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SPECIAL REPORT: Inside Oyo’s garri-producing community that lacks basic amenities

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By Adejumo KABIR

IN the 1960s, before oil became a major source of revenue, Nigeria used to be one of the most promising agricultural producers in the world. Cocoa, oil palm, and groundnut were some of the agricultural produce that fetched Nigeria a majority of its foreign income. Agricultural communities thrived as they produced food not only for local consumption but also for export. All that changed with the discovery of oil in commercial quantity as agriculture and farming communities were left to rot.

A World Bank Senior Agriculture Economist, Adetunji Oredipe, on September 6, said Nigeria’s neglect of the agricultural sector costs the country about $10 billion annually.

In an effort to tackle the problem, in April, the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, advised Nigerian youth to deepen their interest in farming before struggling for political positions.

However, one factor that could deter young people from farming is if they look at the fate that befell the farmers and farming communities that thrived in the 50s and 60s.

One of such communities is Olorunda in Oyo West Local Government Area of Oyo State. It is one of the major ‘garri’ producing communities in Nigeria but has never had electricity. That was arguably normal in the 1950s and 60s, but the situation has remained the same in the 21st century.

Olorunda’s problem is not just the lack of electricity, the only major road that leads there has also been destroyed by years of neglect and lack of repairs.

The community is now about an hour drive (120 kilometres) from the nearest motorable road.

Lack of electricity and motorable road are joined by the absence of a school and functional health centre for the thousands of residents of Olorunda, majority of whom are cassava farmers and garri processors.

Garri Production

Garri is a staple food in Nigeria and many other sub-Saharan African countries.

Garri production involves the peeling of cassava, grinding of the cassava, extracting water from the grounded cassava with the use of a jack and frying the extracted grains.

In 1989, the government of General Ibrahim Babangida provided a garri processing factory to help Olorunda residents add value to their cassava. The factory had its own power generator. But the facility was no longer functioning at the time PREMIUM TIMES visited the community in August. Residents said that had been so for over a decade.

Women making garri. PHOTO CREDIT: PREMIUM TIMES

Despite the situation in Olorunda, the community still continues to be a major source of garri from residents of Oyo and other South-west states in Nigeria. Our reporter observed hundreds of vehicles with farmers sitting atop conveying yam, cassava, processed garri and other agricultural produce from the community to Oyo town for sale.

A Community In Darkness

Despite the community’s agricultural prospect, residents say they have never had electricity. Many residents of the community lack the knowledge of what a television, electric bulb or even refrigerator looks like.

As a first-timer in the community, the presence of electric poles, a transformer and electric cables may suggest that Olorunda has in the recent past had electricity but these are mere ‘decorations’.

PREMIUM TIMES findings revealed that the electric poles, transformer and cables were brought in the year 2000 during the regime of President Olusegun Obasanjo. Then, the community felt their years of darkness would soon come to an end, but that remains a dream.

“We were very happy in 2000 during the time of Baba Obasanjo when they brought poles, transformer and cable to us. We were happy and optimistic that we will witness new dawn but that was just a mere hope that is yet to be realized about 20 years after the intervention,” Muniru Alamu, a resident told PREMIUM TIMES, speaking in Yoruba.

Muniru Alamu, a resident
PHOTO CREDIT: PREMIUM TIMES

Our correspondent also gathered that following the failure of the government to connect the community to the national grid, some of the electric cables were stolen.

Kabir Lasisi, one of the youth leaders said: “The transformer they brought is useless and it must have been spoilt by now. Due to government neglect, some thieves in the neighbouring communities are already stealing the cables. We made all these known to the government but there was no response.”

Mr Lasisi told this newspaper that it took the effort of the security guards employed by the community leaders to save the remaining cables. This newspaper also observed that some of the poles and electric cables have fallen off while the transformer is left to rust with tall grasses covering it.

“There was a time we were cutting the grasses surrounding the transformer. We kept doing this thinking the government will come one day to listen to our cry but that is yet to happen. People got tired and left the grasses to grow,” Mr Lasisi said.

Residents said the lack of electricity has deterred any industrial growth in the community.

“Outsiders who visit here for business run away after spending a night because they cannot cope in a community without electricity, they cannot find cold water to drink and, most importantly, they don’t have means of charging their phones”, Kazeem Bada said.

A resident, Titilayo Akerekan, narrated how she closed down her business due to lack of electricity in the community.

Abandoned garri factory PHOTO CREDIT: PREMIUM TIMES

“At a time, people who return from farm after garri processing find cold drinks difficult to get. So, from my daily thrift, I bought a small refrigerator and a generator to run the small business I practice in my room but the business did not last. I have to travel far to Oyo town to buy petrol for the generator.

“Pure water companies cannot even locate here let alone soft drinks company. After six months of torture called business, I ended up selling the refrigerator and the generator to those running business at places where they can make the money in Oyo town.”

No passable road, no water

While the residents battle for survival without electricity, they are also handicapped by poor state of the road linking the village to Oyo town. This newspaper learnt that trucks conveying agricultural produce break down often due to the deplorable road.

Road to Olorunda village PHOTO CREDIT: PREMIUM TIMES

Our correspondent, during a visit to the community, witnessed the breakdown of two vehicles within two hours. In fact, it was gathered that farmers donate money from their personal income to keep the road in its current shape to enable them transport their goods. The bridge on the way to the community is not in good condition and is prone to flooding during a heavy downpour, a situation this reporter witnessed during the August visit.

“The government of Oyo State is aware of the state of the road. We’ve complained to them but they are also avoiding to come here for inspection because of the road,” Mr Lasisi echoed.

Awawu Ilebada, a septuagenarian, lamented how the bad road affects their daily lives.

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“The poor state of the road has really affected our business,” she said in Yoruba.

“We hope the government listens to our cry, especially during the rainy season. We can’t send our kids on errand except we want to lose them to erosion,” Mrs Ilebada said.

Expressing her displeasure while carrying out her garri production, another woman who simply identified herself as Saki said: “before the road became totally bad, a truck takes as many as 50 bags of garri but we dare not try that now especially during rainy season. Trucks break down and sometimes, our garri is left to sleep on the road for sometimes two days before mechanic from Oyo town will visit to fix the vehicle.”

She recalled a day rain spoilt her farm produce after the vehicle conveying her garri broke down.

“Sometime in June, the truck taking my garri got spoilt but before the driver could go to Oyo and return with a mechanic, rain fell spoiling some bags of garri in the truck. It was a sad experience,” she lamented.

No Potable Water

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PREMIUM TIMES also observed two solar-powered water points and boreholes in the community. But none of these provides potable water for residents. In 2009, the Federal Government through Ogun – Osun River Basin Development Authority built the solar-powered boreholes for the community but residents say the project did not last two years.

The community continues to suffer to get water except during the rainy season. They trek over 30 minutes to Olorioso, a nearby community, to fetch water during summer.

“As old as we are, we trek a great distance to fetch water during summer. We only enjoy during rainy season. We get water from the downpour. This, however, is not the case when rain stops falling”, Mrs Ilebada said. “There are elders in the community who stay several days without taking their bath because they don’t have any young person around them to help fetch water. Life cannot be said to be easy for those of us living in this community.”

Olorunda residents said that kids who leave the community to Oyo town for holidays often refuse to come back.

“They see the community as hell where they don’t have opportunity to see good cars, potable water, and even a well tiled road. My daughter was forced back home when she visited her elder sister in Ibadan some weeks back. Upon her return, she became sick of the difficulties we pass through here.”

“At a point, my first son asked if Olorunda is part of Nigeria or another country entirely with forgotten people struggling to make life better without the support of government,” Felicia Ebire said. She also said the water from the stream despite being polluted is the best alternative used for cooking and other domestic necessities.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), contaminated water can transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid and polio. In fact, contaminated drinking water like the experience of those in Olorunda is estimated to cause 485,000 diarrhoeal deaths globally each year. WHO fact sheet of June 2019 says safe and readily available water is important for public health and better management of water resources, can boost countries’ economic growth and reduce poverty.

PREMIUM TIMES interviewed Kazeem Olawoyin, a six-year-old boy standing beside a manual borehole if he ever witnessed water from the borehole. His idea about the borehole differs from the purpose of the failed project. He told our correspondent that he knew “kids in the community play around here every evening” and that’s the only testimony he can give about the borehole. He was later excited after this reporter educated him on the main purpose of the borehole. “It will be of good help and reduce the stress of going to the stream or Olorioso to fetch water if it is functioning”, the youngster said.

Reacting to this, a medical doctor, Bunmi Taiwo, explained that “the death of 297,000 children aged under 5 years according to WHO could be avoided each year if there is potable water. When there is available water, there will be less expenditure on health as people are less likely to fall ill of transmitted disease such as dengue fever and others.”

In Olorunda, water is gold, “you dare not misuse a cup when opportune to have it on your table”, one of the residents remarked.

Abandoned PHC

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the only health centre in Olorunda was built in 2009 under the Millennium Development Goals scheme. The health centre was never commissioned until residents took a bold step of putting it into use themselves.

At the time our correspondent visited the building, it wore a faded blue colour. The gate was locked which denied this reporter from gaining entrance for inspection. The building is surrounded by tall grasses, which signal long time disuse.

Residents told PREMIUM TIMES that the health care centre lacks drug, staff and other relevant facilities. Since 2009, there is only one health care officer in charge of the facility and he only comes twice a week, except if there is an emergency. The condition of the PHC speaks volumes of why some residents would rather use local birth attendants for child deliveries.

