Thursday, 4 June 2015

Amazing! See the Rivers that Open Business Door to Benin Republic


A trader on the move to sell her goods

Influx of artisans from neighbouring Benin and Togo worsens the standard of living in Makoko, Nigeria’s notorious shanty town built on the ocean, GEOFF IYATSE writes.

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The story of Mokoko is largely that of misery, agony and ignorance. This has remained so despite the global attention and cheering promises it has received in the past three years.

The only thing that has really changed in the impoverished community since it came to limelight on the account of a botched eviction plan is that more and more young men, especially – artisans from Benin Republic – are coming to settle there. As they come, they bring their relatives, friends and other co-hustlers to the slum, thus swelling the already-congested community.
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The fast-growing population of the community is a source of worry to residents of neighbouring Yaba and Lagos State Government, a reason the immediate past Babatunde Fashola administration attempted to get rid of it.
Two factors, according to findings, may even exacerbate the high population growth rate in the nearest future. First, the residents have overcome the fear of eviction and any further demolition.
The state government had come hard on the community in 2012, pulling down the shanties, with a promise that it would relocate its victims who were lawful residents. But the move was halted by an outcry from the civil society, international organisations and subsequent court actions.
N0 threat of eviction again
For a long time after the exercise was suspended, fear of further demolition pervaded the community. Some parents, according to community sources, had to relocate their children to Benin to lessen their burden should the state government decided to go ahead with demolition.
But the days of unease, according to the residents, have come and gone.
Today, Makoko residents have won the war against eviction, which they alleged was unjust, in the first place.

Shemede
In the thinking of the Baale of one of the communities, Emmanuel Shemede, the government had gone beyond just a promise to “let the communities be.” He said it had pledged to bring infrastructure to their doorsteps.
Much as they would not hold the government by its promise to make the place habitable, the traditional ruler said, excitedly, that the eviction plan was obviously no longer on the table.
The Baale said that the Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, had pledged, during a campaign visit, that the settlement would not be tampered with, at least, not by his administration. The governor’s promise implies an ‘occupancy’ right for the next four or eight years.
According to Shemede, Ambode also promised to improve the situation in the community through the provision of public hospitals and schools. But for the community, which has coped without modern infrastructure since inception, the no-eviction assurance is a sufficient excitement.
Shemede confirmed that his kinsmen were not interested in infrastructure, as their major demand was a privilege to continue to live atop the lagoon. The request, he said, had been granted. He noted that federal lawmakers representing Lagos had shown sufficient sympathy towards them, another reason the people to “now feel secure.”
The no-more-eviction assurance is welcomed with a massive physical expansion. In fact, during a boat ride, our correspondent observed that new ‘houses’ were springing up in different parts of the animated community.
A 14-year-old boat rider, Steven Alaye, said the people were building new houses to replace those destroyed by the government.
Alaye, who had never experienced formal education, said the rise in shelter demand also informed the renewed construction activities.
“More people are coming here. They need houses where they can stay. So, people are buying ‘land’ to build. If you have money, the Baale will give you a place to build. Before you finish building, people will be waiting to rent it,” Alaye said casually.
Home for foreign artisans
His statement revealed what many people would consider as another ‘wonder’ in Makoko. The shanties seen from the Third Mainland Bridge, floating on the west of the lagoon, have value and prices. Before sourcing for the cost of construction, the first task of every ‘home’ owner is buying a choice portion – in the range of N40,000 to N100,000.

