On a small island near Lagos, one man is spearheading the fight for a better future for their children writes Omah Areh
The Reverend Andrew Duya is a determined man. He will not rest until the children of Onisiwo Island in Tomaro kingdom are given the health care and education they deserve.
“If I have the privilege to help someone, I will do so.”
He explains that the number of people living on Tomaro – a settlement close to the Port of Lagos – has increased sharply of late.
“The numbers suddenly shot up as a result of the influx of people fleeing Boko Haram’s murderous activities in the North East of Nigeria” says Duya.
But the insurgency in North-East is not solely responsible for the poverty and lack of social services on the island. “In the developed world it is the rich who live by the sea, but here it is the poorest,” explains Rev Duya.
“There is no doubt that Tomaro is actually the least developed area in Lagos State because of its location. The lack of development presence is as a result of insincerity of politicians. During campaigns for offices, the politicians visit Tomaro in their numbers, promising every good thing in this world, giving salt, sugar, and other irrelevant gifts with which they try to appease or entice the people. That is all.”
“There are no jobs here for anybody except the teachers employed by the government,” says Rev Duya. There is no single industry at Tomaro, the majority survive on subsistence fishing.”
Rev. Duya has been working with the Tomaro community in Lagos since 2001, when he became project coordinator for the Nigerian School Project founded by Dena Grushkin, an American teacher from New Jersey. The project built the first primary school on the island, which now has 4000 pupils, half of them girls.
The school has since gone on to win accolades says Rev Duya. “In 2013 and 2014, this school received distinguished awards for scoring among the highest of all 3000 junior secondary schools in Lagos State which is a remarkable achievement for the teachers and students,” adds Rev Duya proudly.
The building of this school caught the attention of the United States Embassy and its medical teams began conducting health clinics. In 2011, a permanent medical facility was built, funded by the US Embassy and staffed by its government.
“Health care for the community is extremely limited – there is just one small clinic with one doctor and one nurse. There are no drugs. The doctor writes prescriptions and the patient has to go to the mainland to buy the prescribed drugs. The doctor lives about 200 kilometres away from here. So, he cannot come here daily.” Roughly 30 per cent of women between15 and 49 years in Nigeria have problems accessing health care because of the distance to the nearest health facility. For rural Nigerian women, this figure jumps to nearly 40 per cent.
The health care problems are exacerbated by the lack of clean drinking water, which has to be transported in plastic tanks from the mainland to Tomaro. “There is no refuse removal so This problem is compounded by the lack of proper refuse disposal system. Trash is simply dumped in the water. Makeshift toilets are built on top of the water and the people are left with little choice than to dump the human waste in the water.”
This lack of water and sanitation can lead to serious outbreaks of disease such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. Diseases like cholera cause diarrhoea which is one of the main killers of children under-five in Nigeria, causing over 10 per cent of deaths among this age group.
Rev Duya says there is no doubt that it is the sole responsibility of government to fund health and education projects at Tomaro.
“It was Dena that opened up this community to the outside world, such as the US Navy. NGOs should also lend a helping hand in the absence of government’s presence. But whatever the NGOs can do will only be sustained with government support since the NGOs cannot provide everything. This is the duty of the government to its citizens.”