Makoko Victims: We can’t live outside water
“We were born inside water. We grew up inside water. We work inside water and we can’t live outside water.” These were the words of The Baale of Ilaje community in Makoko, Alhaji Ibrahim Aladeitan. Maroko is located in Yaba Local Government Area of Lagos State and in the past one week, it has been under the might of bulldozers, deployed Lagos State Government.
But the distraught resident have refused to vacate the place, insisting they cannot survive in any other place. Most were born and raised in the commune on top of water. Men and women, old and young, teenagers and children all said they are used to living on water. They love water. They feel save on water. They don’t know sickness on water and they would continue to live on water.
Orioye Ogungbure, 55, said residents of the place developed the area adding that the place is water. We love water because our forefathers were fishermen and people like us were born here. There is hospital here and there are schools here. You park your canoe at the foot of your house and enter your house. Olayinka, 64, said she was born on water, therefore, “we are water people. I can’t live on land, even if government provides houses.”
But the Lagos State Government has insisted that the place must be cleared and reclaimed for decent, more egalitarian purposes. July 12, 2012, it gave residents residents 72 hours to vacate the area. On July 14, a large contingent of mobile policemen and staff of the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development arrived Makoko and started the demolition of the houses built on water. It was however made clear that the houses for demolition are those built within 100 meters from the sea and those under high-tension wire.
A letter signed by one Akin Tijani on behalf of the Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructural Development and addressed to occupier/owners of buildings in Makoko /Iwaya waterfront, Yaba made it clear that the structures were illegal.
The letter titled, Notice to Vacate and Remove Shanties / Illegal Developments Along the Waterfront, reads in part: “You have continued to occupy and develop shanties and constituting unwholesome structures on the waterfront without authority thereby constituting environmental nuisance, security risks, impediments to economic and gainful utilization of the waterfront such as navigation, entertainment, recreation etc.
“The Lagos State Government is desirous of restoring the amenity and value of the waterfront, protect life and property, promote legitimate economic activities on the waterfront, restore security, improve water transportation and beautify the Lagos waterfront /coastline to underline the mega city status of Lagos State and has decided to clear all illegal and unauthorized development on its waterfront and water bodies.
“Therefore, notice is hereby given you to vacate and remove all illegal developments along Makoko/Iwaya waterfront within 72 hours of receipt of this notice.” Early this year, all the Baales in Makoko were summoned to Alausa, the seat of Lagos State Government. The seven Baales were told to ensure that their people, living under the powerline and those who built houses within 100 meters from the waterways, evacuated from the places.
According to a source, all the Baales agreed to comply with the directive. Another meeting was held with them last month with the same directive. These meetings were then followed with the demolition letter July 12, with order to move out within 72 hours.
Historical background Historical accounts say, a woman from Isale Eko, Lagos Island founded Makoko four centuries ago. It is largely populated by people of Ilaje from Ondo State and the Egun from Lagos. There are also people from Ijaw area. These are people from riverine areas who are used to living on water. Their forefathers were fishermen and they are always found in places where there is water. There are also few people from Abeokuta, Owo, Akure and Ibadan living in the area.
The Baale of Ilaje community in Makoko, Alhaji Ibrahim Aladeitan told Saturday Sun that it is the Egun and Ilaje people that are experts in building houses on water. He said: “They were born in water and they live in water. They can’t survive outside water. It is the sea that is in Lagos that passes through Ilaje in Ondo ”
People started building houses on water in Makoko 80 years ago, according to these accounts. Before then, it was largely a swamp with Mango trees. To the present day, houses and mosques built in 1890 are still standing in the place. Old men and women in their 60s and 70s say there were fewer buildings at the time, but as Lagos State Government started displacing people from other waterfronts in the state, the population of Makoko increased, so were houses.
Reference is made to Ilubinrin in Lagos Island where a large number of fishermen were displaced. They simply moved to Makoko. When government displaced Maroko fishermen in the early 1990s, they also moved to Makoko. When fishermen in Bariga, located in Somolu local government, were displaced, they moved to and found accommodation in Makoko.
The move to relocate people from Makoko dates back to the Yakubu Gowon era in the 1970s.There are other reasons, apart from the excuse given by the Lagos State Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Resources in its letter for the take over of the waterways. It is argued that no nation allows its waterways to be encroached upon by the people, because war can only come to a nation by air, by road or by sea.
A human rights group, Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) has threatened to take the state government to court. A letter written by SERAC and addressed to the State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola on the killing of a deputy Baale. Mr. Timothy Azinkpono last Saturday, queried why the government could displace people without compensating them. The letter, signed by its Executive Director, Mr. Felix C. Morka, said his meeting with state officials shows that the intention of the government is to send away those it said are not indigenes of Lagos. It warned Fashola against ethnic cleansing.
Many theories have begun to emerge as to the state government’s motive. One is that, each time, when people are displaced from the coast, the place is sand-filled and sold to the rich. Some point to Ilubinrin, for instance, and say that, after driving away the people living there, it was sold. Today, there are storey buildings on it. They say, initially, it cost N3 million per plot. It is now N25 million per plot.
There are claims that those affected in the Makoko episode were taken to Agbowa Ikosi after Ikorodu, but Alhaji Aladeitan told Saturday Sun that it is a rumour that cannot be confirmed. In all of this, it would seem that what is most important, is the people’s insistence that they are not ready to relocate, in spite of the bulldozers because, they cannot live outside water. And to give feathers to their insistence, many of the displaced have resorted to living in their boats, while some others have taken residence under the Third Mainland Bridge.