Itamarun community in Ibeju/Lekki Local Council Development Area of Lagos State can best be described as a paradox. Despite sharing borders with the affluent, and situated in an area where many believe will soon transform into the state’s next industrial hub, the people still wallow in abject poverty. In this report, Akin Adewakun highlights the plights of the people of this beachside community, the interventionist initiatives of non-governmental organisations, since the different industrial developments going on in the area have done more harm than good to the people.
When Mrs Helen Folarin was posted to Itamarun (a fishing community in Lagos) to head the only public health centre there as a consultant, little did anyone envisage that the journey to getting the plight of residents of this beachside community known, had begun.
The retired chief matron, who was on a special government scheme at Itamarun Health Clinic, on resumption at the health facility got a culture shock. She discovered that the health culture of the people there was different from the various places she had served as a health officer before coming to the village.
“For instance, despite having a government health centre in the community, I discovered the women there, especially expectant mothers , still preferred to go to traditional birth attendants (TBAs) for delivery.
“Unfortunately, besides posing a huge risk to mother and child, TBAs are even found to be costlier at the end of the day,” she said.
Curiously, despite being a huge cause for the high infant mortality figures always recorded in the community, residents were always ready to take such avoidable calamities in their strides. They would always prefer to heap the whole blame on the doorsteps of providence, rather than taking their time to address the cause of incidents. They were rather too lackadaisical about health care, the retired matron observed.
“They believe whatever happens including the high number of deaths during delivery, in the area, has been pre-destined, and that there is nothing anybody can do about it,” she stated.
Mrs Folarin felt to succeed in this arduous task of looking after the health of the people, it had become imperative for her to seek help. And, in 2014, she approached the Rotary Club of Lagos, seeking the organisation’s intervention.
Interestingly, the needs assessment carried out by the then Rotarian Ayo Banjo’s leadership of the organsation in the community revealed a society wallowing in poverty in the midst of plenty; a paradox of the affluence, elegance and grandeur that the city of Lagos and some of the communities in the Ibeju/Lekki axis typify.
For instance, the industrialisation efforts going on around the Ibeju/Lekki-Epe axis have done more harm than good to the economy of the people of the community. Many able-bodied men whose major occupation is fishing have become jobless since the dredging of the area, occasioned by the advent of the Lekki Free Trade Zone. They are now left with little or no space to fish, a case of what should have been a blessing turning out to be a curse to the community.
“The people can no longer fish, because the area has been dredged and there are no more spaces and fishes. It is costing us our livelihoods. And that is why majority of the people here are jobless, since their main occupation has been taken away from them,” explained Akinfolarin, who lives in the area, in a chat with the Nigerian Tribune.
But not a few see Itamarun as a community of paradox. Despite its huge potential to be great, the poverty index of this beachside community remains mindboggling.
For instance, with a maternal and child mortality rate of about 20 per cent; a basic education and literacy level of less than 10 per cent, and a screaming poverty level of more than 90 per cent, coupled with an extremely poor sanitary environment, Itamarun can be described as being in the league of one of the most poverty-stricken communities in the state, despite being in the neighbourhood of men of affluence and influence.
Another clear evidence of neglect in this community of over 5,000 inhabitants is the near total absence of government presence in the area.
For instance, besides the Itamarun Health Centre which is a state government’s health facility designed to cater to the health needs of the people, especially its expectant mothers, there are no public schools, either primary or secondary. Kids of school ages desirous of western education would have to trek some distance to avail themselves of such ‘luxury’.
Speaking with the Nigerian Tribune, one of the residents, Joel Akinodun, noted the frustrations of the community. “Many people assume that we live a life of luxury here whenever we tell them that our community is at Lekki. But they are mistaken. It is not so. We live in an environment that tells of wealth but ours is not so. Our livelihood, which is basically fishing, has been taken away since the dredging started. Many people have been trapped and it appears that there is nothing that we can do. We need help from government and other well-meaning Nigerians,” he said.
