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Daily Nation : February 7th 2014
2 DN coverstory Water, water everywhere: Life and death inside Nigeria’s floating village Established in the 18th century as a fishing village, Makoko is home to hundreds of thousands of people Togo, Benin and the host Nigerians. Life here is a matter of paddles and canoes, the streets are dirty waterways and children learn to swim before they can say their ABCs. The government wants the whole thing razed to the ground, citing disease outbreaks and other hazards, but the residents would hear none of that. This is home, they say. It has been for hundreds of years DAILY NATION Friday February 7, 2014 BY JOY WANJA MURAYA firstname.lastname@example.org island districts, but to visit it you need a resident guide. Welcome to Makoko village in Nigeria, the Venice of Africa where shops, schools, churches, homes and even toilets stand on murky water. Makoko is built on stilts on the T Lagos lagoon, and wooden canoes are the main form of transport for residents, including children, who have mastered the art of paddling. That children learn to paddle before they can crawl is an interesting case of nature versus nurture, and this skill, mastered at an early age, is a critical survival tactic for any Makoko resident. The village derives its name from Omi-Akoko, which loosely translates to “waters ringed by palm trees” in the local Egun language. It is home to the Oko-Agbon and Ago Egun communities. he sea of rusty rooftops is visible from a bridge that connects the Nigerian mainland to Lagos’ We’re a team of 25 journalists visiting this floating village, and the guides advise that we walk in a single file to board the canoes. But, however well travelled you are, nothing prepares you for the experience of this village, whose amphibian residents’ lives are so inextricably linked to fishing that they cannot imagine life far from water. It is this contaminated water that is the medium of disease transmission, but they will hear none of it and will readily use the cultural and ancestral tethering argument to remain afloat here. “Can fish survive on dry land?” one resident, Noah Shemede, asks rhetorically. “We live on water because it is the most convenient way to get fish, which is our source of food and income,” he adds. Every home owns a canoe, so hundreds are “anchored” on the lagoon to form a maze that only a skilled resident can navigate. Paddle-powered vessels are communal, so one does not have to pay to use them, although the community guides insist on Can fish survive on dry land? We live on water because it is the most convenient way to get fish, which is our source of food and income.” — Noah Shemede, resident, Makoko booking the wider ones for visitors to the village. As we board them with a sense foreboding, the residents look on in amazement and disbelief that we find it amusing that this is their only mode of transport. Four or five of us warily sit in one of the vessels, made slightly more comfortable by the addition wooden benches borrowed from a nearby school. On our way towards GROUP EDITORIAL DIRECTOR: Joseph Odindo GROUP MANAGING EDITOR: Mutuma Mathiu FEATURES EDITOR: Bernard Mwinzi REVISE EDITOR: Mary Wasike SUB-EDITOR: Naliaka Wafula PHOTO EDITOR: Joan Pereruan CHIEF GRAPHIC DESIGNER: Roger Mogusu DESIGNERS: Nzisa Mulli, Andrew Anini, Dennis Makori, Alice Othieno, Michael Mosota, Ken Kusimba, Hassan Ibrahim, Benjamin Situma, Joy Abisagi, Virginia Borura, Teddy Murimi, Linus Ombette REPORTER: Joy Wanja COVER & GRAPHIC CONCEPT: Dennis Makori a floating school, we come across a girl of about six or seven using a household basin and a wooden stick to paddle her way around. There are whispers of isolated cases of children drowning because they could not swim, but the local guides dismiss these as “normal accidents”. “On the mainland, there are road accidents involving pedestrians and vehicles and this is unique to their environment,” Shemede confidently explains, adding that by the age of five, most children can swim. Makoko village comprises rickety wooden houses and is home to an estimated 100,000 people; the exact number is hard to tell since they were not included in the country’s 2007 census. Part of the village was cleared by the government last year over flooding hazards, but the residents were quick to rebuild their houses, citing their cultural attachment to the village. Established in the 18th century as a fishing village, Makoko is home to hundreds from neighbouring Togo and Benin, apart from the native Nigerians. They buy water from a borehole nearby for as low as Sh1 per 20litre container. Makoko is also home to a floating school, a three-story Ashaped structure comprising a 1,000-square-foot play area on the ground floor and a classroom each on the second and third floors. The school, which stands on 256 plastic drums, was designed by a Nigerian architect who hopes the idea can be replicated in the construction of homes, which currently stand precariously on stilts. “My people have lived in Makoko for the last 200 years and we are all inter-related, with a common culture built around fishing,” says Chief Francis Agoyon. “We will die if you move us from here.” With regard to health facilities, the village has a few informal clinics, also standing on contaminated water, a paradox the villagers do not understand. So serious are the health conditions here that numerous researchers is published every week by Nation Media Group Limited. It is distributed free with every Daily Nation. Unsolicited manuscripts, artwork, transparencies are submitted at the sender’s risk. 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