Mr Alamu said: “We don’t have staff and necessary facilities at the health care. The maternity was built during Akala time as governor but we don’t have doctors to take care of us. We call doctors on phone from Oyo town anytime our wives want to deliver baby.”

Alao Akala won the gubernatorial election in 2007 under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and became the Governor of Oyo state, serving a full term till May 2011.

A doctor, Titilayo Ajayi, told PREMIUM TIMES that there might be limited chances of survival during emergencies. When our correspondent made inquiries about the nearest functional health care centre, residents said it is about 45 minutes away (some 90 kilometres). During this reporter’s second visit to Olorunda in October, Iyabo Olonode narrated her ordeal during the delivery of her second daughter in the middle of the night.

She said: “I saw hell at the cause of giving birth to my second daughter. I began to labour around 12:30am in the midnight. It took the grace of grace of God and the effort of old women in the community to help me out. Perhaps, I won’t experience such hardship if there was a functioning PHC with 24hrs staff.”

No School

Nigeria has the highest number of out-of-school children in the world and according to the United Nations, out-of-school children are kids who are yet to be enrolled in any formal education excluding pre-primary education.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) website revealed that even though primary education is officially free and compulsory, about 10.5 million Nigerian children aged 5-14 years are not in school. Only 61 per cent of 6-11-year-olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6 per cent of children aged 36-59 months receive early childhood education.

Unfortunately, hundreds of children in Olorunda are part of this sad data.

Coupled with difficulties of lack of access to electricity, water, bad roads and a dysfunctional health care, Olorunda community does not have a single school. The only school serving the community is at Olorioso community which is 30 kilometres away and the children have to trek for over 30 minutes to get there. It was learnt that the school has a single teacher attending to primary one to six pupils and she only comes three times in a week. (Monday, Wednesday and Friday).

Parents told our correspondent that most of their grown-up kids cannot recite simple alphabets and recitation of “states and capital” is a nightmare.

“For over 40 years that we’ve been living in this community, there is no single school for our kids. The only available one that our kids attend is at Olorioso which is very far from here,” said Mr Muniru.

Expressing her displeasure, Mrs Ilebada told this reporter that the kids hardly understand the purpose of schooling since the government did not provide one for them.

“Our kids don’t know anything”, she said. “We want the government to give us both primary and secondary school. The one at Orioloso has just a single teacher for children from primary one to six”.

They also spoke on how they often pay the single teacher with the income they make from their agricultural produce.

While some kids pass through the pain of trekking the long distance to Olorioso primary school from Olorunda, some parents deny their kids access to school during the rainy period due to the poor state of the road.

“The moment rain falls, all the roads leading to the school will be at the mercy of erosion and no parent will love to see his or her kids go out in the rain”, Mrs Ilebada concluded.

Kazeem, a basic four pupil, also narrated the travails faced in the school.

“Our teacher comes two or three times a week. We don’t have windows or doors in my class and every other class”, he said.

This newspaper also interacted with Idowu Awonusi, an underage kid who left school to support his parents in their garri business.

“There are times when you go to school but won’t meet any teacher. The stress is unbearable and my parents already told me that when I come of age, they will send me to Oyo to start my academics with my mother’s uncle”, he narrated.

When PREMIUM TIMES journeyed to Olorioso community to investigate Olorunda residents’ claim about the primary school, this reporter was confronted with an embarrassingly appalling sight. A careful inspection of the single block school with six classes buttressed the claim by Olorunda residents that they are “systematically discriminated against”.

The reporter observed a blown-off roof, ceiling, and building surrounded with tall grasses. The classrooms are occupied with broken chairs and desks. The doors and windows have no lock as the wood used for the construction had been destroyed by termites leaving the classrooms flooded when it rains

The three days in a week academic programme is sometimes disrupted when it rains, PREMIUM TIMES learnt. The school has no playground, no running water and no toilets.

Disturbed community leaders

Narrating the ordeal of Olorunda, the community’s chief, Iyiola Ojo, told our correspondent that the place has over 500 residents but lacks the necessary amenities to make life bearable for them despite their agricultural impact.

“We’ve been in the darkness for over 40 years and we haven’t witnessed electricity for a single day in this community,” he said.

“The road is in bad shape. The hospital did not see staff…Pregnant women go as far as Oyo town. The government should help us. We are suffering and begging,” he lamented.

Authorities

During this newspaper visit to the village, our correspondent observed that residents always take part in every election. This reporter sighted campaign posters of various political parties and their candidates for different political positions. Our findings, however, revealed that politicians visit only during election period.

Politicians visit only during election period. PHOTO CREDIT: PREMIUM TIMES

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