‘A place where riches dwell’ is the Yoruba meaning of Ajegunle, a slum in Ajeromi – Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State, but the physical condition of this community, do not depict this connotation. This goads many to wonder if this nuance is a true reflection of the community’s reputation or a case of a misplaced conclusion.
A lot have been written about the popular Ajegunle slum in Ajeromi-Ifelodun Local Government Area of Lagos State but a lot more still need to be scripted and done to transform this residential area popularly known as ‘A-J City’, the place of hidden talents.
‘Where riches dwell,’ Ajegunle, used to be the boundary between the Western Region and the Lagos Colony in the past yet it’s worrisome why its environments and surroundings have continued to be as deplorable as it used to be many years ago despite the wave of technology and industrialisation in the country.
The beauty of Ajegunle remains that it plays host to all the ethnic groups in Nigeria with population of over a million people. ‘A-J City’ is the most popular slums in Lagos, and also known as the ‘Jungle City.’ It’s one that makes for interesting spectacle every time one visits the community.
This community started as an informal settlement where traders from the hinterlands made temporary abode during trading trips to Lagos many years ago. It’s bordered on the west by Apapa Wharf and Tincan, two of Nigeria’s biggest sea ports through which over 70 per cent of imported goods come into the country.
According to Fakunle Sheriff Ekundayo, the socio-cultural heritage of this land cannot be dissociated from some families who have survived many generations and have continued to exhibit their cultural heritage in the face of the growing cosmopolitan nature of what Ajegunle has become.
He noted that the Ojora Royal Family, formerly Ojora Chieftaincy family and Oluwa family are the original owners of the land, with Ojora Royal Family as owners of Ajegunle and Oluwa as owners of Araromi. Hence the coinage, Aje-Romi, a combination of abbreviated words from Ajegunle and Araromi.
To him, Adeyemos, Fakunles, Bakares, Thomas and other families are regarded as the first settlers in Ajegunle, where it was said that the Adeyemo Family invent the name ‘Ajegunle’ (Ibi ti Ajemi Gunle Si Ree) meaning, ‘This is where my wealth resides.’
“Whereas the Fakunle Chieftaincy family since 1872, and whose sojourn began from 13, Afnah Street at Ita-Faji, Lagos-Island, were the first settlers at Apapa-Elemu (Marine Beach), before moving to the now Federal Government Press, and then became the first known settler in Alayabiagba, before the family finally founded Aiyetoro (Aiye mi to toro) in 1920,” he added.
Dotted with shacks all over with no planning or street delineation in many places, ‘AJ’s’ common bottom line is survival. Every inhabitant wakes up with one common goal, survival of the fittest. It’s either you are up and doing or you are done for.
According to Nigerian football star, former Super Eagles striker, Jonathan Akpoborie, who walked to success from this slum, the quest to shake off the shackles of poverty from their neck, led to the success of footballers in the area, saying there was nothing for the kids to do except playing football.
Akpoborie, who made his name in Germany’s Bundesliga in the 1990s with Hansa Rostock and Stuttgart said Ajegunle is actually the home of football in Nigeria, adding that the game is seen by many youngsters as a route to a better life.
He said in an earlier interview: “I don’t want to downgrade the area by attributing the success of footballers to poverty but there is just nothing to do for the kids. They spend most of their time here playing football and in so doing, they develop themselves and naturally become gifted footballers.
“In one national team, there is always one player, who originated from Ajegunle. It’s exactly how I started, the grown-ups play first, we watch them play, eventually, we got in the field. They were inspirational to us.”
A typical day of an average Ajegunle resident starts from about 4.00am as he rushes out to the makeshift bathroom shared with many people who must also take turns to bath on the basis of first-come-first serve, except with recourse to the landlords or its associates.
As a first time visitor to the ‘Jungle City,’ the former Nigerian Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon in his speech in the early 70’s, referred to Ajegunle as the ‘mini Nigeria’ and ECOWAS because its habitants cut across the ethnic’s groups and tribes in Nigeria and West African, which makes it a unique settlement in Lagos.
Though the wealth of this community has not been evident in the community as infrastructural deficit and total collapse of social amenities are the hallmark of stifled community yet many rich men and stars have been raised in this community but they are never part of the community any more.
It’s like the well-known black pot producing white pap, when notable people, artistes and stars such as Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo, Mighty Mouse, African China, B’Clean and Nico Gravity were produced in the slum. In other words, the wealth and treasures of this land are yet to be discovered and tapped.
It has produced notable footballers among whom are Samson Siasia, former coach of Nigeria’s Olympic Team, Biodun Obende, who plays in Finland, former Watford striker Odion Ighalo, former Super Eagles defender Taribo West and Emmanuel Amuneke, former African Footballer of the Year.
There is also a pool of skills in Ajegunle. “Ajenule is the last bus-stop for rigging of diesel engine buses, especially vangon (Danfo bus). Many people living around Ajegunle take their vehicles there for repairs. And because there is no government presence there, they hustle to survive at all cost.
“As far as Festac, motorists take their vehicles there for rigging. They repair everything including bow joints and tie rods ends. They charge less but do better jobs. They have intelligent people without opportunity. The community is so bad that those who made it there always move away from Ajegunle,” said Benfly Transport Maintenance Manager, Chike Adigwe.
According Frank Obiora, a resident of Oriege, Ajegunle is a home of many people who do not have the initial resources to go to the high brow areas of the state.
He said: “Ajegunle is a popular place in Lagos. Even before I came to Lagos, I had always heard about Ajegunle and the kind of life they live there. I knew that it was a place where guys hustle to survive and for that reason, everybody lives and likes one another.
“I know that the rent there is cheap and it’s a place you can survive without money. So I will say that this is a place where people who come to Lagos with nothing first settle down before looking for other places. It’s like Ikotuegbe and somehow Oshodi. But the moment the person makes it big, he leaves for better places.
“People like Coscharis passed through Ajegunle, Nnnamdi Oduamadi, the footballer and many other prominent Nigerians,” he added.
Wooden houses and bridges are common place in the community. There are kiosks almost at every corner. There is hardly any usable item that cannot be found there. From disused children’s swing, large plastic water containers, rags, irons, refrigerators, TV sets, mattresses, rags, furniture, bottles, cans, planks, car steering wheels, among others.
Education for the ‘AJ’ kid is another tall order with little number of government schools, while the makeshift private school collects their fees on a daily basis. The kids have to make a living by collecting recyclable materials and selling them and then saving part of the earnings to pay school fees and still pursue their careers either in sport or music.
There is collapse of infrastructure in the community – paucity of potable water, poor sewerage infrastructure, flooding here and there, yet is still home of most happiest people you’ll ever meet with an infectious ambition to match the world’s big city players.
Life is not easy for many of the residents of this sprawling ghetto. They have to contend with high crime rates, as well the absence of running water, grid-powered electricity or healthcare. So, these factors contribute to Ajegunle’s footballing pedigree.
Many success stories can be traced back to two local institutions – St Mary Catholic Church, the Navy Barracks Camp and Tolu Maracana Stadium. They remain safe places for many young people to play the game. Other open spaces are often claimed by so-called ‘Area Boys’ unruly gangs who often demand a fee for people to play there.
“It was very tough growing up there. It s not like in Europe where you have everything provided. You have to look for money to buy football shoes, jerseys, transport and even water to drink after training. If you can’t afford the transport then you stay – and those who stay are great players,” former Watford FC in the English Premier League but now playing for Chinese Super League outfit Changchun Yatai FC, Odion Ighalo, another Ajegunle native said.
Wondering how a large number of people still live in the communities despite filth and its infrastructural deficit, Emmanuel Okorie, a pool agent at Ojo Road, said: “Not as if I like to stay here, but if I can’t afford over N650, 000 apartments in Festac or other places, I will go to the place I can afford.
“A room apartment is rented for N2,000 for shanties and between N2, 500 and N3, 000 for the normal block apartment. If everybody has money, nobody will be living in this kind of environment but wealth is not evenly distributed. The only thing I do is to pray to God to bless me in order to move away from this community.
“It doesn’t befit me but what will I do. If God promotes me, I will get out of this environment. Government has not been helpful in this area but during election, they will come and make promises, which they don’t redeem afterwards.
“The only person that has done something for us is a member of House of Representatives, Hon. Rita Orji, who sunk a borehole for us. We can’t feel government’s presence here.”
More so, nothing like water cistern was seen within the settlements as residents construct their pit toilets close to the canal for easy evacuation. Also, those whose houses are located inward have theirs but used tarpaulin for basement. A number of churches were seen while presence of few schools was recorded.
Again, few restaurants were observed beside such obviously dirty canal and heaps of garbage, which makes one wonders the health status of the residents
Also, in a bid to determine the lifestyle of these twin filth communities, a fast food vendor at Barrister Ahmed Street, Josephine Akinfenwa, said: “This place is good and rough. There are good people here and there are rough people too. There are those, who are rough and good.
“You will find all manner of people here but you have to choose the life to live, whether rough or calm. Yes, there is night life here, at least, I open my business from 7pm and stay till 1am.
“Even when I have gone, many other people are still awake till 2am, especially on Ojo road. Any time you come out, you will see people on the road or see some restaurants burbling. I live in a pako house, which they nicknamed ‘Pako Estate.’ So, I can tell you that there is night life here,” she added.
During Sunday Telegraph’s visit to the area, children were seen playing around naked and bare footed on the filth despite the rain. Walking on the ground is usually done with caution. The ground bounces as one steps on it due to piles of debris on the ground. In some cases, it sinks. During or after rain, wearing of leather shoes is prohibited for some residents, due to the underground water.
“This place is filled up with refuse, the type of refuse that kole-kole (Refuse collectors) push around. This is why you can only see ‘pako houses’ here because the ground will not support normal block buildings, except you move inward. The only way such can be done is if one excavates the land and remove debris,” said one of the landlords, Abayomi Ogunlesi.
Predominantly, used tyres are placed on the ground for people to step on in avoidance of flood. Of course, for lack of government presence in the communities, buildings are erected at randomly. There wooden shanties covered with tarpaulin, rusted corrugated iron sheets and used nylon bags.
Of course, smoking of Indian hemp is part of the lifestyle of the people in this community as was observed during Sunday Telegraph’s night visit to the communities.
Also, prostitution thrives in the community at night. A number of them were seen dressed in skimpy clothes around Mechanic Busstop, almost in front of ‘1 and 2 Night Club.
CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports