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A jungle in the city: Story of a 500-room house where tenants live as prisoners

Found this report in the Punch newspaper and just had to share, enjoy it below:

Covered
in a stream of sweat as he made for the narrow entrance leading outside the
block, Okoli Nwabueze (not real name), cursed and grumbled angrily. He was deep
in slumber by the time the fan in his room stopped rolling that afternoon and
so couldn’t make it out on time to enjoy cool, ‘precious’ breeze. Lacking
proper ventilation, electricity supply was the only means to keep the
temperature within the room normal. Last year, when he paid N140, 000 as rent
and related charges for 12 months to move into Agboye ‘Estate’, a gigantic
structure with over 500 rooms stretching on about four plots of land on Oduntan
Street, Ketu, Lagos, this was not what he expected. The situation leaves him
deeply frustrated.
“The
heat inside my room is crazy,” he said, nodding his head in complete dejection.
“There is no ventilation and so whenever there’s power outage the place becomes
very hot. This was not what I expected when I paid for the house last year. I
never knew I was moving into a prison yard. I can’t use generator or other
household appliances even after paying so much as rent. This is really crazy,”
he fumed.

Lamentations
all the way
Okoli
is not the only one burning with rage in this vast and hugely populated
building – the poor and extreme conditions of living is getting other tenants
deeply concerned, too. Apart from paying N6, 000 as monthly charges for a
single room – not more than twice the size of the space inside a commercial bus
in Lagos – occupants who agreed to speak with our correspondent after they were
assured their identities would be protected for fear of being victimised by the
owner of the house, Onamo Agboye, said they are forbidden from using power
generators, electric kettles, air conditioners or even host important social
gatherings like naming ceremonies or birthdays within the facility. They were
assured of constant electricity supply when moving in but they soon found out
that the big generator set stationed at a section of the compound is not meant
to service their interest but the comfort of the landlord alone. To make
matters worse, the only entrance leading in and out of the compound closes at
11:00pm daily. Once the clock ticks, nobody goes in or out anymore, they
revealed. In case of an emergency, chaos is inevitable.
“There
was this day I was coming from FESTAC and I encountered traffic around
Maryland, I didn’t get to Ketu until about 11:30pm. The security men at the
gate of the house did not allow me to go in. I explained to them that I was new
and that I didn’t know about the time of the closure but they refused to listen
to my plea. I slept inside the church opposite the house that day,” Lanre
Adamolekun, another tenant told Saturday PUNCH.
The
regimented nature of the building – like a Nazi facility – has left devastating
consequences on some occasions. Injuries and heartbreaks have come in different
forms.
“My
wife almost died from pains after falling into labour around 2:30am. The
security men did not open the gate for us until two hours later because they
said their boss would be mad at them for opening the gate at such hour of the
night. They saw her condition, that she was dying but they refused to consider
her pains. By the time we got to the hospital, she had become too weak to push
by herself. She had to give birth through a caesarean section . That was the
moment I decided that the house was not a place to live,” Anthony Onyekwere
told our correspondent in a telephone conversation during the week. He has
since relocated his family to the Agric area of Ikorodu, a fast rising town
within the metropolis.
Chilling
discoveries
From
afar, the massive building looks like a ship sailing on the Atlantic with
different national flags flying at the top with scores of bulbs arranged at
strategic spots.
During
a visit to the house during the week, our correspondent observed that the
sanitary conditions were in poor state, while hygiene was also a big issue. In
most of the blocks which are constructed only inches away from each other thus
making free flow of air almost impossible, at least 12 rooms shared a single
toilet and bathroom. On the average, two persons occupy each room, bringing the
number of users of a single toilet to 24. An official who works at the building
confirmed to our correspondent who posed as a potential tenant that there were
presently 370 tenants in the house. Meaning that on the average, there are 740
adults living in the compound. This is aside children and visitors who make
frequent stopovers to their loved ones. Unhygienic as this sounds, it is a
situation that has existed for a long time and shows no signs of improving
soon.
Behind
the compound is a vast swamp of stagnant sewage and dirt – the perfect breeding
ground for mosquitoes and other deadly insects that combine to inflict maximum
horror on the occupants. The section is also home to snakes, scorpions and
other dangerous crawling animals. Together, they make life for many of Agboye’s
low-income earning occupants hellish.
“We
are slaves to malaria and typhoid in this place,” Yemisi Adebambo, said. “Ask
people around especially parents with children and let them tell you how much
they spend on malaria and typhoid in a month. The mosquitoes here are the
deadliest I have seen in my life, no thanks to the swamp at the back of the
building; that is their breeding home. Even if you have mosquito nets in your
room, you must buy malaria medicine in a month, you can’t escape it. If you are
not even careful, you will meet snake or scorpion inside your room. We have
killed many of them in our block this year. Ask anybody, they will confirm what
I am saying,” the young mother of four told our correspondent.
A
new notice pasted on strategic points within the facility which our
correspondent stumbled upon, now also forbids tenants from accommodating a
visitor of any kind beyond seven days without the approval of the landlord.
According to the notice, such persons would be classified under the illegal
tenant category of the management’s laws. Others in this category include:
persons living in the room of a relation or friend who has travelled even if
