LAGOS – The African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) which Nigeria hosted in 1977 gave birth to the town named after it, FESTAC Town, because it was created to host all the guests to the event with its glitz and glamour, but the town which soon became a sedate residential area is now a vast expanse of dust and rust.
This writer made a trip to the once resplendent town recently and could not believe what he saw.
The once lovely area with its well-manicured road networks had degenerated to the level of a slum.
Before the memorable FESTAC ‘77, over 5000 housing units had been built and by the end of 1977, over 10,000 housing units were already erected.
The city was built out of a swamp and had its roads well paved to last for decades.
The drainages were deep and covered and fortified against flooding.
The town was also shielded from the outside world by a green belt of buffer zone for maximum security and to preserve its unique status from the slurry slums around it.
However, the town, from its present state, has become a shocking copy of what it used to be and is now a booming slum.
All the facilities that made it a world-class residence and the envy of some African countries are no longer functional.
The sewage systems are broken down and sewage pipes are blocked with fetid water oozing from the wreckage.
For instance, residents of 402 Road must always close their windows to prevent themselves from being assailed by the obnoxious odour from broken down sewage pipes, where human faeces make sudden appearances.
Also, the once spotlessly clean and well looked after environment has been taken over by heaps of refuse which dot different locations.
Some of these household wastes find their way into the clogged drains, causing adjoining streets to flood even when there are no rains.
As a way of averting an epidemic outbreak after state-hired waste collectors abdicated their responsibilities, some residents now resort to use of outlawed cart pushers to dispose of household waste.
Unfortunately, some of the cart pushers empty the trash into canals or dump them at buffer zones, thereby adding to the sanitation problem.
Another worrisome practice going on in the facility is the gradual disappearance of buffer zones, playgrounds and parks, which have been bought over by the nouveau riche and religious groups.
In the place of these facilities meant to facilitate recreational activities, the new owners have erected choice structures and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), the supervisory agency appears to be heavily involved, conniving with land speculators to enrich their deep pockets.
Chief Ignatius Nnorom, a paint manufacturer who lives on one of the town’s road, said: “Officials of the Federal Housing Authority, for a fee and with the right connection, will make the purchase of plots of land in the town to be swiftly done, not minding the implications the alterations would have on the original masterplan.
“The officials, in concert with other government officials, sell off these spaces reserved for recreational purposes to private individuals and organisations since the Federal Government appears not to have interest any more in maintaining the estate.”
A resident, Chima Uka, said: “Illegal operations by hoodlums have increased the rate of armed robbery in the neighbourhood.”
Another resident, Jude Uzor, said due to the deplorable state of the roads, he no longer drives to avoid the wear and tear, as he now uses public transportation.
“Because of the deplorable situation of roads, I don’t drive to the office again, I use the public transport system because before we can leave FESTAC to Mile 2, it is an issue.
“It is better for us to use public transport and take it cool with the traffic situation.
“On our part as residents, we are trying to fix some of the potholes; we are trying to return our parks and get them back.”
Another resident, Mrs. Wura Adeola, said: “It has become so irritating when driving around the bad roads.
“There are some roads that are completely gone. If you go to 7th Avenue, it is not accessible. 41 Road caved in recently.
“We have traffic around this side because of the tanker drivers that are now allowed to come into Festac.
“Truckers enter at night and break down to cause traffic. The big trucks are destroying the road, the once peaceful and beautiful FESTAC has become a den for suspected thugs who extort, rob and engage in other nefarious activities.”
When contacted, the chairman of Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, Valentine Braihmo, debunked reports that FESTAC had become an unsafe environment for residents, saying that it was the safest town in the metropolis.
According to him, “Amuwo Odofin is the safest, even when we had issues after the #ENDSARS protest.
“That was when the Lagos State task force came to assist vehicles at Second Rainbow Bus Stop; the boys were there to secure the area and the army also. There have been no time when thugs entered FESTAC.”
On the indiscriminate parking of trucks, Valentine said Festac had not become a holding bay for trucks, adding that they come at night to damage the barriers.
Meanwhile, the councillor representing Ward K in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, Adewunmi Ogunshina, confirmed the spate of thuggery in the town as well as their illicit activities and attacks on private establishments, which was stopped by the residents and the government officials.
He attributed the lack of safety in the community to the poor security strategy by the government.
“A lot of security meetings have been held in this local government area and at the end of the day, nothing serious is done.
“We knew what Festac was when we were growing up. Thugs have taken over now. Thuggery is the order of the day at Amuwo Odofin,” he said.
According to the Chairman, Community Development Committee (CDC) in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area, Jola Ogunlusi, a major health disaster is looming in Festac if the government fails to act fast, decrying high levels of degradation in the entire town.
“Right now, Festac is receiving a lot of immigrants. The estate is getting congested.”
He alleged that past successive governments were unable to address the situation, hence the continuous degeneration of Festac Town.
The resolve by the two parties to jointly confront the unregulated property development and facility deficit in the housing estate was the outcome of a meeting between Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Senator Gbenga Ashafa.
Ashafa, Managing Director of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), who led top officials of FHA to the Lagos State House on a courtesy visit, some few months ago, to present four partnership requests to the state government.
Meanwhile, in June this year, the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) demolished car dealer shops and shanties located in the town, after serving the affected people a 7-day quit notice.
The demolition was reportedly in line with the governments’ commitment to resuscitate the infrastructural and environmental decadence in the area.
At present it is difficult to say whether the FHA is actually committed to reversing the decay that has come upon the once lovely environment.