26th January 2012
On January 26th a group of 16 members of the Nigerian Field Society took a trip to Makoko, the village on stilts that lies on the Lagos Lagoon – home to some 250,000 people. Makoko has been a busy, tightly-knit community since it was established as a fishing village way back in the eighteenth century, and, indeed, much of the inhabitants’ income is still derived from the trade in fish.
All that you would find in a land-based village; barber shops, grocery stores, schools, churches, and, of course, residential housing can be found in Makoko, but perched precariously in rickety shacks built on spindly stilts that rise from the debris-filled murky waters of the Lagoon. The pathways are watery, the buildings are dilapidated, the poverty is mind-blowing but the strength and resilience of the Makoko people are impressive. The children beamed broadly for cameras and came into school on a Saturday to sing and dance for us and offer a traditional, warm welcome. Later, thoroughly at home in boats, basins and buckets, whole families wove their way through myriad waterways, loading and unloading, buying and selling, chattering and greeting and conducting life unselfconsciously from the confines of narrow wooden vessels, handled with ease.
The chief’s representative took pains to explain that, for the people of Makoko, living on water was as natural, as instinctive and as essential as concrete highways and byways are to land-based citizens. Thus, it must have been heart-wrenching for them to witness the Government initiative which saw the destruction of several homes and other buildings in July 2012; the slums of Makoko have become an eyesore and an embarrassment for the more affluent areas of Lagos that overlook them.
A compromise now seems to have been reached. We saw the ongoing building work of a new school site – a beacon of hope for many hundreds of children presently uneducated due to serious overcrowding at the two schools that currently cater for the indigenous population – and came away slightly more hopeful that, despite the horrendous poverty and the serious challenges facing this unique community, the natural resourcefulness, tenacity and spirit of Makoko’s people will prevail.