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Barracks of despair, disrepair

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Barracks of despair, disrepair

For occupants of police barracks in a Third World country like Nigeria, living is not such a pleasant experience. OGUNBAMOWO ELIZABETH writes on the deplorable condition of police barracks, coupled with moral decadence that is highly characteristic of such quarters

 

State of the facilities

A visit to different Police barracks across Lagos reveals an appalling and repulsive state of living for residents. Typically and by observation, the building of barracks are uniformly miserable, just like the case of the Idimu police barracks on Egbeda road, area of Lagos. While some of the paths in the barracks are tarred, others are untarred and tattered.

The houses are built homogeneously with each block having up to eight apartments in them.

The buildings are of varying colours: while some are ash-coloured, others have cream colours on them but all the buildings have one thing in common which is the high-quality red aluminum roofing sheet. Each flat has a moderately spacious balcony which sometimes serves as a place for entertaining visitors; leading to a mini-kitchen which adjoins the sitting room to the balcony.

The sitting room is built in a modest square-like manner with maximum capacity of a three-seater sofa, a love-seat and an armchair, a small space for the wallsocket where the TV would be plugged and an opening in the middle of the room where the kids gather for their meals. At a corner of the sitting room, is a door that leads to two bed rooms while the outer one for children and the innermost room serving as the master bedroom.

A door links the rooms to a passageway that is definitely a connection to the rest rooms provided for half of the block. Some of the flats have three-bedrooms. Unfortunately however, some of the buildings, New Telegraph observed, have cracks in them and seem to be on the verge of collapse.

Surprisingly  no one (visitors and residents of this barrack) seems to care about the state of facilities, but the effect is something they cannot do away with. Going by New Telegraph observation, most of the ceilings of the buildings have seen better days as they have now worn out, tattered and scattered by the wind or thunderstorm. Some of the blocks within the barrack have their septic tank opened with flies buzzing around them.

Considering the current condition of the barracks, residents speak with New Telegraph on their hopes, disappointments and expectations.

 

Residents Speak

 

Iya Aishat, as she preferred to be addressed, an officer’s wife, spoke on the state of the facilities. “In this country, things are always like this. The real people that are serving the nation are made to suffer while the people who enjoy most are those that corrupt the system. The state of the facility here is not so good.”

Her major complaint is lack of water supply in the barracks. According to her, occupants of the barracks buy water with their money when there is a lengthy period of power outage. The inadequate toilet facility is also a source of inconvenience to her family as her family share a bathroom and toilet with her neighbour, who does not care about sanitation of the rest room.

Iya Aishat added that though the roofing sheet is of high quality, the ceiling used with it is very poor such that when a strong wind blows, the ceiling scatters. In a similar vein, Mama Chigozie, also a police officer’s wife, said that the facilities in the barracks are poor and disheartening for her.

For her, it is as if the occupants are not human beings deserving of decent living. She still stays in the barracks because her retired husband has not been paid his pension. “Right now, we are supposed to be in our own house enjoying the fruit of years of toiling but what do we get in return? Endless wait!” She surmised. She declared that for many years, her family had migrated from one barrack to another with the hope that barrack life will end someday, but now, that hope seems so bleak.

For Miss Cynthia, her anger is not directed at the government that refused to reward police officers appropriately but at her father, a squanderer who had limited his family’s accommodation option to a barracks apartment. “With my father’s entire savings, we could have gotten a nice apartment or even our own house but my dad invested it in a ghost business because we never got to know the name or nature of the business and today, we have nothing left. See where we are staying now.

The other side of the barracks is even better than here. They did not even complete the renovation of this house,” she said. Cynthia however called on the government to look into the condition of the facilities and provide what is suitable for them. Another officer’s wife who is not comfortable with the condition of situations at the barracks, Iya Ayo, lamented the state of the facilities.

“We have a borehole in this barracks but it is not connected to the The ceiling used is very poor. When a strong wind blows, the ceiling scatters flats. Whenever we want water, we go outside to fetch for free but we pay for water only when there is no electricity supply and that is what we have been having for some time now.”

On the issue of electricity supply, she asserted that prior to this time, the barrack light was funded by the government which in turn, is deducted from the officers’ salaries but that recently, the power distribution company started bringing bills to the barracks which is a challenge the residents took up, by appointing a leader to handle the contributions.

