News / Africa

Nigerian Lagoon Village Fights to Stay Afloat

Nigerian Lagoon Village Fights to Stay Afloat i
X
July 11, 2013 5:21 PM
Sometimes called "The Venice of Africa," the village of Makoko floats on a lagoon in the heart of Lagos, the financial capital of Nigeria. But unlike Venice, Makoko's houses are built on sticks and dugout canoes are the main form of transportation. And while the government pushes to tear down the watery slum, the community is building a "floating school" for Makoko's children. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Makoko.
Young boy rides in a canoe on lagoon in Makoko, Nigeria (Photo: Heather Murdock /VOA)
Heather Murdock
Sometimes called "The Venice of Africa" the village of Makoko floats on a lagoon in the heart of Lagos, the financial capital of Nigeria.  But unlike Venice, houses there are built on sticks and dugout canoes are the main form of transportation.  And while the government fights in court to tear down the watery slum, the community is digging in by building a "floating school" for Makoko's children. 

“A fish cannot live on land,” Makoko residents are fond of saying, and “neither can we.” Their sprawling village is a collection of sagging wooden homes on stilts in the Lagos Lagoon.

We take a canoe through the watery alleyways and to open water just outside the residential area, where women sell fish under a bridge, one of Lagos’s many mega-highways. 
 
Fisherman Pierre Gotun crafts fishhooks, preparing to go out to sea at night.  
 
In the Egun language, which is more common along the borders of Nigeria and the Benin Republic than here in Lagos, he shares how his father taught him to fish right here in Makoko, a self-contained community believed to be more than 100 years old.
 
Fishing can be profitable, he said, especially now in the rainy season. Like dozens of other people, he is sitting under the cover of what is expected to be Makoko’s “floating school” to avoid the rain. Built in part by support from the United Nations, the building bobs on top of hundreds of plastic drums about half way between the bridge and the residential area. 
 
  • The government calls this sprawling village in the lagoon a shantytown, but residents say Makoko is not just a place, it is a way of life in Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013. Photo:  VOA/H. Murdock
  • Like the better-known city of Venice, the primary way to get around Makoko is by paddling a dug out canoe, Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013. Photo: VOA/H. Murdock
  • Lagos Lagoon is almost completely surrounded by the city, which is Nigeria's most populous and one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Photo: VOA/H. Murdoc, Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013


  • Fisherman Pierre Gotun crafts fishhooks in preparation for a night at sea. He says his father taught him to fish here in Makoko, a community believed to be over 100 years old, Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013. Photo:  VOA/H. Murdock. 
  • Like many residents, fisherman Pierre Gotun says he was born of water, and cannot live on land, Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013. Photo:  VOA/H. Murdock. 
  • Women say selling fish in Makoko is as much of a tradition as catching fish, July 5, 2013. Photo: VOA/H. Murdock
  • Makoko community leaders say in addition to the floating school, they are working to rebuild homes and churches, Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013. Photo: VOA/H. Murdock
  • Makoko families say they would like city services, like running water and trash collection, but failing that, they just want the government to leave them alone, Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013. Photo: VOA/H. Murdock
  • Makoko residents say there is only one school in the community and hundreds of children are not attending, Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013. Photo: VOA/H. Murdock
  • Supported by the United Nations, Makoko's "floating school" is not yet open, but residents use the structure to stay out of the rain, Makoko, Lagos, July 5, 2013. Photo: VOA/H. Murdock

David Shemede, chairman of the local Community Development Association, said construction on the floating school is almost complete and it is expected to open in coming months. But Shemeda points out it won't be enough for all of Makoko’s children. Hundreds of local children don’t go to school at all, and those that do attend, squeeze into the community’s only schoolhouse, which is slowly sinking into the water.
 
“When we need schools, they come build this one," he said. "The one that they build is not [enough] for us. We still need more schools in our community because we still have many many many more children who are not going to school.”
   
Shemede is quick to say that despite the lack of schools, Makoko residents will never chose to leave the lagoon, which is surrounded by what is one of Africa’s fastest growing cities.
 
According to Shemede, the government calls Makoko an illegal shantytown and has been trying to tear it down as part of their plan to make Lagos more appealing to businesses and tourists.  But residents aren’t budging.
 
Back on solid ground, or rather a house on stilts, Emmanuel Shemede, the Makoko traditional chief and David Shemede’s brother, says last year some residents were given 72 hours to evacuate, but they refused to go.  One person was killed in clashes that erupted and now residents and city planners are fighting it out in court.
 
Lagos state Governor Babtunde Fashola to leave the community alone, he said, adding that the government should help fix dilapidated buildings, develop a sewage system, and connect them to city water and electricity.   But if that’s not going to happen, Shemede said he wants them to at least to not tear down their homes.  
 
But Fashola’s development policy is wildly popular in Lagos, with locals saying he’s one of the rare leaders who makes a difference you can see. In the more developed areas, residents say when the city of Lagos tears down slums, it replaces them with safer, cleaner homes connected to city services.
 
Friday Oruerio, a litigation officer on a lunch break in Ikoyi, an upscale island district of Lagos, said city planners have built up schools, developed mass transit and made the city safer for everyone.

“They see any building that’s getting old and has a crack on that building, they pull that building down to save lives. Because so many buildings have collapsed and so many people have lost their lives.”
 
But here in the Makoko waterways, locals say tearing down their homes would mean also tearing apart their way of life because after all, a fish cannot live on land.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs