Recent government demolition exercise in Makoko, a coastline settlement in Lagos Metropolis floating on the lagoon, has raised fears that the authorities may have finally decided that the over century-old slum, a grievous eyesore to some, must go.
The Makoko community, believed to be over a 100 years old, is a stretch of bamboo and driftwood shanties connected by a bewildering maze of plank alleyways. The sudden appearance of the Makoko shanties from a perpetual haze of smoke and fog never fails to astonish the unprepared visitor on a fast trip along the famous Third Mainland Bridge en-route the Island or from the University of Lagos, Akoka.
The community, with an estimated population of 100,000, is a city in its own right, balancing precariously on stilts over murky, filthy brackish water into which the entire Lagos Metropolis of over 10 million, daily dump their trash and excrement.
Residents of Makoko do not live there because they want to but becasue they've got nowhere else to go. AP reports that recently, a government eviction team swooped on the helpless residents in speedboats and began demolishing homes with machetes, rendering 3,000 people homeless overnight. This is not the first time the authorities have harassed the people of Makoko but the recent incident has raised fears that the authorities may have finally made up their minds to wipe out the community.
A distraught resident, Mirabelle Agbete, told AP: "We are just trying to survive.This is unfair, we are human beings. How do you just throw out people without warning?"
Most residents of Makoko are fishermen and women. Many work in the nearby perpetually soggy and derelict looking sawmills, while some work outside the community as menials, guards and domestic servants.
If you really fancy the notion of life independent of the nuisance of "big government" you may want to have a taste of life in Makoko. The people live largely untouched by the state. Rudimentary infrastructural amenities, where they exist at all, are created and sustained by communal effort.
Makoko fishermen on Lagos Lagoon. The Third Mainland Bridge is visible in the background
According to AP, the Lagos state government gave the residents only three days notice to evacuate before they began demolishing homes. Conflicting statements have emanated from official sources in explanation of the recent demolitions. An official was quoted as saying that the state government only wanted to demolish homes too close to a power line. According to another statement: "The Lagos state government is desirous of restoring the amenity and value of the waterfront... (and) improve the waterfront/coastline to underline the megacity status of the state."
Since the demolitions started last week, many residents have slept in their canoes, while others have taken shelter under the Third Mainland bridge.
AP reports that Noah Shemede, head teacher of Whanyoinna Primary School, Makoko, said: "Many people are sleeping in my school. We'll manage. In my house, I can take a few more people, the most important thing is that we stay together."
It is not clear why the authorities are reluctant to say exactly why they have begun demolishing homes and this has only heightened fears. Violence erupted on Saturday after the police allegedly shot dead a community chief Timothy Hunpoyanwha, whom residents say had been trying to mediate between the authorities and angry youths. According to a police spokesperson, the police corporal in the shooting has been arrested.
The incident forced state authorities to halt the demolitions. Governor Raji Fashola said the government was ready to speak with community leaders. He said it was necessary to control the expansion of the slum. AP reports he said the lagoon "is the natural drainage that God has given us and we have to preserve it. The only issue was the expansion of the community and the time to define the boundary is now."
According to AP, forced evictions are commonly carried out in unplanned neighborhoods in Nigeria's urban centers, including Abuja and Port Harcourt. Recently authorities destroyed the Abonnema Wharf community of about 25,000 families. The action was severely criticized by Amnesty International.
There is little hope of redress for residents when government carries out the demolitions. Communities generally lack the financial resources to launch a legal challenge in a country in which lawsuits over real estate may drag on for decades in the courts.