Two years ago, a floating school in Lagos’s ‘floating’ slum of Makoko was labelled as ‘illegal’ by authorities who then threatened to demolish it. This year the school, which is the brainchild of Nigerian architect Kunlé Adeyemi, was nominated for the London-based Design Museum’s Design of the Year award.
Adeyemi is the founder of NLE, a design and architecture company focused on creating sustainable buildings in developing regions. His innovative design came about after he had had several discussions with Makoko residents about how to resolve the environmental issues – such as flooding – that concerned the local community. He and his team came up with a prototype for a floating building, which is now the Makoko Floating School.
“There are hundreds if not thousands of Makokos all over Africa,” Adeyemi says. “We cannot simply displace this population; it’s important to think about how to develop them, how to create enabling environments for them to thrive, to improve the sanitation conditions, to provide the infrastructure, schools and hospitals to make it a healthy place.
“My belief is that in developing Africa we need to find solutions that can be developed by the grassroots, through the grassroots, and achieve the same level of significance as we have on the high-end projects.”
Read more about the construction of Makoko Floating School
Now, in a new documentary series by Al Jazeera that looks at unconventional pioneers in the architecture industry, Adeyemi’s floating school is brought to life in the episode “Working On Water”, directed by award-winning South African filmmaker Riaan Hendricks. Launched on August 18, the six-part Rebel Architecture series will air every Monday through to September 22.
Dynamic Africa is a curated multimedia blog focused on all facets of African cultures, African history, and the lives and experiences of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora – past and present. Visit the blog and connect with the curator, Funke Makinwa, on Twitter.
Nigerian photographer Andrew Esiebo, a recent convert to social media, uses pictures to tell the story of Africa’s largest metropolis and beyond.
“I was sceptical at the beginning,” says Esiebo of Instagram. “From what I’d seen about social media, it was all about pictures of parties and holidays rather than a way to tell a story.”
When Esiebo did give the photo-sharing service a go, two of his most popular photos came to include a shot that captures Lagos’s party spirit and another of a child asleep on a beach in Freetown. With an Instagram account brimming with photos that reflect the everyday colourful chaos of Africa’s largest metropolis, Esiebo is one of a crop of rising stars whose mobile-shot photos are helping to revolutionise the way outsiders and local people see Africa.
“Instagram has been quite remarkable in the impact it’s had, especially in the northern hemisphere where people have little idea of everyday life here,” says the 36-year-old Lagosian, whose previous projects range from a series documenting West Africa’s barbershops to a local neighbourhood team of grandmothers in South Africa when the country hosted the 2010 World Cup.
In a continent where mobile phone usage is exploding, Esiebo isn’t the only one who has realised the potential of Instagram. Along with 17 others, he is part of the Everyday Africa project, a collective of photographers who have taken on the “common media portrayal of the African continent as a place consumed by war, poverty, and disease”.
“One of the biggest pluses [of mobile phone photography] is it makes you much more invisible and therefore much more intimate,” says Esiebo. “From a technical point of view it’s more limiting, but the idea of using Instagram for storytelling just makes a lot of sense.”
Appetite has even come from those already familiar with the tapestry of Nigeria. “There are some images I’ve posted that weren’t meant for a Nigerian audience that sometimes got the biggest response [there],” he says.
Esiebo becoming a photographer was remarkable in itself. Nigeria has a vibrant arts scene, but artists work in challenging conditions. Recently a show featuring Esiebo’s work in northern Nigeria’s main city of Kano had to be scrapped after a series of bomb attacks by Islamists Boko Haram.
But it is the daily grind that drags most artists down. Well-maintained galleries are few and far between, and most exhibitions depend on word of mouth for attracting visitors. “Infrastructure is a major problem. There’s no funding, no support networks for indigenous photographers,” Esiebo notes. “Much more attention was paid to westerners, who would document our story and then bring it back to us.”
While working at the French Research Institute in Ibadan, Esiebo was “lucky to have access to photography books”. Then in 2006, he met the celebrated Nigerian photographer George Osodi.