A trader on the move to sell her goods
The houses are not only built for owner-occupant purposes. The ‘developers’ also target rental business, which is driven by Beninoise and Togolese artisans who are attracted to Lagos by the state’s growing construction activities.
The growing opportunities for Beninoise and Togolese construction professionals is one more factor that pushing population explosion in Makoko
Benjamin Sejlo, who described himself as an all-round building contractor, came to Lagos in 2013. With no sufficient money to pay for an accommodation in the city, he hooked up with a friend who had stayed in Makoko for a while. Eventually he got a room where he could pay a monthly rent of N2,500.
Without much hassle – no agency commission, no legal fee – he moved into the house after paying a three-month rent.
Apart from his girlfriend and their one-year-old daughter who joined him almost immediately, Sejlo has brought four other young men to Lagos and got a similar accommodation for them at Makoko. Every time he travelled to Benin, he noted, he returned to Lagos with, at least, one more artisan “because there are many people back home that need jobs but cannot secure any.
“In construction, you need many people to work with you because it is physically demanding. I just returned from Benue State where I have a building contract. If I had more people working with me, I would have finished the contract in two weeks. But that is not possible because only three of us are working there. To deliver promptly, we regularly ask our friends at home to join us,” the Beninoise said.
Joshua Ojo, a ‘tiler’, was brought to Makoko by Sejlo. In about a year he has been Lagos, he has helped two other people from Benin Republic to find a place in Makoko. Ojo, who barely understands any other language except his local dialect, said he chose to live in Makoko so that he could save for a better future.
“Lagos is expensive. So, most of us live here in Makoko because accommodation here is affordable. Even if I had money, I do not think it is economical to pay close to N1 million for accommodation. I would rather save the money,” said Ojo.
Maroko, which was founded by fishermen, has transformed from just a fishing settlement to a community dominated by artisans. Its new status, it was learnt, is gaining more popularity in the construction world.
Afolabi Abiodun, a 17-year-old pupil, who claimed to be from Ogun State, said Makoko did not become an artisan community overnight. He argued that many of the Togolese and Beninoise construction workers, traversing different parts of Nigeria for building activities, had always lived in “here”.
He, however, said the area had witnessed an influx of builders in the past two years.
“Where I reside, for instance, all the boys in the neighbourhood are into construction. Many of them came from Benin last year. They travel to different states to work because people like the quality of their work,” he said.
No immigration challenges at sight
The dominance of Makoko by immigrants from neighbouring West African countries may continue unchecked for a long time. Eight out of 10 Makoko immigrants interviewed be our correspondent said they had not come to Lagos with their international passports much less doing proper documentation at the Seme Border.
One of them, who gave his name as Taiwo said, nobody had ever prevented him from entering Nigeria simply because he had no international passport.
“I go home more than three times yearly and return anytime I choose to. They have never stopped me from entering because of documentation. But if they insist we should document our names, we will because we are doing legal jobs here,” he said.
Surprisingly, the same foreigner who said he would willingly document his name if compelled told our correspondent that he had no passport.
When Fashola directed the Kick Against Indiscipline squad to pull down the sprawling shanties in 2012, he had noted that most of residents were from Benin, Cameroon and Togo who were living in the state illegally.
But a revolt, especially from the Egun community, who were also largely affected, and solidarity from human rights activists, stalled the demolition.
Burdened by population
Fuelled by ignorance, a very high birth rate is also multiplying the population of the community.
With two wives, Shemede has 15 children. When our correspondent visited his decked wood house, he granted an interview in a company of 10 middle-aged men. Each of his subjects who were with him had, at least, eight children. Three of them either matched the chief in terms of childbearing or surpassed him.
One would expect the high population of children to put serious pressure on the few schools in the community. But on the contrary, the people have continued to hold on to their primitive lifestyle, which includes poor school enrolment.
Whanyinna Nursery/Primary School is the only English school in Egun. Teachers of the school, which is run by some NGOs, put the pupils’ population at 200 while the traditional ruler said the figure was 250. The two sources, apparently, said the same thing .
Even with the dismal figure, a teacher said punctuality of its pupils was extremely poor.
During school hours, hundreds of children aged between five and 15 paddle canoes around, selling, buying or running errands for their guardians. Those who are roaming on water play different games atop their floating homes.
Clannish segregation is a challenge the community has not been able to deal with in its quest for a better future for the elderly and their children. For one, schools in Egun, most of which were donated by NGOs and are tuition-free, have yet-to-be filled spaces.
No good infrastructure
Apart from a few tarred roads on the upland district, the community has not changed from what it used to be. Rather, the self-inflicted misery and environmental degradation are getting worse by the day.
The people still defecate on the same water they navigate every minute, trading and socialising. Kids paddle on floating feaces as they go and return from schools.
Many outsiders may have known everything about Makoko – the agony, the neglect and the unyielding character of the residents – but not the paradox of scarcity and waste in the community. While some of the few schools donated to the Egun can still absorb kids if their parents register them, some parents in the upland cannot keep theirs because they cannot afford the cost.
The free schools, they said, “are not located in our community.” This is what Christiana Boniface told our correspondent when she was asked why her 10 and seven-year old kids had yet to register in a school. She said the children – Kelechi and Chineye – had to withdraw from schools because the family could not afford a tuition of N12,000 per term.
Asked why she did not take them to Whanyinna where she did not have to worry about fees, she retorted, “We are not the same people. They are Egun while we are Igbo and Yoruba. Whanyinna is for Egun people; so, I rather keep my children at home.”
At Josmut Nursery/Primary School, where Kelechi and Chineye were schooling before financial hardship forced their parents to withdraw them, kids from nursery one to primary six learn in a room that may not be bigger than 10 by 30 feet. The school, located on 12 Appollo Street, Makoko, care less the about condition of learning.
During a visit, the pupils were crammed into the solo room that formed the school, sat on the floor and the two lady teachers that attended to them laboured hard to bring down the noise.
The condition of the school, whose tuition is between N4,000 and N6,000 per term, is worse than what is obtainable at the tuition-free floating Whanyinna.

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