Looking down the Lagos lagoon prompted me to find out about the lifestyle of the inhabitants of this community. With a work colleague, Chidinma, I visited this riverine community, despite several warnings, just like the proverbial curious cat and satisfy my curiosity.
Blessing, our tour guide, informed us of our need to seek permission from the appropriate authorities before whipping out our cameras, as the inhabitants are tired of being spectacles for tourists without seeing any positive outcome. For us to get to the ‘appropriate authority’, we had to go through the dock from which visitors and residents alike board dugout canoes into the maze of the floating settlement; the smelly brackish water; the tangle of boats impatiently slithering through the labyrinth of waterways like overfed crocodiles, making the traffic of Makoko reminiscent of the notorious Lagos roads.
Despite my cheery laughter, my heart was practically in my mouth, as I have never ridden in a canoe before and there wasn’t a life jacket to protect us from any form of mishap. Eyes everywhere were upon us; some friendly, most curious, some suspicious, still others disdainful.
We got to our destination and I hurriedly scampered off the boat, glad to place my feet on solid ground. We met with a certain man known as 7-7, who welcomed us warmly and offered us a bottle of locally made drink. After the introduction from our guide, he, along with his brother, took time to tell us about the people’s way of life.
They explained that Makoko used to be a small fishing village built by fishermen who came from Benin to make money more than a hundred years ago, before it grew into an illegally constructed settlement. The dominant languages are French, Egun, and a spattering of Yoruba. Of course, the major occupation of the inhabitants is fishing, though some of the men are involved in sawmill business which is also located at the other end of the community.
Throwing more light on the life of the fishermen, we were made to understand that they make between N1000 and N100,000, depending on how the catch of the day goes. Each fisherman has his own mapped out area for fishing, so there is rarely the issue of encroaching on one’s fishing portion. Accommodation is readily available for as low as N3,000 with regular power supply. The inhabitants organize their various ceremonies such as weddings, birthdays, naming ceremonies and funerals from their boats. When asked if they suffer any kind of outbreak, the residents claimed that there’s been no pandemic outbreak of diseases.
When we asked if we could go out to see the fishermen at work and take a full tour of the community, we were denied access. The reason we were given was that we could be spies for the Lagos State Government, as the community and state government are in court over legality of activities by the residents. After much persuasion, we were asked to pay a sum of N30,000 before we could continue our adventure on water.
We were able to take some pictures representing the hustle and bustle of human activity: half-naked children rowing their own boats or playing on the verandas of the wooden shacks, women peddling bric-a-brac, the water borehole and school of the community.
On our way out of the community, we stopped at the popular market in Makoko, Makoko-Asejere market. There, seafood including croakers, barracudas, shiny-nose, red-snapper, prawns, crabs and more in large quantities, were sold at prices ranging from N25,000 – N9,000.
I am pleased that I have finally been to the mysterious and intriguing water world of Makoko.
Photography by Okere Chidinma and Busari Yusuf