"Victoria Island by force"

By Niyi Egbe

In pecuniary and other terms, my friend is inching for a positioning among the Nigerian upper - middle class. A retired Executive Director of one of the nation's leading banks, he has houses in Port Harcourt and Lagos. His new vocation is buying, developing and selling properties in prime locations in the country - especially in Ikoyi, Lagos, the haven of Nigeria's rich upper crust.

Once upon a visit to his modest and well furnished home in Dolphin estate, Ikoyi, Lagos, he let me unto a joking description of some neighbouring co - inhabitants of Dolphin Estate as those living in "Ikoyi by force". When pressed for explanations, he pointed to the barracks-like array of the four storey pre-fabricated buildings, erected by the Israeli construction company HFP. He chuckled at the seemingly or relatively poorer living standards of residents of those flats, compared with inhabitants of the single storey duplexes. In his view, Ikoyi shouldn't have space for the down trodden. Rather, Ikoyi need be in the exclusive preserve of the Nigerian upper class – uninvited invaders should stay where their classes belong.

Curiously, Mon- ami didn't attempt describing the bedlam that the Obalende - Ijeh Police Barracks also represented – being located a stone throw from the "Ikoyi by force" high rise buildings. I interpreted the silence of my witty, hardly proud and godly friend to mean that the police barrack was an unpardonable aberration to the Ikoyi skyline. Their request for a share in the breath of fresh air that deserving Ikoyi residents take appears an anathema!alt

Should he have his way, he could go the way of Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 bc) aka Cato the Elder - the famed Roman statesman and writer, who is remembered for always concluding his speeches with the request – Delenda est Carthago - "Carthage must be destroyed". In Cato's view, if unchecked, Carthage would rise not merely to enervate the strength of the Roman Empire, but had the potential of becoming a threat to the existence of Rome. Eventually, Cato had his way in influencing the Barbaric and inglorious extermination of Carthage three years into the third Punic wars.

Odd for my friend, it is now civilian era in Nigeria. Had it been military era with even a slight coincidence that a friend of the likes of General Abdulkareem Adisa resided in the "oppressive" phase of Dolphin estate, he simply would have prevailed on the General to help clear the unsightly places like Obalende - Ijeh. If in doubt, ask former residents of Moore Road, Sabo – Yaba and they would tell you how General Adisa showed them Adisco pepper! The inhabitants were making demands that requested compromise from the General. How mistaken! Trust the Nigerian soldier to always rise to military requests and to stand to be counted. Their homes had to be leveled first. The lesson - in the military, the norm is to obey before complaining. Those shanties of Moore Road yielded to steely bulldozers, making room for the now modern ones. I am not in position to recall how adequately Moore road inhabitants were compensated; neither do I know if some of those displaced people found access to the medium phase of the Moore Road housing project. What I am certain about is that as I drive through Moore road, the sophistry I see and the poor pay of civil servants and governments' penchant for pricing houses beyond reach, it is predictable that either none or barely few of them got resettled there.

Neither Moore road nor "Ikoyi by force" is the subject of the subject of this write –up. Rather, my focus is on the lot of another set of Nigerians residing, this time not in Ikoyi, but in another exclusive location of Lagos, Nigeria's commercial capital – Victoria Island, "by force"!

Ordinarily, dwelling in Victoria Island is a privilege. It should be, considering the fact that all along, only those belonging to the aristocratic of the Nigerian society would afford residence in the place. Despite the yawning prospects of a Tsunami by the nearby, Atlantic, the rich would prefer dying hard - breathing the fresh air that the ocean presents before passing them on to fellow citizens of Ajegungle, Mushin, Ajamgbadi, Amukoko, Maroko…oops, sorry, I almost forgot. Maroko like the Moore shanties is also history now. Thanks to another one of those irrepressible Nigerian military Generals – the one and only Raji Rasaki. In his time, he ensured that the ugly mess that Maroko represented relative to the panache' that replaced them was cleared. To be fair, the place now looks beautiful; after all, our big men can now have a good view of the lagoon or the Atlantic undisturbed by the festering sight of Maroko. However, till date many still lament the absence of or the poor compensation. Indeed quite a number of the comrades died in the struggle – so that the rich would have their way.

Victoria Island is so highly priced that it is considered that any organization worth its salt or is determined for recognition would need find space therein. Name the financial institution in Nigeria and you would be sure to find either the head office or key operation on Victoria Island. Also, since bees are sure to find the nectar where it is, most service organizations and suppliers get located in Victoria Island or keep a diligent watch over the place in their marketing programmes.

With such premium positioning of Victoria Island, one would have expected inhabitants of the Ahmadu Bello Nigeria Airforce Barracks to be in some paradise. No, not so. The barracks is neighbour of Chief Olusegun Aremu Okikiola Obasanjo's university - the National Open University of Nigeria. The university's towering edifice facilitates a panoramic view of Victoria Island and nearby Lagos Island. Quite close to the barracks is the spiraling and now modernized Federal palace Hotel. Located on the shores of the interface between the Atlantic and the Lagos lagoon, the historic hotel for long dominated the hospitality industry till it somewhat went into a hiatus.

