© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Toluwalase community: One dark spot on Nigeria’s map
Well over a million people live in the Toluwalase community of Oyo State, according to the residents. But the 2006 census, which forms the baseline for population estimates in Nigeria, did not capture this sprawling community. The people were however less worried about this markdown until it started manifesting bigger problems.
The ICIR’s Kunle Adebajo, who on Saturday, August 25 was shown around this neglected community, reports about the anguish, grievances, and prayers of the residents.
S.O. Fasina wears the look of frustration as he narrates the story of his people. He calls them the Bakassi, a reference to the famous peninsula whose inhabitants’ nationality was a subject of debate between Nigeria and Cameroon. The difference here is his people are not on the border between two countries; they are instead on the border between two local governments — and neither is fighting for them or willing to let them go. They are a forgotten people.
Fasina is the chairman of the landlords and landladies association of Toluwase, a sprawling community of houses, and thousands of inhabitants, but no government. He has told the same story of government negligence over and over in the past, using different platforms. But as no steps have been taken by administrations, past and present, he is excited about the opportunity to tell it again, hoping it triggers changes.
Toluwalase community is flanked by Ido and Akinyele Local Government areas in Oyo State, but neither belongs to nor has benefited from either. It has four regions (Believers’ Quarters, Osajin, Lakoto, and Masoke) all made up of thirteen zones.
Sitting in the company of peers along the Apete-Awotan road, the septuagenarian, Fasina, explains that the community has been abandoned for years by the local and state governments. During the census of 2006, he recalls, enumerators he brought from Apete and Ajibode told him his community is not on the map given to them and so could not be counted. As a result, they have been deprived of the benefits from the government.
The roads are mostly untarred, the houses are without addresses and the community is without a healthcare centre. There are no public primary and secondary schools. No government-funded transformers or electric poles. No public infrastructure. No polling stations, and no voter registration centres. Residents are forced to register in neighbouring towns such as Akufo, while their votes are often counted under ward 7 of Akinyele Local Government. Toluewalase is a community without any trace of existence in the government record.
For over an hour, Fasina takes this reporter around various parts of Toluwalase in his cream, old-model Volkswagen wagon. “If the road isn’t in this condition, will our cars get damaged easily?” he asks rhetorically as he diverts away from the Apete road towards Idi-Oro. “Can we even say asphalt has been applied here?”
Five minutes later, we arrive at Transformer junction which leads to the University of Ibadan. Passing through the junction is a road, recently funded and reconstructed under the World Bank’s Ibadan Urban Flood Management Programme.
According to the Landlords Association Chairman, the contractors initially assured him that Saasa River was covered under the project’s second phase, as confirmed by the contract signpost. However, now that that phase has started, he says, they say it is no longer the case.
“They said we should write to the state government. We have done so, but they have not responded till this time,” he says.
We repair roads, create gutters by ourselves
Shortly after picking up other members of the association along the way, including a former chairman, Paul Oladeji, Fasina remarks that people of the community make their roads motorable by improvising with wood etc. They also dig all their gutters by themselves, with the quality depending on how much each house owner is able to afford.
Members of Ore-Ofe zone once had to raise N150,000 to create rainwater channels on the road in order to prevent erosion, one of the middle-aged arrivals say. Soon, we arrive at on ongoing repair site along an untarred road. That section of the road, residents say, was completely washed away by the river.
Cars were grounded at the spot for several months and could not proceed to their destinations. But earlier in 2018, money was raised to buy four truckloads of stones among other materials used in filling up the gap.
“That car that passed spent close to two months here before we started repairing,” says Fasina, pointing towards a red Toyota Camry that just zoomed past the group.
“It parked when it could no longer move. The people of this community, in fact, had to employ the services of a hunter exclusively to secure vehicles parked, so that thieves won’t remove valuable spare parts from them.”
Even without natural disasters, unavoidable vehicle parking is a common sight in this neighbourhood. People who live in more remote areas often park closer to the outskirts and then board commercial motorcycles to get to their homes.
Cement blocks are piled at various parts of a road. According to Fasina, they are placed there temporarily to allow for the route to become drier and more drivable, after which they will be collected for further conveyance. He also reveals that electric wires and poles skirting the road were all bought by the people of the community. “We bought that transformer too,” he adds, pointing ahead.
