Ita Faaji Collapsed Building: IDP Camps Re-Emerge In Lagos.

From INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER…

Investigations by Saturday INDEPENDENT have revealed that the Ita Faaji collapsed building saga in Lagos Island that claimed about 20 lives and left many injured on Wednesday, March 13 has not only created a new set of homeless people in Lagos, but it has brought to reality Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Lagos. Not just that, there is a great threat to the means of livelihood of the thousands of residents soon to be displaced not just by the building collapse, but by the wave of demolitions sparked by the Ita Faaji tragedy.

IDP Camps and resettlement shelters were concepts previously unknown to residents of a metropolitan city like Lagos. But in actual fact, on November 26, 2014, the then Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, SAN, commissioned the State’s Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) Operational/Resettlement Camp at Igando. Before the Igando resettlement camp, Lagos had created the Agbowa LASEMA Operational/Resettlement Camp. In a statement at the time, former Governor Fashola had said that when the Government built Agbowa Camp, it had to think of so many facilities to put there including schools and other things to make life comfortable for settlers, adding that it was an extension of their lives. “But from there we are getting better, we have got Igando and we will get better,” he said.

That was five years ago and with a government that was well-prepared for any disaster. Today, it is a new government, and while disaster has struck again many residents of Lagos remained oblivious to the presence of such camps and their locations. This was the situation until the government announced that displaced persons from the Ita Faaji incident and others, whose homes were to be demolished, including those who think their homes are not structurally sound would be moved to either of the two camps.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, March 20, the Commissioner For Physical Planning And Urban Development, Rotimi Ogunleye said: “The structures being demolished on Lagos Island are not occupied, so the issue of having people rendered homeless is not there. However, where we have people like that, the government has made provision at our Igando and Agbowa resettlement sites to take care of those that may be involved,” he said.

While it seems like an easy, fix-it-all solution to the building collapse and subsequent demolitions, Saturday INDEPENDENT, during the week, visited the Igando resettlement camp, where it has been stated that some of the victims would eventually be moved to observe and have a vivid report on the state of things at the camp.

One of the buildings marked for demolition at Ita Faaji PHOTO: Ifeoma Ononye.

Getting to the Resettlement/ Emergency Relief Camp sited at Igando, Alimosho, one of the first things our correspondents noticed was that it was deserted and uninhabited. While the buildings, which were constructed in chalet forms, looked neat and properly planned, no resident was in sight and the place was devoid of all forms of human existence.

In reality, change is never easy. But the emptiness of the Igando camp has sparked salient questions. Why have these sites not been in use?

Ever since the resettlement sites had been created and the city of Lagos welcomed a new government in 2015, a few months after the commissioning, there have been tragedies where surviving victims could have been temporarily housed in the resettlement camps, but the Akinwunmi Ambode-led government has been quiet about the existence of such places.

Presently, residents and concerned persons have begun to ask if it is possible to trust the Lagos government with the lives and livelihood of the Ita Faaji survivors when they had not provided relief in the past when they could.

There also remains the question of how many people, even in their current state of homelessness, would willingly uproot their lives and relocate to an entirely new location, far from the community they had previously called home?

Named Lagos State Ministry of Special Duties/ Emergency Management Agency, it was confirmed that the Igando camp had indeed been established and commissioned since 2014, but has remained uninhabited since that time.

Saturday INDEPENDENT came across a caretaker of sorts who refused the team entry to the campgrounds.

The taciturn keeper of the camp further refused to give his name even after the correspondent and photo editor of the newspaper identified themselves to him, saying he was not supposed to talk to journalists.

After some persuasion, he refused to go on record or be photographed, but divulged that the camp is preparing for victims to arrive. He, however, refused to allow the team to see things for themselves. He also assured that the centre had the capacity and facilities to house over 3,000 people and that newly displaced people upon arrival would be properly taken care of.

A counsellor talking to Faridat.

Through the gate, the team spied a few workers touching up the buildings, and it appeared that the Lagos State Government was attempting to hold true to their promise and prepare the camp for the arrival of displaced persons by renovating. However, a court order dated 2011 was also spotted on the premises prohibiting trespassers.

Unconfirmed reports reaching Saturday INDEPENDENT allege that the outfitted resettlement sites should only be taken at face value. Sources reveal that the buildings in the camp have allegedly been vandalised, as doors and window fittings have reportedly been auctioned off or carted away by miscreants who have access to the property. While unconfirmed, it would come as no surprise since the camps have been lying fallow since the commissioning, and five years is a long time for properties to lie in waste.

Saturday INDEPENDENT correspondents also visited the site of the Ita Faaji collapse where NGOs and volunteers were on ground to help survivors resettle in temporary shelters in the area.

