The Lagos State Government recently demolished the shanties and other illegal structures along the Makoko/Iwaya waterfront in Yaba Local Council Development Area, Lagos State, southwest Nigeria, particularly those under high tension wires.
This decision, according to Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola is another step towards restoring the lost glory of Lagos and what the authority believes is a gradual step towards transforming the metropolis.
“If the quality of human life is addressed, there may be additional resources considered, such as medical care, education, proper sewage treatment, waste disposal and energy supplies,” the governor said.
But several months after the demolition exercise, the quality of life of the slum-dwelling residents has remained the same. They have continued to live side by side with the growing piles of refuse indiscriminately dumped in every corner of the community with dire health consequences for residents, and even visitors.
On 16 July, 2012, 72 hours after the expiration of a quit notice given to the illegal inhabitants of the waterfront to remove their structures, the government sent truck-loads of armed soldiers and policemen to effect the quit order which left scores of the residents homeless.
Aside the tragedy of suddenly becoming homeless, the community also lost its assistant traditional ruler (Baale), Chief Timothy Huntoyanwha, who was allegedly killed by a trigger-happy policeman on illegal duty at the demolition site.
As the displaced ones who had for many years lived along the waterfront bemoaned their fate, the unaffected dwellers who live in shacks built on stilts along the waterfront have continued the fight for survival on a sea of filth. They have continued to live their rusty lives the best way they know, living, fishing and procreating like they have always done in the coastal community famous for its increasing environmental deterioration.
A recent trip to the community revealed that the slum, which has always existed on the murky waters of the Lagos Lagoon, remains an eyesore as the unhygienic condition of the dwellers leaves much to be desired.
Right from where our correspondent boarded a canoe at the bank of the lagoon behind Adekunle police station, one is assailed by the stench of refuse, dead fish and human faeces on the surface of the water.
One of the main features of the ever growing slum is the constant problem of garbage and waste disposal, as well as sewage leakages, especially in the lowland areas coupled with the odious stench from the immensely polluted environment.
The everyday life of these squatters, who are predominantly Yoruba, Egun, Ilaje, Ijaw and foreigners from Cameroun, Benin Republic and Togo and that of their families, revolves around fishing in a slum that keeps growing bigger and dirtier.
Though the Makoko waterfront community lacks basic infrastructure such as electricity, potable water and secondary schools among others, the educational needs of their school age children is catered for by the only primary school in the vicinity, Whanyinna Nursery and Primary School, which was established by a white man many years ago.
The students, with ages ranging between 6-15 years, attend the one-storey plank building erected on stilts on the foul-smelling water in canoes, while those who are yet to attend school, play in the many rickety and abandoned boats that drift on the water amid the piles of faeces, waste and garbage floating outside their parents shabby shacks along the stinking lagoon.
As there are also no functional toilets, the toilets are built right on the lagoon and the waste adds to the floating debris in the lagoon.
Inhabitants of the community, mostly women selling food, beverages and consumables, paddle their canoes using the ‘paths’ along the waterways during the day, while their men who had gone fishing in the high seas in the middle of the night relax in their mosquito-infested rickety shacks.
They are the major suppliers of dried and fresh fish in Lagos. Their women selling their fish to Lagosians in almost all parts of the state.
Aside fish and other sea foods, another lucrative business in the slum is the sale of alcohol of different brands, as most of the men who spent a better part of their day on the high sea return home to relax with assorted alcoholic beverages.
Irrespective of the various health hazards starring them in the face, the residents of Makoko and Iwaya waterfront remain unruffled. Rather, they see life in the putrid environment as better than living on solid land.
Speaking with P.M.NEWS, Chief Adjotto Othoro said he would give anything to remain on the Lagoon rather than relocate to the mainland. He pleaded with the state government to come to their aid by providing the necessary social amenities for the waterfront community.
“We don’t know any other place than this place. Governor Babatunde Fashola should please understand our plight. Let him help us by providing those things that will make us live like human beings,” he noted.
Kodjo Adjei, a 28-year-old father of three, sees nothing wrong with living on water, adding that there is little or no difference between life on the water and life on the mainland.
“There is hardly anything you people enjoy that we don’t enjoy here. As far as we are concerned there is nothing wrong with using this water, except that we don’t drink it. When it rains, we always dive into it to swim. It is in this water that we all learnt how to swim and to do other things.
“The youngest child in this community knows how to swim very well because we all acquire the skills naturally in this water. The smell from the water is not a strange thing to us. We are used to it but it may be offensive to you because you are a visitor. If you stay here for a month, you would not perceive any smell from the water anymore,” he said.
Mrs Awasu Ajei, a food vendor, while speaking with our correspondent, said hawking using a canoe has been a very rewarding venture for her, adding that she has been in the business for a long time and has not for once regretted it.
“Our forefathers started living here long before we were born and did not suffer outbreak of diseases. We have also lived here since we were born without experiencing any epidemic,” she said.