Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

Inferno in Ajegunle

Inferno in Ajegunle

A Call for Provision of Decent and Affordable Housing for the Poor Masses

About 200 houses were razed to the ground and two lives lost on the trail of a huge inferno. This is the latest, and indeed the worst, in the spate of the fire incidents that have almost become commonplace in some parts of Ajegunle, Lagos. The fire broke out few hours before we commenced our weekly meeting of the DSM’s Ajegunle branch on Sunday January 27. Expectedly, the gory incident came up for deliberation at the meeting. We resolved to conduct an on- the-spot assessment in order to be equipped for a meaningful intervention.

There were two accounts of the actual cause of the inferno. One was that a generator caught fire while the other version said that it was ignited by kerosene, perhaps, to fuel lantern. The two versions point to the same thing; the failure of the authorities to provide a power supply is one of the major underlying causes of the inferno. By compelling people to keep fuel at home for self-help electricity generation, the erratic power supply from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) has accounted for over 90 percent of fire outbreaks in densely populated shanties and towns across Lagos.

On getting to the site of the inferno we saw a vast piece of land almost levelled and hundreds of people consoling those that have lost persons and properties. Land owners were also seen measuring and tying ropes to pegs fitted squarely on their land space. Amongst the affected people, some engaged themselves in one form of activity or the other including the cooking of their evening meal. The picture was like one of a refugee camp in the movies. The few people we spoke with were sceptical of the government. Some exhibited fears about losing their land to government, while others were willing to accept compensation from the government. But the landless majority who are tenants pray for government to provide decent alternative accommodation for them. One of them stated “it is not our wish to live in such a filthy environment in make-shift houses, but due to poverty we have no choice but to live here. We want government to come to our aid and not to further displace us.”

The scene of the inferno was filled with make-shift houses that were constructed with iron sheet and plywood without considerably spacing one building from the other. With dried filth everywhere, several generators and jerry cans filled of fuel, cooking stoves and wooden structures, there were more than enough combustible materials to aid the raging inferno.

It was learnt that the fire was put out by sheer effort of residents since there is no presence of established fire fighters in the community.

Even if established fire-fighters were present there was no way they would have gained access because of the haphazard manner in which most of the affected houses were built. A fire-fighting truck would also not have been able to drive close to the scene of the inferno as the roads leading directly to the inferno scene are in a state of total disrepair due to long years of neglect by government.

As at today, the vast array of slums all over Lagos are pointers to the fact that Lagos is an unplanned city or its plan had been utterly neglected by successive governments. It is evidently clear that there are no conscious plans by government to build housing estates for the millions of poor people resident in Lagos. As a result, all sorts of structures are being put up as houses in all the nooks and crannies of the state with local government approval. People are only able to put up such structures due to the harsh economic reality on ground and the abject poverty coupled with mass unemployment that had become the order of the day.

The Ajegunle branch of DSM intends to build campaigns around the incessant fires with demands on government for adequate compensation for the affected persons as a relief and establishment of well equipped fire-fighting facilities in the area as a control measure. By and large, the high incidence of fire outbreak at slums and shanties in Ajegunle has further underscored the need for government to embark on massive decent housing estate affordable for the poor working masses in the country. Although, there are huge resources at disposal of government to provide this along other basic needs of the poor masses, the capitalist neo-liberal ideals of the government have meant decent housing for the poor is not on the agenda of the thieving ruling elite at helms of government.

Emmanuel Adikwe