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The struggle for a place called home in Lagos is surely not for the faint-hearted. A proof of that can be seen in these gutsy, rugged families that bliss?fully pitch their abode in the belly of the earth, right in the heart of the metropo?lis. GBUBEMI GOD?S COVENANT SNR welcomes you to ?unnamed
It is a short route about 500 meters from the loading depot of the Nigerian National Pe?troleum Corporation (NNPC) through Ilamoshe Estate, Ajao Es?tate to Airport Road, Lagos.
No passerby can miss the sight of a small community of people dwell?ing way down the belly of the earth with a large stream of waters half covered by weeds right beside it.
From the main road, the place looks like a dungeon with its top blown off, revealing a large waste?land about 90 feet inside the belly of Mother Earth. Sources say it was a quarry site abandoned many de?cades ago.
There is no easily traceable en?trance because it is shielded round about by closely knit houses on Bil?liaminu Akinsanya Street, going straight on to the new Canoe Bridge, Arochukwu Street to the right, Ko?foworola Akah behind and Nnok?wa Street completing the square back to Bailliaminu Akinsanya. A small gap between two shops offers enough access to pass through the backyard.
A long bush path, some culti?vated with cash crops, leads to the community. The middle-aged fel?low who regards our correspondent with grave suspicion and relaxes only after a deal is struck. Refusing to give any information about him?self, he gives a small profile of the settlement.
?Some of the people here are re?tired servicemen and workers who had accommodation problems. We don?t welcome visitors and we don?t like strangers.?
Confirming their upper neigh?bours? claim that the settlement has no name, the resident says they don?t want to name the place af?ter anybody even though there are landlords.?
DTN learnt that the rent here is not fixed, anyone seen as not a threat can negotiate according to his pocket. To the right of the few buildings are foundations laid pre?paratory to further development, and it was gathered that even here, deep in the ground, a plot of land goes for as high as N2.5 million. It is negotiable though. The DTN contact who came into the settle?ment seven years ago, said he lost his home to government at a place he refused to mention. According to him, they have endured heavy rainy seasons but they have never been in danger.
Also, some 50 meters before this settlement, a Pentecostal Church some 30 feet inside the ground seats what looks like an annex to the quarry site, upfront.
It is the Christian Unity Gospel Church, Lagos Branch, with head?quarters in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital. It is supposed to be on 15, BiIliaminu Akinsanya Street, off NNPC Depot, Ejigbo with Kofoworola Akah Street to its left and Nnokwa Street behind.
Apparently built to withstand the ever-present danger of massive flood in mind, the church is built with the typically solid ?German Foundation? raised about four feet from the ground. In the pastor?s estimation, the height of the building is about 25 to 30 feet from the ground to its roof which is on the same level with the ground surrounding it. Our correspondent counts 40 steps about 1/half ft across 3ft wide each from Billiaminu Akin?sanya Street (the only entrance) lead?ing down to the church below.
The pastor of the church is Samuel Oluwadamilare, big with that distinct Ashanti shiny black skin, he speaks with a clear Ghanaian accent though he bears a Yoruba name. He puts us in the picture of how the church came to be in this location.
?The church is about six years old; we have eight branches at different lo?cations in Nigeria and our headquar?ters is in Ibadan. We bought the land as you see it now, with the gulley there. It was an area people were digging lat?erite from over a long period before they packed up the business around 2005. The church bought five plots of land altogether.?
Concerning the threat of flood over?running the church, and the edges of the pit round about the yard caving in, the pastor says the look is an illusion.
?We don?t have any problem run?ning the church inside the ground as it is. It may appear dangerous when you look down here from the road above, but we are the people down here and I tell you what we see down here is dif?ferent from what it appears to people up there.
?Even though people passing or driving past Billiatu Akinsanya Street wonder why anyone will think of building a church inside the ground, the waters coming inside here do not give us any trouble. The land is big and it?s not as if there are signs of any po?tential danger.
?The land on this side of Ilamoshe is a very good and solid land; it re?ceives a great deal of water and ab?sorbs it very quickly, and that?s the ad?vantage we are enjoying here; just like it happened on Sunday the 10th. We were here when the rains started and as the great volumes of waters were coming so the ground was swallowing them up, the whole thing dried up in no time.?
