By Adeola Aderounmu.
After the mid 80s, the dwindling glory of Festac Town continued to take a turn for the worse. By the end of 1989, a lot of things have happened that revealed the recklessness of our administrators in Nigeria. The one that shook us most till today is how we lost our forest and all our playgrounds to construction of more houses in what became known as the fabricated and inglorious FHA plan B of Festac Town.
On W close of 5th Avenue, the popular FHA football field (where I spent my school breaks in primary school, watched glorious football tournaments and later played in competitions in my early teens) was sold to the first set of invasive millionaires that have just discovered Festac. We thought that was the worst that could happen. Wait! The expanse of playground on 23 Road, opposite D and E closes where virtually all schools in Festac Town usually host their annual Inter-House sports competitions was sold! Houses have since been built on them.
In Festac Town today, only one major field remains and this is the one adjacent to the former Inter-House sports ground. This one field that is now serving all the young football talents in Festac Town is the remnant of our several beloved playgrounds and parks. The small sand field on 322 Road where Victor Okechukwu Agali budded is a rare survival despite all the structures and shops that have grown around it.
In 1990 Festac, most parts of the Canal had been reclaimed and houses have been built on them. The forest that surrounded Festac before is now history. Today, all the grasshoppers and butterflies are gone while the monkeys and other wild animals suffered violent extinction. There are no more swings in the park-the park themselves have given away to a vicious plan B. The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) sold all our recreational centres.
Even solid surfaces where Lawn Tennis was played around the neighborhood were not spared! Houses were built everywhere, on electric cables, on top of underground tubes for passage of human waste (sewage suck-away), in parking areas and any kind of space that you can imagine. There was a day a man’s house had to be pulled down partially to retrieve NEPA’s electric cable that ran under his house!
Overhead electric cables had to be constructed where houses cannot be pulled down or when the underground cables suddenly disappear from traceable paths. Even the infamous NEPA edifice at the end of 512 Road was built on a concrete-surface lawn tennis court! It was used as one of the two famous grounds for stone-field football before NEPA acquired the land. The only stone-field (previously a lawn tennis court as well) standing today is at 5th Avenue H1 Close or 23 Road X Close depending on your approaching point. This is the only place I have to play football whenever I am in Festac.
So, it happened that Festac in the late 80s and early 90s became a hot spot not only for Nigeria’s invasive millionaires but also for our corrupt politicians to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth. If you go to the popular Cocaine Avenue in Festac (also known as extension), the early settlers there are mainly popular but corrupt Nigerian politicians and some people whom we came to know later as 419 kingpins.
There are hardworking people as well who decided to join this invasion and of course the churches and mosques got their own share of the playgrounds. The giant mosque on 72 Road was built on one of the most famous football pitches in Festac Town! Many churches also built their worship centres on playgrounds. It was as a result of the rapidity with which houses sprung up on 4th Avenue extension that this area lost its original name and became known as Naira Burial Ground or Cocaine Avenue.
Today, this unnecessary overgrowth in Festac continues with the emergence of high class hotels, suites with swimming pools, several banking halls, fast food outlets, more petrol stations and explosion of the human population beyond the initial sustenance capacity of the festac village of 1977 to 1980.
The impacts of this negative growth and extreme carelessness of FHA is still revealing a sad situation in present day Festac. Crime became entrenched for obvious reasons. The corrupt politicians, the 419 kingpins and the subsequent emergence of high class hotels and suites may have influenced the making of the yahoo-yahoo boys in Festac Town. Festac Town acquired an international status for this advanced fee fraud crime thereby overshadowing the importance of the Black Art Festival of 1977.
There is no stretch of road in Festac Town that is not without its dangerous areas and pot holes. It was in Festac Town that I saw for the first time that cement can be used to substitute tar to repair roads. That reveals the extent of neglect that Festac is suffering in the hands of the federal government-the original owner of the estate, the state government-who don’t care so much about the estate and the local government with headquarters on 41 Road-whose sole interest is to collect tenement rate without regards to the mortgage agreements that many occupiers signed far back in 1977.
There are other vices and problems that typify the great fall of the once celebrated Festac Town. Sewage disposal is a major concern as houses have been built on the original channels that took the liquid waste to its terminal. Overflowing sewages are common sights nowadays and the tenants have to contribute money to private firms to clear the mess. Not doing that would have encouraged an epidemic.
The maintenance in Festac Town was neglected by FHA and all the houses especially the blocks of 16 and 32 flats now look very ugly. Some people contribute money and paint their buildings at some intervals depending on how soon the paints are washed away. The Primary Health Care Centre which we had in the beginning was very effective but the situation today is a sad one.
The availability of water in Festac is a dead issue. First, the taps went dried for inexplicable reasons. Then at a time, the water corporation was giving us water darker than Lipton tea. We were supposed to drink this reddish brown water coming from rusted pipes. Allow this water to settle and you’ll see your obituary staring at you in the face!
Ironically, Festac Town probably has the largest water reservoir in Lagos State. This structure lies today as a monumental waste on 22 Road, not far from TEXACO petrol station. It is impossible to re-count all the things that wasted away in Festac Town, from the shopping complexes that were misused and converted to religious centers to the stationary generators that were gradually torn apart by petty thieves and eventually removed by new land owners thus allowing them to build on electrical installations!
In 2007, 30 years after it was first inhabited, Festac is a far cry from the dreams of the founders. If the foreigners who were part of the construction of Festac Town houses and environment should visit the same Festac Town today, they will surely burst into uncontrollable tears (of sadness). The houses that Jack built 30 years ago now resemble 10th century attempts to modernize ancient Golgotha.
No one used the bicycle tracks or perhaps we didn’t even realise that the tracks beside the main roads were meant for bicycles. Did anyone own a bicycle for the purpose of commuting? Make shift akara and dundun markets have taken over all these tracks. The damage in Festac seems irreparable. Many occupiers who arrived in 1977 have left the place more out of anger or frustration than the necessity to relocate to their personal houses or to rented places outside Festac.
If Festac had remained the paradise it was in 1977, perhaps the story would have been told differently. Sadly, Festac Town has come to symbolized one of the several places in Nigeria where children are growing up not realizing that their childhood had been stolen from them before they were born. Imagine the contrast between the wonderful atmosphere under which the early settlers in Festac brought up their children and the criminally inclined environment of the 90s that pervades in Festac to this day. This ugly scenario would have been prevented through proper planning.
Rather than invade Festac thereby accelerating the destruction of its original Master plan as they did in the 80s and 90s, the greedy politicians and other overnight funny millionaires should have solicited for the establishment of more estates similar to Festac Town across Nigeria. If they must live in Lagos, they could have demanded for the creation of Festac Town 2 and even Festac Town 3 in the suburbs.
For now, as the unfortunate residents of this extremely over-populated town, a micro-representation of the failure of the Nigeria nation, we are seriously faced with the hassles of crime, rage of violence, complete absence of drinkable water, disorganized transportation, bad roads, perpetual blackout, dilapidating schools and houses, scattered markets, stagnant drainage system, complete absence of recreational centers and youth delinquency.
Additionally, the emergence and activities of road-side estate agents and those who sold their flats or houses in Festac Town have made a complete mess of the purpose of the housing system. Festac Town is a Federal Government project that was grossly mismanaged and eventually left to rot away, if it must be salvaged in any way at all, the responsibilities rest squarely on the shoulders of the Federal Housing Authority. They should not have introduced the disaster called Plan B and they should not have reneged on their parts of the housing contracts.
That’s how we got to this point! (concluded).
Nigeria, wherewithal thy Glory?