A slum paradise turns into the apocalypse

Written by Staff Writer

About three weeks ago, the tide swept through the destroyed house and flooded out the occupants.

The time of day, the numbing tingling heat, the utter detritus of everything: once more, it could have been any other weekend in a sunny nation, savoring this spring that only seems to get warmer with every passing day.

The widow, struggling to look but much too tired to bear, stands alone on the sheared-off limbs of this once-sturdily-framed home. Two wooden posts all around are tilted apart. The debris of countless rooms lies in folds of water.

About three weeks ago, the tide swept through the destroyed house and flooded out the occupants. Credit: Ken Odusanya/VII for CNN

It’s, she points out, the same trajectory to which the rushing water follows in waves. “So it’s pretty much one single event that causes a whole lot of damage.”

She lived in this home until 2015, when she and her two daughters, aged 12 and 14, moved to a well-appointed two-bedroom apartment about two kilometers away.

The mother and her daughters had lived here for nine years, after her husband died in a road accident five years earlier.

She had intended to stay in the studio flat at one end of the rented plot, where she and her daughter lived, while her daughter, initially, lived in an apartment on the other side.

The mother and her daughters had lived here until 2015, when they and their two daughters moved to an apartment in a shanty town nearby. Credit: Ken Odusanya/VII for CNN

“You get used to seeing your hand prints every time you look at it,” she says of the home.

“But you know, what is the big deal when it’s down the road?” she asks, at this point not talking much. “I really don’t need a mansion.”

But, she says, the story of how they got here — and how often they move about — is not an insignificant thing.

–This month, a senior state government official in Nigeria’s southeast, Hon. Philip Alaba Lawson, said at a recent hearing in the capital Abuja that about 30 out of 50 erosion sites in the region were under threat. Some areas, he said, were exposed “for about a kilometer.” The truth of the matter, perhaps, is that “30 out of 50” may be an optimistic estimate.

For nine years now, to the uninitiated, Lagos State has battled with the practice of families living far away from their land. A 2015 government study said that 40% of the drains across Nigeria’s megacity were blocked with plastic, bricks, concrete and other such debris.

“It’s horrendous. It is damaging our environment. They’re just not taking care of the economy. They just care about numbers,” Akanni Smith, who owns marine cleanup company Kufisons, told state television. “A whole lot of the population here in Lagos is actually poor. They live with no income, so they are using this as an escapism from the economy to this. They don’t know any better.”

In September last year, a report in Nigerian newspaper Guardian laid bare the horrifying reality on the ground.

“Major road and buildings all have gully which serve as footpaths,,” read the headline. “A lot of people have walked all the way up from the gully to go to the clinic or market,” said Shina Awani, commissioner for the Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, “where they spend hours either sitting on the mat or being sick.”

–For video analysis of Nigeria’s environmental trends visit CNN iReport.

With an elected governor and state legislature under their thumbs, however, every attempt to save the people from their inaction appears to end in failure.

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