In Foko, grime, poverty, death mix well

A church near a dump site. INSET: Alhaji Oloko

Underneath the lively expressions of a community of people in developing countries is a life that would shock most strangers, but for that community and most people living in developing countries, grime, death and poverty is the only life they know. And in Nigeria’s megacities, where state governors have introduced massive scale of beautification projects, behind those curtains are lives filled with grime, death and poverty, and yet, as the people in one of the dirtiest community in Ibadan told RUTH OLUROUNBI, it is as if their government has abandoned them.


Maimunat’s daughter, Aisha, was a bright and bubbly child by all accounts. At least that was what her father, Ahmed said. “I knew without a doubt that Aisha had a bright future ahead of her. She was a bright pupil in a neighbourhood school. She was so full of life, very eager to help her mother in the kitchen and very friendly with children around,” Ahmed said in Yoruba.

Tragically, Aisha died of cholera three years ago. “She would have been seven years old today,” Maimunat said, with tears in her eyes, holding an old picture of her beautiful daughter.

Aisha was not the only under-five year-old whose life was lost to cholera in that year, Maimunat said. Three more mothers lost their children within a week on her street alone, she said and she blamed living conditions and lack of access to clean and safe water as the reason for deaths in the area.

Behind Ibadan’s N15 million per annum, 120-square metre floor space shopping malls are lives seemingly forgotten and behind the glitters and glamour of thriving and bubbling Ibadan nightlife are children who have no access to toilets, health facilities and safe living conditions and it seems, from all accounts, that the government does not care about this. At least that was the recurring theme among the Foko residents of Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo State of Nigeria.

Refuse dump site - 10 metres away from a bakery
Refuse dump site – 10 metres away from a bakery

“We don’t have hospitals here. The other day, my pregnant wife fell ill and we had to rush her to Ibadan Central Hospital. Ibadan Central is like 45 minutes drive during peak hour. Blood was everywhere and I kept calling her name, begging her not to sleep before we got to the hospital. It was a really bad day for my wife and I, there was blood everywhere. After, I had to pay N5, 000 to wash the car that took her to the hospital. I thought she was going to die.

“Needless to say, we lost the baby. When we got to the hospital, she won’t stop bleeding for several minutes, I was very scared. The doctor told us that her placenta had ruptured and we had to do an operation. I was just praying that my wife lives. I later found out that the maternity centre she was attending for ante natal did not have adequate equipment to take care of her prenatal needs. Two months after she came back from the hospital, we moved to Ososami.

“It is not as if the government doesn’t know these needs, at least they come to campaign every time. But they just refuse to address these issues. As I speak with you, there are no toilets, water, good schools and even food. It is that bad. And what annoys me most is that the government knows about this, but they refuse to do anything about it,” an angry Kunle Agboju, who was the area to visit with his wife who was spending a few days with her mother stated.

Characterised by stench and grime is a community struggling with lack of access to safe and clean water, improper sanitation, water borne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, diarrhoea, cholera and ugly sights of refuse dump, lack of good schools, joblessness and hunger and difficult and unsafe living according to Taibat Asikolaye another resident said.

Taibat Asikolaye, lives in a room underneath a powerline with her three young children. It was not as if she was not aware of the constant danger staring her in the face, she said, but fact is, “for now my husband and I cannot afford another place to live” she said. Besides, she reasoned, “it wasn’t as if we have regular power supply.”


Living condition

“We don’t have toilets, we don’t have water. There are few houses with toilets here. We have a public toilet, a latrine, to more than 1000 houses here and we contribute monthly to maintain it,” Asikolaye said, when asked to explain living situations on her street. The conversation below ensued:


How many rooms are in one compound?

Depends on the type of house – there could be 24 or more.


How many people are in one room?

In this ward six, there are up to seven people in one room.


If you were to guess, how many people are on your street?

There are 50 houses on my street. Majority of them are compounds. If I were to guess, there are about 700 people or more on my street.


Are you saying that more than 700 people use one public latrine?

No, I am saying in all of ward six, there is only one public latrine. There are about 800 houses in ward six, like I told you earlier. But few houses have their own private toilets; many of them are latrines too. But the difference is theirs are more enclosed than ours and there are less people using the toilets. There could be more than 100 people in one house.

Many residents live, cook and play around refuse dump sites. In fact, less than two minutes away from a dump site is a bakery that has existed for more than 30 years. The bakery owner and his customers don’t seem to mind that beside them is a dump site.

“It doesn’t affect us, we are used to it. If you were born here like many of us, this wouldn’t bother you,” a man whose window overlooks the dump site said told this reporter, smiling.


Not safe to drink

“Our water is not safe to drink, so we use it to wash clothes,” 55-year-old Oluwaseun began, adding: “we have appealed to the government several times to give us water but they have refused to do so. Our children are dying, they should please save us.”

Beside the gutter are the bowls used in collecting water for drinking.
Beside the gutter are the bowls used in collecting water for drinking.

