When Festival Town, as it was called then, roared into life in 1977, it was a development that was greeted with admiration and commendations from within and beyond Africa. Like a bang, it came with some of the best infrastructure available at that time. It was a place that many people wished to reside in.
But today, right from the main entrance, called First Gate, on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, it is apparent that all is not well with Festac Town, located in Amuwo Odofin Local Government Area (LGA) of Lagos State. The array of commercial motorcycles, tricycles and yellow buses parked in riotous manner at the gate is a strong cursor to the fact that the glory of the city has been completely eroded. The once treasured facilities have become eyesores.
In the beginning
By all definitions, the new city was a beauty to behold, going by its beautiful infrastructure. The modern housing units, paved roads, streetlights, drainage, sewage treatment plant, alluring open spaces and buffer zone, serving as noise and wind breakers, stood out and amazed residents and visitors alike.
The city was built out of a swamp and had its roads well paved to last for decades.
FESTAC ’77, also known as the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, was a major international event held in Lagos. The houses were built to accommodate foreign participants at the festival. However, the second reason and long-term objective of the new town was for the Federal Government to ease accommodation problems in Lagos. About 11,000 housing units were to be completed by the end of 1977.
At the end of the festival, the Federal Government allocated the accommodation, housing units and landed property to ballot winners, on owner-occupier basis, according to categories and levels of their income at the time. The allocations were tagged Type One (T1), Type Two (T2), to Type Ten (T10).
For T1, 32 families live in 32 flats. It was a room-and-parlour self-contained unit. It was for the lowest level staff. Today, it is the most populated of all the buildings and also the most bastardised. Type Two, which contains 16 flats, houses 16 families, while T3 has double balconies. Type Four structure is a bungalow without garage, while T5 is a bungalow with a garage. The T7 are long-terraced houses mostly found on 72 Road. Type Eight are two duplexes given to two families. Type nine and T10 are the biggest of all the houses with each unit housing a single family.
Things fall apart
As submitted by one of the residents who has lived in Festac for about 38 years, Mr. Aboderin Kayode, the town has been violated, gang-raped, and everything that hitherto made the city stand out has been eroded by time and human forces.
Today, without mincing words, Festac could pass fo a town left in ruins. It might be difficult for many people to believe that the same Festac that was then the talk of the town has been left to deteriorate in every aspect.
The decay might not be unconnected with the long abandonment of infrastructure maintenance, over-population, abuse of open spaces and encroachment of buffer zones by mechanics, churches, car dealers and other trespassers.
Having lived in Festac for more than 30 years, Mr. Abiodun Jinadu, one of the stakeholders in the town, went down memory lane, recalling how the town played host to high-ranking military personnel, footballers and artistes.
He told Daily Sun that his father, who worked with the International Press Institute, won a T8 ballot, which gave his family the opportunity to live in the beautiful city. He recollected how the draw was conducted in the open at the National Stadium. He said his father was to pay N56,000, while those who got T1 were expected to N7,000. The mortgage was to be spread over 30 years.
“Life was so beautiful in Festac then. The town was the best of Nigeria, I remember, in those days.
“At the beginning, there was no approval for people to fence their houses. It was later, after several complaints of some residents stealing from their neighbours, that the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) approved a fence to be erected, but not a high one.
“Then, we had giant generating sets that powered the entire town. There was constant electricity, the roads were well-maintained. You would not find sand on the roads then. The drainage, the sewage and other facilities were working fine.
“The electricity connection was done underground. It was immediately NEPA came in that we started having different issues. Most of the staff didn’t understand how the connections were done. Everything is upside down at the moment, as you can now see some wires on poles.
No more parks, recreational centres
Jinadu lamented that all the parks and other recreational centres had been sold to individuals who levelled them to building residential houses.
It was learnt that as the plots of land were gaining value, more people were interested in living in the town. They were ready to spend huge amounts of money to buy any available space.
Jinadu believes that for sanity to return, there must be effective enforcement of the law, particularly environmental laws, as clearly defined when the town was being created.