But neighbours on the four streets surrounding the church do not share the pastor?s confidence. Everyone thinks it is a matter of time before flood will sack the church though they acknowledge that the pit has been there for over a decade and there has not been one instance when it pit was flooded. Not been one instance when it pit was flooded. Assuring everyone that the Church had never had any problem, Pastor Samuel stressed: ?Water is not something that will scare us; besides, the waters that come from all around us into this ground do not really disturb us. The one thing we?re not so happy about is that all the houses around and about us divert the waste waters of their houses straight into this place. You can see it for yourself.
?The church has a plan and we are on what line of action to take. But at present, we?re using this place temporarily. By the grace of God, we plan to fill this big pit and make it better on the long run. Our land extends beyond this place because we own five plots beyond this place altogether. The general overseer has been telling us about his plan for the Church. He said we should be using this place as it is, that we are going to fill this place eventually and build a beautiful model edifice; so we have a very good plan for this place.
?We were also envisaging that anything could happen in the future, and since we needed a place to worship temporarily, we just had to buy this place. We built it like this to make sure it will stand the state of this ground, especially as it concerns flood, to serve as a place of worship for us until we are able to build a befitting edifice of worship unto the LORD.?
What does he think the government can do?
?What the government can do is to either construct a good drainage system that will channel all waters to the major NNPC road gutter or instruct residents on the two streets to do the gutters in front of their houses; those gutters should be linked to the gutter on the major road. Once this is done, this place will be dry throughout the year, except when we have rain- fall from the sky and when that happens, no matter the volume of water, it goes down in a very short time, sometimes just within 15 minutes and the whole place is dry again.
?I remember that Deeper Life at Gbagada was built in the deep like this but a good drainage system made the place dry and usable. The same can be done here if the government will execute such project.
Samuel who is married with children was born and bred in Ghana though his parents are of Oyo State origin. ?I was born in Takwa, but I schooled in Kumasi, in Ghana. I returned to Nigeria in 1985 and I got into the evangelical ministry some ten years ago From the nameless community in Ilamoshe Estate, DTN found a new settlement springing up in an abandoned laterite site about thirty feet in the ground. Very visible along Akinwunmi Kosemani Avenue, Paiko, Idimu Titun in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State. This growing community in the ground comprise of three families who refused tospeak to the press, but a source told DTN that land is being sold to developers at any price. Also DTN visited the famous 77 steps area at Ifako-Ijaiye Local Govern-ment Area in the Ikeja Division of Lagos State. A very popular area given its topography, the core dwell-ers at the bottom of the valley pride themselves as residents of the famous 77 steps. The community deep in the valley derives its name from the 77 stone and concrete steps formed by the early settlers to ac-cess the lowest part of the valley. In a city where taskforce officials chase and detain street traders in their caged trucks and mark the ?X? sign on illegal or unapproved buildings and shops which, sometimes, are at lintel level of con-struction, DTN sought word from the Ministry of the Environment, MoE on account these settlements which the government of the state is either ignoring or is not aware. A source at the Pub-lication Relations and Communication Unit who craved anonymity, first re-minded our correspondent that Lagos State is a re-sponsive and responsible government. ?Concerning these set-tlements in the ground, I can tell you that govern-ment is not unaware of their existence in many parts of the state; but let us say they are some of those sleeping dogs government is sometimes forced to al-low to sleep.? Asked for a possible reason his ministry is do-ing absolutely nothing about them, considering the eviction of the Mako-ko coastline dwellers two years ago, not to mention the scandalous memory of Maroko, now a sandfill, under the government of Raji Rasaki, our source said what is required here goes beyond just evicting the inhabitants. ?Eviction is not the is-sue because after eviction, where would government find sand to fill up those large areas without creat-ing more large pits wher-ever such sand is dug from? ?And if you evict them without filling the deep, what would you do with them? The likelihood is that each will become hid-den forests over time and probably become a den for kidnappers and ritual-ists.? He sighed and lament-ed that too much is ex-pected from government. ?Sometimes the public expects too much from government; they may be in power, of course, but government is not om-nipotent and cannot make provision for everyone. So long as the dwellers don?t constitute public danger, it is a lot better that they keep their environment safe and protected for the good of everyone.? Considering the rate these settlements are springing up deeper and deeper in the earth, Lagos may just be poised to make settlements in the ground another unique feature and signature in the City of Excellence. When that time comes, it won?t matter where you dwell, the question would be: ?Are you living in La-gos??

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