Life is indeed, miserable and hardly worth living for the people of Makoko, a shanty town in Lagos mainland. Peter Uzoho, who visited the community recently, reports that there is no government presence in the area
“We beg government to help us. We are the ones, who voted for them, but now we’re suffering and they are enjoying; it’s not fair. We need help in this Makoko area. Let them not come to demolish our homes. They should find solution to our problem that’s why we voted them into power. We don’t know what to do and they are there looking at us without doing anything to help us.
Are we not part of this country? Is our world different? God is watching them oh! When they want to find vote they will come and promise heaven and earth but when they enter the seat of power they won’t remember us again. It’s we the poor that vote for them more.”
Those were words of a dejected poor resident and mother of eight in Makoko community, Mrs. Shade Ayeni. Her outburst is in no way different from the normal wailings of a typical lower class citizen in a country blessed with abundant resources and opportunities.
Descending the Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos, one is ushered into a community whose residents dwell in wooden huts built on top of water. A shanty town with high population density, Makoko is a perfect definition of poverty in the midst of plenty. The people barely have one square meal a day as hunger and despair have become a norm among the people and they have no option, but to live with it.
Their health is on a daily basis threatened by the dirty environment they live in. From Apollo Street down to the interior side of the community, the parts are filled with trashes, dumped indiscriminately by residents, left to decompose and produce obnoxious odour which constitute health hazards to them.
Being a predominantly fishing community, the people of Makoko drift across muddy lagoons, casting nets to fish for their sustenance. Parents, young men and women and even children are jointly engaged in the vocation.
Although, the people have a long history of living in squalor, the population of the community has never witnessed a decline as month after month, people still make entry into the community. Many have argued that the high rate of rural-urban migration resulting from the search for greener pastures by the youths is responsible for this.
Indeed, Makoko in some ways can be regarded as a microcosm of the macrocosm called Nigeria. In the slum community, all the states and tribes of the country are represented. For instance, in there, you can find the Yorubas, who are the natural owners of the land; there are Igbos and Hausas there; the Ijaws, Ibibios, Eguns, Ilajes, Tivs, Itsekiris and many others, are all living there. Keeping aside their tribal and language differences, they are joined together in the sorrow and agony of being disappointed, rejected and forgotten by the government, whose duty it is, to cater for their well-being.
Another resident of Makoko community is Mr. Ikenna Ifegbu, an indigene of Abia State, who has just lived in the community for three years. Ifegbu, a tailor dwells in one of the huts with his newly-married wife. He left his home, Abia State, for the city of Lagos to look for a means of survival, but ended up in shanty, as there was no money to rent a block house.
“This place is not worth living for human beings. We’re just surviving by the grace of God,” Ifegbu said. “I’ve been here for three years now and have been asking God to help me raise money so I can leave this place. To be honest with you, those people living in the big cities like Victoria Island cannot be able to spend just one hour here, because if they try it, they will find themselves in the hospital,” he said.
Fuming in indignation, he continued, “Let government come and rescue us from this bondage. They are supposed to know that we are the power of government. During election I know the effort I made to ensure that we voted the right persons into power so that they would in turn make things better for all of us. But the election has come and gone and no one remembers us again. We are just looking without seeing anything. We’re begging them to come and help the poor people here,” he added.
Apparently, anyone who has visited Makoko by chance or on a well-planned trip would rightly summarise it to be a place for the forgotten. From all indications, they have been disconnected from the mega city plan of the state government, and are, therefore, left to take care of themselves in any way possible for them.
Ironically, politicians often times take advantage of the population of the community to emerge winners during elections. As election draws closer, they begin to make their unusual entry into the forgotten area; making empty campaign promises which they would hastily forget after election. All the promise of electricity supply, the potable water promises, restoration of the dilapidated environment, building standard school for the children, kicking out poverty in the land, and other promises made to them, till date, remain a mirage.
“We have no food to eat; we don’t have good water to drink. Our children are out of school because we don’t have money to train them,” Mrs. Bose Ogbaro, mother of four complained.
“During election, they will come here with their fake campaign promises which they would never fulfil. How many times will they promise us electricity? How many times will they promise us good water or school for our children? Which of those promises have they fulfilled?
“Government should come and help us. We have been crying to them but they don’t want to hear us. Is it when we die that they will remember us? We’re living in huts made of planks and they are there watching us,” she lamented.
According to the residents, instead of attending to their problem, government aggravates it. On monthly basis, government officials who claim to be tax officials would come demanding that they pay their taxes, not minding their suffering. Also, they are forced to pay N2,000 as rent every month for the hut they are living in which government does not bother to maintain for them when necessary.
“When I tell people that we don’t have government in Nigeria but oppressors, they keep arguing with me. Our governments are not there for us; they can never think about us. So the earlier we realise that, the better for us. I know we are suffering, I know we are going through pains caused by the inability of our government to do what will benefit us, but then, we should take life the way we see it and move on,” Mr. Edmond Ubong, a resident of the community said.
“Can a government that has sympathy for its own people be bold to come to demand tax from us under this condition. They said they are doing tax inclusion and now remembered that people are living here. Where do they expect us to get the money to pay them. They are not after knowing whether we are eating or not. They don’t care to know whether we ‘are healthy or not, all they want is money from us.
“The most annoying part is the N2000 they collect from us every month for rent. We are the ones that constructed these huts we’re living in. We maintain them when they are due for maintenance. So tell me the reason why government should be collecting this money from us. Nothing here can make one believe that this place is part of Lagos State or Nigeria,” he lamented.