has his own sovereignty.
The entrance to the community is with the aid of a wooden rickety boat. When I alighted from the boat, I looked lost. My search for direction led me to a group of young adults conversing under a wooden platform; one of them was smoking marijuana. There was also an elderly man in their midst who appeared not be involved in their conversation.
When I asked for direction to the house of the Baale, they made a fool of me; before referring me to an agile looking old man whom they identified as Chief Samson Sumuonu, a paramount chieftain in the community addressed with the title of ‘Chief Ilisa.’ He was involved in traditional medicine practice, something I got to learn when he gave me his business card.
Meeting Sumonu was the doorway to the Baale, since he was a principal chief I thought. But Sumuonu frustrated this expectation when he invited two chiefs from whom I learnt that the community doesn’t have a Baale as their leader, but an Oba. “At the moment our Oba is dead, so what we have is the Oshogbo which translates thus as ‘traditional chief’ in Yoruba language,” noted the chiefs.
The chiefs looked lively. There was something wonderful about their demeanour; they looked properly cultured and civilised in personality and disposition. We sat in the living room of Chief Sumonu, I read out to them the questions I needed answers to. Topmost in my questions was the issue of the sewage system.
The question looked trivial to one of the Chiefs, Mr. Jelilee Bayeoku, who said it was not a basic challenge for the community. “Disposing off of human waste is done either by dumping it into the lagoon directly or building a drain pipe in your house channelled straight into the lagoon to allow quick disposal of the waste. The wastes are consumed by the fishes.” What he is describing is shocking because the main occupation of the locals here is fishing.
Agboyi is a community with a huge potential for development. The large plot of land stretching down to Owode and Ikorodu areas confirms this development. At present, the community is not in the development indices of investment partners and government due to lack of good access road.
Over the years, residents of the community have been appealing for the construction of motorable bridge by the Lagos State Government. This will open up the community for development; create jobs for the unemployed graduates, and provide the community with basic social services and amenities.
“March this year, the state government promised to give us a motorable bridge. This is the main challenge of the community. Therefore, if we have this bridge, it will open up access to Agboyi 1, 2 and 3, then developmental initiatives can come to the community,” Bayeoku said.
To push their demand forward, the community has leveraged on the political goodwill of their elected representative at the State House of Assembly, Hon. Tunde Braimoh, “We are hopeful that with the efforts of our representative at the House, Mr. Tunde Braimoh, by next year we will have a motorable bridge,” they noted.
In Nigerian politics, most elected representatives hardly fulfill their promises often times or meet the expectations of those who elected them. Will this community’s aspiration come to fruition? Or will Braimoh join the league of the representatives that have made unfulfilled promises in the past?
As the discussion stretched further, the chiefs revealed more areas of needs, such as a government hospital, a functional water board, more secondary schools to complement the only primary in the community and provision of employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths. They however argued that these needs are predicted on having the motorable bridge. Deductively, the bridge is a long term solution to the myriad of challenges which if solved, will take care of other needs.
Bayeoku added, “Government can come here to build companies and provide employment opportunities for people because, here, we have land. The youths here go to Apapa and Badagry to work in order to eke out a living for themselves. We buy borehole water for 100 naira during dry season. This is expensive. The suffering here is too much.
“The community is under Agboyi/ketu Local Community Development Agency (LCDA). Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) come to the community, and they make promises on how to develop the community, but after sometime they stopped coming. The community has been existing for many years. We have one-primary school, and one health centre. In the primary school, the number of non-teaching staff is more than the teaching staff, therefore we need more teachers.
“We need more nurses for the primary health centre. The health centre is trying in handling the issue of delivery, but I think government can do a lot in raising the health standards. We also organise local delivery here and we don’t have any challenge with that at all. When we are given drug prescriptions at the health centre here, we go to Alapere community to buy the drugs.”
The picture of the boy smoking marijuana convinced me that there could be pockets of thievery in the community, especially when such lawlessness is allowed to thrive. To clear my doubts, I asked the chiefs about the level of crime rate in the community. Their responses were quick and sharp. “We don’t have cases of criminal activities here. If there is, it is limited; if you are caught doing anything evil or criminal. You are banished from the community forever. The punishment law here is very strong,” they responded.
In the pre-colonial era, native laws were effective in tackling crime. People feared and respected the community Police. Today, those community law enforcement agencies are not very effective compared with the State law enforcement institutions.
The views of the chiefs contradict the opinions of a resident in Okoabgon, an estate in the community, Mr. Bamidele Ajani, who appealed for a police post to address the high rate of crimes facing the community. He said the pilferers break through burglary proofs of residential homes and collect their personal effects.
“We have had numerous cases of crimes. There was a time when the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) called the community chiefs to Alapere Police station because they broke into people’s homes at night, cart away their personal effects. Sometimes there is gang fight amongst the youths in the community. Because there are police posts, therefore we resort to the traditional laws to address the issues,” he said.
Ajani also said residents in the community suffer from cholera due to the unsafe water in the environment. “Therefore we buy sachet water for drinking and while we bath with water from the well which is better than the river water. The river water here is polluted, salty because it is lagoon and unsafe for drinking.
“For the occupants, when you walk on water too much, you have itching on your toes. We don’t have any contact with snakes except occasionally. What we have here are craps due to their fishing profession here,” Ajani added.
In Lagos, most marginalised communities lack good road networks to connect them to other parts of the state. Traders, students and artisans living in these communities go through tough times in an effort to travel to other locations in the Lagos metropolis. In this aspect, the people have not felt the development pulse of government. It seems there is misplaced priorities on the part of government.
The import of having a good road network is that it will help drive growth and prosperity in those areas which will have a corresponding effect on the people and the state.