As It Was For Maroko, So For Makoko……The Vast Shanty Town On Lagos Waters Goes Down
EXACTLY 22 years and two days ago, Maroko, the shanty town located in Victoria Island was demolished visiting untold hardship and agony on the thousands of inhabitants of the town whose original inhabitants were the Elegushi, Oniru and Oloto families of Lagos. A ruthless Colonel Raji Rasaki, the then Military Administrator of Lagos, during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida ordered the bulldozers to move in and raze down Maroko.
And contrary to the promise of the Raji administration then that the displaced inhabitants of Maroko would be adequately compensated and relocated to another place, many of the victims ended up losing their property and their land while the vast land that was once Maroko was reclaimed and parceled to richmen who now live in their opulent mansions in the so-caled Victoria Island extension.
Last Monday, Makoko, a fishing community whose existence spans over 100 years similarly began experiencing the fate suffered by Maroko over two decades ago. The community is currently coming under the hammer of the Lagos State government, which has for long made known its desire to clear the area. The message that forewarned the inhabitants of Makoko numbering about 100,000, came in the form of a letter to head of the fishing community, Baale Emmaunel Shemede.
Akin Tijani of the Lagos State Ministry Waterfront and Infrastructure Development signed the letter.
Fifteen hours before the demolition began on Monday, The Guardian was on the lagoon at Makoko to feel the pulse of the people and share their experiences. Eighteen hours after the demolition, the hapless residents of the area could be seen struggling to cope with the pains that came with the excercise.
In the July 12 letter, which was sent to the communities of Makoko and Iwaya, the state government accused the people of “occupying and developing shanties and unwholesome structures on the water front without authority, thereby constituting environmental nuisance, security risks, impediments to economic and gainful utilization of the water front(sic) such as navigation, entertainment, recreation etc.”
Akin Tijani who signed the letter with Reference No: MWFID/EST. 621 on behalf of the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure and Development stated that the State government was keen on restoring the value of the waterfront. The letter further noted that government’s action was informed by the need to protect life and property, promote legitimate economic activities on the water front, restore security, improve water transportation and beautify the Lagos water front/coast line. These motivations, government stressed, underline the megacity status of Lagos State and as such necessitated the clearing of all illegal development on the waterfront and water bodies.
Consequently, the government said “notice is hereby given to you to vacate and remove all illegal developments along Makoko/ Iwaya water front within 72 hours of the receipt of this notice!”
There was palpable fear all over the community after the receipt of the letter. Information was sent across the waters through the numerous houses built on stilts.
The first indication that the Lagos State government was going to evict the people came through a letter, which invited the leaders of the fishing communities at Makoko and Iwaya to a meeting at the State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja. At that meeting were civil servants including engineers, community leaders and the Commissioner of Water front Infrastructure Development, Prince Adesegun Oniru. The community leaders became nervous when Prince Oniru told them that government does not wants houses built with planks to be on the coastal waters of the state.
Members of the communities were asked to either voluntarily dismantle their plank houses on water or the government would move in to do it for them by cutting them with saws.
Emmanuel Shemede, head of the Makoko fishing community told The Guardian that the people of the area had been living in fear since the government made this known to them few weeks ago. He said that their ancestors had been living on water and fishing for years.
He recalled that many of the fishermen who lived in Lagos were chased away from Makoko and Ilubirin in 1990 and later in the mid 1990s.
According to Shemede, “there is no other place where fishermen harvest fish as the people of Makoko in the entire state”. He pleaded with the government to “please leave us here”.
His words: “They fish in Epe town but they do not fish like us in Makoko. If they ask those in Ibeju-Lekki area to compete with us in fishing, they cannot beat us in what we harvest regularly.”
The fishermen asked people in Lagos to help them appeal to the government to leave them at Makoko adding that whatever the state administration wants to do in terms of beautification in the area could be done without dislodging the people. He added that the people were willing to comply with government’s directives.
The 52-year old community leader said when people were chased out of Maroko and Ilubinrin it was the people of Makoko who harboured the displaced people and built houses on stilts for them.
It was discovered that Taiwo Shemede, son of the community leader attends North American University in Benin Republic where he is studying Business Administration. His father said that it’s the money he makes from fishing in the community that he uses to pay Taiwo’s school fees which is about N350, 000 a year.
Emmanuel Shemede has two wives and 12 children. His children, alongside others in Makoko attend Lagos City College, Yaba and other institutions in the neighborhood.
The community leaders narrated their origin from and cultural affiliations to, the Yoruba stock. They speak the Egun dialect and belong to the Egun sub ethnic stock of the Yoruba. Yoruba speakers cannot easily discern the words of the Eguns. The people c
claimed that the late Oba Gbobi Sabe, the Onirus and the Olotos are of Egun extraction.
At the Makoko fishing community, about 60 students attend a school built through funds provided by foreign donors. Rev. Dare Douglas, an American Missionary/Pastor, pays teachers in the school. There is another primary school built by some other foreigners but residents groaned about the insufficient number of schools in the area.
So far the community has produced six graduates. But fishing is in their blood. Whenever these graduates and undergraduates come home they all returned to the sea to fish.
Already Kunle Adeyemi, a Nigerian Architect trained in Holland, is building a “floating school”. He is an expert in floating architecture and he has carried out various programmes around the world. The community leaders said that they have embraced the new and modern approach of floating houses designed by Mr. Kunle Adeyemi of NLE Works and they are willing to change their houses to modern types being proposed by the organisations that he runs rather than being uprooted from what they believe is their ancestral home.
The designs of the floating homes have been shown in and outside Nigeria. Investigation revealed that about three months ago the design was submitted to the State government and the Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), and Commissioner for Environment Mr. Tunji Bello, appeared to have been impressed by what they saw.
Adeyemi told The Guardian last week that he believed that the notice of demolition at Makoko was as a result of inadequate communication within the government.
The Architect added that “Governor Fashola’s administration is visionary and committed to people. The Governor is aware of NLÉ’s proposal for developing water communities (that are adapted to the changing environmental conditions) based on the knowledge and resourcefulness of Makoko people and international expertise”. Adeyemi disclosed that Governor Fashola expressed interest in the concept adding that “we are certain this will be properly communicated to all other relevant government parastatals.”
“As it stands, the UNDP under the Africa Adaptation Programme, the Lagos State Ministry of Environment has taken a laudable step to explore a solution by committing funds to build the pilot project — Makoko Floating School. Other supporters include Heinrich Boell Stiftung, GT Bank, Lagos Business School (Centre for Infrastructure, Policy Regulation and Advancement) and several international collaborators. We trust the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development will also see value in the project.”