Life in Ilasamaja

Ikenna Ek­w­erike who toured some parts of Ilasamaja, a sub­urb of La­gos, re­ports that the res­i­dents de­serve to be ac­corded some sense of be­long­ing by gov­ern­ment


Poverty, hunger and des­per­a­tion for sur­vival make a rude wel­come to the in­no­cent so­journer in Ilasamaja, a sub­urb of La­gos. Long bun­ga­lows crowned with dark-brown cor­ru­gated iron sheets that have seen the best and the worst of the sub-Sa­ha­ran trop­i­cal weather tightly stand side by side in the man­ner teeth are ar­ranged in the mouth. A lot of the storey build­ings that sparsely dot the neigh­bour­hood used to be the hall­marks of the wealthy; but now, they point to an­tiq­uity.

For a child com­ing from a place like Ikoyi and Lekki ar­eas of La­gos, these ob­so­lete houses will pass for ram­shackle or at best an­cient arte­facts of some sort. A com­mon no­tice­able fea­ture of most houses in this neigh­bour­hood is the tomb which stands con­spic­u­ously right in the porch as you step in.

Typ­i­cally built with wide cor­ri­dors that run right through the cen­tre of the house as if di­vid­ing it into two equal halves, rooms are lined on each half with the doors on ei­ther line stand­ing di­rectly op­po­site each other. These are pop­u­larly known as ‘face-me-I-face-you’ houses. Women, boys and girls bear­ing heavy bowls of wa­ter del­i­cately bal­anced on their heads, clutch­ing tightly to it with both arms raised, march slowly across streets from var­i­ous paid sources ev­ery morn­ing and evening.

Ilasa or Ilasamaja is a com­mu­nity lo­cated in Isolo Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Area of La­gos State, South-west, Nige­ria. Ac­cord­ing to the tra­di­tional head known as Baale of Ilasamaja town, His High­ness, Al­haji Ab­dul-Fatai J.A. Abereijo, Ila­sawas an an­cient Awori Vil­lage, founded about 400 years ago by an Ifa pri­est who was also a farmer and hunter, named Ku­mowo. Like other Yoruba com­mu­ni­ties, Ilasa traces its roots to Ile-Ife, the ac­claimed root of the en­tire Yoruba na­tion of Nige­ria.

“Ku­mowo left Ile-Ife with his wife, Adasi and came to set­tle here in obe­di­ence to the or­a­cle which told him to set­tle wher­ever he finds a large con­cen­tra­tion of the agonmu tree, that is, the ag­balumo (cherry) tree. He left with some deities, prom­i­nent among them are the egun­gun, ogun (god of iron), Ifa or­a­cle and most im­por­tantly, beremi and esu” Abereijo nar­rated.

Ilasa de­rives its name from the agri­cul­tural ex­pe­di­tions of its founder, Ku­mowo. Ilasa lit­er­ally means bloom­ing okra leaf. “He planted large scale okra seeds. The land was fer­tile since the seeds blos­somed with beau­ti­ful okra leaves. It is from this that we de­rived the name, Ilasa (okra leaf)” Abereijo re­vealed.

How­ever, Ilasa came to be known as Ilasamaja (Ilasa-mi-aja) as peo­ple tried to de­scribe the com­mu­nity based on an­other pop­u­lar at­tribute of its founder, who as an Ifa pri­est, was noted for us­ing a tra­di­tional staff adorned with pieces of metal gongs known as aja that tin­kle fever­ishly, each time he struck it on the ground in the course of his div­ina­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.

“Peo­ple would of­ten say: ‘let us meet at the place of baba oniIlasa to n mi aja’, that is, at the place of the baba who cul­ti­vates beau­ti­ful okra and strikes the tra­di­tional staff with metal gongs,” Abereijo said.

Ilasa com­mu­nity still hon­ours those deities that came with its founder. The Egun­gun fes­ti­val which holds once in three years en­ter­tains as well as re­veals the fel­low­ship of the an­ces­tors with their chil­dren. Ilasa is bounded on four sides by Isolo, Itire, Okota and Oju­woye in Mushin.

