Not many people look at water and see a perfect ground to lay foundations. The people of Makoko are an exception; they go against the norm and float above water and all manner of turbulence. The community endures on in the State of Lagos which seems uninterested in having them around. Makoko is made up of six distinct villages, some on land but the most phenomenal of them defying boundaries and resting on water. Oko Agban, Adogbo, Midgewhe and Yanshiwhe are the floating communities, the Makoko on water, the Houses of Lagoon. Sogunro and Apollo are their not so distant cousins in a highly populated area of people easily scrapping 100,000. The community was established in the late 19th century mainly for purposes of fishing and as the population burgeoned and land ran out, the people decided to move into the water. As Kunle Adeyemi of NLE Works, an architectural studio says, where others are considering reclamation of land and “fighting the water”, in Makoko they are “saying- live in the water”.
It is this Kunle Adeyemi who then cast Makoko right in the eye of the international community with his Makoko Floating School built primarily for educating the children in nearby homes. MFS as it is called by some has won worldwide acclaim and was built as a prototype for the lagoon community to “address the community’s social and physical needs in view of the impact of climate change and a rapidly urbanizing African context”. The school was completed in March 2013 but was only opened for use in October 2015. It was buoyed by floating plastic barrels and was structurally made of timber locally acquired. When it was completed, it was said to be capable of withstanding tidal changes and varying water levels making it invulnerable to flooding and storm surges. However, it has since been destroyed by a storm, just seven months after its official opening. The importance of the school even after being trashed is simply insurmountable by one storm as it may have saved the community from evictions.
In 2012, the Lagos State government declared the Makoko settlement illegal and intended to evict the residents. They cited unsanitary living conditions and violation of environmental legislation as the justification for the evictions. The state suspended the evictions after one person had been killed in the chaos that followed. The school also threw Makoko in the international sphere of interest making it harder for the government to follow through on its declaration. The school gave “Makoko a global profile” and became the quintessence of bottom-up development in the country and the world as a whole. The government ended up adopting the architectural genius of MFS as a model for further development in Makoko. The recent collapse therefore simply means the prototype must be improved on as already done in MFS II. Concerning MFS II, Adeyemi’s NLE said, “Just as our first prototype sourced local intelligence from the Makoko waterfront community, MFS II is an improved iteration designed to suit Venetian conditions and a wider waterfront population.” MFS II still uses plastic barrels for floatation but has a tonne of metal and 13,5 tonnes of wood for structuring. The architectural studio has already hinted this Venice exhibit (MFS II) may be making its way to Lagos.
The future of waterfront communities may be changed by one floating slum in Nigeria which at face value is nothing short of an eye-sore. The community has vowed to rebuild the school in the signature “die hard mentality” of the people of Makoko. It is high time the world paid serious attention to this community. The community is hands on in matters of its own development and the government’s approach of imposing developmental concepts conceived in offices but detached from the people on the ground is not going to work.
Robert Neuwirth of Makoko says, “It would seem sensible, before engaging in rhetoric and planning about redevelopment, to come to a full understanding of what’s actually there…. Makoko is a real community, built by the families that live there.It is valuable to them and to the city as a whole.” Robert left out the importance of the floating slums to the world as it is clear that the world will learn a lot from the Makoko development model and architectural prowess.
As for health concerns, the residents believe themselves to be almost immune to disease as one Guardian reporter noted. Beale Emma told the reporter, “The government thinks that this will be a hub of disease, there is nothing like that. We don’t have cholera here. No epidemic. Go and check the hospitals.”
After all, Arctic Infrastructure with support from the Government of Switzerland will provide drugs for a hospital the community will build. Water is provided in some areas by pipes the residents themselves laid down. There is no passivity in Makoko.
It is interesting that one of the loudest voices of African development has emerged from a slum. Makoko is leading itself and soon enough, the world should follow. The Makoko Floating School is the wake-up call and indeed the world has noticed that something is cooking in the slums of the Lagos Lagoon.