“It is very painful how all the reserved places for recreation were sold to people that have the money to buy them. If things continue like, many people might have to run away from Festac to safer places.
“One of the problems we have here is allowing the LGA to come into Festac. The council contributed majorly to the destruction of Festac,” he said.
Collapsed public water system
The entire Festac Town has no public water, though it was not so at the beginning. When the town was built, residents were said to have enjoyed steady clean water supply.
Before it finally broke down several years ago, findings showed that, in addition, the water, which normally contained dirty, tiny particles as well as moving objects, was limited to a few houses.
When the reporter visited the water board office on 32 Road, thick bush had taken over the better part of the place. It was discovered that miscreants had since converted the abandoned buildings on the premises to their refuge.
Every household now depends on boreholes for clean water.
“The public water here has for long been forgotten. Just like many parts of Lagos, every landlord and tenant here depends on boreholes through self-efforts. It must have stopped working in the last 20 years or more.
“Everything I can remember now is the good old days. Then, Festac was little London that everybody wanted to see and live in,” Madam Loveth, a trader who has lived in the town for 21 years, said.
Festival of sex
Driving or walking through First Avenue, particularly at night, one might be tempted to conclude that all the prostitutes in Lagos have relocated to Festac Town. In fact, one of the residents, Adams Gbenga, described one of the hotels as the headquarters of Sodom and Gomorrah.
No doubt, the trade is booming, not necessarily under the cover of night alone, but, rather, the scarlet ladies line up and wait for customers all day long. It was learnt that some of the harlots have their permanent abode at the hotels there.
When the reporter visited one of the hotels around 2pm on November 29, 2021, more than 15 young ladies were on the premises. They wore all kinds of skimpy dresses that revealed the better parts of their bodies. While some were sipping alcohol and puffing smoke from their cigarettes in the air, others competed for the attention of any male that came near the hotel.
The reporter could count six hotels and nightclubs on First Avenue alone, all sited metres away from one another. One of them, as reliably gathered, was owned by a sensational singer, Innocent Idibia, popularly known as Tuface.
In short, a tricycle rider who plied between 2nd Rainbow and Agboju, told the reporter that Festac was ruled by prostitutes. According to him, prostitution was one of the most thriving businesses in the area that many young ladies were gladly embracing.
His words: “This is my fifth year of riding ‘keke’ in Festac. First Avenue is where most of the sins are happening in the estate. When you go there at night, you will be confused looking at the number of girls that are standing by the roadside.”
Shanties, kiosks everywhere
Investigations revealed that most of the houses are sandwiched by illegal shanties, makeshift shops, bars, beauty salons and chemist shops, among others, dotting major streets. Also worrisome is that spaces designed for recreational services and other public use have been illegally converted to commercial shops and mini-malls.
A resident, Mr. Matthew Uchenna, accused some FHA officials of conniving with the local government to let out some of the spaces in the name of revenue generation.
“They continue to sell sacred places in the name of generating revenue for the authority. They didn’t take into cognizance the master plan of the city. At the end, we are all suffering today.
Entering 21 Road through 2nd Avenue, one is greeted by faeces in and by the gutters. The entire area stinks.
Open defecation has actually become the order of the day in many parts of Festac. This is not unconnected with the fact that the only sewage treatment plant built in nearby Satellite Town to serve Festac packed up over 30 years ago without any hope of resuscitation.
President of Festac Residents’ Association (FRA), Mr. Sola Fakorede, also lamented that, since the sewage system broke down, things had worsened in the community. He said faeces were seen at some places causing an eyesore.
“What people do now is to channel their pipes into the closed drainages. But in some areas where the drainages are not covered, you can easily see faeces flowing to the canal. This is the situation we have found ourselves in.
“We cannot continue like this. That is why we have been making moves to see how the critical infrastructure in town can be revamped. I believe this is possible with all stakeholders being committed to it,” he said.
