After spending 11 hours at work on a Wednesday, and another solid 2 hours in Lagos traffic choked with poor ventilation in elderly vehicles and unavoidably sniffing foul odour from stagnant waters and blocked gutters; Morenike Olaniyan – a single lady in her late twenties returned to her rented apartment at FESTAC extension to close her eyes in sleep.
This was expected to afford her the chance to replenish her depleted energy level and enjoy a temporary escape from her financial worries aggravated by the high cost living and the ruthless economic hardship ravaging the entire country unendurably.
In some parts of Lagos State which is the commercial capital of Nigeria, having an air-conditioner is not a luxury like some people in Ibadan or other small cities in Nigeria might believe. It’s ineluctable because the normal electric fans can’t do the proper work of ventilating the house erected in an area where town planners were purposely alienated from the equation for egoistic reasons.
The seeming minute quantity of oxygen is rationed among an unofficial population of 23 million people occupying a landmass of 3,577 km² scavenging the length and breadth of the area for scarce economic resources. FESTAC extension is just outside FESTAC Town itself as the name suggests.
FESTAC Town has been described as one of the few well-planned areas in the over-populated metropolitan city of Lagos but that might not be said about the extension area which is like the dichotomy of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. The extension is an area of old storey buildings where most blocks have 16 flats, some 32 and others 8. Some of the small rooms housed families of four or more hyperbolically sleeping on top of each other.
For the record, FESTAC Town is a federal housing estate located along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. Its name is derived from the acronym FESTAC, which stands for Second World African Festival of Arts and Culture that was held there in 1977.
FESTAC town, originally referred to as “Festival Town” or “Festac Village”, is a residential estate designed to house the participants of the Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture of 1977 (Festac77). Consisting of 5,000 contemporary dwelling units and seven major avenues, the town was designed in an efficient grid in order to accommodate upwards of 45,000 visitors as well as any Nigerian employees and officers working at the Festival.
The Nigerian government invested substantial sums of money and resources into building FESTAC Town, which sported state of the art electrical generators, police and fire stations, access to public transportation, supermarkets, banks, health centres, public restrooms, and postal services. The village was therefore intended to evoke the modern age and the promise of state-sponsored economic development fuelled by oil revenues.
After the festival, the Federal Government of Nigeria allocated the housing and landed properties to eventual winners who participated in a ballot. Initial regulations forbade such winners from renting and disposing-of the properties to third parties but these appear to have changed now.
Back to Morenike, she sluggishly opened the door to her mini-flat in the FESTAC extension area of the state. Her flat was situated in a four-storey building of 32 flats of majorly two bedrooms each with occupants switching on their power generators of diverse sizes owing to the failure of the power companies to match their high and mostly estimated power bills with efficient and reliable service delivery. In fact, the entire house could be likened to a big factory of gigantic machines at night as soon as power goes off. This is so critical that one of the storey buildings experienced a partial collapse earlier this year and the vibration caused by generators was suspected by the committee of occupants.
As Morenike opened the door to her flat, some ‘uninvited guests’ with modern ‘musical instruments’ who preferred her brand of blood were well stationed at the door ready to join some of their colleagues in the rooms for a night of feast at the expense of her wellbeing. It was already 11pm, Morenike munched the bread and fried egg she had bought from a Hausa trader commonly called Mishai along the road. Her eyes were failing her and she struggled to open the small window in her room which was normally stifling and air-less almost all round the year due to obvious reasons. The area was densely populated and it was as if the builder of the house almost skipped the window from the plan. The area was like a mini-market due to several retail outlets that were illegally erected by residents to make ends meet. The resultant effect was that all the available facilities in the area including fresh air were severely strained.
In a matter of 30 minutes after she changed into her pyjamas, Morenike had begin to sleep when ‘hundreds’ of the unwanted and unpaid musicians playing a blend of European, American and African contemporary music in her ears started the what looked like a circus show. She restlessly rolled around in distress in response to the nuisance they constituted.
In no time, her body was enveloped in sweat from the intense heat in her room. The power company had supplied more of the usual darkness that night. In no time, her body began to itch her from all angles. The ‘performers’ were done with their music. It was time to feast and her blood made a palatable red wine for them. Morenike woke up to see her visitors flying around in strange mass ‘pregnancies’. It was clear they were drunk on her blood. She reached for an insecticide but it was detrimental health-wise to spray it and still sleep inside the same room. The level of tiredness affected the quality of her decisions as she gazed at the clock which read 12am. The single lady left for her veranda in total confusion and was stunned to observe approximately 15 electric generators working tirelessly.
The fumes flooded the vibrating floors; it was as if the rundown building with drab colours was going to collapse. Generators could be heard from afar of making waves in other buildings close-by. The noises of the power generators were irregular depending on their capacities, power load and years of service. Some sounded like the component units were going to disintegrate like the major tribes in Nigeria.
Morenike looked into the sky in abject bleakness and tribulation as she unconsciously tried counting the stars. She started looking at Nigeria as an extension of hell fire. She pictured heaven in her head and felt like having a relief there for an hour. She thought about the possibility of missing heaven and heading to the lake of fire as the Christian faith teaches.
She looked around and spotted two of her scantily-clad neighours hustling for fresh air with the aid of a hand fan as they battled with unseen mosquitoes drawing blood inconveniently from their legs. Her body needed rest but the environment wasn’t conducive. The dirtiness of the surroundings was a chain reaction of the lack of unity among occupants who have frequently turned down pleas to contribute to a common fund and get the environment fumigated.
