The capacity to sleep with one eye open is what you need to survive in Oworonsoki, a high density Lagos slum overlooking the lagoon. Fear of demolition and the possibility of tidal surge submerging your home permanently dangle as threats that keep residents in constant fear and between the bulldozer and the deep murky water of the lagoon.
Even in the best of times, the area is always under threat of submersion by the fluctuating tides of the lagoon. However, the partnership struck between the Lagos State Government and a consortium to develop the sea front into a world class tourist destination consequently upgraded sand filling into an acute geographical peculiarity.
Barely three months into activities to upgrade the aesthetic value and raise the sea front to a world class status, the lagoon has been pushed nearly half-way back from the old slave trading post near the oba’s palace. What was once water has since transformed into reclaimed land, with disastrous consequences for tidal surges that are peculiar challenges in the area.
Motorists on the Third Mainland never cease to wonder at the rapid transformation; they marvel at the sheer supremacy of technology over nature. Those who saw fishermen rowing their boats in the dirty lagoon a few months back still find it difficult to believe the transformation unfolding before them.
The transformation going on at the Oworonsoki waterfront has come with a steep price. For example, as aggressive sand filling pushes the watermark further in, there is geometric increase in the volume of water pushed into the community in the form of tidal surges.
As a matter of fact, many buildings on many streets, especially in the Mayaki area, have been overtaken by flood that has also rendered most of them impassable. For example, Francis Olatunji, Ososa, Ondo and Ondo streets are worst hit by the water surge. The situation has rendered many roads impassable because it is simply impossible to navigate through the mosquito-infested water.
There are other collateral damages of the sand filling exercise that is central to the envisaged upgrading of the Oworonsoki sea front into a world class tourist destination. A very disturbing issue is the possibility of explosion in social crises as a result of some schools that have been forced to shut down and send away students because they have been overtaken by flood water.
Some affected schools include Winning Life on Ososa Street and Princeway Excellent School Secondary School that have both been sacked by water pushed inland by the sand filling exercise. Some parents have already withdrawn their children, especially boarders, from these schools. The fear of what these idle students can do have raised the possibility of social crises.
And while some residents recognize in the situation an inevitability that goes with the area’s geographical peculiarity, others have converted the situation into a profitable business. For example, some residents have started to make brisk business renting out rain boots to visitors at prices ranging between N100 – N50.
According to Miss Ibidemi Oyeleye, “ I make up to N1000 daily renting rain boots to people who need to access the flooded areas. The amount I make depends on the volume of visitors. It is certainly better than staying idle at home since the tidal surge forced my school to shut down suddenly”.
Biodun Akinleye, another student whose school was also forced to shut down by the flood, agrees. He told The Next Edition that he relies on the extra money he makes from renting rain boots to buy mosquito coils and intecticides to repel the pests, which have sharply increased in population since the sand filling began.
Life in the area since the sand filling exercise began has come with extra pains. As a matter of fact, it is not for nothing that a visitor is reminded that you require something extra to be able to survive the ordeal. For example, the unwary could either be swept away or be submerged in the rising tide if he or she makes the mistake of sleeping too deep.
It is mandatory that a visitor to the area must understand the interval between the tidal surges to avoid accidental death. Like a thief in the night, water (high tide) invades the community as residents prepare to depart for work and recedes in the afternoon. But it is during the most dangerous time of the day, when most people are in deep sleep in the night, that the high tide returns.
Apart from schools like Winning Life that have been forced to shut down because of the sand filling-induced flood situation, businesses have also suffered greatly because nobody is prepared to wade through water to go anywhere, unless it is very important. According Mr George Idika who operates a business along Ondo Street, “I have been struggling to cater for my family since the sea front development exercise began because of dwindling patronage”.
Mr. Idika is not alone. Other business owners in the area have similar stories of woe to tell. Some landlords are trapped within and unable to venture outside because the ground floor of their buildings have been submerged. The lucky ones are those who reside upstairs but those living in bungalows have peculiar tales of woe. That is why some parents withdrew their daughters from affected boarding schools like Winning Life.
Mr. Banji Odutola, a landlord on Ososa Street is not impressed by the official argument that many buildings in the area were erected illegally. And are therefore not entitled to compensation in the envisaged demolition of structures that allegedly block canals and waterways. He urged the Lagos State Government to protect the interest of owners of legitimate structures.
“Owners of legitimate structures should be protected whenever the state government decides to carry out the anticipated demolition exercise. We support the demolition of illegal structures and those that block statutory channels”, he said, adding that the state government should also identify those who obtained compensation but refused to vacate the area.
Life in Oworonsoki under development as a world class tourism destination comes with great and peculiar challenge. But the most frightening challenge is recognizing when to sleep and how deep enough to do so as to be able to know when the high tide returns like the proverbial thief that stalks in the night. And the situation will likely remain so until the development exercise is completed.
Upon completion of the sand-filling exercise, the Lagos State Government hopes to transform the Oworonsoki sea front into a world class landing point for ferries to ease the public transportation system in the mega city. The sea front will provide parking space for motorists and enhance aesthetic appeal, in the ultimate task of reducing vehicular traffic in the inner city to the barest minimum.