Commercial motorcycles’ nuisance
Everywhere one turns, motorcycle riders are in their tens, riding recklessly. Meanwhile, it was not so in the beginning. It is also appalling considering the fact that the Lagos State government has banned commercial motorcycles in major parts of the town.
A resident of the town, Alfred Ekene, expressed fears that most of the riders were non-indigenes, many from the northern part of Nigeria. He said some of them cannot speak simple English and had no idea of basic traffic rules.
Jinadu recalled: “In those days, there were public commercial buses provided by Lagos State Transport Service. The buses had departure and arrival schedules. When the number of the buses became insufficient and residents were complaining, people began to use their private cars for commercial purposes.
“That was how the public transport system began to degenerate. The influx of more people into our town and the inability of the FHA to brace up for the occasion contributed to the gradual fall of the city.”
Condemned sewage system
Depicting a sharp contradiction, the town that was created to host all the guests to the FESTAC ’77 event with its glitz and glamour has become a sedate residential area of a vast expanse of sheer decay. The sewage facilities have collapsed.
In fact, the infrastructure continues to deteriorate. This prompted a member of House of Representatives, representing Amuwo Odofin Federal Constituency, Oghene Emma Egoh (Lagos PDP), to raise the alarm over the deplorable condition of the town and create awareness about its dilapidated state.
He described the situation as a looming disaster, if the FHA does not quickly move in to fix the sewage lines and water systems.
For instance, residents of 402 Road and the adjoining closes might have to always close their windows to prevent themselves from being assailed by the horrible stench from broken-down sewage pipes, where human faeces make sudden appearances.
On his part, Fakorede said: “The underground sewage system, which is supposed to pump the waste to a treatment plant at Satellite Town, had gone bad for more than 30 years now. We used to have seven pumping stations that channeled all the waste from the town to the central system at Agboju, but all abandoned at the moment.
“What people do now is to channel their waste to the stormwater drainages, which poses a health risk to residents. The little luck we still have is that most of them are covered.”
Going through 2nd Avenue and other roads and closes, one could see drainage systems that have become dump sites, with offensive stench oozing out from them.
Some of the household waste finds its way into the clogged drains, causing adjoining streets to flood even when there are no rains. It becomes worse whenever it rains.
Some cart pushers, as learnt, empty their trash into canals or dump them at buffer zones, thereby adding to the sanitation problem.
Landlords selling houses
Today, many flat owners have either sold or let out their apartments to moneybags and relocated to more serene environments or used the money to start up businesses.
Jinadu’s words: “It is sad that our parents, who are still alive, are now selling their property to those who have the financial capability to grab it. Let’s not forget the fact that most of the owners of these apartments are retirees. Some landlords sold off their houses because of their irresponsible children who were ready to outsmart their parents and sell the houses.
“The prices became too tempting to resist too. For instance, my apartment, which is a duplex, costs N50 million at the moment, while the annual rent goes for N2 million.
“On 7th Avenue, where I live, about seven landlords have sold their houses and relocated elsewhere. And you can’t blame them because things are no longer the way they used to be.”
The stretch of 2nd Avenue is dotted by potholes. Motorists plying 201, 39 roads are also not exempted from this driving and suffering unleashed on them by bad roads.
For instance, at 21 Road, by 2nd Avenue, vehicles have to slow down and carefully manoeuvre through the dilapidated road. It results in traffic congestion, particularly during rush hour. As car owners take extra caution not to damage their cars, impatient commercial vehicles, tricycle drivers and motorcycle riders yell and honk.
As discovered, some of the roads built over 40 years ago have not been rehabilitated even once. As some of the failed portions are patched, many more potholes open up and beg for urgent attention.
Fakorede, however, commended the state government for fixing some of the roads recently.
He said: “Lagos State, through the state public works and corporation, has really tried for us. They rehabilitated 32 Road. They did the entire stretch of 22, 322, 401 and 311 roads with interlocking tiles. The government also rehabilitated some parts of 4th Avenue.”
Fakorede added that, “Apart from maintaining roads, we also replace some of the streetlights. We have taken it upon ourselves. We now sweep the roads by ourselves or employ people to do it,” he said.
