Friday, 23 April 2010

Nigeria: Welcome to Lagos II - Beyond Civic Pride

Originally published on Nigerians Talk.ORG please post your comments and views there. Thanks.

Makoko – the Venice of Africa

The second part of Welcome to Lagos [1] shown on the BBC yesterday was another compelling viewing that would leave many viewers divided between the humanity of those communities and the conditions of the same communities.

The second part can be viewed courtesy of Nigerian Curiosity [2] who has obtained video viewable on her blog – Thanks for a splendid job.

There are however a few incontrovertible facts, Makoko is part of Lagos, about 100,000 people live there, they are Nigerians and there is no reason for them to feel inferior to any other so-called emancipated Nigerian who is too ashamed to see the realities in their own country.

Spare me the whining

The middle-class whining about the image, tourist potential and places of superfluous grandeur that majors on trends and the mimicry of foreign styles and mores without any substance, hoping to portray an air-brushed image of life and opulence is interesting but not about Nigeria at all.

In my case, I would have preferred to see the tenacity and in the words of the narrator, the resourceful, determined and unbelievably resilient people of Makoko than pretentious haughty hedonists living in gated communities built by foreigners for which they have to pay fortunes to keep up with the Joneses.

A family of note

Indeed, the life of the 65-year old who had been there for 40 years was interesting as a father of 18 children welcoming a new grandchild, it would be easily to castigate the creation of such a large family.

However, unlike typically large families that make the news in the West as scroungers living on welfare, the man held his house together, they ate together and he strove to maintain discipline within that seemingly happy household apart from the difficulties he had with a son who was not keen on the dignity of labour for the waywardness of social excess.

A jack of many trades, mastering most, he was fish-farmer, fish-monger, landlord and lucky gambler with an interesting lottery prediction system – the man was grounded, able and willing to do whatever he could for the good of himself and his family – that at least should be commendable.

Let there be sand

Land reclamation was a fascinating mix of the foundation of rubbish, layers of sawdust obtained from a saw mill nearby which also absorbed the foul odours and then sand.

The sand divers collecting sharp sand for the building trade were men of a different kind, one of the divers was 50 and his body could easily pass for a fit athlete half his age. They filled their boats in hours and rather than row they put up huge sails and made for land to deliver their cargo.

The flotilla of sand boats was a sight to behold, a regatta of hard labour and of people who in difficult situations made a living worthy of great respect.

An abattoir for trees

The sawmill was a hive of activity with lots of child labour, one of the foremen slept on the premises but hoped to acquire a place for himself once he had saved enough money {he eventually did} – they were driven and only stopped when the electricity supply was lost for all sorts of infrastructure reasons that have consistently plagued Nigeria.

Thankfully, none of the sawmill owners were in the game of one-upmanship of acquiring generators to draw more business to themselves but when two deaths occurred from electrocution all the operators gathered in a union style meeting and proposed that all operators must wear rubber gloves and boots. Each death initiated three days of mourning along with contributions towards the burial of the victim and for the upkeep of his family.

The sawmills were a seriously unsafe environment but the fatalities necessitated a change to their working environment. At one time, an owner opined that siblings working together might just be engaged in chit-chat, but the dedication of the children lead to their permanent employment with nostalgic memories of home.

A university student, a marine science major paid his fees by logging in the holidays, he felled the trees and used the buoyancy of water to transport the trees to the sawmill over the period of a week – his command of English was hardly good but I felt it was useful for the environment he was in.

A marine science specialist is not necessarily going to be speaking the Queen’s English to the fish when he eventually gets his degree.

Long lost traditions

Animist potions and incisions for protection have always been our traditional way of dealing with omens, evils and the need for protection – logic and religion might have robbed people of faith in the ways of our forefathers but herbal remedies are usually what they are made out to be, if the dispenser knows the detail.

The mode of transport was mainly by canoe and you could see women “drive” their vehicles paddling with a sense of purpose and dignified strokes that caressed the waters of the lagoon.

The people

The idea that the documentary is negative is preposterous and insincere at best, it is dishonest to deny these people a peaceful productive existence because of some aspiration for a civic society where the privileged can showcase their “bling” whilst the underprivileged gets hounded from place to place by government bulldozers and schemes to pave those paradises to put up parking lots.

In an article in the Financial Times [3] about the first instalment of the Welcome to Lagos documentary the columnist said we miss “a compelling case for Nigeria’s economic potential and its greatest but often overlooked asset: its people.”

The people of Makoko and the people of Olusosun are assets to Nigeria, not shiny, window dressed, fake, fickle and plastic imitations of life looking nice, they are the salt of the earth and like it or not – They are fellow Nigerians with rights, dreams, aspirations and much more – live with it.

Sources

[1] BBC - BBC TV blog: Welcome to Lagos - it'll defy your expectations
[2] BBC's Welcome To Lagos Part 2 (video) ~ Nigerian Curiosity
[3] FT.com / Management - Business flair in the slums of Lagos
My reviews of all the parts of BBC’s Welcome to Lagos documentary
Nigeria: Welcome to Lagos III - Welthauptstadt Nigeria

Nigeria: Welcome to Lagos II - Beyond Civic Pride

Nigeria: Welcome to Lagos - An inspiration


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