Sadly, this lively neigh­bour­hood reels un­der deadly blows from long years of mon­strous so­cio-po­lit­i­cal, ne­glect, alien­ation and mal­treat­ment. Theirs is a typ­i­cal case of aban­don­ment, an­guish and hope­less­ness. Lit­tle won­der the alarm­ing rate of poverty in Ilasamaja town. Thus, a land­lord in the area, Al­haji Aki­ola Bello, who has lived in the town for the past 30 years, de­cried gov­ern­ments’ in­sen­si­tiv­ity to the plights of cit­i­zens in the com­mu­nity.

“I want to tell you cat­e­gor­i­cally that we don’t have a lo­cal coun­cil chair­man or coun­cil­lors. They’re not work­ing for us. In­stead, they’re work­ing for their pock­ets,” he lamented.

Bello is not the only one who feels that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments had cared less about the plight of peo­ple in Ilasa. The chair­man, Aje com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment as­so­ci­a­tion, CDA, Al­haji S.A. Olayinka, who has spent well over 60 years in the com­mu­nity and about 15 years as the chair­man, Aje CDA ac­cused gov­ern­ment of bias.

He said: “the peo­ple in gov­ern­ment now are just politi­cians. It is sad that many of them do not have the in­ter­est of the peo­ple at heart. There seems to be a lot of bias where some ar­eas are favoured and oth­ers are left to their sorry fates.”

De­spite this ob­vi­ous ne­glect, res­i­dents of Ilasa are ex­tremely hard­work­ing and en­ter­pris­ing. They are tak­ing their own fates in their own hands and ut­terly com­mit­ted to fash­ion­ing a fu­ture for their prog­e­nies even out of noth­ing. In them, so to say, is the per­fect in­car­na­tion of the say­ing: when the road gets tough, the tough gets go­ing. In­deed, an av­er­age man or woman in this com­mu­nity is tough, un­break­able and de­ter­mined to sur­vive: yet poverty per­sists.

The streets are the eco­nomic hubs of Ilasa. A shop or two adorns the frontage of ev­ery house and on ev­ery avail­able space in­clud­ing above drainage chan­nels where kiosks, like float­ing ships, are os­ten­ta­tiously po­si­tioned un­der­neath filled stag­nant gut­ters. Buy­ers leap across the gut­ters where the wooden pieces that serve as bridges are ab­sent.

There is hardly a street with­out at least, one cooked food seller’s kiosk or two with menus rang­ing from amala, garri and soup; rice, beans and bread; spaghetti, noo­dles pre­pared with fried eggs and tea, among oth­ers.

This sce­nario be­trays a busi­ness line that is boom­ing. But op­er­a­tors say oth­er­wise. “I am still in this food busi­ness just be­cause I don’t know what else to do” says Mrs. Bola Ibiyinka,

Sadly, this lively neigh­bour­hood reels un­der deadly blows from long years of mon­strous so­cio-po­lit­i­cal, ne­glect, alien­ation and mal­treat­ment. Theirs is a typ­i­cal case of aban­don­ment, an­guish and hope­less­ness. Lit­tle won­der the alarm­ing rate of poverty in Ilasamaja town

an op­er­a­tor of one of the food kiosks on Rashidi Street. “When I started this busi­ness about 15 years ago, I knew what I was mak­ing from it. But due to the harsh econ­omy, fam­i­lies are look­ing in­wards for cheaper ways of feed­ing them­selves,” she noted.

Cor­rob­o­rat­ing her points, an­other food ven­dor on Adi­jatu Street, Madam Bisola Oyeyemi re­vealed that she was no more do­ing the busi­ness to become rich as she was do­ing it with lit­tle or no profit at all. “Do­ing this busi­ness has opened my eyes to the high level of poverty in this our com­mu­nity. You can imag­ine a lit­tle child with N50 com­ing into the shop for lunch. In such a sit­u­a­tion what do I do? I sim­ply find a way to make him eat with his N50.”

