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Raid of 200-year-old floating shantytown leaves thousands homeless in Nigeria

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
July 30th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Makoko is a massive, floating waterfront slum in Lagos, Nigeria that was at one time home to 100,000 people. Authorities recently gave the people there 72 hours to gather up all their belongings before men in speedboats arrived to destroy their houses. The mass eviction has left thousands homeless in an already stressed urban environment.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Makoko rises out of the murky water that separates mainland Nigeria from the island that gave birth to Lagos, its largest city.

Men armed with machetes and power saws descended on the shantytown to demolish it, leaving some 3,000 people homeless.

Their homes destroyed, many families have been left living on boats or seeking refuge in churches.

"The government is treating these people as though they were not human," Felix Morka, a rights activist at the Social and Economic Rights Action Centre in Lagos told the Al Jazeera News Network.

"It's very condescending of the government to contemplate displacing nearly 150,000 people without any discussion or notice. That is wrong," he said.

Government officials deny any wrongdoing. "Let us look at how these people live. Is there any reasonable society that would allow its citizens to live the way they are living?" Lateef Raji, an adviser to the governor of Lagos State told reporters.

The mass eviction has since touched off violence. Trouble started this past weekend when authorities tried to demolish a building after officials reached an informal agreement about how they would target homes for destruction.

Community Chief Timothy Hunpoyanwha was shot to death in an officer involved shooting, residents have said. The incident remains under investigation, prompting Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola to halt the demolition exercise.

Fashola remains firm that Makoko should not be allowed to grow any further. A government notice issued about the evictions seems to suggest it wants the entire community gone.

"The Lagos state government is desirous of restoring the amenity and value of the waterfront... [and] improve the waterfront/coastline to underline the megacity status of the state," the notice read.

Constructed of bamboo homes and shacks built out of driftwood, Makoko is close to the University of Lagos campus and visible to daily traffic that plies the Third Mainland Bridge, the link from the mainland to the city's islands.

Those living in Makoko subsist largely as fishermen and workers in nearby saw mills, cutting up water-logged timber that's floated into the city daily.

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