Every hygiene-conscious person who visits Otumara community will be tempted to believe there are some people on earth whose health cannot be threatened even if they sleep and eat on refuse dump all their lifetime. Many questions will struggle for space in the heart of the visitor because most parts of Otumara are clearly unfit for majority of domestic pets to live in, not to talk of humans. The name “Otumara”, a community that hosts about 500,000 residents in Mainland Local Government area of Lagos state, means “this settlement is comfortable for me” (Otumilara in Yoruba language), but that comfort is elusive for now in the town and can only be achieved if government promptly intervenes to avert possible health and other disasters by putting in place basic infrastructures for its inhabitants. Our Editor, Marcus Fatunmole, who joined a group of journalists under the auspices of Journalists Against Poverty (JAP) on a recent visit to the community writes on the state of ballooning filth enveloping the town, dearth of basic infrastructures that put its continued existence in danger and need for government to come to the aid of the people.
It is a community built on stench by mainly indigent Nigerians. Sights of families living on trash, naked and barefoot children playing on reeking streets, food, water vendors and other basic services providers conducting their businesses on putrid slush are some of the horrid scenes that meet the eyes.
The muddy nature of Otumara’s land compounds the town’s woes. A little downpour makes its roads nearly impassable and motor-bike operators who manage to ride through the mire charge exorbitantly, forcing residents to trudge in the muds.
Apart from floating wastes around homes, residents said it’s difficult to dig the ground for toilets as water springs up within two feet from the soil surface. Consequently, the issue of open defecation remains a huge lap of crises facing Otumara.
Some of the community’s residents however believe the gap between them and outbreak of diseases and deaths is narrowing day after day because of increasing depth of wastes and lack of roads and drainages that have allowed muds to reek for months in most homes.
Leaders of Otumara said they urgently need the help of the state government, so the lives of their people do not continue to be at the risk of diseases and deaths.
JAP, sponsored by ActionAid Nigeria, met with leaders and people of Otumara and the leaders made certain requests from the government.
There are two Baales in Otumara, as the community has semi-urban and slummy outlooks. The slummy area is headed by High Chief Festus Oladipupo Arowojolu. He is the Chief (Baale) of Otumara (I) while the semi-urban section is headed by High Chief Kehinde Kalejaiye. He is the Baale of Otumara (II) Though it is close to highbrow areas in Lagos state, Otumara, both its semi-urban and slum, epitomizes poverty.
Chief Arowojolu appealed to Babajide-Sanwo-Olu-led government in the state to come to the aid of the community.
He said despite the dearth of social amenities in Otumara, the community had been peaceful. He said peace had been the hallmark of the community and that residents of the town want the peace to translate to development that is supported by the government and sustained by the people of the town.
“We want this community to continue to exist and develop for us and our children after us. This is all we have been working towards,” the Chief said.
Similarly, Chief of Otumara II, Baale Kalejaiye, said the community was seriously looking up to the government for soccour. He pledged that every good gesture of government in the community would be honoured with good maintenance culture and community support.
“We are here as Nigerians. Almost every tribe in the country is represented in Otumara. We have shown that we are loving and responsible people and community. We urge the government to assist Otumara with basic amenities that will further strengthen the bond among our people,” he said.
Mr Ojo Idowu, who spoke on behalf of the community elders said the community needed good roads, school, potable water. There was thunderous applause immediately he mentioned what he described as the community’s most important need – road. Truly, Otumara needs road. There is no functional drainage to allow floods flow freely. So, every drop of rain adds to water that is already stinking on the ground because the community is not far from the lagoon. The soil is naturally wet even when there is no rain.
Mr Idowu said if government could give them road, half of their problems would be solved and they would have sense of belonging that they are truly among the people of Lagos state.
He thanked the government for building and commissioning a health facility around in a community not too distant from Otumara where people could access healthcare.
Similarly, Otumara does not have a senior secondary school. Children trek several kilometres to get to other communities where senior secondary schools are located, Idowu said. He appealed to the government to help the community with a senior secondary school including potable which is another major source of concern and major basic need missing in Otumara.
