Right in the south of the Lagos metropolis – a commercial city earnestly pursuing the mega city dream – is the infamous riverine community of Ajegunle, translating to ‘a place where riches dwell’.
Ironically, it is unarguably Nigeria’s most notorious slum and one of the most popular ghettos in Africa.
Popularly known as ‘AJ City’ and situated in the Ajeromi/Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State, this neighborhood’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it is a concentration of all the many ethnic groups in Nigeria and it has over the years produced popular football and entertainment superstars such as Samson Siasia, Odion Ighalo; former Super Eagles defender, Taribo West, Emmanuel Amunike, Tarila Okorowanta, Daddy Showkey, Oritse Femi, Daddy Fresh, Baba Fryo, among others.
However, despite the potentials inherent in this community, residents have over time found themselves always on the run for survival and pitting their wits against nature, New Telegraph found during its visit.
This community of people, who have been left to fend for themselves, emits crude poverty, utter infrastructural neglect and foul atmospheric stench, begging the question: has any sitting Lagos State government ever visited this decaying community which has birthed talents and is pregnant with myriads of potentials? Conversely, in AJ City, it is the same all-inclusive waters that serve as means of transportation and food that also serve as the open-defecation latrine and the source of drinking and washing.
In Ajegunle, even kids are not exempted from fishing in canoes in the dangerous wild animal-infested Ogun River. The dwellers’ houses and shops are frail, decrepit, wooden shanties rooted deep in the swamps.
Crime and unemployment are prevalent in this community of about 650,000 people in 335 streets. For the few people determined to carve out means of survival despite the odd social circumstances pitting against them, their common enemy is the flood during the peak of the rainy season.
And despite the rotten and neglected condition of Ajegunle, the state government has only learnt how to effectively tax the owners of these plank-made shops in their squalid conditions.
For Samuel Chinedu, a furniture maker, who set his business on the swampy side in the slummy environment of AJ City, flood was his greatest combatant. The flood doesn’t only disrupt his business activities but also drives out water reptiles.
According to him, when it rains, the rising water threatens his business, making him to resort to constructing an 8ft-high wooden bridge so he could get to his shop and also on which he could display his furniture items. Chinedu said: “The flood comes out once in a year around the period of August or September. Whenever the flood comes, we don’t work outside.
We rather go on top of the bridge we constructed so as to avoid the animals the flood brings out like the snakes and alligators.” He, however, told New Telegraph that there has been no fatal incident recorded from the displaced wild animals.
Another furniture maker, who identified himself simply as Mr. Owolabi, lamented to New Telegraph about the greatest challenges of shop owners in this riverine community.
He said: “We can cope with the wild animals, the flood and other problems but the major challenge we face is the tax of N5,100 imposed by the government from each shops even when we have to use our money to build the wooden bridges.”
Owolabi also explained that apart from the tax the state government collects, shop owners also pay rents to land grabbers, locally known as omo onile, despite their activities getting proscribed in 2016. According to him, killing the displaced animals was to some extent forbidden for non-indigenes.
He said: “During the rainy season, the wild animals come out from the bushes and the water but we don’t kill them. Only the hunters who know much about the animals kill them. “We can’t just carry cutlass and say we want to kill it because we are visitors in this area and the animals are likely to harm us if we kill them.”
Owolabi further said that the planks they use to construct the bridge for their workshop have limited durability of around one to two month as the flood usually damages the woods.
New Telegraph found out that the community members living on and around the water prefer there as it is more like a blessing to them because of the free gift of nature such as the fishes, meat, fire woods, vegetables and the water they get.
A fisherman, Mr Ismaila Jimoh, who claimed to have lived in this area for more than eight years, explained that the community has its good and bad sides. “The area is not safe for us, which is why we have security dogs.
The good side is, we usually come across different kinds of animals such as alligators, fishes, snakes, scorpions, small cobra and wild birds but some of these animals are also useful for us in the aspect of food and commercial purpose.
“In the rainy season, the river is a blessing to the fishermen or hunters in the community because this is when the animals come out from the river to hunt for food. “In this community, we get all the things we need for free, except for the houses we live in and shops we work in, due to the activities of the omo onile. The lands aren’t really affordable despite the fact that it is a swampy area.
A plot of land sells for around N200,000 to N500,000, depending on how close the land is to water.”
An housewife in the vicinity, Mrs. Foluke Ayinde, said that she is always afraid whenever it is the season for rain as her house built beside the river becomes flooded to the window level, damaging some of her properties, while other members in the vicinity battle alligators and other wild animals which the flood bring to their houses.
Foluke further said: “We pay for electricity, but the supply is erratic.
Our husbands pay taxes in their shops, yet, they fight animals every day.”
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