Makoko is an eyesore and there is no better way to put it.
The size of the rats I once saw strolling and chewing on left over junk food, while I waited for a train at the New York subway, are probably only compared to the ones I saw at an asun joint in Surulere, which coincidently, also strolled right beside humans, waiting occasionally like domestic dogs beside tables for customers to drop bits of their food. Both incidents shocked me beyond measure first, because of the sheer size of the rats, secondly because of how confident they were; but mostly because of how comfortable humans had become around them.
New York isn’t Lagos, New York is miles ahead of Lagos especially in terms of GDP and infrastructure. Whenever I hear the term ‘fine from far’, New York comes to mind. Flying into the city or looking at it from across the Hudson River, leaves you in awe of its architecture and the raw steel that somehow draws you in. It takes waiting on a train or walking the streets of Brooklyn to actually understand how shockingly uninviting the city can be. None of these apply to Lagos.
Lagos is probably the only major city in the world that isn’t pretty from the sky while flying in. The chaos can be seen from anywhere. ‘Far from fine’ is what comes to mind this time. It looks chaotic and unbelievably disorganized. Most times, it’s hard to believe that the city actually functions. PHCN doesn’t help while flying in at night, as you’re left with random spots of yellow bulbs, making it look like one badly, candle-lit market. Sadly, physically going through the city and living it up-close, doesn’t make it any better.
Without a doubt, Lagos has had its fair share of neglect over the years and it would be hard to fix things overnight. My Uncle was in Lagos last week for the first time in a while and couldn’t believe what he saw on the Lekki-Epe axis. New roads with American style toll gates, sprawling estates and malls all over the place, with traffic lights that actually work. He couldn’t stop raving about the governor and how much he had done for the state. But one thing bothered him; the same thing that bothers me every time I cross the Third Mainland Bridge.
Makoko is an eyesore and there is no nice way to put it. If you’re wondering where that is, when next you’re driving to the Island from the Mainland, it is that community you see on the right with wooden homes built on water. For some reason, I had existed in Lagos for a while, blocking out that area from my consciousness until sometime in 2009 when Guinness held it’s 250th anniversary and I hosted. I was a part of the team that went to the airport to get international dancehall artist Sean Paul who was headlining the concert. On our way to his hotel, we passed through the bridge and he asked out of nowhere; “What are those?” I put on a smile and tried to sound as effusive as possible; “It’s our little Venice. Those are people’s homes.” His eyes opened up, not in admiration but in shock at my statement. “People, live there? In those things? Wow!” I smiled and went on this winding explanation of how intriguing it was that they moved around in canoes and were fishermen and what not. But his general expression registered with me.
I have looked right every time I’ve passed that bridge since that day and can’t express my shock at how the community keeps growing. In fact, I told my Uncle that before Gov. Fashola leaves office, the community might have reached the bridge. That is how large they have become.
I find it weird that the Governor has signed off on plans of building this ambitious city called ‘Eko Atlantic’ with sky scrapers to rival Manhattan, in the same state where people live like they do in Makoko. I have seen countless documentaries about the sort of disease there is in the place. People s**t, bathe and sometimes drink from the water they are surrounded by. Schools are almost non-existent and healthcare is nowhere to be found. All this, besides the obvious eyesore it constitutes. Now I’m not one to say that the place be demolished. Like a video on YouTube called ‘Makoko Can Be Nigeria’s Venice?’ asks, “What if Venice had been destroyed before it had a chance to become what it is today?”
So I ask: what is being done about Makoko? Why is it in such a sad state? All great cities have cracks no doubt, but why must ours be so glaring? I know Lagos is vast but Makoko seems obvious enough to have caught the governor’s attention. Isn’t rehabilitation or renovation possible? What are the possibilities of tourism being a source of revenue for the community?
Interestingly, Makoko sounds eerily similar to Maroko. And we know how the demolition of the latter went back in the day. I want to believe that the right thing will be done with Makoko. But first, I want to know that something at all will be done. Is anyone listening?