50 Yards Of Death

By Adeola Aderounmu

My beloved Festac was thrown into mourning on Tuesday night. My passion and love for Festac Town meant that I have written about the glory and the fall of Festac Town, even here in the village square. If you lived in Festac Town from inception in 1977 or thereabout and get to see the decay and rot that has become of the city, you’ll weep if you are such a human with a caring heart.

A boat mishap claimed the lives of at least 13 people on the 12th of March 2014. Six people were reported missing and 5 survived the (avoidable) catastrophe. I felt an obligation to analyse the circumstances that may have led to the accident. I will suggest the possible ways forward and my ultimate goal will be to send a letter to the chairman of the Amuwo Odofin Local Government (AOLG) with head office at 41 Road in Festac Town. That much I owe my beloved city, Festac Town Island.

Stone field at 23 Road X close by 5th avenue H1 Close

Stone field at 23 Road X close by 5th avenue H1 Close

The distance (short-cut will be more appropriate in our language) between 4th Avenue and 6th Avenue on water according to newspaper reports is about 50 yards. This should be approximately 46 meters. What has not been reported is the depth of the water but since people have drowned in it, it may be close to 6 feet. It may also be deeper. The water may be swampy. We called this water body “canal” when I was a little boy. It flows around the town. I’m almost sure I have been in or about that water body several times as a teenager without the full knowledge of water safety.

We know that there was a wooden bridge that connected the two avenues. The bridge may have been constructed through the efforts of a church situated nearby but it does not exist anymore. Some people have complained about the negligence of the local government in building a more permanent bridge to connect these two areas over water. Many people are of the opinion that it is a waste of time to use another bridge that is about 2km away when their destination is just about 50 m ahead of them.

Apparently, unless the councillors and the leadership of the AOLG debate and agree on a pedestrian or a dual-purpose bridge, there is yet no binding obligation for the local council to build a bridge or walkways. People are frustrated because these same politicians must have voted several times on how to “steal” public funds and share loots. However, residents and pressure groups can make demands for the improvement of the infrastructure in their vicinity and environs. Who is listening?

This may sound like medicine after death but those of us who thought the extended area of Festac Town were gross anomalies can also add that while people are quick to buy land and build houses in the extension areas, there has not been a corresponding development of infrastructure in the area. We must not forget that the extension area of Festac was that zone where natural reserves (wildlife and beautiful aquatic existence) were wiped away and replaced with houses.

Mainstream Festac was itself never maintained. It seemed that the Federal Government through the Federal Housing Authority found pleasure in quickly converting mainstream Festac from a paradise to a slump in one swoop. The History of the destructive “deconstruction” of Festac Town has been well established. Nigeria has a rich history of maladministration and extremely bad management. Public administration in Nigeria is mostly a source of misery.

As I was saying, on this black Tuesday in Festac Town, it took 3 hours 20 minutes before a distress call reached the National Emergency Management Agency-NEMA according to the reports in Premium Times online news. Is there any record of how long it took to reach the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA)? Reaching these agencies should not have taken more than 5 to 10 minutes especially as it appeared that the operators of the canoe services are “locals” as we call them.

They are people “hustling” and trying to make ends meet. Were they ignorant of what to do in cases of emergencies? Access to emergency services for them ought to be quicker. Was the telephone network busy for more than 3 hours? Were the roads from NEMA to the canal so bad that at first, one may think that NEMA is located in another country? 3hours and 20 minutes after! Do LASEMA / NEMA have offices in Festac Town or a place in AOLG area?

I can actually ask one thousand questions regarding this single unfortunate incident. Does Festac Town lack accidents and emergency units within its locality in the year 2014? Why is the boat carrying 24 passengers instead of 13 or 14 passengers? Was the champions’ league game so crucial that the canoe operator had to ignore safety procedures or was it the passengers who bent the rules and headed to death on a 50 yard stretch of water?

If the reports in the Premium Times are anything to go by, then it appeared that the passengers ignored the warning of a young girl who raised an alarm about a possible drowning scenario and that she would swim to safety. She did and numbered among the survivors! One survivor also narrated how he had to do away with his heavy bag of tools so he could reach the shore safely. The fact that they “pushed” the canoe to start the journey was definitely an adequate warning that all the passengers ignored!

I think all adult humans at one point or the other have experienced the sadness that come with bereavement. We can sympathise with the families of the deceased. We can cry and we can be worried about many things connected to this tragedy including the trauma of the survivors. Some young people burnt the canoe. That’s how best they could reason, in their state of anger.

What will be more important is the way forward. It’s always important to take the lessons from every situation and try to avoid repetitions of tragedies along the same line/pattern. In so many ways and with uncountable examples, one can illustrate how tragedies have repeated themselves in Nigeria with precision, and the same hypocritical reactions.