The visit was to gauge the state of mind of the survivors and ascertain their willingness to put their lives in the hands of the government. It was discovered that many of these displaced persons, who were able to move around were still at Ita Faaji as if they were loathe to leave their non-existent homes.

The team had a fun time with four-year-old Faridat Alabi, whose life had probably been like a dream since the inauspicious day of the Ita Faaji building collapse. Asides from the fact that she was one of the victims who was lucky to be rescued alive from the mountain of rubble and death that the building site had become, little Faridat has become an Internally Displaced Person (IDP).

Our reporter witnessed a touching scene where the four-year-old Faridat was being counselled by a volunteer clinical psychologist. The little girl, who was in the company of her mother and her baby brother was asked a series of questions to establish and ensure that the trauma did not affect her memory in any way. Faridat was asked to count her numbers and recite her letters while scribbling numbers one to 20 and the letters of the alphabet.

Speaking with Saturday INDEPENDENT, a teary-eyed Faridat said that she is still scared, even after a week that the incident occurred. ‘I am afraid to go to school,’ she said. When she was asked if she would return to school if it were changed to another place, she said she would.

Such trauma is particularly tragic when seen in one so young and innocent, but considering the fate of other deceased, a ray of hope still shines that such a child would benefit from the government’s scheme to relocate them to a resettlement site. But the hope of school still seems like a tall dream, as our correspondents had been unable to determine if such provisions would be made at the resettlement camps.

Another victim, Mrs. Kehinde Ajisegiri, shared her story, “My daughter and husband are still in the hospital. Our flat is on the topmost floor. I left the house around a few minutes past 6am that fateful day. I received a call that our house has collapsed and that my husband has been taken to a General Hospital. My daughter, Kemi Ajisegiri, cannot stand well yet, but she is getting better now. Right now, I only have what I am wearing and nothing else. All my goods were destroyed in that collapse.”

With the apparent trauma that Mrs. Ajisegiri is passing through, trying to recover from the sudden nightmare, she explained that she has to forget her own self, wake up every morning to go and take care of her hospitalised husband and daughter.

Mrs. Ajisegiri also said that she is staying with her sister because no one gave her instructions to go to the shelter.

Ramon Olayiwola, a working resident of the collapsed building said all that he owned in his life was in the building. His livelihood was also affected because before the collapse, he had been in charge of the public toilet within the compound. “That day I was outside, I just finished taking my bath, I was about to change when I heard a rumble and the house collapsed once. This was a few minutes to 10 in the morning. As I speak to you I am not feeling fine, one of the blocks of the building fell on my leg and on my lower back.”

When asked why he didn’t follow others to the hospital, he claimed he didn’t because the victims taken to the hospital were too many, but he received treatment from the NGO medical team on ground. “They have been giving me drugs for the pain. I sleep in my friend’s shop. My friend is a tailor; he has been the one assisting me since I became homeless.”

Presently, demolitions are ongoing, and government is proving true to its word to tear down illegal structures that house real people with real lives, thus, the upheaval is far from over for members of Ita Faaji community and its environs.

Walking a few blocks from the popular CMS Bus Stop to Ita Faaji, our correspondent noticed that most houses in the area are old and poorly planned. There is barely an arm’s length of space in between houses, which makes one wonder how the builders managed to construct the houses.

Of course, the ordeal, while painful is the harbinger of the new wave of change sweeping through illegal structures on the Island.

Already there have been grumblings over the distance of the resettlement camps to the Island where many of the displaced persons have their source of livelihood. More pressing is the fact that some have been heard saying that they would rather remain homeless and sleep under the bridge than move to a remote place like Agbowa, a community after Ikorodu, close to Ijebu Ode. Their worries are legitimate as relocation might become problematic if they have no source of livelihood.

Interestingly, the wave of change might touch those who think they are safe from demolitions. Commissioner For Physical Planning And Urban Development, Ogunleye further said in his address that people currently resident in buildings that are not structurally sound should take this opportunity to resettle in Agbowa or Igando to prevent another Ita Faaji incident. Mentioning that he got wind of other such illegal structures through a whistleblower, Ogunleye urged residents to take advantage of Government’s provision.

“I got a letter from someone on the Island telling us of another building that is in a bad shape, somewhere in Tokunbo. Obviously, that place is occupied. For that kind of structure, we would advise those people to take advantage of what the government is providing for temporary settlement so that we are saved from this incident of collapse and loss of lives and properties,” he said.

When Saturday INDEPENDENT visited the temporary shelter close to Ita Faaji, most of the displaced victims were not on ground. We were told that most of them who still have their little businesses had gone to tend to that while those who still have loved ones in the hospital had gone to visit them.

