Visiting the Makoko Community

Today we visited the Makoko community, an informal settlement on the oceanfront of Lagos. This is a fishing community that has been living literally on the water—a Nigerian Venice of sorts—for more than 150 years. (A 1962 map shows the Makoko community back before Lagos even had 1 million residents; Lagos now has 13 million residents.) Since then, Makoko has grown to more than 200,000 residents (officially, it is only 85,000 residents, but the area is considered illegal, so it is not included in any recent census). 1/3 of the Makoko residents live in houses on stilts along the lagoon, which are inaccessible except by canoe. The Nigerian government considers the Makoko community illegal, accusing them of living like animals. And, as such, the government believes they have no responsibility to provide services: no education, no clean water, no electricity, and no healthcare. Everything that exists in the community was established without the government.

The following video provides a window into life in Makoko – it says way more than I can possibly describe.

Our visit started when we boarded a carved-out canoe and went to meet with the village chief, Desmond Shemede. The short journey alone resulted in sensory overload. The sights, sounds, and smells were just a constant stream of the remarkable. The boatman’s balance, the latrines directly over the water, the bright colored clothes accentuating the brown wood shacks—everything was extraordinary. We saw smiling faces, heard alert calls about visitors in the neighborhood, and smelled hydrogen sulfide mixed with (odorless) methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and a multitude of other compounds oozing from the garbage. Our boatman navigated the quagmire of gray-black water and the traffic jam of canoes until we arrived at the chief’s office. He was sitting at a wooden desk just across a waterway from one of two schools. For the next 30 minutes, we sat in silence, listening to Desmond as he shared about life within this slum on the water.

Leaving Desmond’s office took us past the school. They teach about 200 students there, offering lunch along with the free education. There is a clinic that serves the Makoko community, along with some less formal medical services. Malaria is the most common disease. Not surprisingly, cases of cholera, typhoid fever, and many other diseases caused by contaminated water are common. COVID is somewhat of a joke in comparison.

While there are boreholes providing water, they too are somewhat contaminated with sewage and other pollutants in an overpopulated area with little to no infrastructure. While there are latrines, they only provide privacy since they too are on stilts directly above the water. Though privacy was not a particularly high priority, since residents went to the bathroom by just squatting directly over the water without bothering to navigate to the latrines for seclusion,


I haven’t yet done any research on the charity, but we Desmond mentioned his foundation, for helping this community with infrastructure and education and humanitarian aid to help residents here escape extreme living conditions. I’ll provide an update here before the end of the year if Elisabeth and I end up supporting this work along with IntelliTect.

One Response to Visiting the Makoko Community

  1. […] some ways, this village seems like a historic look back at what an earlier version of the Makoko community in Nigeria might have been like. At a minimum, the stark nature of children swimming in the same water that […]

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