Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tony Dara has the most unusual of alarm clocks; he is woken around 6am every morning by a waft of marijuana smoke floating through the windows of his one-bedroom Ijesha apartment. The source of the smoke is an uncompleted building in the next compound that has served as abode for derelicts for years.

“Because of the heat, my windows are open throughout the night, and as soon as they start smoking, the odour will shock me awake,” he said. “They are always punctual because it is always between 6 and 6:30 (am) that they start smoking.”

Gangsters’ paradise

Mr. Dada’s experience is akin to that of a lot of Lagos residents who find themselves living near uncompleted buildings or abandoned lots. Despite sporadic police raids, these places have continued to serve as shelters and hangouts for unsavoury characters.

“At times the police will come and raid them and arrest any people they see inside their, but the next day you will see some of them back playing cards or smoking hemp,” said Mr. Dada. “These boys are always there, whether morning or night, and I wonder what they do for a living. I thank God they have never robbed anybody in this neighbourhood.”

Eke Izekor is not as lucky. Her harrowing experience at the hands of armed robbers who emerged from an uncompleted building a few blocks from her Igando apartment late one night has caused her to take a longer route home ever since.

“I usually close work late so that night (around 11pm) there were few people on the road,” she said. “Just as I neared that place, three boys jumped out and demanded for my handbag. I just threw the bag at them and ran back. Who knows if they would have wanted anything more than that?”

Environmental hazards
Not only do these abandoned lots attract hoodlums; they also attract refuse as some residents have found them convenient dump sites. This is noticed more in place on the outskirts of the city.

Piqued by this phenomenon, the Lagos Waste Management Agency has warned that owners of uncompleted and abandoned properties that have been converted to refuse dumps risk losing them to the state if the environmental hazards are not checked.

“If you have undeveloped property, and they are dumping refuse there, and you are not raising alarm and compromising with it; we will invoke the law and advice the state government to take over rather than allow your land to cause an epidemic because government has a moral obligation to protect the interest of the larger public,” said Ola Oresanya, managing director of the agency.

Ijeoma Ekwuonye owns one of such properties in Ojo, a Lagos suburb. She bought the undeveloped land in 2008 and started construction of a two-storey building which was stalled months later when she ran out of funding. A four-foot high mountain of refuse presently occupies the land as residents of three adjoining buildings have resorted to tossing their refuse there.

“I have tried everything to stop them from throwing rubbish there,” said an agitated Mrs. Ekwuonye. “I burnt the refuse twice and every time they will just keep on throwing rubbish there. I am trying to raise money to come and start (construction on) the building again. These people are wicked, if the government seizes my land now, they will be happy”

Mr. Oresanya however has assured property owners who find themselves in similar situations to contact the agency for partnership in evacuating the waste. “We will work with anybody who wants to remedy the situation, and we will talk to them and partner on how to evacuate the dump,” he said.
Published in NEXTonSunday of March 21, 2010

Monday, March 8, 2010

No jobs at the jobville

The huge turnout of candidates for the Nigerian Navy recruitment test held in January was the final straw; Onyema Mbakwuru’s mind was made up, to seek for greener pastures outside the country.
“For two years I have been attending (job) aptitude tests, but the crowd I saw at Ojo (Lagos centre of the test) was terrible,” he said. “More than 10, 000 people came to write the test. I saw people that left school before me looking so desperate.”
This feeling of desperation has gradually spread as more and more young school leavers find themselves caught in the expanding labour market of the country. With its strategic position as the commercial nerve centre of the nation, Lagos is home to more than its fair share of these job seeking youth.
The spectacle of thousands of candidates jostling for space at the various job recruitment tests that occur periodically in the city is one that residents are quite familiar with. And as thousands of school leavers graduate from the one year national youth service scheme every four months, the population of job seekers in Lagos swells.
In a bid to be more proactive in fighting the huge unemployment rates in the city, the Lagos state government launched a job registration website,
www.jobcreation.lagosstate.gov.ng, on February 16, 2010. During the launch, Governor Babatunde Fashola said the initiative was aimed at tackling the high unemployment figures in the state.
“The website is another opportunity for youths who are still unemployed to become self-reliant by linking up to the free website for job registration,” said Mr. Fashola, who was represented by his deputy, Sarah Sosan, during the launch of the web portal at the Lagos State Auditorium, Ikeja.
“The new reality is that, this platform will encourage and promote government policy on public-private partnership programme (PPP) and also, serve as reference point for data collections and demographic study for our wealth creation programmes.”
The hopefuls and the cynics
While some unemployed youth in the state have lauded the initiative, others have dismissed it as a weak attempt at solving the perennial unemployment problems. And most have indicated a disinterest in registering at the site; as evidenced by the less than 10,000 visitors the site has registered so far.
“Since I have heard about the site, I have been visiting (it) and have never seen any vacancy,” said Wasiu Akande, a History/International Relations graduate. “The fact is that people are desperate, and will clutch at any straws to get a job, but I don’t believe that website will really make any difference.”
Samuel Kanu disagrees; and is hinging his faith in the state government’s employment programmes. “At least Governor Fashola is doing something,” said the Sociology graduate. “In my home state (Abia), the government is doing absolutely nothing to tackle the unemployment thing.”
The entrepreneurs
The website also features an artisans’ directory page, where small scale entrepreneurs are encouraged to publish their contact details. A total of 40 entrepreneurs have registered so far.
One of the registered artisans, Idris Onisiwo, a Political Science graduate from the University of Ibadan, prefers being self employed, and is currently combining footwear production and consulting.
“My business has not really improved much, in terms of increased patronage, since I registered on the site,” he said in an email response to NEXT’s enquiries. Mr. Onisiwo also believes that the government would be doing small scale business owners like him a big favour by the “provision of grant/loans and support for entrepreneurs.”
Another entrepreneur, Tochukwu Agbo, does not feel that registering his business in the website will do him any good. His small scale fish farm is prospering, thanks to the rural settings of his Igando suburb and he does not believe the government owes him anything.
“I have been doing this (business) since 2009, and I don’t need anything from the government,” he said. “When they cannot even provide electricity, talk less of loan. I bought my own generator, source my own water, and developed my market, so I don’t think I need to register for anything.”
His disillusionment is shared by many; including Mr. Mbakwuru. “My cousin who wrote aptitude tests for years without getting a job eventually went to South Africa, did his masters, and landed a job at his first try. I am following suit; man must survive.”

Published in NEXTonSunday March 7, 2010.