“I am used to mosquitoes, I hardly fall sick. Make them bite me, na them go tire” is the kind of response you will get from some tenants in the building obviously shying away from responsibilities and liabilities. Every penny counts in Lagos and every Lagosian tends to be too wise for himself as well as nursing distrust against his neigbhours.
Morenike’s plight is a typical night most Lagosians and Nigerians endure. The situation can only be ameliorated with more money. The decent houses in habitable areas are unnecessarily expensive. Some privileged people run their generators with their air-conditioners. This means the fuel which is sold at N145 per litre will suffer at the expense of one’s recessed pockets.
Morenike stood disillusioned spotting all the oddities in the building with her eyes hovering to and fro as she expressed regrets about being a Nigerian. Her friend in South Africa had earlier discussed with her about the constant power supply he enjoyed. Nigeria is struggling with an insufficient and unsteady power supply of over 4,000 megawatts for over 180 million people despite spending a whooping sum of N2.7 trillion in 16 years. South Africa which has a population of 54.96 million manages 34, 000 megawatts of electricity which is subject to a yearly increase to cope with demand. Most countries of the world have overcome the challenge of erratic power supply but Nigeria has refused to outgrow hers.
The All Progressives Congress-led administration of ‘Change’ ushered in a former governor of Lagos State – Babatunde Raji Fashola as the Minister of Power, Works and Housing thought it wise to increase the power tariff by 45% without a corresponding improved quality of power supply. In fairness, Fashola appears to have been progressively busy with invisible results regarded as ‘motion without movement’.
Morenike’s woes certainly didn’t end here, she decided to have a cold bath to ease the heat but the tap wasn’t running and all the buckets were empty. Since there was no light, pumping of water from the borehole was impossible and nobody wanted to use his hard-earned money to fuel his generator for the needful. Power supply is indeed inevitable in this 21st century. Morenike had always wanted to leave the apartment for a better one but she was financially-challenged. The projection didn’t agree with the average size of her monthly salary. She always tabled her job hunt before the altar in the church but she was only fortunate to keep hers in the two years austerity period of President Muhammadu Buhari administration during which 5.5 million Nigerians lost their job to economic uncertainties according to records made available by the National Bureau of Statistics.
Changing accommodation for her perceived better place will mean working and living for the landlords in Lagos as her entire salaries and savings will be exhausted by the yearly rent. Even if you have the funds for rent, it’s not an easy decision to change accommodation in Lagos due to the politics involved.
Realtors/estate agents locally called ‘House agents’ in Nigeria work in consonance with the landlords to ‘legally’ cheat people. The outrageous agent fee which costs about N100,000 upward in most cases depending on the size of the house is painfully paid apart from the gargantuan house rent. A caution fee of about N20,000 or more is also paid to the landlord and other nefarious fees before one could move into the apartment. At times, the new tenant might be forced to cough out more funds to correct some anomalies in the house to make it convenient for him.
Olusegun Afolabi, a fraud investigator in one of the leading multinational audit firms in Nigeria once paid over half a million naira as 2-year rent for a mini-flat of just one bedroom in the old Ebute-Metta area only to discover that several parts of the roof were leaking. He got to know in a very hard way after a heavy downpour that hit his house in the middle of the night. His landlord started avoiding him when he lodged complaints.
Samuel Akpabio was also taken aback when a power company official informed him after a disconnection that his apartment was owing about N450,000 accumulated power bills. The online newspaper editor was still recovering from his huge rent for the new place when he started sorting power officials every month to prevent a total blackout. His smooth-taking estate agent and house caretaker who brainwashed him that all was well with the house initiated the childish ‘Hide and Seek’ game when he raised an alarm. He had to carry an inherited cross on his fragile head throughout his lengthy stay.
At around 2am, Morenike angrily stormed her room to flush out the mosquitoes like Nigerian troops battling with Boko Haram insurgency in the north-east. She picked up a broom and engaged them in a frontal battle. She recklessly supported herself with the available insecticide. She wanted the insects to feel her ordeal too. In about an hour, the beautiful and colourful walls of her room were designed with dead mosquitoes and blood stains. It was an ugly sight! This added to her depression as she later sat on the floor and started crying out of frustration.
2 hours later, she dozed off on the floor as the remnants of the mosquitoes bit her amid panic of a possible reprisal attack. An hour later, her alarm rang and she had to prepare for work as she battled with a migraine due to inadequate sleep. She usually woke up at 5am to deal with the heavy traffic associated with the Island area of Lagos where she works.
The migraine became more intense as she dressed up looking so dejected and lost as she raced with her office bag. She became so hot-tempered overnight as she struggled to get a bus to convey her to her working place. Her eyes were red and one could have mistaken her for someone suffering from Acute Haemmorrhagic Conjunctivitis (Apollo) or even an Indian Hemp smoker. You can’t really cheat nature; Morenike in no time slept off until she passed her bus stop. She later dropped to retrace her steps only to discover her money, phone and other values were gone.
It was a nightmare she needed to wake up from. “Even if it means trekking to America or any other developed countries, I am leaving Nigeria next year to start all over. I don’t mind doing menial jobs”. Morenike told her colleagues at work as she narrated pathetic stories of her usual long nights in Lagos.
In as much as Lagos appears beautiful, it’s also starkly ugly on the inside. This accounts for the reason why most Lagosians are mentally strong. They use the odd conditions to motivate themselves to success.