Recovering the ‘small London’ in Festac Town

When it was built in 1977, it was among the best in Africa. The purpose was to house participants of the Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture of 1977 (Festac ‘77).

Consisting of 5,000 contemporary dwelling units and seven major avenues, Festac Town was designed to accommodate up to 45,000 visitors as well as any Nigerian employees and officers working at the Festival.
Festac Town was so beautiful, unique, attractive and much sought after.

Government invested substantial resources into building Festac Town, which sported state-of-the-art electrical generators, police and fire stations, access to public transportation, supermarkets, banks, health centres and postal services.

The town was, therefore, intended to evoke the modern age.
After FESTAC ’77, the government allocated the houses and landed property to winners, who participated in a ballot. Initial regulations forbade such winners from renting and disposing-of the property to third parties.

However, 44 years later, the story has changed too badly. Festac Town, originally referred to as Festival Town or Festac Village, is almost a shadow of itself. The plan has been distorted through indiscriminate and unauthorised buildings, blocked canals, street trading, bad roads, indiscriminate refuse disposal, etc.

Analysts describe the level of dilapidation as alarming, expressing worry that Festac Town may not fully return to what it was. They also note that the dilapidation was gradual and started more than 20 years ago.

A resident of 4th Avenue, Mrs Joy Alabi, is sad that sewage in the town is going into the water table, expressing fear of an epidemic.

“There is poor drainage and its attendant flooding. The sewage system has collapsed leading to constant outflow of sewage.

She called for a sewage treatment plant to avert such an epidemic.

“When are we going to have a sewage treatment plant again? Raw faeces and urine are going into the water table from where we drink.

She noted that such a treatment plant existed in the past and was cited at Satellite Town.

The resident also expressed worry that lack of pipe borne water compelled most Festac residents to dig boreholes, saying that the negative impact of thousands of boreholes on the environment is much.

She is also unhappy that the green belt (buffer zone separating the town from activities on the Lagos-Badagry Road) is being cleared by land allotees.

The buffer zone stretches through the entire length of 2nd Avenue from 7th Avenue.

“All these have contributed to the degradation of Festac,’’ she says.

She accused the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) of selling the green belt to land developers against the original plan of FESTAC.

According to her, some FESTAC residents have left for other areas because of the dilapidation.

Mr Jola Ogunlusi, a former President of FESTAC Town Residents Association and a beneficiary of the house allocation, who moved into the place in 1978, is also convinced that the originality of town has been distorted.

“Open spaces were part of the plan; the way things are deteriorating in FESTAC, we don’t even know who to complain to.

“FESTAC was the most beautiful estate in Africa apart from White Enclave in South Africa. I used to call FESTAC little London, when we came in.’’

He blamed the dilapidation and distortion on governments and the residents.

“Residents do not help matters also,’’ he says, noting that many of them do not properly dispose of their refuse.

He also frowned at street trading, saying that it was against the plan of the town.

“They have also tampered with the water system. FHA, which is charged with administration and maintenance, has to embark on a campaign to stop people from breaking into top water.

“I do not know the magic the leader that will rescue FESTAC Town can do. He must have strong will.’’

Ogunlusi, also the chairman of the Amuwo Odofin Community Development Committee, is of the opinion that the sewage problem in FESTAC deserves immediate attention.

He says the committee was discussing with the FHA on building public toilets in an effort to improve sanitation there.

He therefore called on FHA to work in collaboration with Amuwo Odofin LGA to restore it’s glory.

“Each of them has its line of duty.’’

Mr Emmanuel Egbo, who resides on 5th Avenue, is sad that uncontrolled influx of people led to overcrowding, housing shortage, presence of shanties, as well as the presence of miscreants with its attendant insecurity.

He regretted that some residential areas have been converted to shops, schools, hotels, factories or offices, adding that some residents have resorted to indiscriminate dumping of refuse.

“The resident believes that FETAC Town has been abandoned and forgotten by FHA, federal government and Lagos state government.

He is dissatisfied that for many years there has not been pipe borne water on the estate. He is also worried that buildings are now erected on top of sewage lines.

“There is no single sewage machine working in FESTAC today. Only God knows how the town would be in the next few years when the sewage tanks would have been blocked completely.”

Mr Tola Awere, who lived on 3rd Avenue until February 2021 describes infrastructure decay in the estate as out of ordinary.

“Those things that stood FESTAC out that made people to refer to it as ‘small London’ have, over the years, been neglected. Things such as good road network, controlled transportation system, good environment and a functional sewage system, systematically degenerated to the levels they are currently.

“There was good road network, all of them tarred, both the major ones and those in the closes. We had pedestrian walkways that made strolling and walking around the town pleasurable.

“Transportation in and out of the town was controlled. Access was given only to Lagos state municipal buses, which had designated stops, and yellow cabs.

“The drainage system was, and still is, central. Though it sometimes had hiccups, it was usually and efficiently attended to anytime and anywhere there were blockages,’’ he noted.

According to the septuagenarian, the verges were well taken care of and the buffer zone between the town’s main road and the stretch of Badagry Expressway was well-maintained and not abused.

He noted that the buffer zone served as the green belt that filtered the carbon emissions from the traffic on the express road; thus, affording the community a clean oxygenated environment.

Awere says the different types of houses in the town had maximum occupancy levels, strict observance of which was ensured by FHA which then had its head office in the town until it moved to Abuja.

“There were regulations barring residents from rearing either poultry or animals, particularly dogs, in their homes, strictly enforced by FHA.

“There were designated business centres in the town. Trading and business undertakings in residences were not allowed.

“Electricity supply was above what obtained outside the town. Inadequate public water supply was about the only problem that some sections of the town faced initially. Residents in those affected sections made do with walls and boreholes in their homes.’’

The retiree also blames deterioration of FESTAC Town on both governments and the residents, saying that transfer of FHA to Abuja contributed to it.

“Though it left behind what it called an area office, the control that kept residents’ propensity to circumvent the town’s regulations in check, got lost. Prompt responses to problems also got lost.

In an effort to tackle infrastructure decay in the town, the managing director of FHA, Sen Gbenga Ashafa had instructed the agency’s South West Zonal management to explore private sector funding for maintenance of infrastructure in FESTAC Town – an arrangement, some residents feel will be too expensive.

Ashafa made the disclosure in a communique issued at the end of a meeting of FHA with relevant stakeholders in the town.

While setting agenda for 2022 Restoration of the town to its original master plan, the managing director said there was the need for adequate maintenance of existing infrastructure while creating new ones.

He promised that FHA would sustain ongoing demolition of illegal structures and removal of illegal squatters on the estate to restore its glory.

However on January 19, 2022, Ashafa said the FHA would reconsider its stand on the demolition of encroachments in FESTAC Town and regularise buildings with less infractions.

“We will go on to consider all professional and safety measures to salvage as much as we can without endangering lives,” Ashafa said at a meeting with stakeholders.

Represented by Chinonso Omoke, FHA executive director of project implementation, Ashafa said that all houses to be considered must pass the required integrity checks to be carried out by professionals.

Analyst urge urgent efforts by the three tiers of government and FESTAC residents to restore the glory of the small London.