When the reporter visited the FHA’s premises in Festac, the zonal manager was not on seat. When he was called on telephone and informed of the reason the visitor was at his office, he said he was not in the best position to speak comprehensively on the decaying infrastructure. He asked the reporter to see the person in charge of town planning.
After more telephone calls to the officials, the reporter was directed to the office of the legal department of the housing authority, where Mr. Alaba Omoniyi addressed some of the issues raised.
Hear him: “This is an estate that was built almost 45 years ago. So, I need a record that I will be speaking from. We might not just be speaking from historical perspective but documents to back it up.”
He joined other residents to concur that the old glory of Festac has since vanished.
When he was asked to react to why FHA abandoned its responsibilities, especially maintenance of the facilities in the town, as claimed by the residents, he quickly countered the claim.
“It is not true. Nigerians need everything on a platter of gold. We want government to do everything for us even if we know that it is no possible. Even if government subsidises something for us, people will still complain of the meagre part they are to pay.
“The mortgage people were asked to pay was very small looking at the sophisticated facilities that were ground. In the long run, it cost a lot of money to sustain and maintain the infrastructure of this place, particularly the drainage, sewage system and road.
“At a point, as I heard it, FHA told the residents that for it to continue to maintain those facilities; there was the need for them to pay maintenance fees. But the then president of FRA said that everything pertaining to living and maintenance of the infrastructure in the town was already factored into the payment plan.
“When FHA stopped receiving subvention, that was the beginning of the gradual collapse of the facilities, especially the sewage system. To say that FHA abandoned them is being economical with the truth.
“This is the country that we don’t want to pay tax yet we keep complaining that the roads are bad.”
When asked if the situation was redeemable, he said: “When there is a political will, there is a way. Though it might take huge amount of money to achieve this, I believe strongly that when all the stakeholders are involved, we can achieve it and the lost glory can be restored.
Though Festac town is supposed to be run by the Federal Government through FHA, the residents have lamented that they were being double taxed. It was gathered that the federal, state and local governments are laying claim to the management of the estate and occasionally issue the residents with various charges ranging from ground rent, local government levies to tenement rates.
“Land Use Charge is supposed to be paid by FHA to Lagos State Government, but it is not paying and Lagos is now holding us responsible for it. If we refuse to pay, the Lagos government would wait for us until we are to collect any document from the government. If not for the Land Use, we would have been paying tenement rate. The LGA officials collect revenue from shops and other business centres,” Jinadu said.
Fakorede said: “We paid service charge to FHA then to maintain the town. Then the LGA secretariat was not in Festac as at that time. When the LGA was sited here, we started paying tenement rate. We now pay Land Use Charge. We have also stopped paying service charge since they are both for maintenance of roads and other facilities. But we still pay ground rent to FHA. That is what we agreed to be paying the authority every year right from the inception of the town.
“Unfortunately, some people have not paid their ground rent in the last 20 years. And FHA is not really coming out to enforce some of these things. It is of recent that they are trying to wake up.
“People used to see Festac as little London. People would come from far places to see Festac at night. People were paid by the authority to maintain the parks and gardens in Festac, but they are no more today.”
Moves to restore lost glory
In a bid to restore the lost glory of Festac Town, there was a joint meeting between Lagos State Government and FHA in late 2021. The resolve by the two parties to jointly confront the unregulated property development and facility deficit in the housing estate was the outcome of a meeting between Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Managing Director of the authority, Senator Gbenga Ashafa.
According to the governor, the original master plan did not consider population growth, which reflected in the calibre of allotees that got the property then, adding that as a result of lack of monitoring and enforcement, people took advantage of the weakness to build indiscriminately on every available space.
But he expressed the belief that the irregularity could still be corrected and the area regenerated for healthy living and business,
Ashafa said that FHA was ready to resolve all lingering crises delaying the re-modelling and regeneration of Festac town for the benefit of the residents of the estate.
Source : The Sun