“That was a turning point. It gave me the confidence, that if he could tell our story as a Nigerian, then I could too,” he said. “The best thing about being a photographer is having a chance to tell your own story.”
Challenges of copyright and distribution are magnified in Nigeria, as evidenced from bootlegged videos, CDs and books openly sold in every city. And though mobile photography has other limits, believes it’s only going to grow bigger. “It’s just an alternative way to reach out to people. For me, pictures are not just about quality, it’s about the story behind them.”
Ochuko Oghuvwu is surprisingly chirpy for a man who spends upwards of 30 hours a week in his car, commuting to and from his office in Nigeria’s financial hub, Lagos.
Then again, he has just started the working week after two whole days without having to battle giant pot-holes, monster traffic jams, roadworks, irate drivers and police checkpoints.
Oghuvwu’s stockbroking firm in the Ikoyi area of Lagos is only about 32 kilometres from his home in Ojo, due west towards the border with neighbouring Benin.
The drive to the office should only take 45 minutes to one hour.
But those days are as rare in Lagos as 24 hours of uninterrupted electricity from the national grid.
Instead, the trip normally takes him three hours – even longer in the June to September rainy season – despite him being behind the wheel from 5:30 am.
“I wake up early to beat the major traffic,” he told AFP.
“Those that wake up later end up spending more time. On a day like a Monday, if you leave the house at 6:30 am, you spend more than four hours in the car.”
Oghuvwu, a marketing executive in his early 40s, is far from a rare breed in Nigeria’s biggest city.
Hundreds of thousands of people like him also spend nearly as much time commuting as the statutory working week in countries such as France.
He could even be considered a late riser. Others who live nearby set off a full hour earlier to beat the infamous “go-slows”, as local call traffic jams.
“We get exhausted. We’re always tired. For somebody in my position, I just lock the door of the office and have a little nap for 20 to 30 minutes,” he said.
The time spent crawling bumper to bumper with other cars, motorbikes and battered yellow taxis, packed buses and overloaded trucks has taken its toll on his Volvo S90.
The constant stop-start means brake pads need checking every other month and the services of panel beaters to smooth out the inevitable dents and scrapes from the quest to keep moving.
But the gruelling commute has also affected his social life and the amount of time he spends with his family.
Ughuvwu’s children, aged between six and 14, are usually asleep when he leaves the house and when he returns.
“At the weekend I don’t go out,” he added. “I mainly stay at home. I don’t want to face the traffic. It’s ruined my social life.”
Officially, Lagos is said to be home to some 12 million people.
But many estimates put the figure at about 21 million, in a city spread over 910 square kilometres.
New arrivals hunting a slice of Nigeria’s economic growth heap pressure on the already creaking infrastructure. Land shortages and a lack of housing has pushed up real estate and rental prices.
Fuel subsidies and cheap, second-hand cars often imported from Europe have put more vehicles on the road.
As a result, a long commute is a necessary evil for all but the wealthiest.
The managing director of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (Lamata), Dayo Mobereola, admits they need to act now to prevent total gridlock.
“This problem has been going on for almost 40 years,” he said.
“We’ve started addressing it over the last five years and we have a roadmap now to address the issues as they are today and also to plan for the future as well.
“If we don’t do anything then in the next five years there’s almost going to be a stand-still.”
Master plan Lamata’s $20 billion, 30-year master plan is based around integrated public transport.
Its proposals for nine designated bus lanes and seven suburban train lines, built with Chinese money, are designed to get people out of their cars.
Slum clearance is essential, although campaign groups claim that residents are given little or no warning that their homes are earmarked for demolition and no compensation afterwards.
Work has slowed because of legal disputes, while some slum dwellers move on and set up home elsewhere, to be cleared another day.
More affordable accommodation within Lagos would help cut commuting times, suggested Oghuvwu, as prices where he lives are nearly two-thirds cheaper than in the city.
