Editor’s note: Minnesota Public Radio’s Nate Minor is spending two weeks on a reporting fellowship in Nigeria as part of a program to study and become involved in journalism as it is practiced in other countries.
LAGOS, Nigeria — Before this city became what it is today — a monstrous destination that’s probably more than twice as large as New York City (depending on which survey you believe) — a neighborhood between the mainland and the posh Victoria Island started spreading into the sea. That was more than 100 years ago.
Now, at least 85,000 Lagosians live in Makoko. They still make their living from fishing, much as their ancestors did. But Lagos authorities are trying to evict residents from the area, citing health concerns among other reasons.
A letter served to residents last year said that illegal buildings in Makoko were an “environmental nuisance, security risk and an impediment to the economic and gainful utilisation of the waterfront” and undermined the “megacity status” of Lagos. Paddle-powered canoes are the main method of transportation in Makoko. Once you accept the watery-nature of Makoko, it feels like many other streets in Lagos. “The whole world should see Makoko as a community,” chief Emmanuel Shemede told me. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Estimates say Makoko’s population is somewhere around 85,000 people — a relatively small drop in the bucket in the megacity of Lagos. But Noah Shemede, a teacher in Makoko, said estimates are low. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) The sight of a white journalist drew strong reactions from children in Makoko. They screamed ‘white man’ in the local language. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Children’s reactions to my camera were mostly positive. This young girl playfully wagged her finger when she saw me. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) This young girl returned the favor after I pointed my camera in her direction. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Noah Shemede, a teacher in Makoko, sits in a community leader’s home outfitted with modern amenities like television and a stereo. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Makoko reflects the religious leanings of its surroundings. Lagos is made up of Christians, Muslims and traditional religions. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Ayinde Joseph is a community leader in Makoko and has raised his children in the area. He said the neighborhood is a strong community where people look out for one another. “If I don’t get up for fishing, my neighbor will wake me,” he said. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Community leaders said most of Makoko’s men fish for a living, out in the Lagos Lagoon. Makoko is more than 100 years old, and has extended into the lagoon over time. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Boys start fishing at a young age. Chief Emmanuel Shemede told me that education is the key to the neighborhood’s future. “Makoko will be great,” he said, adding that it’s natives include lawyers and college graduates who will “come back to fight” for it. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) A foreign NGO built the floating Whanyinna Nursery and Primary School to serve Makoko’s children. But head teacher Noah Shemede said the school can only enroll little more than 200 children; he estimated there are 35,000 kids in the area. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) The floating school’s first-level platform is available for community events. But the Lagos state goverment, which has tried to evict residents from Makoko, has outlawed the school saying it was illegally constructed. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Noah Shemede grew up in Makoko and is the head teacher in its only school, an NGO-built, community-run organization. No state government institutions are in Makoko, despite a call for health clinics and public schools. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Living with water is a fact of life for Makoko’s residents. Almost everything goes into the water — trash, refuse, sunken boats — with the exception of people. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Piles of wood are needed to smoke the fish that are caught by Makoko’s fishermen. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor) Many women paddle the streets of Makoko selling soda and other things seen on most of Lagos’ busy streets. “We know how to make a living here,” community leader Ayinde Joseph said. A Lagos-based advocacy group, the Social and Economic Rights Action Center, is fighting the state’s efforts to relocate Makoko’s residents. “We have hope in SERAC and we have hope in God,” Joseph said. (MPR Photo/Nate Minor)
MORE ON LAGOS:
• The New Yorker’s
essential profile of the city from 2006
A BBC documentary from 2010
Find more photographs and dispatches from Nigeria on Nate Minor’s website.