The trip to Makoko started out as a mystery.
There was a text message from the “Mayor of Lagos” Toni Kan that I should keep the evening of a certain Friday free for an engagement.
Further text and email messages informed me that I should get to MRS filling station at the Adekunle end of Yaba, Lagos by 5.30 pm for the trip to the now-defunct Makoko floating school.
A white-bearded septuagenarian taxi driver took me to the Adekunle axis. He was a personification of the dignity of labour who told me the history of WEMA Bank and pointed to the house of the founder of the bank at the end of the street.
Toni Kan and his personable partner, Peju Akande, drove into the filling station at just about the same time.
We drove through a crowded narrow road in Toni’s jeep until we could move no more. We asked some of the urchins around how to make our way to where we can board canoes going to the Makoko floating school built atop the lagoon.
We were told that we had missed the entry point but that we could still make our way through one narrow pathway they pointed at.
It was a winding journey past many corners and shanties. There was the Catholic Church serving the community, St Andrew du Lac, an outstation of St Dominic’s, Yaba. Past the modest church, we walked on until we saw the ill-assorted canoes manned by youths who could speak neither English nor Yoruba. Their language was Egun, but somehow we managed to communicate.
At N50 per head we took to the canoes not bothering about life-jackets or insurance. It was a convivial company of Isabella Akinseye, Terh Agbedeh, Michael Jimoh, etc in ramshackle canoes.
The waters were dirty black in the narrow estuary leading to the broadness of the cleaner ocean.
The masses of Makoko waved at us, wondering at the strangers in their midst.
There was a very large stationary canoe filled to the brim with heavily dressed men and women, mostly women, having a party atop the sea.
Our canoe had to make way to a corner to allow another much bigger canoe to pass by.
The floating school stood to our right, and the paddler of our canoe expertly manoeuvred as the other canoe carrying some of the ladies banked somehow, with water coming into the board, which saw one lady going almost hysterical. The same lady kept stressing that we must not go back in the night with the same small canoes.
We climbed off the canoes into the floating school teeming with some men and mostly children and youths of Makoko.
A cinema screen was mounted inside a big canoe by the southward end of the school and a couple of white folksy cineastes made the final arrangements over the screening.
Going up the wooden stairs of the floating school, we saw on the board a biology lesson on the stages of puberty in boys and girls.
Looking farther ahead, the Third Mainland Bridge meandered in its majesty with traffic flowing fast and free to the island while standing still on the other lanes leading to the mainland.
One could not but remember that one’s idea about Makoko only emanated from looking down at the shacks from the heights of the Third Mainland Bridge.
Lagos advertises itself as the “Centre of Excellence” but the neglect of Makoko belies such honorifics for the city by the lagoon.
The Makoko slum which had been in existence since the 18th Century has never ever been counted in the country’s census. The 500,000-odd inhabitants can hardly ever count on any governmental welfare except repeated plans to evict the masses so that the rich can construct magnificent waterfront edifices in their place.
Thus far the residents of Makoko have somehow survived the sad eviction that was the lot of Maroko during the military regime of Colonel Raji Rasaki.
It was in solidarity with Makoko against forced eviction that we made the trip to watch the documentary Dear Mandela, a film that won the coveted Best South African Documentary at the Durban International Film Festival.
The documentary had thus far been screened in 40 countries, and has been translated into 12 languages.
Dear Mandela was then on a Nigerian tour facilitated by Amnesty International Nigeria, Ford Foundation and CMAP as part of a cultural exchange programme.
The Dear Mandela project was aimed at raising “awareness about housing rights’ issues and forced evictions as well as their impact on lives while telling the stories of communities struggling with this gross violation of their human rights.”
Astutely directed by Dara Kell & Christopher Nizza, Dear Mandela traces three friends who refuse to be moved from their shack in Durban’s vast shantytowns when the South African government undertakes the so-called programme of “eradicate the slums” which entailed evicting shack dwellers far outside the city.
The Nigerian version of Dear Mandela is rendered in Pidgin with short video modules.
There was also a screening of the documentary on the building of the floating school via the rebel architecture of Kunle Adeyemi.
It was the big canoe bearing the cinema screen that ferried all of us out of the Makoko floating school into the dead-end of the Makoko slum proper.
Then we all moved into Yaba mainland of Lagos, the so-called Centre of Excellence.