Food ven­dors are not alone in this misery. Other cat­e­gories of traders in the com­mu­nity also groan from the bur­den of poverty in the land. A pro­vi­sions store op­er­a­tor on Morn­ing Star base, Mrs. Okoyeigwe, pop­u­larly called ‘Iya-Igwe’ re­vealed how she ini­tially felt greatly dis­ap­pointed after open­ing her shop in Ilasa at re­al­is­ing that that sin­gu­lar de­ci­sion of hers was about be­com­ing her un­do­ing in the busi­ness. She soon learned to adapt and ad­just to the re­al­i­ties on ground.

“Busi­ness is some­how dull; it is not what I en­vis­aged when I be­gan. I had big dreams but I soon re­alised that things were not work­ing ac­cord­ing to my plans. There are some goods I stock here that I don’t sell un­like when I was at Isolo.

“Then I made a lit­tle re­search and dis­cov­ered that the poverty rate in this com­mu­nity is very high. There are no many rich peo­ple here. If you go to other ar­eas with rich peo­ple you make gains. But here, I try to sat­isfy my cus­tomers based on their de­mands and in­come. Ev­ery­body here goes for the cheap­est prod­uct and once there is an in­cre­ment, they with­draw,” she lamented.

Close ob­ser­va­tion shows that res­i­dents, es­pe­cially chil­dren have re­signed to fate: they no longer eat what their bod­ies need but just what they can af­ford at the time. As early as 10 in the morn­ing while the writer was in a shop in the com­mu­nity he no­ticed a boy of about 12, lanky, the hairs on his head seem not to have seen a bar­ber for the past two months, clad only with a pair of box­ers with­out shirts, walk into the shop. He made de­mands for garri N20, sugar N20 and ground­nut N10.Cu­ri­ously, the shop op­er­a­tor asked why he chose to soak garri at such odd hour in­stead of some other things for break­fast. The re­ply that came from the in­no­cent young man struck a bit­ter chord that should make Nige­ria weep.

“Na garri boys de soak nowa­days since no money for bread and sar­dine or bread and fried egg with tea,” he added, “I can’t go and eat og­bonno soup and eba that is in the house this early morn­ing,” the young man promptly re­torted.

In one of the shops on Baale Street, a tai­lor­ing shop to be pre­cise, the writer counted four sewing ma­chines. But of the four only two were be­ing put to use and the other two were neatly cov­ered as though for dec­o­ra­tion. This raised a few ques­tions. The shop owner, Mr. Em­manuel Akindele ex­plained that all the ma­chines in the shop were in per­fect shape but had to pack the other two since no jobs were com­ing and as a re­sult, lost two of his em­ploy­ees.

“The peo­ple bring clothes, but can’t af­ford the charge be­cause of the en­vi­ron­ment. The harsh econ­omy does not al­low us get money from the busi­ness any­more as we should,” he cried out.

After more than 30 years, the Se­cond Repub­lic roads in Ilasa groan re­gret­tably from the deep wounds wreaked on them by con­tin­u­ous reckless us­age with no plans for facelifts in view. Paved with muggy muds in the rainy sea­son, houses, shops and parked cars on Ilasa streets are freely, but com­pul­so­rily re­painted with dusts in the dry sea­son.

Open, murky, stag­nant gut­ters, serv­ing of­ten as waste car­ri­ers ooze with pun­gent smells of rot, swarm­ing with gi­ant eerie ro­dents and mos­qui­toes of all species. The acrid gut­ter smells ride gaily on the backs of the cool gen­tle evening breeze to plague hap­less res­i­dents chased out of the houses by the scorch­ing heat of the night, blamed on the epilep­tic power sit­u­a­tion which makes it im­pos­si­ble to use in­door cool­ing sys­tems. The cool gen­tle breeze ca­resses the nose with the pure in­ten­tion to re­new life but un­wit­tingly leaves death in its trail.