their rent was yet to expire; those sharing a room without the approval of the
landlord, and also persons squatting in a room with a sitting tenant. Those
under this category who wish to escape the wrath of the management are urged to
obtain a regularisation form at N5, 000 and return with four passport photographs
to have their status changed. Defaulters, however, risk urgent ejection and
other severe consequences, according to the strong-worded notice.
The
landlord of the house, who described himself to Saturday PUNCH as a
philanthropist, said he established the place to help the masses and that if
Nigerians were like him, the country would have been a better place to live in.
“I
am a philanthropist; I do this to help the people. If others were like me,
Nigeria would have become a better place. I cannot say much for now but come
back in two days’ time (Wednesday, November 12, 2014) when I will give you
three hours to interview me. Your paper will sell so well,” he said.
But
what our correspondent found at Agboye ‘estate’ is far from what you see in an
environment established by a philanthropist. Tenants are ejected without prior
notice while monthly rent is increased at will without proper consultations
with the occupants. Tenants cook by the entrance of their rooms as there are no
kitchens while the passageway in most of the eight blocks in the premises are
enveloped in darkness day and night except of course if there is electricity
supply to light up the bulbs. In the alternative, occupants light candles to
illuminate the place.
The
monthly rent for a single room in this highly populated building – N6, 000 – is
one of the most expensive in mainland Lagos, higher than in places like Yaba,
Palmgrove and even Ikeja, the state capital. In addition to the high rent,
tenants pay additional N2, 000 for electricity and other utility bills. New
tenants who come on their own are made to pay a certain amount to a woman who
acts as in-house agent. Without ‘settling’ her, your tenancy documents won’t be
signed. But for those coming through an agent outside the place, they could pay
as much as N140, 000 – about N34, 000 higher than the usual amount. In
additional, a new tenant is made to perform a mandatory ritual – present a
specified number of malt drinks and a bottle of wine to the management of the
‘estate.’
Disturbing
as it sounds, the travails of many Agboye ‘estate’ residents, a school housing
several professional institutes now converted to blocks of residential
apartments, is only a fraction of the accommodation challenges many Lagos residents
now face. Confronted with outrageous rents and all sorts of living conditions
by house owners, many of the city’s low-income earning families and individuals
are forced to accept cheap alternatives that offer no succour in the real
sense. Rather, their troubles have been compounded in many of these places,
with their rights grossly abused by greedy house owners who ‘lord’ over their
lives in every form.
A
ticking time bomb
A
medical expert, Professor Oladapo Ashiru, told Saturday PUNCH that
living in a crowded house like Agboye, poses severe health risk to the
occupants. He said except government addresses the factors pushing people to
live in such environment critically, the consequences could be harmful to the
society at the end.
“If
you live in a crowded house where ventilation is poor and a lot of people have
to share a single toilet and bathroom, there is a high possibility of infection
because oxygen sharing capacity is greatly reduced. There would be poor hygiene
in the environment and stress on the bladder as a result of people waiting for
each other to use the toilet.
“In
such a place, there will be prevalence of malaria, diarrhoea. People in such a
place would be visiting hospitals regularly because of the risk they are
exposed to.
“The
solution I think is for people to spread out to other parts of Lagos. There is
too much concentration of people inside the city but if people spread out to
other parts, the pressure would be reduced on existing infrastructure.
“Also,
government should invest in water transportation so that people can easily move
around the state. If this is done, people can live in rural areas where there
are still large expanse of land and work in the city without crowding the city
itself. The government must also develop proper housing estates in rural areas
as well to further address this problem,” he said.
Former
Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Lagos, Ayobami Makanju, a
professor of psychology, told our correspondent that occupants of highly
populated houses like Agboye risk having their egos dented. The situation, he
said, could lead to deviancy and all sorts of psychological problems if not
handled properly.
“Living
in houses where there are so many occupants is a big problem for the
individual’s psychological development. Every human needs their personal space
and once you are denied this, it affects you in every way. It affects
reproduction, blood pressure and the physiognomy in general.
“The
problem also leads to stress because people are forced to stay on the queue to
take their baths and also use the toilet. In the process, some are forced to
take their bath in the open at odd hours.
“But
the danger of it all is that it affects your ego and psyche. If you live in a
place where the condition is not different from what you have in a prison yard,
then you could start developing negative behaviour and begin to exhibit
gangsterism traits. Places like this are the breeding ground for all sorts of
deviant behaviour, especially when you see people who live normal lives and in
conducive environments,” he said.
A
civil engineer, Akin Ogunbanwo, told our correspondent that if the pressure
becomes unbearable on the structure of a crowded house like Agboye ‘Estate’, it
could lead to catastrophic consequences.
“In
case the foundation is not properly piled and regular checks and maintenance
work not done to strenghten the pillars, deckings and walls, a house with this
type of pressure cannot escape disaster. It is a matter of time before it
collapses completely,” he said.
A
disaster of such magnitude in this crammed and highly populated building is
best imagined.
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