Water taxis along Nigeria’s southern, Atlantic coast and the lagoons that stretch around the city could also help tackle the gridlock.
Failing that, businesses could relocate from the traditional trading hubs of Lagos Island, Ikoyi and Victoria Island to the suburbs, he added.
For now, though, his life – and everyone else’s – is dictated by traffic.
In the afternoons, many workers are out of the office door and on their way home as soon as the clock chimes four, car radios tuned to Lagos Traffic Radio 96.1 FM to hear about tailbacks and accidents.
Oghuvwu himself usually leaves about 4:30 pm – and he’s all too aware of the consequences.
“That extra 30 minutes costs me an additional one hour on the road,” he said.
In Africa’s largest metropolis, the district of Ikotun Egbe in Lagos has turned into a boomtown. The draw? Temitope Balogun Joshua, one of Nigeria’s richest “super-pastors”, whose church attracts 50 000 worshippers weekly – more than the combined number of visitors to Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.
Seeking promises of prosperity and life-changing spiritual experiences, visitors flock from around the globe. Enterprising Lagos residents – those not turfed out by landlords turning their properties into hotels – have transformed the rundown area into a hotbed of business.
On a Saturday afternoon, traffic swirls around the four-storey, giant-columned Synagogue Church of All Nations. Delegates are already pouring in before the following day’s service. “They should really build a branch in South Africa – it’s a long way to come and the hotels here are so-so,” said Mark, a sun-burnt businessman from Johannesburg, accompanied by two friends from Botswana.
As the church’s palm tree-lined entrance gives way to a maze of skinny, unpaved roads, knots of touts materialise. “In one year I made enough money to buy my first car,” said Chris, using a tattered hotel brochure to mop his brow. He is paid 100 naira (about 40 pence) for each client he brings in.
Sparkling new hotels rise incongruously among the shacks. At one, with a logo suspiciously similar to the Sheraton’s, a new chef has recently been employed. “He can cook food from Singapore, because we were having a lot of guests from there who struggle with Nigerian food,” said the manager, Ruky, at a reception desk framed by pictures of TB Joshua.
Tony Makinwa said most of his laundromat profits came from tourists. “God has favoured my business. People come here and fall in love with the place and overstay their visits,” he said.
Also doing a roaring trade are the international calling centres with foreign visitor discounts, the clothes shops offering outfits to celebrate miracles, and the plastic chair rentals that cater for church spillovers.
Isolo’s dirt streets are punctured by unfinished barn-like buildings as dozens of other churches offer all-day worship services. Almost as many mosques dot the area. Islam and Christianity are growing at blistering paces across Africa, with Nigeria home to the continent’s most populous mix of both faiths.
Money-changer Sidi Bah travelled thousands of miles from Mali to continue his trade here. “I came because I heard many people from many countries visit. In one day I can change six or seven different types of currency,” he said, adding: “There are more mosques here than in my village in [Muslim] Mali.”
Miracle-promising Pentecostal churches took root across the continent in the 1980s, as African economies were battered by falling world commodity prices. Migrant poured into slums in search of jobs and dreams.
Ruky has converted her cramped home into a 20-bed lodging where mainly rural workers stay for 800 naira a night. Mattresses are half-price. “If you are sick like me you have no job so you are used to sleeping on the floor anyhow,” said Andrew Olagbele whose spine was crushed by a car accident, lying on a mattress in a crammed room. “I pray the Lord will touch me tomorrow so I can walk again.”
As dusk sets in, cars continue streaming in. A man hanging from the open door of a car thundering gospel songs waves copies of homemade CDs for sale. Denis Kokou and his wife, a baby on her hip, look on with weary smiles. “This is our first time coming from [regional neighbour] Togo. We are so happy to be here with our daughter.”
The famous Monopoly board game now has its first Africa city edition: Lagos. The Nigerian Stock Exchange, airport, hotels and Banana Island have made it onto the board, thanks in part to Nimi Akinkugbe, CEO of Bestman Games, which produces the edition. South Africa and Morocco are the two African countries with customised versions.