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Why survival is becoming a luxury in the slums of Ajegunle

Walking down a popular street in Ajegunle on a cloudy Monday evening, I saw young boys between 15 to 18 years, muttering incantations and behaving awkwardly on the street in a broad day light.

I thought they were mentally deranged, but was baffled when some people spoke in hushed voices that they were cultists.

Cultists! I screamed, considering their age. Moreover, these innocent-looking teenagers who are supposed to be in school or probably at home running errands are now on the streets to cause havoc.

From rape, stealing, gangsterism, touting, all manners of assaults, to any kind of crime you can imagine, these fellows are very vulnerable.

The worse is that they are unleashing themselves in Ajegunle that is already notorious for its ghettos and high crime rate associated with slummy areas.

Worried about safety of lives in the slum, I made efforts to understand how residents live with such hooligans in their midst.

Mama Chiboy, a middle-aged woman who runs a local bar in the area, frowned at my inquest, fearing that I would walk into trouble. But on noticing my genuine concern, she opened up.  “My brother, it is not easy here. We cannot tell all we see inside this Ajegunle. Everybody wants to be noticed, fight for superiority and the worst is that the children have taken to the streets and yet they said they are the leaders of tomorrow; which tomorrow”? She asked.

She is not worried about the many brothels that harbor prostitutes, but about how teenage girls who are still under the roof of their parents sleep around with men even without protection.

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“If you hear the meager amount these men pay to sleep with these girls, you will understand the level of sufferings that is driving them into prostitution. Some even sleep with thugs who in turn pay back by molesting their rivals or former boyfriends”, she explained further.

Aside that, the level of school drop-outs is alarming in Ajegunle as many take to touting, commercial bus driving or conducting, car wash and all manners of menial jobs. But those who have guts do robbery, high level thugs for politicians, tax agents among others.

The sad thing about Ajegungle is that the area, which was once famous for breeding creative talents, sports men and women, celebrities among others now breeds criminals. What happened, if one may ask? The irony is that while the city breeds talents, the talents leave to develop other areas in Lagos or Nigeria, once they rise to fame.

“We no longer have football stars coming from here like before because all the stars that started here have all left to Lekki, making those living to feel dejected. What is wrong in developing standard stadium here, football academy, movie village, art gallery, among others to encourage youths here to use their energy positively”,  an aggrieved resident lamented.

Tracing the history of the area, the man explained that people in Ajegunle should be living in affluence because the area was supposed to serve as residence for the low cadre workers in the old Nigerian Ports Authority. If the low cadre NPA staff had lived here since then, the man argued that they would have grown in position by now and at least, buy and redevelop the old houses they lived in before moving to Lekki and Ajah.

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Of course, insecurity and neglect by government, especially lack of social infrastructure have driven some businesses that would have grown in the area to safer areas. Same businesses also employ people from Ajegunle and pay them peanuts.

“Apart from Mobil, there are no good companies in Ajegunle. Those who work in good companies in Apapa do not live in Ajegunle, so how will good money circulate, earning are low here and people resort to self-help in anything they can find to survive”, another resident said.

A tell of the poverty level in the slum is the beating of electricity company staff who try to cut the source of light to some houses, and fight by landlords to collect their monthly N3000 to N5000 rent,  common scenarios that make one think twice on establishing business or living in the area.

In some extreme cases, fight of superiority among rival cults, touts and thugs have often led to the burning of houses, cars, business places with the culprits never apprehended till date. So, it is survival of the fittest amid slum madness.

However, respite is not in sight as the bad state of roads, poor development and insecurity in the area have worsen in the last 10 years and have seen the exodus of many enterprising people from the area.

But one area they don’t move to, according to Emma Orizi, an aggrieved resident, is Apapa because of its proximity to their area. “If I make money, I will move to a place far from here because closeness to your former area reminds you of the sad stories from time to time, especially if you wish to change things but do not have capacity to do so”.

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