By Osayimwen Osahon George
Human life is so cheap in Nigeria. So cheap that we have exhausted our sympathy for victims of accidents, conflicts, crime, natural disasters and others.
When the news of such incidents break, we read the headlines, take note of the casualty/damage rate and then move on to the next news item with ease. The victims if they are lucky to tell the story live with the pains and indelible marks from painful recoveries and in the event of their demise, their families relieve the harrowing experience of losing their loved ones under very avoidable circumstances.
As the politicians share the spoils of war from the recently concluded 2019 presidential elections, they will hardly remember the over 30 common people who reportedly died as a result of electoral violence across the country and several others who died in the course of celebrating the victory of the incumbent leader, President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Lagos floods constitute a yearly ritual in the financial hub of Nigeria where people pay exorbitant amounts of money for house rents with minimum utility guaranteed. When the torrential rains fall, pictures of the woes of people and the accompanied gory tales are shared on social media and in the online media, people mostly motivated by eye-service sympathize with each other and it never stops there. The state government releases an official press statement condoling with the affected victims, the governor may visit the affected places, pretend to be working until tension subsides and then moves on with life till it happens again. Its a vicious cycle!
In most parts of Lagos, one thing you will notice is that the gutters don’t flow. The lack of good drainage facilities and poor town planning will forever haunt the city which houses over 21 million Nigerians fighting hard to survive the stranglehold of the high cost of living and poor social amenities. This further confirms the unwarranted recognition of Lagos as one of the worst cities to live in across the world.
The stagnant gutters don’t only produce massive stench and flies, fat mosquitoes flourish in them. Some Lagosians who believe they are the smartest in the world also dump refuse inside the gutters when rain falls. Majority of the posh young people and adults you see on social media live with these gutters and heaps of refuse but they will never show you that aspect of their lives.
The gutters in the Ago Palace Way area of Okota Lagos are very large but they hardly flow. The stagnant waters are so deep that they even harbour massive catfishes which are harvested regularly by some folks from the north and middle-belt region either for consumption or for sale.
When I moved to Ago Palace Way in the year 2017, I sensed the clogged gutters were disasters waiting to happen but in Lagos, nobody talks about the gutters. If you do, people will wonder if you are interested in living inside them with some reptiles. When rain falls, we lament and pick our steps across the emergency ‘streams’ around us. Several times, I have had the cause to take off my shoes and socks to walk through the waters while on my way to work thereby exposing my feet to the danger of sharp objects or loitering reptiles beneath the coloured waters.
In my first week at Ago Palace Way, I noticed a small family was living in a makeshift house situated in the middle of a swamp and it appeared everything was fine. I wanted to interview an elderly man in the small compound and make a story out of it but my efforts were futile.
Well, it appears I don’t need his story anymore. Life has given me my own story in a sacrificial and painful way.
Towards 2am on the 1st of March, 2019, I got an unwarranted visitor. It was a familiar disaster I have always had a premonition about. It happened that rain started falling and the hot weather got cosy gradually. I woke up to look around my house as I had earlier suffered from the problem of leakages around the roof. Trust me, the house isn’t cheap, it’s not a shanty, it’s an average Lagos apartment of a room and a parlour.
I retired to my room to play around Instagram and WhatsApp pending on when sleep would come calling again. I finally slept around 4am and woke up at 6am to prepare for work. To confirm the time, I decided to check my phone which is like a daily routine for me. As I reached out for my phone which was on the ground, I noticed the back was wet. It was shocking. I felt I had left a half sachet of pure water on the floor and it had poured while I slept. I couldn’t remember leaving any sachet water anyway. I picked up my phone and switched on the flashlight as the room was dark. I noticed there was a heavy flow of water from the living room and the under of my bed was wet. I got so scared and apprehensive. I swiftly rushed to the living room only to discover it had been transformed into a fish pond; the kind that is used to raise fingerlings. My extension boxes were submerged. The saving grace I had was that they were all switched off including the one meant for the refrigerator. I could have been electrocuted. I quickly made my way to the central fuse and switched it off to prevent any possible electric shock. My furniture was affected, the speakers of my home theatre swam in the flood and other belongings. I peeped into my kitchen and I was heartbroken. It was also flooded with some of my food materials affected. My bathroom wasn’t spared too including the veranda. It was as if I offended a mermaid as some superstitious people would tease. I ran out of the house to call the attention of the gateman. My phone battery was dying and I knew I needed to document the awry event and also contact certain people.
“Abdul! Abdul!! Abdul!!!, come see oh, water don enter my house” I said in local parlance, Pidgin English.
He wasn’t too shocked. He must have seen it coming I thought as the compound and outside the house were in bad shapes.
“Oga, the thing enter your house sef? Na three of una e affect for the compound and them dey pack water since” he said.
He followed to my apartment and he shook his head in sympathy and disgust. I gave him my phone to charge for me while I carried my cross in flowing tears towards Calvary.
I got a big bucket from the bathroom and started scooping water from my apartment. It was like a futile exercise. I later noticed that the water came from underground and it was as if the water level kept increasing as I scooped out water.
A concerned neighbour looked at me with pity and said: “I think you are wasting your time scooping out the water, its flowing back into your house. You better relax and wait for the water level to drop in general”.
She was somehow correct, the gutters were full as usual and showed no signs of flowing. There were stagnant waters around the house. They had the capability of predisposing kids to the danger of drowning. I couldn’t just leave my house in that bad shape and fold my arms. I continued to evacuate the water. I later got my phone and decided to make a video recording to present at work to buttress my unplanned absence. I contacted appropriate authorities at work in between the laborious work. My entire house was in a bad shape overnight, it was like a real nightmare.
Neighbours started trooping in one by one to sympathize with me. I have only heard about flooding all my life, I never experienced one. It was a common occurrence in ghetto areas in Ibadan where I grew up. The issue was hard to deal with. For about 5 hours I was still evacuating the water. I was tired, weak and hungry but it was hard to stop. Its an event I will never wish my worst enemy.
As I bit my fingers and licked my wounds, I was later told my absence at work which wasn’t well ‘communicated’ had backfired and I was going to be sanctioned. All attempts at providing explanations and apologies proved ineffective. It was as if the world was against me. My world was crashing before my very eyes.
I wept in my heart as I spent the entire day cleaning up my house and sun-drying my properties. The flood ushered in hundreds of mosquitoes which my insecticide couldn’t effectively eliminate. As the mosquitoes kept me company all through the night, I slowly counted my losses. My appetite for food dropped and I struggled to sleep coupled with recurrent issues of absentmindedness. The job threat was a paramount concern but I appreciated God for the gift of life. I could have been electrocuted if any of my extension boxes were switched. I only stopped switching on the refrigerator overnight just two days to the incident. I could have died a cheap death with all my dreams and aspirations gone just like that. I can bet my life that the devil would have ushered me into hell fire if I had died because I was flirting with a heavy-chested Canada-based Nigerian lady via WhatsApp that midnight.
Most of us live with looming disasters but we bank on God to protect us from them like the Spiderman. Nobody takes due precautions anymore. They share wonderful testimonies when others are affected by avoidable disasters while little or no efforts are made to prevent or mitigate any future re-occurrence.
I hope my story changes the mentality and approach of someone to similar issues so that we could make a difference in our localities.