Flooding: Lagos communities where residents dread rain over abandoned canals

To many residents of Oko-Oba and Orile-Agege in Lagos State, the rainy season can be a dreadful period. While the season brings a lot of relief from the heat wave and dust that accompany the dry season, the apprehension of the residents about the season would seem understandable.

The residents lamented that the resultant flood from heavy rainfall and abandoned canals in the area had wreaked serious havoc in recent years, such that once heavy clouds begin to gather, they run helter-skelter unsure of what the aftermath would be.

“Anywhere you are, you have to run helter-skelter when you notice that it might rain,” a resident of the area, James Joel, told Saturday PUNCH during a visit. “People ensure that their children are indoors and if the parents are not around, they call neighbours or trusted adults nearby to be sure they are safe. When it rains, no matter how large a vehicle is, even if it is a truck, it will be swept off by flood into the canal.”

Also, a trader who sells animal feed in the area, Owo Iya, who had witnessed various tragedies on account of the annual flooding, said the situation was so bad that even if it was only drizzling, “you would know who owned which vehicle because people would rush out to go and park elsewhere.”

Close to her shop is the canal, which is said to have been undergoing construction for about three years. According to some residents, the uncompleted canal contributes significantly to the havoc residents of the area have had to live with.

Harvest of death

Last year, our correspondent learnt that eight persons were feared killed on June 15 after flood swept them into the canal while they were onboard tricycles.

The whereabouts of an unidentified woman, her baby, and six persons, including a man identified as Umar, are still unknown after the flood swept them into the canal. Residents said that was not the first of such tragedies.

Meanwhile, the Chairman, Orile Agege Local Council Development Area, Johnson Babatunde, told Saturday PUNCH that he was aware that five persons were swept away by the flood while wondering why the tricyclist drove in the flood.

“There were five people in the tricycle,” he told our correspondent.

Also, during the Eid-el-Kabir festival in 2022, seven persons were swept into the canal on Fatoki Street, an incident residents described as heartbreaking.

“It was as if the world was crumbling when those people inside vehicles were swept away by the flood,” the Secretary, Orile Agege Community Development Association, Gbenga Oloyede, said, adding, “Although we as a CDA are not quiet about the issues in this area, we appeal to the government to help us do something about it.

“There was a time a lady fell inside the gutter in one of the streets. When such happens, some of us usually rush to a particular part of the gutter to quickly block it so that the victim doesn’t get swept into the canal. I don’t know why they built a gutter and left it open.”

Many bridges, many risks

The river channel that runs through the community is quite long, to the extent that our correspondent counted at least four bridges in the community. However, all of them were in a deplorable state and appeared more of death traps, as the river had torn most sides of its channel.

Some of the bridges show signs of defect while others under construction have been abandoned for about two years, according to residents.

The bridge on Ogundele Street, according to the residents, is one of the most dangerous crossings. Our correspondent observed that the surface was previously laced with interlocking stones that have mostly failed, subjecting drivers to torturous moments. Even motorcyclists and their passengers are not spared; they hold themselves firmly for the fear of being plunged into the canal.

Our correspondent observed that part of the pillars of the bridge had been washed away by the flood, with a part of it still floating on the canal. A part of the road that leads to the bridge is also being gradually washed off. The bridge poses serious danger for commuters when it rains as the flood from the canal overruns it.

At another bridge, a few metres away from north of Ogundele Street, a resident, Joel, narrated how his car almost got stuck.

“This particular bridge was brought down so that another one could be erected, but the new one is not even as strong as the old one. A car can fall off from the side of the bridge,” Joel said.

Houses destroyed, projects abandoned

Our correspondent observed that some buildings, including residential apartments, along the river channel were pulled down to give way to the construction of water channels. However, in spite of the displacement of the affected residents, the demolition has yet to bring about the promised relief.

“Houses were demolished in the name of constructing the water channel and bridges, but since they destroyed those buildings and displaced people, the channel is still abandoned,” a resident, identified simply as Henry, told Saturday PUNCH. “Many of the houses close to the river channel are empty.”

Pupils cross dangerous canal

There are two public primary schools close to the Oko-Oba canal: Oko-Oba Primary Secondary School and Ladoje Primary School in Orile Agege. Pupils are therefore constrained to take the narrow path beside the canal.

Although residents say no pupil had been a victim of the flood, our correspondent learnt that during heavy downpours that usually overrun the canal and almost submerge the surroundings of the school, the school management usually prevent the pupils from leaving until the flood subsides.

