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

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