The leaders however turned out to be a disappointment as they pay the bills anytime they wish. She said that the toilet is still manageable but when the soak-away gets filled, residents find it difficult to contribute money for the dung to be cleared.

It would be recalled that some years ago, the residents of police barracks welcomed the ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan with open arms and smiles on their faces only to have a portion of their estate taken from them with the promise of providing a modern estate at an affordable rate.

Construction work started fully in the Goodluck Jonathan Estate. After the construction, the estate became what an average police officer could not afford with a towering fence spelling the gap between the poor and the rich. Speaking with New Telegraph, an officer who pleaded anonymity, revealed that the land upon which the Goodluck Jonathan estate is built belongs to the barracks but before now, the land served as a farm land for the barracks.

And when the construction was about to start, the ex-president and the people involved in the construction promised to make housing units in the estate affordable for police officers from the rank of a constable. “But when they started the construction, they built a demarcation between us and those that can afford it. They even promised to build these ones we are living in like those ones but will they do it?” He asked with a forlorn look on his face.

He added that a renovation work started in the barracks during that period as a way of compensating the officers but the building materials used are substandard except the roofing sheet, which he believes is of high quality. According to him, the doors are not good and cannot be locked due to the fact that the door hinges, knobs and handles are bad and broken coupled with the rusted iron they are made of which gives an opportunity for thieves to collect things from people’s homes. “We told them that time that the materials were not of good quality and that they were not fixing it well but they refused to listen to us.

They said it is none of their business. We thought that the job would be supervised before they pay the contractor but it didn’t happen that way. They practically paid the contractor, even before he completed the job without supervision. We were lost and had to accept it that way.

There are some buildings that are not even completed in this barracks but people are living in them like that and that is not supposed to be so.” The officer added that the fence erected by the constructors of Goodluck Jonathan Estate has been a constant source of worry to residents of the barracks as it causes erosion anytime it rains.

This, made the occupants of the barracks employ the services of people who dug a gully to accomodate the erosion but when it rains, the gully overflows into people’s homes. “People find it difficult to come out of their houses during rainy season.” he said. Meanwhile, New Telegraph also observed that amidst the substandard facilities provided, the life on barracks is not so encouraging either. However, good still thrive.

 

Life on Barracks

It was 10am. Madam Kofo crawled out of bed in her taffeta wrapper, stretched and gave a long yawn to signify a deserved night rest. She lumbered to the mini- kitchen to boil water for corn meal. Then, there was a stop. Suddenly, a frantic search began. “Where is my match box?” she queried to no one in particular.

She started swearing and cursing at whoever took her matchbox, swearing to have left it under the kitchen table mat the previous night. In her thirst for the pap, she called to her neighbour, Mama Chinedu to lend her a match stick which Mama Chinedu declined to, claiming that her match box had been with Madam Kofo for over a week, adding that poverty has eaten deep into Madam Kofo’s life so that she could not afford a matchbox for preparing her meals. In fury, Madam Kofo dashed to Mama Chinedu’s standing point to land her a heavy slap on the latter’s left cheek. Pandemonium erupted with a resultant no-victor, no-vanquished battle.

Both women left with a curse on their lips with a threat to punish the other when the time comes. A walk past the rows of buildings through the barracks medical centre to the adjoining street reveals some young men with rolls of cigarette and wrappers of marijuana alongside some bottles of alcoholic beverages like dry gin, beer, Alomo, Codeine and other unnamed drinks. At exactly 2pm, the much younger ones troop in from their various schools with the little ones on multi-coloured uniform of check yellow shirt and blue shorts with a green band around the elbow.

These are children from the nearby police children school in the area. The teens are clothed in clothes of various colours, a symbol of their different secondary schools. As the caravan move in designed clusters, curse and swear words were exchanged between individuals and groups. Suddenly, laughter would erupt from a group over the folly of members of the opposing party.

Speaking with some of the children, New Telegraph gathered that swear words for the children are like candies they chew gleefully.

Miracle, an 11-year-old boy that stays in the barracks with his parents said, “I was born and brought up here. All these might sound as insult to your ears but for us, it is fun and nothing more. I love this people because we live like family. We already understand each other. So, I know that it is no offence. ”

He however said that some of the insults might lead to a fight between two persons if the word is too extreme for the other person to accommodate but he asserted that the children have the spirit of sharing.