The Festac tragedy should not be allowed to repeat itself.

The little girl swam to safety. What are our attitudes towards acquiring life skills? I’m not stating with pride that I still need more swimming lessons to be sure about my survival in water. In Nigeria, many of our parents discouraged us from swimming when we were growing up. Lagos is lined by the Atlantic Ocean and there are lagoons and rivers around us. We never referred to Festac Town as Festac Town Island whereas it is in every sense.

Why was it not a compulsory part of our education to learn how to swim? I can’t remember any physical education lesson that was dedicated to swimming. The Amuwo Odofin Local Government should make haste to construct swimming pools where children and adults will be taught how to swim. It’s a life skill. The boats capsized somewhere between 2 locations that are 46 meters apart. My skill in mathematics tells me the tragedy occurred at a point less than 24 meters to land. The probability that the boat capsized at a distance 10-15 meters to land also exists. This tragedy was avoidable, even if the morning rain increased the volume of the canal and the canal is swampy in nature.

Road construction work in Festac 2014

Road construction work in Festac 2014

Nigerians need to know that there are reasons for rules and that safety procedures should never be relegated at the altar of profit or unwarranted compassions. If the canoe operator had not allowed the boat to be overloaded, or if the passengers did not beg to be squeezed on board, they would probably have travelled safely. Tuesday the 12th would have ended on a different note and the N150 motorcycle ride on bad roads would have been probably one of the cheapest costs of saving life in the history of man.

Were there life jackets on board the ill-fated canoe? It was possible that no one thought that life jackets are needed on a 50 yards “death” stretch. Non-swimmers go on this trip without any guarantee! The cost of a life jacket may also take the profits off the “locals”. Water transport business is not a joke or a trial and error endeavour. If this mode of transportation must persist along this canal, then the local government should either take over the business with state of the art ferry system or award the contract to a reliable water transport company. It is not enough to deploy council guards after the accident. It is definitely not enough to lock off an access road to the river.

Road construction work in Festac 2014

Road construction work in Festac 2014

A certified transport company would have stations on both sides of the canal. In an ideal situation there would be departure times and arrival times. When it is dark or getting late, it would be inappropriate to run the canoe because of the level of underdevelopment or bad state of infrastructure in several parts of Nigeria. It would probably have been easier to report a mishap had the operations being under licensed authorities. How well do we care about lives in Nigeria? What value do we place on our existences?

When shall we get there in Nigeria? Why were we taught that what is worth doing at all is worth doing well? This tenet and other moral guiding principles were handed to us early in life. What went wrong? How did we get to the situation where our senses of purpose and direction are malformed or dysfunctional? If the transport system over water will not be safe, then it should be totally abolished.

Road constructions, repairs and maintenance are not favours from the councils. These are parts of their obligations. The road network in Festac needs to be improved so that transportation within the estate can be safe and cheap. It’s good to hear and see some efforts in that direction.

Our bicycle tracks in Festac Town should be reinstated and new ones built. People should be encouraged to ride bicycles. This is common in all developed countries. Bicycles are the commonest means of transportation when people want to go from one place to another around their vicinity or local areas. What makes us different species in Nigeria? Isn’t it time to make such an environmental friendly mode of transportation readily available, acceptable and popular? People need to own bicycles without being subjected to ridicule and laughter.

Road construction work in Festac 2014

Road construction work in Festac 2014

When the reports about the tragedy on 50 yards of water in Festac Town went to press on Wednesday it was still impossible to reach the chairman of Amuwo Odofin Local Government for his comments/reactions. That is the common attitude of Nigerian politicians; they are arrogant and lack simple and common sense that governs public administration. People have died and the chief security officer of the council made no appearance and no comment. That is also a tragedy on its own.

When he does show his face, someone should remind the chairman Mr. Ayodele Adewale that these deaths on a 50 yard stretch is a big time wake up call at his domain. He can’t pretend that nothing happened. Mr. Ayodele must make haste to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the possibility of sustaining or eradicating boat services between 4th Avenue and 6th Avenue

Burning canoes or boats is not the way to forget the dead. Meanwhile if you ever forget them, they have died in vain. The residents of Festac Town owe it to their community not to allow this sad event to be swept under the carpets. Though sad, this is one of those moments in history that is opportunistic. Demands should be made for more bridges and good roads, for standard and safe ferry services. Why not for world class bicycle and pedestrian paths?

Nigerians deserve the good things of life too. Any of these proposed projects can be dedicated to the memories of the departed. May they find peace in transit.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Comrade Oluwafisayo Ogunjimi (Pheesayor@hotmail.com) for useful information about the boat services in Festac Town and some useful ideas that went into this article.

Images by Adeola Aderounmu (Thy Glory O’Nigeria) and Comrade Oluwafisayo Ogunjimi (Watching Lagos, http://www.watchinglagos.com)

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