A video of the area in June showed some pupils walking the slippery path to their houses after a downpour, and in another video, a woman speaking in the background who introduced herself as the headmistress of one of the schools was heard telling some residents, “I’m the headmistress of this place. I’m also a parent. I’m sending the video to our bosses so that they can see the flood.”

Another voice in the video said, “They (the government) don’t even know what to do with this canal yet.”

Situation terrible, head teacher laments

The head teacher, Ladoje Primary School, Adewunmi O, told Saturday PUNCH that the flood affecting the school was not only from the canal, but also from an estate at the back of the school.

Adewunmi said, “During the rainy season, we have so many challenges with the water that floods the compound and the canal area. Even the houses near the canal are affected. We met the Orile Agege chairman, he said they would do a fence for the school. The (initial) fence was brought down because they wanted to construct the canal and they needed to allow caterpillars to move to the site.

“Now that there is no fence, hoodlums come in to smoke and burgle our properties. We cannot keep valuables in the school again. We want them to finish the canal and erect the fence so that hoodlums will not be able to enter our school premises. The bridge is narrow, they are supposed to widen it, because the erosion is much.

“When there is rain and the flood is much, we cannot allow children to go home. The parents stay on the other side until the water subsides. It’s a terrible thing. There is a passage that allows water from the estate to enter our school, leaving the school flooded because there is a new fence that does not allow the water to flow out of our compound.”

The Orile Agege LCDA boss, in his reaction, particularly the plight of pupils and teachers who are usually trapped whenever it rains, simply told our correspondent that “that is the exact situation.”

“We don’t have much to do except the state government comes to our aid,” he added.

Flood submerges sports pavilion:

Behind Oko-Oba and Ladoje Primary School is a recently launched sports pavilion. The Pavilion and Mini Sports Centre was constructed by the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to former President Muhammadu Buhari on Sustainable Development Goals. It was launched by Princess Adejoke Adefulire on May 20, 2023.

Meanwhile, barely a month after it was launched, it was submerged by flood from the canal.

Some of the players who trained at a mini-pitch outside the pavilion told our correspondent that the drainage for the pavilion was poorly planned.

“We only use the new field when there is a match, but we train out here. The drainage is poor, there should be good drainage for the field, water does not flow out,” Henry, one of the players who use the field, told our correspondent.

LCDA seeks help

Speaking on the expansion of the canal, the LCDA boss said the project was a state government project and that there was little the local government could do.

“It’s a state project, not a local government project. We are also taking steps; we have been calling them. In fact, we had to write a letter to the state to remind them that the canal is a death trap for both motorists and residents,” he told Saturday PUNCH.

The councillor, Orile Agege Ward A, Azeez Akinola, also said he believed work would soon commence in the area.

Akinola said, “We made a complaint to the state and (sought) the local government’s intervention. The state has come to do the necessary thing. We will still try to complain to the appropriate quarters. Very soon, everything will be okay.”

He said as part of efforts to address the problem, some government officials visited the area about two weeks ago.

Ministry reacts

The state Ministry of the Environment said expansion project takes time, noting that the contractors had been mobilised to return to site.

“That project has an extensive time frame and the contractors have been mobilised back to the site,” the Public Relations Officer, Ministry of the Environment, Kunle Adeshina, said.

He added, “Everybody knows Lagos is a lowland area, so experiencing rainfall is a normal thing. It’s a coastal city. The issue of flooding may persist until the project is completed.”

He urged residents to take precautions based on the advisory by the ministry.

The member representing Agege 2 constituency in the House of Assembly, Jubril Abdulkareem, promised to escalate the matter to Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, saying he was familiar with the situation, especially as it concerned the canal.

He said, “I’m a new representative; I just got to the office in June. However, I’m conversant with (issues in) that area. I live within the community. I have been there to see what has happened. Work is going on. Expansion takes time. I want to assure you that this time round, the needful will be done.

“I’m a lawmaker, so I’m not an executive, but we will escalate what has happened through the Speaker to the governor.”

Residents of the area said they expect the speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa, who is representing Agege 2 constituency for the sixth-time and third-term speaker of the Assembly, to see to the completion of the projects. They asked other well-meaning residents of the area and the state government to take up the matter for the safety of the residents.

They noted that until the problem was permanently addressed, tragedies occasioned by flooding may continue to be an annual occurrence.

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