By Clifford Ndujihe
A regular user of the 10-kilometre Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos, in the last two years would have noticed the rapid reclamation and invasion of the Lagos Lagoon from the Lagos Island end (Ilubirin sandfill); the Oyingbo end; and immediately after the University of Lagos, the fast growing floating slum right inside the lagoon.
In January 2008, there were less than 20 suspended wooden houses balanced on stilts in that area of the Lagoon known as Pedro, an appendage to Makoko. Now, there are about 1500 of such structures and by the end of 2010, the â€˜growing townâ€™ would be very close to the bridge.
During a trip to the Pedro shanty settlement, Wale, a 16 year old canoe boy, who navigated Vanguard through the houses described the area as a â€˜heaven.â€™
Life on the Lagoon
Asked how life was in the area, he enthused: â€œdo you want to join us?â€ Before an answer could be given, he continued: â€œyou will enjoy it when you come. Here, there is no government. We donâ€™t pay tax. We donâ€™t pay NEPA bills. And the rent is very cheap. If you want to rent a house (three or four bedrooms), it is N3000 a month. With N1000 you can get a room.â€
And to erect a structure of your own in the 6 to 15-metre deep water body, Tunde said, â€œit doesnâ€™t cost much. I will take you to our leader â€“ a very powerful man. He will give you a portion on the lagoon to build your house if you pay him a small amount of money.â€
Aside being free from payment of sundry levies and taxes, the inhabitants subject the surrounding water body to a number of economic uses. It serves as a source of bathing water, fishing, movement and most unfortunately, a sink. They defecate directly into the water.
Wooden houses close to land are linked by arteries of wooden bridges. For those farther inside the water, the major means of movement are canoes. Thus possession of a canoe is a measure of affluence.
The ethnic make-up of the Lagoon dwellers is diverse – there are Igbos, Yorubas, Ijaws, Efik, and Egun among others.
Their sources of livelihood are also diverse. As expected, many of them are fishermen but a host of others are engaged in buying and selling of edible items, alcoholics, food, clothing, etc. Some of themÂ work upland in companies and enterprises at Oyingbo and environs.
Okafor, a young man of 27, who had been selling foodstuffs in the area for about 5 years, said that plans to leave the â€˜settlementâ€™ was not in his agenda because â€œmarket is moving for me here and the house rent is cheap.â€
He continued: â€œWhere I am staying, we pay N1000 a month. And there is co-operation.â€
During the trip, a section of the slum which got burnt down was being rebuilt.
Okafor said the owners of the burnt structure were willing to take advance rent from would-be tenants to erect new buildings. If you meet them (landlords) they will help you.â€
So, it is not surprising that the shanty town is growing rapidly. Some of the inhabitants were victimsÂ of the Maroko slum, which the military government destroyed in the 1989. Displaced persons from the on-going demolition of structures along major highways, markets and streets in the metropolis, which unconfirmed estimates put at 6000 houses, are finding their ways to Pedro and similar settlements in Lagos.
The rapid encroachment via wooden structures and reclamation through sand filling are some of the abuses that Nigeriaâ€™s expanse of wetlands are suffering.
Jakande urges solution
Commenting on the issue, first civilian governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, urged the authorities to find solutions to the housing needs of the citizenry and the invasion of the water bodies before they cause serious damages. He asked the government to provide alternative accommodation before demolishing illegal houses and structures.
Lawmakers on rescue mission
Disturbed by complaints arising from the demolitions, the Lagos State House of Assembly recently raised a committee to probe the issue.
Reacting to the move, the Lagos State chapter of the Democratic Peoples Alliance, DPA, asked the House to extend its current probe of demolished structures to the Maroko incident of 1989.
According to a statement by its Director of Publicity, Felix Oboagwina, the DPA said the terms of reference for the Assemblyâ€™s ad hoc panel investigating demolitions in Lagos should include the settlement of victims who lost their homes 20 years ago when the Military government of Gen. Raji Rasaki sacked residents and leveled their settlement at the Atlantic seaside.
â€œIt is a pity that 20 years after the demolition and balkanisation of Maroko, home owners and landlords have not been compensated or rehabilitated. This did not happen even when the Oputa Panel told then Governor Bola Tinubu to apologise for the misdeed, as well as resettle and compensate victims,â€ it said.
According to DPA, the House must get the government to put together a comprehensive resettlement and compensation package for the 300,000 victims ejected from some 10,000 Maroko houses by the Brigadier Raji Rasaki regime in 1989.
Until solutions are found to the rising housing needs in Lagos, the influx into the Lagoons obviously will continue, with that attendant contamination and pollution of the water bodies and the environment.