What seem to be left are ghosts and shad­ows of the tarred roads built by Al­haji La­teef Jakande, first civil­ian Ex­ec­u­tive Gover­nor of La­gos State be­tween 1979 and 1983. The de­plorable state of roads in the com­mu­nity is an­other so­cioe­co­nomic pun­ish­ment; a big one, too. “If you have a cus­tomer that is far, they find it dif­fi­cult to come to Ilasa. They com­plain of the bad roads. The roads are bad; wa­ter ev­ery­where. As gov­ern­ments change, things change for the worse. We’re beg­ging for God’s in­ter­ven­tion,” Akindele noted.

Re­act­ing to the is­sue of de­cayed in­fras­truc­ture in the com­mu­nity, Aje CDA chair­man, Olayinka ap­plauded the cur­rent state gov­ern­ment which he said in­vites the lead­er­ship of the var­i­ous CDAs in the state for meet­ings where they of­ten have the op­por­tu­nity to bring mat­ters af­fect­ing their in­di­vid­ual com­mu­ni­ties to the at­ten­tion of gov­ern­ment. He, how­ever, ex­pressed dis­plea­sure over the non-im­ple­men­ta­tion of as­sur­ances and res­o­lu­tions reached.

While neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties have long put be­hind them, the ugly era of es­ti­mated power billing sys­tem ow­ing to the in­tro­duc­tion of the pre­paid me­tre, the prac­tice is still very much en­demic in Ilasa where un­re­al­is­tic and unimag­in­ably high power bills are handed out monthly for power that was never con­sumed. The peo­ple ex­press worry.

“We don’t even see the light and the charges they bring are quite dif­fer­ent from those of other ar­eas. We don’t use pre­paid me­tres but other places where they use pre­paid me­tres they pay less,” Okoyeigwe said.

Other res­i­dents con­firmed her claims. Ac­cord­ing to Olayinka, “they’re giv­ing us crazy bills. We’re fight­ing for pre­paid me­tres but they’re not giv­ing us. We need pre­paid me­tres ur­gently.” He, how­ever, dis­closed that the power sit­u­a­tion in the area was above av­er­age.

In his own view, Bello in­sisted that the com­mu­nity de­served more in terms of power since it is the com­mu­nity that buys and re­places bro­ken elec­tric poles, buys new trans­form­ers and re­pairs those that break down.

Unar­guably, Ilasa is a very peace­ful town. But the worry is, given the ob­serv­ably high rate of poverty what is the as­sur­ance that this would not push up the rate of crime and so­cial dis­or­der in the com­mu­nity? Res­i­dents of the com­mu­nity say they feel se­cure but iden­tify iso­lated cases and con­cerns about in­se­cu­rity.

Olayinka lauded the po­lice in the com­mu­nity. “Any­time there’s a breach of se­cu­rity and I call the Ilasa Po­lice Sta­tion they al­ways re­spond promptly. But the prob­lem is that they don’t cover all the ar­eas at night,” he said.

Sim­i­larly, Bello con­tended that Ilasa had no mis­cre­ants but added that the ones who dis­turb the com­mu­nity come from out­side and use Ilasa as hide­outs. He, there­fore, called on rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties to do some­thing, ur­gently, about the po­lice post at Ilasa Mar­ket which was built half­way and aban­doned and has since become a den for mis­cre­ants. It is not just the aban­doned po­lice post; some in­di­vid­u­als have equally con­verted some of the mar­ket stalls into houses and now live in them since the mar­ket has been ly­ing fal­low years after its con­struc­tion.

On the con­trary, Akindele and Okoyeigwe have ugly tales about se­cu­rity in the com­mu­nity. “How would you ex­pect ad­e­quate se­cu­rity with all the hard­ships? Few weeks ago, bad boys broke the glasses of my car and made away with my car stereo and bat­tery. I know of one young man in this neigh­bour­hood who has been thrown into per­pet­ual mourn­ing be­cause these boys stole his car bat­tery al­most as soon as he re­places it,” she nar­rated.