Wife of the community’s Chief, Stella Arowojolu said: “We want development. Government and non-governmental organizations like you people can be of help to us and we will appreciate it.”
Speaking on health of women and children in the community, she said: “Regarding health of women and children, we don’t have any outbreak of diseases in this community despite the fact it is a little bit dirty. We do environmental at least twice in a month. We do every Thursday and every last Saturday of the month. Our children are in good health. There is no day in this community that we don’t give birth and we don’t record anything like still birth or any form of death (of mothers) We are living by the grace of God in this community and we are a peaceful community.”
She said there is only one primary health centre, built by government, including a private health facility, in the community.
This newspaper however faults the claim of Mrs Arowojolu on hygiene. The community is too dirty, despite the fact that the people truly carry out environmental sanitation exercises as she said. Finding by this newspaper showed the exercise actually holds every Thursday and last Saturday of the month as she claimed. But, two things were deduced from volume of dirt that has taken over the community. First, it seems the people are helpless in controlling the wastes. Second, it seems many people in the community have acclimatized with the filth and will be ready to live with it.
Segun Oluwatoba, a resident of the community said: “It is worrisome that we can have Senator (Mrs) Oluremi Tinubu, Olajide Jimoh at the House of Representatives, Hon. Alani Owolabi at the House of Assembly and the local government chairman, Hon. Rashidat Omolola, and our situation remain as it is. We however still fully believe in their capacity to turn things around in Otumara. They came to us, we voted for them. And now that they have won again, they should please come to our aid.”
Speaking on why many of the people living in the community remain there despite the conditions they live in, Oluwatoba said: “Many of the people you see here were born here. We have no other place to go. Many of us don’t even have the money to go and resettle elsewhere. There are many poor people among us. But, crime rate is very low, that is what stands us out in Lagos State. So, all we are saying is that government should come and rescue us by providing the basic amenities we need for us.
ActionAId Nigeria Country Director, Ms. Ene Obi, represented by the Project Manager, SCRAPP-C Project (one of the organizations supporting ActionAid on JAP) Mr. Newton Otsemaye, said ActionAid was committed to fighting corruption in the country.
“In ActionAid, our belief is that poverty is not good for the people of the society, it is not what the people should live with, in the sense that we have enough resources. If well distributed, it will take care of every citizen of the society. For that reason, ActionAid is anti-poverty organization.
“At Actionaid, our definition of poverty is quite different. We don’t define poverty by the amount of money you don’t have in your pocket or in your bank. We define poverty based on exclusion. Once people can no longer have access to education, when people can no longer have access to health facility, when you don’t have access to good road, you don’t have access to good water and you don’t have access to basic things that make life bearable, we consider you to be poor.
“Without being told, when we got to this place, we could feel your pain. You don’t need to define poverty to us anymore. We saw the reality when we came to this place,” he said.
While promising to ensure JAP give needed visibility to the plights of people of Otumara, JAP National coordinator, Mr Wale Elekolusi, led his team to donate materials such as books and other devices for children in the community.
Meanwhile, Consultant Public Health Physician, Director and National Coordinator, Neglected Tropical Diseases, Federal Minisrty of Health, Dr. Chukwuma Anyaike, provided insights into the unhealthy condition of Otumara and consequences the situation faced by the community could cause.
In an interview with this newspaper, the public physician said: “Dirty environment comes with huge health complications to the community especially on children. According to the World Health Organisation, one in every four children dies due to unhealthy environment.
“Unhealthy environment with contaminated water and poor sanitation causes a range of life-threatening diseases including cholera, even a group of neglected tropical diseases such as schistosomiasis, worm infections, malaria and lymphatic filariasis. They cause poor developmental milestones in children with poor school attendance, poor mental performance and increased school absenteeism with the attendant weak socioeconomic development in the community and the country as a whole.
“Dirty environment/slums gives room to the breeding of vectors such as rats that leads to sporadic episodes of Lassa fever. Other problems include air pollution that causes diseases that affect also mostly children such as upper respiratory infections, tuberculosis and mental disorders.”