Sharing in his pain, another resident who identified herself as Mrs. Tayo Adeoti called on the government to help them. According to her, “life here was promising until the government started with the free trade zone arrangement and we started losing our livelihood. We feel trapped and we are seeking all the intervention that we can get. We see wealth around us but it is clearly not bringing the desired development for our community.”
Mr Gbenga Olaoni, another resident, also told the Nigerian Tribune of the apprehension of the community residents.
“We see development around us but we cannot share in it. Ours is a fishing community. We need help because we cannot survive on our own. Government should come to our aid,” he pleaded.
Besides, until the intervention, the women who are mainly palm kernel farmers always had to manually crush those kernels before extracting the nuts and the oil.
Not a few therefore believe that the decision of Rotary Club of Lagos to adopt the community in 2014 could not have come at a more auspicious time.
And, in continuation of its interventionist initiatives in the area, the president of the Rotary Club of Lagos, Dare Adeyeri, on behalf of members, early this month, July, donated some birth delivery kits to Itamarun Health Centre for the use of expectant mothers in the area.
Delivering the items to the representative of the community in Lagos, Rotarian Adeyeri had explained that the decision to donate the items was informed by the need to check the high infant mortality rate in the area.
The newly- elected president stated that in tune with the club’s philosophy of giving, the Rotary Club of Lagos decided to intervene after a careful study of the needs of the community. He added that it had become imperative to give pregnant women in the area who were becoming increasingly vulnerable some lifelines by supporting them with such birth delivery kits.
Adeyeri further stated that besides the donations, the organisation had also come up with several interventions aimed at alleviating the plight of the community.
One of such interventions, he stated, was the disbursement of soft loans to the women in the community to assist them in their petty businesses.
“We are also trying to build a primary school for the people in the community, to enable their children have access to quality education without having to trek kilometres every day,” he stated.
He added that the goal of the organisation is to sink two deep wells with water treatment facility and overhead /underground tanks, while also constructing six public female and male toilets with bathrooms, as a way of enhancing the hygiene of the area.
Receiving the items, the representative of the community, and the head of Itamarun Health Centre, Mrs Folarin, commended the club for coming to the aid of the community.
She expressed the belief that the items would go a long way in encouraging many of the expectant mothers in the community to come to the clinic for delivery.
She also appealed to the organisation to come to the aid of the community in solving the issue of perennial flooding usually experienced in the area during rainy season.
Interestingly, responses from other members of the organisation were quite reassuring. Dr Olumide Phillips, a philanthropist and past president of Rotary Club of Lagos, assured the community of members’ unflinching support.
“I’m really moved by the plight of these people, and let me say here that we’ll do everything within our powers as members to come to the aid of the community in the areas of healthcare and education,” he added.
Also speaking on the donation of the birthing kits to the community, a past president of the organisation, Rotarian Ayo Banjo, believed the kits would go a long way in mitigating the high infant mortality rate usually recorded in the village.
He explained that the decision to adopt the community by Rotary Club of Lagos in 2014 was informed by the state of abject poverty and total neglect the Needs Assessment Team of the organisation found the community in 2014.
“This is a community suffering from abject poverty, with a lot of issues to contend with. Most of the times when it rains the place is flooded, and residents’ movements are always impeded during the period.
“We discovered that in the community, what the women do is extraction of palm nuts, palm oil, and also oil extracted from the palm kernel, by mortars, stones and other tools of extracting oil.
“But after doing our basic needs assessment, we discovered that what they needed was palm kernel crushing machines. So we provided that for them. And this significantly impacted on their output. Before what they could produce every week was between 25 and 50 kg of palm kernels; but after giving them the palm kernel crushing machine, they are able to produce 50 kg in three hours,” the former president Rotary Club of Lagos, added.
While some of these challenges still stare residents and visitors to Itamarun in the face, not a few, however, believe that the journey to repositioning this utterly neglected beachside community has begun. At least, with the lid on its challenges now blown open, individuals, corporate organisations and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will join the Lagos Rotarians in bringing succour to a community whose people have continued to wallow in poverty, despite sitting on treasure.
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