“Al­most ev­ery day bad boys break in and bur­gle shops and en­ter from house to house ha­rass­ing peo­ple. I do see the po­lice pa­trol in the day but not at nights,” Akindele al­leged.

Po­lice swift re­sponse to dis­tress calls in Ilasa com­mu­nity is a glim­mer of hope that Nige­ria might one day get it right if in­di­vid­u­als and stake­hold­ers work by the rules of en­gage­ments. It was heart-warm­ing when the Di­vi­sional Po­lice Of­fi­cer (DPO) of Ilasa, Ti­ti­layo Oluwasanmi, promptly re­turned the calls of this re­porter when she missed them over the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion in the com­mu­nity even when the duo had had no pre­vi­ous en­coun­ters to find out who it was called and for what pur­pose.

Con­se­quently, the Baale scores the po­lice high and at­tributes ap­pre­cia­ble ef­forts that have been made so far to rid the com­mu­nity of mis­cre­ants to the proac­tive lead­er­ship of the new DPO. “Rel­a­tively, crime rate is low in Ilasa ex­cept for some delin­quents, you know, these area boys. In­ter­est­ingly, the quick re­sponse of the po­lice to dis­tress calls is such that I, per­son­ally, am proud of. I say ku­dos to the new fe­male DPO; be­fore now, no­body dares go to that mar­ket area due to crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties and the rate of cultism was too high but now, the woman and her men have helped a lot,” Abereijo stated.

While call­ing on gov­ern­ment to ur­gently in­ter­vene in the road sit­u­a­tion of the com­mu­nity as well as build recre­ational cen­tres for youths in the area, the Baale equally im­plored the gov­ern­ment to re­build the com­mu­nity’s vandalised town hall which was on lease to gov­ern­ment prior to the un­for­tu­nate in­ci­dences that led to its dam­age. He equally un­der­scored the need for gov­ern­ment and other stake­hold­ers to em­power Ilasa youths to keep them away from crimes.

Un­doubt­edly, Ilasamaja con­trib­utes im­mensely to the econ­omy of La­gos and Nige­ria at large and its res­i­dents de­serve to be ac­corded some sense of be­long­ing. Among other things, the com­mu­nity plays good host to the Ilasamaja In­dus­trial Scheme which has plas­tic pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies, food and bev­er­age pro­cess­ing com­pa­nies, in­dus­trial equip­ment, ser­vices and busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties com­pa­nies, as well as phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies.

El­ders in Ilasa com­mu­nity ar­gue, strongly, that one of the ways the La­gos State Gov­ern­ment could give them a better sense of be­long­ing and at­tract de­vel­op­ment quicker to it is by el­e­vat­ing its tra­di­tional stool from Part 2 Baale to that of Oba sta­tus.

It is against this back­drop that such es­sen­tial and com­mon ameni­ties as roads, potable wa­ter, con­stant and cheap power, a gen­eral hospi­tal, post of­fice and banks may not be too much to ask from a re­spon­si­ble and re­spon­sive gov­ern­ment like the one ably led by his Ex­cel­lency, Mr. Ak­in­wumi Am­bode. The com­mu­nity ap­pre­ci­ates the ef­forts of the pri­vate in­vestors who have cited fuel sta­tions in it and en­cour­ages oth­ers to come along.

If you have a cus­tomer that is far, they find it dif­fi­cult to come to Ilasa. They com­plain of the bad roads. The roads are bad; wa­ter ev­ery­where. As gov­ern­ments change, things change for the worse. We’re beg­ging for God’s in­ter­ven­tion

Aje Street in Ilasamaja com­mu­nity...beg­ging for gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ven­tion

The pop­u­lar Baale Street, sub­merged by wa­ter

Temi­tope Street over­run by mud and dust

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