Big Dreams From Makoko
On the narrow and closed road that leads to Adogbo 1 in Makoko, is a cobbler (popularly known as a shoemaker)’s shop and a boy who closely observes the cobbler’s hand. From the boy’s suggestive posture, the child is an apprentice. As one passes through the untarred road, a crowd gathers as a man and a woman exchange blows. There is little or no attempt to stop the fight. At the sight of the Baale, they stop, each trying to explain their sides of the story.
Those who ignore the fight are busy sewing, preparing their akamu (pap) while the others are completely uninterested in the fight. As we move further down the road, another child is seen in a tailor’s shop on the first machine sewing a piece of fabric.
While Lagos prides itself as one of the most developed cities in Nigeria with some trappings of a megacity, some parts of the city are still slums. Makoko, first established as a community in the 18th century, is one of Lagos’s most underdeveloped communities. Makoko is the abandoned child whose existence Lagos continues to deny and as such, looks to philanthropists to make a sense of life.
Makoko is made up of five smaller communities – Oko Agbon, Adogbo, Migbewe, Yanshiwe all of which are on the bank Lagos Lagoon, and Sogunro and Apollo in Yaba Local Council Development Area.
Every year, the world celebrates and recognises children on May 27, Children’s Day. An excited Baale Victor Asu says it is one of the most memorable times for the children of Makoko. This is because children look forward to the prizes and gifts that the NGOs who visit bring.
“People will come and dance with the children, they will bring takeaway food, bring t-shirts, organise dancing competitions.” However, they visit more during Children’s Day.
The squalor regardless, children of Makoko have big dreams for themselves and their community.
15-year-old Charles, Victor Asu’s son, who has lived all his life in Makoko even has more tales to tell. When the smart JSS 2 student was younger (seven years ago), a woman who runs an NGO organised a spelling Bee competition with promises of a scholarship to the winner. Having trained for weeks, he emerged winner “but she has never shown up”. However, he is quick to point out that not all NGO’s are like that. Fortunately for him, his role model took over and has since been supplying him with his books and other things needed for his education.
As soon as Guardian Life set up our tripod and camera, people especially children start to gather. The camera piques their interest. Charles explains that it is their way of showing their excitement when they see a concerned stranger. “There is one thing about the children of Makoko. We really love seeing people coming to know about our community.”
He acknowledges that education is very important and strongly believes that it holds the key to a better community. But the community is under-educated. “We don’t have textbooks and cannot afford them so we borrow from people.”
Despite this inadequacy, Charles’s dream transcends the boundaries of Makoko slum. “I really like Makoko because I think I am destined to change Makoko. I will like to build a school in this community because one of the problems that we face here is lack of education. A lot of the children don’t go to school. Also, the roads and our water are bad. Many people talk about how black our water is. I will purify the water and build a global attraction in some streets in Makoko.”
15-year-old Ayomide is a tailor when he is not in school. Quite shy, the JSS 2 student spends his Children’s Day by sewing clothes to help his parents raise money for feeding. It is, therefore, important that he takes on his tailoring job which he is fast learning in his father’s shop seriously. But he says his future is bleak if he continues to stay in the community. “I want to travel abroad because we don’t have plenty future here in Makoko.”
Joshua is one of the lucky ones. His trader parents will take him to Amusement Park or any other location where he can join other kids. “I meet new people because I usually go out with my parents. They take us to some events every year and this year will be the same thing.”
With no sign of PHCN electricity until our departure, Ayomide’s major concern to bring electricity to the community is not farfetched. “If I have money today, I will change Makoko’s face first, then I will sponsor plenty of children to school and I will take care of my mummy and daddy and children. I will bring electricity and hospital. NEPA (PHCN) don’t used to give us light.”
Ayomide has his eyes on music. This, he believes, is the best route out of his present situation.
17-year-old Tatiana was busy selling her wares in a small kiosk when we requested for an interview. She is one of the many Makoko children who has never celebrated Children’s Day. Yet, she describes it as a period when the NGO really helps them because “there are some challenges [she faces] like [lack ofl school bags, school sandals and school books.”
Like Charles and Ayomide, she is focused on her dream of becoming a medical doctor. Fortunately, her parents value the need to give her education.
“When I grow up, I want to be a medical doctor. I help my parents in the shop but they have tell me that no matter the condition, they will send me to the university to read medicine and I believe that I will make it,” the SS2 student says. “I will make sure that I take permission from the government to bring medical outreach to our community. If I have money, I will help children with my money to send them to school,” she says.
The Baale tells us that it is his desire that the wishes of the children be granted as a special gift for Children’s Day. “I have not heard that the government is planning for us this Children’s day,” he adds.