Using the early morning darkness as a cover, Old Soldier, as he is generally known in the area, and his family take their turns bathing outside before beginning their daily work. Their home is a rickety wooden shack sitting dangerously on a small piece of land between another building and the canal that runs from the back of Afolabi Brown Street, in Akoka, to the lagoon behind the University of Lagos. This has been home to Old Soldier, his wife, and two grandchildren for the past eight months.
The Togolese and his family had previously lived in a similar wood shed at another part of the canal, before an expansion work was carried out in it by the state government, rendering Old Soldier and his family homeless for a few weeks.
“They wanted to break the fence of the building beside my tent, so I had to dismantle it. For many weeks, I and my family were living outside. The rain would beat us, the sun would beat us. But thank God, I found another small land to build my tent at the other side of the canal where they had finished working.”
But Old Soldier’s new home is even worse off than the former one. Surrounding his new habitat is a swamp teeming with frogs, fish, and a large breed of mosquitoes. But unlike his former home, he has neighbours, people who have turned the swampy land of the canal side to a new community.
“Do you know that I had to pay more than N10,000 for this land?” he asks, pointing to his ramshackle home. “But I am ok with it. At least, I don’t have to worry about any landlord disturbing me, and unlike my former place, I paid for this one so no one can disturb me here,” he said.
With a population of over 10 million and the highest immigration rate in the country, Lagos State is faced with severe housing problems, which has given rise to the constant emergence of new slums. Some of the old slums are found in Makoko, Ijora, and Ajelologo at Mile 12, among others.
Chris Amadi, an estate manager and housing specialist with Vimod Properties Plc, Ikeja, said slums grow as a result of inadequate housing and neglect of the government on matters of housing.
“Slums are not formed overnight. When one person builds a shack, another one joins, and then another. Before you know it, it would be a full blown community that would have solved some housing problems for some and created more for others.
“Take Ogudu, for instance; it is a mixture of the very high and low class. You can find a mansion in Ogudu, yet there are people living right on top of waste dump sites in the same community,” he says.
Cause for concern
But the presence of these slums, which are spreading by the day, in middle-class residential areas continues to create a source of worry to the residents of such places. Olayinka Sunmonu, a resident of Gbagada, said there is little or nothing that can be done to prevent them.
“The land they are building their houses on does not belong to me or my father, so I cannot go and chase them away. There are over six wooden houses built by some Hausa people at an abandoned land behind my house. They make so much noise, but I have to bear it,” he said.
A member of Akoka Landords’ Association, Tunde Ismail, said that there is not much the association can do to stop them from building their homes.
“We have tried to stop them from building those sheds there before but they said we were wicked, and since we had no backing from the government, we couldn’t send them away.”
Their presence, according to Mr. Ismail, contributes immensely to the dirtiness and pollution of the area. “These people don’t have toilets, so they mess up the area constantly. Some of them fry puff-puff there every morning and the smoke comes in through my windows, and disturbs everybody in the house,” he said.
The difference in economic strata among people in the society is something every society must deal with, said Adams Makinde, a sociologist. Indeed, a situation whereby a well-built and fenced house looms just beside a ramshackle shed, sometimes housing more than one family, describes vividly the inequality in the society.
“There will always be poor people and rich people in every community. The rich might sometimes inconvenience the poor, and the poor inconvenience the rich. We must all learn to accommodate each other,” said Mr. Makinde.
An official of Bariga Local Council Development Area, who declined giving his name, said the local council did not have the powers to stop people from building at such places.
“It is not one of our primary duties. But I’ll look into it and forward it to the appropriate authorities.” But Mr. Ismail said sending them away from those areas does nothing to solve the housing problems most of them are faced with.
“It is government’s land, so we can’t stop people from building there. If you go to the place where Old Soldier lived before, you will see that another person has built his home there.”