The team also spoke to some of the NGOs and organisations on ground, some of whom had organised a memorial service for all the deceased on Tuesday, March 19. According to Jane Ivhurie, one of the organisers of the memorial service and member of House of Prayer Church, Lekki, said, “We basically just gather round to worship and pray. That is what we do in the House of Prayer in Lekki. When the incident happened, we came on site and provided first-hand support, like feeding the rescue team, from LASEMA to Red Cross and everybody helping at the site. We just provided a platform where organisations and churches and even individuals who wish to help can come together to provide services. Some of the organisations are Chris Oyakhilome Foundation, High Life Church, Nigerian Breweries and many others. That is where the Name ‘Nigeria Rise Up For Ita Faaji’ that is written boldly on the T-shirts came from.

“The shelter was provided to us by the Local Government chairman. We renovated it, like getting the sewage fixed to make it conducive. It is temporary. We are hoping for more people to help provide permanent shelters for them because as some of them are being discharged from the hospital, we will have to unite families in one room, and we don’t have that space yet. Right now they are separated, boys’ rooms, girls’ rooms.”

Victor Onosebe, head of programmes for InnerCity Mission For Children told our reporters that theirs is a child-centred organisation. “We equip children, mothers with tools to come out of poverty. When our organisation heard of the collapse, we knew people would be displaced, so we came and partnered with other organisations to help bring relief to the victims. Most of the people who live in the already collapsed building have no place to go. The Community Centre has been converted to a shelter where they can stay temporarily. Right now, about 30 people are living there made up of six households and individuals. The number was not this high initially. I heard that a few days ago, they were about 16, but as people were discharged from the hospital and had nowhere to go, they come to the shelter and that is why they are 30 now.”

Reacting to the demolition of 180 houses in Lagos Island and the proposed relocation of the surviving victims, Chairman Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Epe Branch, Barrister Sunday Abimbola said ideally, before the demolitions occur, it is important to relocate victims.

He said: “The government can deny them their fundamental human right by demolishing their houses when it comes to safety, but the government also has a social responsibility to them, so that they will not be homeless.

“They have become Internally Displaced People (IDP). We have it everywhere; it is not only in warring situations that we have IDPs. We have it on health grounds and this type of situation.

“Relocating them to a proper place is important because the government has to consider the fact that if they find a solution to their own problem it might be counterproductive. How will the government know that they have a toilet and they will not just defecate in open areas when they relocate? If you just leave them on the street, many of them will be sleeping on the staircase of other people. Many of them will find other shanties to stay, so it is not out of the responsibility of the government to build houses for them.”

He also questioned what would become of the lands when the houses are eventually demolished.

“A lot of these people are paying rent to stay in these houses, and the landlords feed from the rent. So, it is two ends, if the government demolishes the building, what becomes of the lands? Is it going to be acquired or is the government going to rebuild and give it back to them? In the past, the government has built for victims of such collapse, but what they built wasn’t too ideal. If you go to Nnamdi Azikiwe Street on Lagos Island, the government took over some structure there some time ago, though I don’t know what the government did with the building, I know that they were later developed by some developers.”

Among other things, the re-emergence of the resettlement sites bring with them new questions. Asides a place to lay their heads, how would these displaced persons fend for their families in the new environment? It is one thing to provide shelter, but is there provision for schools for the children? Are there hospitals or health facilities at these camps to provide medical services or would they simply be left to their devices?

Barrister Abimbola further speaks on this, saying, “A lot of them have paid the school fees of their children for this term, would the government make provisions for them when they are relocated because their children would have to go to new schools? There is also the issue of medical care; will the government make that provision for them when the children fall sick because they will have to adapt to new weather, water and all sorts?

“So, there are contending rights now; the right of the government to do good and be up to its responsibility and the right of the citizen to live happily. So, these are contending rights that the government has to consider in relocating these people. Mind you, the government is the largest stakeholder in this kind of thing. It is only the government that can build for them.”

Titi Ajirotutu, Public Relation Officer (PRO) of Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA), told Saturday INDEPENDENT that the government had good plans for the victims of the demolition.

In an interview, she said “I think the government has good intentions for them. We are taking them to a relief centre for the meantime. The project is between the four agencies involved in the demolition. They are Education, Health, Physical Planning, and Special Duties.”

The new wave of demolitions, contrary to the expectation that it would solve problems, unearths a different set of cankerworms in housing in Lagos State.

Lives have been lost, and just as the surviving victims are still reconciling themselves to life without their loved ones, they are being uprooted again to places and locations they have probably only visited in their imaginations. It, therefore, becomes the case of the proverbial hell or high water. The government’s solution is beginning to look like a trap to a people who have nowhere to turn after surviving such tragedy. Would they remain safe at the mercy of a government they do not trust?

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