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Makoko of Lagos

A day in a 103-year-old Stilt-Slum

While we were getting to know Lagos, our friends and hosts in the mega-city, Louis and Marine, showed us some black and white photos of an unusual settlement nestled in the Yaba Local Government Area of Lagos State, and we knew we had to somehow get there. 

Makoko is one of many waterfront slums threatened by climate change in Nigeria. Rising water levels, strong tidal currents and polluting human activities (wood burning, excreting in the lagoon, throwing harmful substances in the environment) are some of the problems Makoko has to deal with. This slum on stilts was initially a temporary fishermen settlement, mostly Egun people from Badagry and Benin. The population has continued to grow for more than 100 years into a community now largely abandoned by government. The small village has become permanent home to the poorest of the poor, pushed off the land because of the premium real estate prices in and around Lagos.

The village is built high above the 1,5m deep water, with houses supported by hardwood stilts driven into the water bed.

Makoko Struggles to Survive

Every 30 years or so the houses require some maintenance works. It’s a harsh environment where one must work hard to survive, but for the villagers, Makoko is home and they strongly oppose the federal project to relocate them.

The residents of Makoko are not interested to move in a more beautiful or healthier place, despite the evident degradation and pollution. Yaba Local Government provided plastic tanks for drinking water. There are no basic social amenities like health care, electricity and water supply or pharmacy, but there are many development initiatives, some successful, other destined to fail, but all inspiring for any struggling community. The now defunct floating school of Makoko is just one example:

The only primary school in Makoko is attended by aprox. 50 students who have to pay 50 Naira/day.

The adults – and many times little children – go about their daily business in their boats. Every family owns one. Fishing, shopping, selling food or goods is done from a boat. There are even floating restaurants, a mill and manna repair shops based in boats. The murky water is almost black with litter and has the quality of oil. There is a calming poetry in Makoko though, gliding on the “streets” – narrow canals that open into the lagoon.

There’s limited government presence in the stilt village of Makoko, the local gangs (called “area boys”) control the streets and the community issues are addressed by the Baale (the village chief). Despite extreme poverty, there is joy in Makoko. This is no Damnoen Saduak near Bangkok nor is it the Venice of NIgeria, but kids welcome yovos (white people) with smiles and adults are eager to chat.

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