After minutes of driving through Ifokanbale, one of the inner zones in Toluwalase Community, the car has to turn back due to a lack of passable road networks. Countless structures can still be seen stretching far into the horizon.
The association chairman could not help lamenting: “How are we supposed to know a government exists when it is not doing what it is supposed to do? And they say it is government by the people, for the people… It is a blatant lie. In a country where there are so many material resources, the people should be comfortable; but the reverse is the case. What they share among the people is affliction.”
The health centre and bridge that never were
Nigeria is reported to have at least 300,000 primary healthcare centres (PHCs), with 20 per cent of them (6000) functioning. However, for a community as large as Toluwalase, with an estimated population hovering between one and two million, there is no single PHC.
Seeing the need for a health facility, members of the community joined forces a decade ago to purchase half a plot of land at Osajin District for this purpose. Following this achievement, letters were written to the government for support. But while they have had people come around to survey the land, no support has been received ever since.
“After we got tired of cutting weeds, again and again, we decided to abandon it,” Fasina informs this reporter.
A few metres away from the proposed site for the PHC is a huge gully marking the pathway of the Saasa River. The gully, which was originally a narrow gap, expands rapidly each time there is a downpour. We all watch as an elderly man attempts to cross to our side from the other end. He stands for minutes assessing his options before finally choosing his steps carefully.
“The man is a retired soldier who fought in the civil war. They want him to be swept away by water,” someone jokes.
Taxing the exiles
Though they receive no benefits from the government, that is no guarantee they would be left alone either. Officials from both Ido and Akinyele Local Governments are reported to sometimes engage in physical combat when they meet in the community to tax shop owners.
“When they get to these shops to collect tenement rates, officials of Ido and Akinyele Local Government fight for dominance,” Fasina says. “Sometimes, they even cart away the contents of a shop if the owner is not around.”
The electricity distribution company is likewise guilty of levying the community despite abandonment. According to residents, they are responsible not only for erecting their own poles but repairing the lines if anything goes wrong. At a time, electricity was not supplied for over four months as a result of damaged poles. Notwithstanding, the company, they say, insisted they pay for the period of the blackout.
Long taken for granted
Every four years since 1999, when elections draw near, politicians visit the various communities in Toluwalase, promising heaven on earth while canvassing for votes. Rufai Tairu, secretary of the landlords association, told Tribune newspaper in 2014 that Abiodun Adigun Murphy, former Oyo State House of Assembly chief whip, confessed they usually got most votes from the community.
Politicians often promise boreholes and tarred roads. But, according to Tairu, no politician has fulfilled his promise following elections — none except Murphy who once donated a transformer to replace the one they bought themselves which got damaged. They, however, had to tax themselves to install it.
A fruitless attempt towards resolution
In 2014, following a report by Tribune newspaper about the community’s plight, a meeting was held between executives of the landlords and landladies association; Adeniyi Olowofela, then chairman of Ido Local Government; Ope Salami, chairman of Akinyele Local Government; and Abdulfatai Buhari, Commissioner of Local Governments and Chieftaincy Matters, in the latter’s office.
“We were all at his office till past nine in the night,” Fasina recalls.
According to him, none of the chairmen could provide answers as to where the Toluwalase community truly belongs. Another executive who was present at the meeting chips in that they were asked to choose which of the local governments they prefer even though the government is supposed to have papers already establishing this.
The state is remapping its territories — Ido L.G. chairman
Wahab Oladejo, who is chairman of Ido Local Government, has said Oyo State Ministry of Land and Housing is presently remapping its geopolitical territories. He tells The ICIR the non-recognition of the communities in Toluwalase is not his fault, and urged residents to exercise patience till the new map is released.
“You know that they have already divided Ido into two: Omi-Apata Local Council Development Area (LCDA) and the original Ido,” he says.
“Presently, we learnt that Oke-Ibadan which is being created from Ibadan Northwest is now moving to Ajadi, an area very close to Ologun-Eru. The map to know the demarcation of every one of us is not ready. We can’t say this is our boundary. So, let’s wait till that time when the map is ready.”
Asked when the map will be ready, he says he is not in a position to know this. Meanwhile, Abimbola Kolade, Oyo State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, was not in his office on August 29 when The ICIR paid a visit. Also, enquiries sent to his official email address shortly after the visit, as well as that of Ajiboye Omodewu, Commissioner for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, has not been replied.