By Ugoji Egbujo
The second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC) held in 1977. It lasted one month. The first festival had held in Senegal in 1966. 17,000 participants and Steve Wonder were expected. Our future seemed so bright. We built a whole town to host the participants. Before the festival began, we had over 5000 housing units. By the end of 1977, we had over 10,000 housing units. We were bold then.
The roads were paved. They were paved to last for decades. The drainages were deep and covered. The city was built out of a swamp. But it was fortified against flooding. The electricity supply was laid out underground. Telephone wires were spread underground. It was to prevent the madness that was happening in Onitsha and Aguda. The fire service station was state of the art. The town had three gates. And was shielded from the outside by a green belt of buffer zone. This was long before Abuja. The new town had play areas and green spaces. It had there gates and a major gate house. There was a police station. Only authorized state city transport buses could ply the inner roads of the city. There was a central sewage system and a treatment plant. We finished the project within 3 years.
We called the town Festac town. That town no longer exists.
The military came back in 1983 to redeem the country from rot. They stayed long enough to take a lustful look at Festac. They began perhaps by fingering the master-plan. Then possessed by greed and lawlessness, they shredded the plan. With the original master plan in the hands of women who sold roasted yam and ‘boli’ by the roadside, the military began selling the play areas. The children couldn’t complain. So they sold more. Those who bought them felt lucky. The soldiers gave some to their girl friends. When there were no play areas left, they sold green areas and every empty space. They sold spaces that could stand only one table and a chair. They sold the ground over drainages. They sold the patches of ground where transformers and electrical equipment were installed .
They sold the beauty and serenity of the town.
Those who bought the play grounds descended on them with the crudity of village butchers and built haphazard structures. Nobody worried about orderliness. The Federal Housing Authority had been castrated. It’s officials went around,pretentiously, barking toothlessly and fending for their pockets. Without a master plan, the town staggered drunkenly in all directions. Kiosks and shops sprouted at road junctions. Buildings were erected over drainages. Walls, where they existed were brought down and side shops emerged. Walls rose everywhere else and the town became a collection of miniature prisons. Businessmen flocked in with money and military men carved out tarred roads and sold them.
Then democracy returned, politicians came like hyenas with the hunger of wolves to scavenge on the stripped carcass of the festival town. They took the entrails, they didn’t mind the feces. The buffer zone was plundered. Unscrupulous civil servants, ever present, the vultures of all ages supervised the plunder, season after season.
The town became a caricature of what it once was. Federal Housing Authority had washed its bloody hands and moved to Abuja. Festac became a booming slum. Danfo buses lost reverence and swarmed the dying town. If the corner shops came like locusts to eat the leaves of the beauty of the town, the Okadas that have besieged Festac are deathly maggots.
Festac once had a gate house. A beautiful gate house. A visitor could stop to make enquiries. There were flowers planted to welcome guests. The estate had a clean inviting face with lipstick. Today, the first gate of Festac town stinks. It’s the mouth of a feces eating dog buzzing with green flies. At the gate is mini market of secondhand bras surrounded by a hive of ragged, disheveled Okada riders. The gate house is now a sleeping place for derelicts.
The nation went feral, lost its sense of arts and culture, and devoured Festac Town
The scale of the rot is industrial.
Many years ago, a national team was involved in an international match. There was a power outage at a crucial time during the match that took place in wee hours of the morning. An angry mob assembled to protest the treacherous power outage. The mob matched on the gate house and burnt it. That was their way of pinching the management of the estate and the government. That was many many years ago . That wouldn’t happen today. Power outages no longer infuriate anyone in Festac. The Eko Electricity Distribution that serves Festac must be one of the most irresponsible private companies in Nigeria. But let’s leave EEKDC and its contribution to the decay of Festac. A mob today,even if fueled by alcohol, would not go near that Festac gate house. A house for rodents and cockroaches in the middle a wretched and chaotic Danfo bus and Okada park. An indignant Lagos mob, possessed by such fury today, would rather burn a dead rat.
Festac is now littered with bars and strip clubs. Residential houses have been converted into whore houses. What was once the best street in Festac, first avenue, is now a red light district. The rot is more than physical. There are ramshackle private schools everywhere. Most of them are run not by educationists but by the sort of businessmen who should be selling fish in Agboju market. There are churches at every turn, in every corner. Yet, the town is so lacking in the sort of redemption that even renowned sinful cities of the West possess in abundance.
Festac is decrepit. Money came and bastardized everything. And left Festac bedridden with purulent sores of the flesh and of the mind. Festac town and the National Arts Theatre Iganmu were children of that festival in 1977. Let’s forget about the National Arts Theatre. It became a rats theatre.
The nation went feral, lost its sense of arts and culture, and devoured Festac town and its siblings.