Earlier today I came across a report that saddened me. An inferno, the 2nd one in two years, engulfed a large part of Makoko, the popular slum/settlement on the Lagos Lagoon leaving hundreds of people without a ‘home’ and in some cases, without anything at all.

Now if you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 2-3 years, the name Makoko should ring a bell. If you try googling “Makoko” right now, the words “floating school” would probably pop up beside it. This is thanks to the heavily covered and publicised project by Kunle Adeyemi’s NLE works.

Heres the synopsis,

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An estimated 100,000 people call Makoko home, living in housing units predominantly built on stilts. The community has over 4,000 structures with about half of those directly on top of water, largely due to the fact that there is little land, and few roads. The expansive settlement spreads from the backyard of the University of Lagos, Akoka to the Adekunle axis of Yaba which can be navigated by canoe. It has no formal infrastructure to support its day-to-day activities, and, in many ways, epitomizes the imminent challenges and opportunities posed by urbanization and climate change in African Waterfront cities.

This is where the idea of the Floating School comes in. It is designed as a floating structure that adapts to the tidal changes and varying water levels, making it invulnerable to the flooding and storm surges that typify the community.

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It is designed to use renewable energy, to recycle organic waste and to harvest rainwater. The project was initiated, designed and built by NLÉ in collaboration with the Makoko Waterfront Community as a catalyst for Lagos Water Communities Project and part of the African Water Cities Project (2011) by NLÉ. It received support from the UNDP/ Federal Ministry of Environment Africa Adaptation program, a research grant from Heinrich Broll Foundation as well as several other technical collaborators.

For more details, please peruse the project page on NLE’s site.

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It was unfortunate that at the time of completion, the Lagos State government banned the floating school which was the main source of education for the people of the area, citing  “concern about the environmental and other negative living conditions of Makoko”.  Their intention, at the time, (I suspect) was to reclaim and develop the land into what most likely would’ve have been ‘luxury’ water front accommodation and commercial properties out of reach to the indigenous people of the area, effectively destroying their community, history and way of life. This wasn’t news. Prior to the development, the state government had begun demolishing the community with much resistance from the tens of thousands of people living there. 3000 residents are said to have been displaced from Makoko as a result.

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via bbc

With the suffering, hardship and poverty already experienced by the residents therein, one begins to wonder, why a viable and practical solution such as this wouldn’t be immediately embraced by the state government. If not for anything else, for the fact that it was conceived by a proverbial, “son of the soil”.

A comment I read on a forum discussing the issue, eloquently sums up my feelings about the governments initial response. Permit me to quote, xesolor,…

It flies against the practiced norm that gentrification with asphalt plains, concrete boxes and cubic glass phallic symbols is the only solution to social development.  

The government was going to fill the shallow waters and build more of the stuff not out of place in Shanghai, London or Manhattan, much to the protest of the locals, which would destroy their way of life and community. 

No way is this a glorification of poverty, but rather to show there are alternative, and equally quality social developments, where the focus is not reaping profit from land development, but putting unique community and culture square in the centre. 

This is far more diversifying, humane, sustainable and *Le shock* cheaper! Because the middleman monopoly operated by governments and developers is cut from the equation, with more money directly invested and benefitting the community, instead of going into private pockets!

Very Apt.

Thankfully though, the Lagos State government has had a rethink about the issue. Yielding to the demands of Makoko residents, the state government in a document released recently said

“A Non-Governmental Organisation, NGO, NLE Works has shown interest in the regeneration programme for the community. It has designed a floating structure for African Water Communities and erected a prototype, Floating School, at Makoko community. This administration is considering the prototype with a view to incorporate it into its development plan for the community.”

NLÉ’s principal,Kunlé Adeyemi added

“This is a rare and significant moment in history, where innovation is finally matched with an equally open-minded reconsideration of established policies. We deeply appreciate this forward thinking step by Lagos State Government. I believe this move is an important signal for mobilising local and global interests critical for addressing the challenges and opportunities posed by rapid urbanisation and climate change in developing African waterfront cities and communities.  We welcome partnerships and collaborations from all over the word.”

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At this point, I’m wondering if, the idea of NLE’s floating school could’ve have mitigated the massive spread of the fire. The high density of structures existing in the community, no doubt, was the culprit in spreading the inferno, wildly and quickly. A look at the rendering above, puts that argument to rest, just as quickly. The potential of the idea in not only redefining and redeveloping the area, but also becoming a global tourist attraction, is, in a word, immeasurable. Its authentic, local, sustainable, beautiful and most of all practical. Though the cost is yet to be published, I bet its not as expensive as luxury condo’s built on concrete piles, that would serve only the 1%. This idea, if properly executed, would generate revenue for the country, the State, the community and most of all, the people. This would, for all intents and purposes, effectively change the lives of the residents of the community, creating a less ironic, and more iconic African Venice.

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