Water crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing Nigeria. In January 2015, Bloomberg Media headlined an article as “Nigerian Water Shortage Is Bigger Killer than Boko Haram: Cities.” Although the authors of the article may be accused of sensationalising Nigeria’s safe and water crisis, statistics show that Nigerians are actually dying from lack of safe water in their thousands.

According to WaterAid, London-based non-profit organisation, shortage of potable water and poor sanitation led to about 73,000 deaths in 2015. WaterAid Nigeria’s statistics show that “63 million Nigerians have no choice but to get water from wherever they can,” and 57 million people lack access to safe water. Also, over 130 million people don’t have access to adequate sanitation in Nigeria, two thirds of the population, the organisation said,

Water crisis presents a global challenge. According to the United Nations, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in water-stressed countries by 2025. Currently, over 663 million people in the world lack access to improved drinking water sources, according to World Bank report, while the WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme for Water Supply and Sanitation, quoted by the United Nations, has it that at least 1.8 billion people worldwide are estimated to drink water that is contaminated by faeces.

In Foko area, hundreds of children drink water contaminated by dirt and faeces. According to a recent survey conducted by development students of the University of Ibadan, in which this reporter was part of, seven per cent of the population drink from unprotected wells contaminated by excrement and 14 per cent of the population depend on rain water as source of their drinking water. The survey shows that while only 16 per cent of the community has access to protected dug well 11 per cent has access to borehole water and 51 per cent depend on sachet water. One per cent of the population has access to tap water, which they said runs for two hours every week.


‘We spend too much buying water’

“We spend a lot of money buying water around here,” a 75-year-old community leader, Alhaji Nurudeen Oloko, said during a visit to his home. “E ba wa so fun ijoba ki won s’anu wa. Ki won fun wa l’omi,” meaning “help us appeal to the government to give us water,” the community leader added.

Speaking further, he said: “I was born here; I have spent all my life here so I know what I am talking about. We don’t have water – no taps, no borehole. The boreholes the government said they gave us do not work. Our women spend hours a day to fetch water from other places and they spend too much money to get the water.”

Iya Bisi, as she gave her name, said most women in the area spend N60 to buy one bowl of water from vendors around. “And it is not as if the place is close by,” she said. According to her, “to get clean, drinkable water, you have to trek over 30 minutes and wait for more than two hours on the queue to buy one bowl of water for N60, especially during dry seasons. Sometimes we spend N80 on a bowl.”

When asked for the numbers of bowls she buys per day, she said: “10. I buy 10 bowls per day sometimes and other times, I buy just five.” When asked if her husband gives her money to buy water, she simply laughed.

Beneath the bridge is home to community refuse.
Beneath the bridge is home to community refuse.

Another resident said majority of the women spend N20 to N30 on a 20 litter keg but that that water is not safe to drink. “We use that water to wash alone and we buy pure (sachet) water. Pure water has jumped to N120 per bag from N80 per bag,” she said, lamenting that it has become increasingly difficult for them to afford sachet water. “We can’t buy pure water like we should to do anymore. They now sell it for N120. That N120 can buy us four kegs of water,” she said. But, they still have to drink water.

From a population, where less than 50 per cent earn between N50, 000 and N100, 000 a month, water buying is a burden on scarce resources; especially when the majority of the residents spend more than 30 per cent of their earnings on water buying and another 20 per cent on treatments of malaria, cholera, dysentery and other diseases.

Economic, health and social burden of poor access to safe and clean water

However, Dr Michael Ojo, Country Director, WaterAid Nigeria, said: “In sub-Saharan Africa, women spend combined total of at least 16 million hours each day collecting drinking water…”And yet, 57.7 million Nigerians do not have access to safe drinking water, while thousands of children die every year from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation in Nigeria.

National Coordinator for Health and Environment Basic Registry Information System in Nigeria (BRISIN), Dr Misbau Lawal once lamented that water borne-diseases were as a result of inadequate provision of safe drinking water and sanitation. From World Health Organisation (WHO)’s estimates, 3.4 million people in the world die annually as a result of water borne diseases.

Although Oyo State’s Governor Abiola Ajimobi said the inaugurated ultra-modern water treatment plant at the Asejire Water Scheme cost N262 million, Oyo State residents have insisted that scarcity of water was biting harder in spite of government’s efforts and fund allocations at addressing the problem.

The Commissioner for Environment, Chief Isaac Ishola, speaking, said the problem with the area was environmental law enforcement challenges. He said people in the state generally are not environmental law compliant but that will soon change as soon as the Ibadan Urban City Master plan is rolled out.

According to him, the plan, which is 80 per cent completed, will soon be rolled out and will ensure that environmental laws will be enforced.

He also said that one of the problems in the area was that the people have not cooperated with government officials who have been to the area to determine the availability of toilets and water in the area.

To combat this, he said the ministry working on advocacy enlightenment programme in which the stakeholders – the state and local governments and the people of the area – to iron out some issues towards resolving lingering challenges confronting the residents.

He said the state ministry of environment will continue to work to enforce laws that improve lives of people in the state.