Graceland: Living under high tension

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    Sited in Lagos most populous local council area, successive governments have exploited their taxes and sheer numbers to gain political fortunes. Yet that will not guarantee a let off for residents of Graceland community in Alimosho who continue to endure morbid emissions from high tension powerlines hanging over their community and a thoroughly dilapidated road that combines to make life hellish.

    By GBENGA OGUNDARE

    UP NEPA! A loud chorus rent the air as a multitude of lightbulbs flickered on to splash some illumination over a part of the slumbering neighbourhoods—an excitement that provided a painful contrast to the sighs and eases from other residents whose buildings remained in dark still because it wasn’t their turn to enjoy the ration from power supply to the community on Monday, 1 February, 2016.

    Soon the mixed reaction was over as the lucky voices and their less fortunate neighbours disappeared behind closed doors to pave way for another jangling noise triggered by the clanging of irons from a nearby welding workshop and the bedlam of loudspeakers blasting at deafening decibels from a roadside music store.

    It’s some minutes to 11 pm at the Federal Site and Service Scheme in Abule-Odu, a sprawling surburb in the Egbe-Idimu Local Council Development Area in Alimosho, but the residents will not protest the rude eruption shattering their night rest now. The harsh shrieks from the welding workshop dangerously located right under the tower of a powerline and the shrilling emissions radiating from the high tension cables are normal intrusions they have been enduring for years.

    Having a welding workshop and another vast mechanic village situated right under the towers of powerlines within a residential area immediately presents a precarious scenario really, but only a few things would appear as normal in the Federal Site and Service Scheme community at any rate. From Seliat Bus Stop, the road that leads into the neighbourhood—comprising a sprawling clusters of shacks known as Graceland Estate—is popularly called Tarred Road, so a visitor might be deluded to conclude that it’s going to be a jolly ride on the ubiquitous commercial motorcycles plying the community. But Tarred Road is just a long stretch of dilapidated passageway punctuated by gullies and cracks wide enough to undo an unwary road user.

    The road is over two decades old really, so the state of disrepair is understandable.

    What perplexes the community, however, is the double standard and indifference of the Lagos State Government to the plight of Graceland Estate despite repeated pleas for intervention. Olanrewaju John, Chairman of the Graceland Community Development Association says the problem is aggravated by the fact that the Lagos State Government has all along abandoned the community as a federal site which deserves no attention, despite the fact that the dilapidated road is the nexus that connects three local council development areas in the state—Egbe-Idimu LCDA; Mosan-Okunola LCDA and Ipaja-Ayobo LCDA— together.

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    “They say we are a federal site and so we are not under their purview., yet they come here to collect tax, land use charge and other revenues.’

    ‘For example, the local government is just behind us here, we pay our dues to them and the CDC as a registered CDA, yet the local government has not contributed anything to the development of the community. The two transformers serving the community were bought, kitted and serviced from contributions by the residents themselves,’ the CDA Chair gripes.

    The Federal Housing Authority is situated at Abesan, a trekkable distance from the Federal Site and Service Scheme, but it would amount to an unnecessary stress wondering why the denials and deprivation persist in Graceland Estate. Both Taiwo Dada and Wasiu Raimi, who have lived in the community for 15 years already told this newspaper the FHA only exists in structure and not in responsibility.

    “They’ve never been here to inspect the site, how much less carry out any refurbishment since I moved here,’ Dada moaned.

    And they are right indeed. When this newspaper visited the Abesan office of the FHA, activities around the offices were almost non-existent, and the officials didn’t mind betraying their cluelessness about the plight of Graceland Estate.

    “Maybe instruction can come from Abuja, so they should petition the Federal Ministry of Housing to see what will happen,’ an official offered on condition of anonymity.

    It’s a tortuous challenge really—after several sos letters fired off to Tunde Fashola, former Lagos State Governor, the Ministry of Infrastructure & Rural Development and Egbe-Idimu LCDA yielded no breather—so the community is presented with no other heart-warming option than to act as its own unofficial local council to provide basic amenities, including expending N500,000 every year to grade the road and make it accessible for residents, and another N160,000 per month to engage the services of 8 neighbourhood watchers at N 20,000 per head.

    “But the problem with the grading that we have been doing is that it will come to a point that it will not work again. That’s the point we are in now. Any grading on this road again will just scatter the road,’ Olanrewaju, who is also an engineer, laments.

    “We’ll need culverts and drainage to prevent waters from impacting on the road, and that’s a capital intensive project. The reason why we need the government now to come to our aid.”

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    That will require some sheer miracles really. A 25 April 2014 sos letter sent to the Lagos Ministry of Infrastructure & Rural Development yielded a response that dripped with the usual bureaucratic shibboleths via a reference letter MRD/Y2014/3021. The Commissioner, responding to request from the Graceland Estate for a transformer, simply told the community to look elsewhere for their power needs.

    “Due to the unbundling of power Holding Company of Nigeria [PHCN], Ministry will not be able to accede to your request. You are therefore advised to liase with Ikeja Distribution Company [IKDC] for POSSIBLE ASSISTANCE,’ the letter read.

    Well, it’s about the survival of the bravest here, this newspaper learnt. So it’s no use reminding residents of the Graceland Estate that non-ionizing radiation otherwise referred to as corona discharge from the powerlines—hanging over residential buildings, churches, mosques, workshops and schools—create pollutants such as ozone and nitrogen oxides and other airborne pollutants that have the capacity to expose them to health hazards such as leukemia in children and cancer in adults.

    The CDA Chairman told this newspaper that persuading owners of structures under the high tension powerlines to relocate is just like a dialogue of the deaf. The CDA has done that severally with no success, he revealed.

    “The problem is with government officials who are supposed to take action. They are the same persons who will come to the community and disclose to affected landlords the persons who have come to inform the government of the situation.’

    ‘So it becomes an issue among landlords who then begin to see one another as enemies,’ Olanrewaju explains.

    Graceland Estate can only wish for a messiah in Governor Akinwunmi Ambode now. After all, his All Progressive Congress [APC] was in the community in 2015 to woo the residents and hung large banners displaying pictures of the governor and his running mate on one of the towers upon which the powerlines are resting. So it’s only natural for the community to expect a return on their democratic investment.

    And that dividend had better be now, otherwise the already decrepit road leading to the community might not be accessible again when the Governor and his campaign train will be returning in 2019 to beg for a re-election.

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