Victoria Island is also the home of the Nigerian Security Printing and Mint Company whose machines keep coughing out bills to satisfy the persistent request of the affluent and Noveau riche of Victoria Island, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. There is also space for the entertainment and news giants – Nigerian Television Authority (of the 30 million Nigerians can't be wrong fame), the Silverbird empire – Television, galleria and cinemas. Nearby on Adeola Odeku Street, is the corporate head office of the communication giant Globacom, garnished in golden flakes to the taste of its mega bucks chairman, the imperial Otunba Mike Adenuga Jnr. All around are different offices of GLO that clearly attest to the prosperity of the company and do showcase the prosperity of Nigeria's telecommunication industry.

Of course the above structures are all combining to make Victoria Island a better place. However, the foregoing is the Victoria Island of the privileged class - certainly, not the Victoria Island of the officers and men resident in the Nigeria Airforce base on Ahmadu Bello way, Victoria Island and their families. If we catch the drift of famed George Orwell, this is the Victoria Island of the "more equal" men. As we would soon see, it would amount to mere delusion expecting all animals to be equal. In real life, especially in our beloved Nigeria, it is foolhardy for all fingers to expect to be equal.

I needed to relax from an engagement at the National Open University and decided to see a friend in the NAF shopping complex. There was hardly a resistance at the gates; the officer at the gate was more interested in ensuring smooth vehicular traffic around the gate. It is excusable - the barracks is inhabited by quite a number of civilians. Also, a shopping plaza therein attracts quite a number of civilian visitors.

To the left of the gate, I observed two or three high rise structures that appeared to have accommodated quite a number of officers. They were unoccupied. It was evident that the occupants had been vacated, I guess by military fiat'. I couldn't help but recall the ding-dong between the civil servant officers and the Federal government over the morality in displacing or denying them an opportunity to own the 1004 flats, Victoria Island which eventually was bought up by UAC Properties. At the NAF barracks, whatever orders are belched out had to be obeyed, period!

The sight behind the vacated high rise block of flats, located just beyond the shopping complex is the actual inspiration behind this write up. They are of units of bungalows each of which is partitioned into six or eight rooms. Overall, there are three rows of these blocks with alleys linking them. The painting on the walls are so weathered that it is hard to determine the original colours. You may guess the original coating as cream or grey, but you would safer describing the painting as white – the colour of the now exposed underlay. Some of the rooms, obviously really tiny had well weathered air conditioners, that have become mere antiquities – relics of the prosperous past lives of the officers.

Behind one of the rows of bungalows was a stinking sight - a water way, algae infested and green. It was no gutter but rather an entrapment that apart from being putrid was a really irritating view. Ironically, the path, saddled between two rows of houses is the convenient place to locate an eatery. I was quite impressed that despite the misfortune of the location, it was really neat. The chefs busied themselves, politely attending to their customers who had either come to do the eating right there or to take away the delicacies presented. I observed an old man looking out of a window adjacent the eatery. He appeared pleased with was he was seeing – I guess largely because of the presence of the customers. My take is that he is a shareholder, close – to - retirement officer who was glad at the evident success of the family business that he could fall upon on retirement.

One thing was eminently clear about the environment and living circumstances of these officers and their families. They sure were a sharp contrast and aberration to the tastes and standards that Victoria Island represents. Despite the commendable neatness of this part of the barracks, the poverty in the commune was palpable. Population density here is high. Baby boom is the natural outcome when submissive wives meet soldiers of conquest. It simply adds up, isn't it?

My experience left sad memories. When would we learn as a nation? How would one expect these ill-treated officers to find joy in laying their lives for their beloved country? I had cause too to have a bird-eye view of the Bonny Camp Nigerian Army Barracks. I saw some roofs ripped open and some of the buildings quite deteriorated and abandoned. I was not close enough to obtain further details, but what I was seeing was saddening. Accepted, there would always the poor among us like the Bible would have it. However, the same scriptures request us to be our brothers' keeper. Had the top echelon of the Airforce or the supervising ministries given heed to this, the yawning class distinction would be somewhat bridged!

The situation at the Victoria Island Airforce barrack reminds me of similarities with Kubwa, Kwali, Buari, Suleija and other satellite towns surrounding the Federal Capital Territory. These towns are poorly planned, disorganized and lacking of lots of basic amenities. They are quite intolerable contrasts to the well laid out and touché city centres of Garki, Wuse… please don't dare compare them with Maitama and Asokoro.

Just when would our leaders ever reason that security is guaranteed for all, themselves and their generations, only when we care for the other person – giving their lives a lifting, having all afford self worth through access to basic necessities of life.

In not long, the heavens signaled that it would soon spill its contents. I had to hasten to my car, parked within the premises of the National Open University. At the gate, I observed the young officer at the gate "harassing" fellow officers of the opposite sex. He and the "games" he was making advances at are likely co-habitants of the shanty town I had just left. I got a useful lesson, whatever the circumstances; life just has to go on.

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