By Jumoke Verissimo
Images by Adolphus Opara
On the silk expanse of the waters Gleaming sparkles of wrinkled greys,
Burdens of stilts and wraps and roofs
We acquire the nudity of nature.
As you drive down the Third Mainland Bridge into the shrivelled Lagos Island area, you are introduced to the sight of hundreds of stilt homes squatting on water like an illusion come alive. This is how many are welcomed to Makoko, a community whose urbanity is apart from the other areas of Nigeria’s largest metropolis. It is a very noticeable contrast to affluent areas like Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Ajah, where land is worth millions of naira. A view from the bridge is of the sun’s artistry, cascading over the lagoon, as it sets in its golden allure of rays splashing about to highlight fishermen throwing their nets into the lagoon. This is in the background of floating lumber pushed by bare-chested men, who do not seem concerned with the canoes slipping past. The scenery is unforgettable and has inspired many artists to create, and were it not for the publicised images of Makoko, one would go away with a masked image: a romanticised landscape. Makoko is a shanty town, perhaps one of the oldest shanties existing in one of the choicest areas of Lagos. Inhabitants can be traced back over 200 years to the early 18th century. Today the area is home to about 85,000 people, although recent census counts are said to be of questionable accuracy. The Baale (local chief) will tell you that more than 400,000 people of different ethnic groups, and from places such as Benin, Togo and the Niger-Delta, live in Makoko. Years without government intervention have made Makoko ignominious to some and everyday to others: new and old wooden homes receive electricity from spider webs of wires supported by thin bamboo poles or sticks; family canoes on brown waters – some flattened from usage, and some resembling drifting planks – are tied to the wooden homes; women row past in canoes filled with provisions, stop to chat with mates, or fishermen setting out into the deeper waters of the lagoon; screaming and laughing children, sparsely clothed or not at all, splash water on themselves. People will glance at someone with a camera, but other times they are oblivious – engrossed in their insulated lives. It is in the course of mundane living that some inhabitants have been instrumental in rescuing people who fall from the Third Mainland Bridge when accidents happen. Adolphus Opara, a photographer with whom I would later work on a Makoko project, has been invited several times by the Baale, to take photographs (as a photo-journalist) of such incidents. The Nigerian authorities are still fumbling with the lack of infrastructure and the equipment required for such rescue missions would need the intervention of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc1 ,or the deep swimmer/fishermen who are inhabitants of Makoko.
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