“Auntie, all these people that have just insulted each other now, will come to the field to share biscuits and other goodies and even play in the same team. We have good hearts.” Joshua, an undergraduate within the barracks, said that truly, life in barracks is not morally sound for a child’s upbringing but he believes that a child is the replica of his parents.

“If a child’s parents are morally sound and they bring him up like that, there is a 90 per cent possibility of following their ways but if they are not moral sound enough and they want to force morality down his throat, he would not hesitate to throw it up in their faces.”

He believes that children of police officers ought to be disciplined and watch out for the law but since some of the law enforcement agents are the ones who violate the law, it is left in the hands of individual officers to train their children to become what they want them to be. For Joshua, it does not matter where a child stays, parental influence is key.

A police officer, who spoke on an anonymous basis, said that the life on barracks is decayed considering all that he had seen over the years. “Police children are corrupt but their parents made them so. Some of the boys on this barracks take hard drugs like food and their parents know about it.

They do nothing. Some of the children even do betting right under their parents’ nose, yet the parents say nothing to it. We organized a barrack meeting where we discussed all these things but those people rise up against us to protect their children.” He revealed that some police officers even bring in hard drugs into the barracks for their children claiming to be above the law and that nothing can happen to them.

“Some of them have their reasons; they say that because they are retired and their children are their bread winners, anything the child can do to bring in money, legal or illegal is permitted. But I know that there would soon be an end to this.” He however stated that there are still good and morally sound children in the barracks but bad influencers are everywhere to dissuade them from the right track.

 

Some Police Officers Don’t Stay in Barracks

However, New Telegraph gathered that some police officers do not stay in the barracks because of the barrack lifestyle among other things.

Mrs. Patricia, an officer’s wife, said that her children can never live in the barracks based on many reasons. First of which is her husband’s strong objection to barracks facilities and lifestyle. She also averred that children who stay in the barracks are usually subjected to degrading treatments by people around them. She said that when she was still single and working in a restaurant, she discovered that some of the children who stay in the barracks submit application letters with different address because of fear of being rejected.

This, according to her is the way of selection by employers to avoid employing the wrong set of people. “I would not want my children to be in such situations. The truth is that even when a child is qualified for a post, they might reject him because he stays on barracks. People even use the lifestyle of barracks adult to show how vicious they are. They try to paint themselves as people that were brought up in police barracks who would not hesitate to deal with you if you don’t heed to them.”

Mama Esther, a female police officer, whose husband is also a police officer, said that the life in barracks is not what she desires for her children. According to her, “living in a police barracks might make a child irresponsible, careless, non-ambitious and have a lack of motivation because of what happens around them.

Though, the way a child is brought up goes a long way in determining the type of adult he would grow into, but, environment matters too.” She said that there are many cases of having police children turning into professional criminals who know how to get away with a crime without being punished for it.

She added that, the police ought to rid the country of crime and not to add to it and she would leave no stone unturned in making her children disciplined, responsible and worthy of all her efforts on them. Mama Esther added that the lifestyle in the barracks is highly characteristic of spiritual attacks against one another because of the high level of competition in the barracks. “Nobody wants another person to be better than them or their children.” However, there are some parents who stay in the barracks but who do not train their children there, one of which is Mrs. Patricia.

Mrs. Patricia, mother of four, stays in barracks with her family but without her grown children around her. She revealed that her family stays in the barracks because of the poor financial status of the family but based on the lifestyle of the children in the barracks, she doesn’t allow her kids stay with her by sending them to boarding school once they are through with their primary education.

“I don’t want them to influence my children negatively” “The way the youth in the barrack live their lives is not encouraging at all. It is not easy to train a child in the barracks at all. Most of the children you see here, when they finish secondary school, join cult. They start smoking cigarette and taking alcohol and misbehave a lot.” For Mrs. Patricia, some parents only know how to birth a child; they do not know how to train them. Some parents on the barracks leave their children untrained.

This, she believes, is responsible for the waywardness of police children.

 

Solution

The police officer, who spoke on an anonymous basis, said that parents should train their children in the way they want them to grow. But he also believes that everyone is his neighbour’s keeper. Thus, he implored every police officer to keep a watchful eye on the activities of children in the barracks.

Iya Ayo believes that the waywardness of barracks youth would be minimized if the government could make certain provisions such as scholarship schemes, free entrepreneurial lectures, vocational training, and capital to start business for youths. She also suggested that there should be a monitoring squad like the Vigilante to watch out for the activities of hoodlums inside the barracks and arrest them if necessary.

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