One thing I have noticed during my visits to Makoko in Lagos is that the people are ever smiling, lively and vibrant; and they look well fed.
MakpI also noticed that they look younger than their age. Alhaji Ibrahim Aladetan, a leader in the waterside community, is 80 years old but you would take him for someone in his 50s. A picture on the wall of his living room shocked me upon my learning that the great-grand pa celebrated his 80th birthday in April.
When I asked if indeed he was 80, he smiled and said: “Yes, my daughter. I have celebrated 80 but I still have many more years to go.”
I wanted to know the secret of his long life and healthy look. He put it back to me this way: “Don’t you know we are surrounded by sea food? There is a lot of fresh fish in the Makoko water. Our fish market draws people from as far as Ondo, Edo and even Delta State. I eat a lot of sea food and that has helped and is still helping my health. My dear, sea food is good for you.”
Another resident, Mr. Bawo Ayeoshetienikan, a town planner by training but now a private school owner is 59 years old. You would take him for someone in his early 40s. He too attests to the fact that eating fresh fish and the peaceful existence in the Makoko community is healthy.
“The lifestyle here is simple and far away from the hustle and bustle of the main Lagos city. We are surrounded by nature; and nature is taking care of us as we are also taking care of nature,” he says.
I took a canoe ride round the waterfront, and met a group of women selling sea food. My desire was to get more facts about the unique environment of the Makoko riverside which appears to a tonic for looking good and young. I engaged a woman in banter. But she was unperturbed over ordinary issues of life that would have made the average Lagos city dweller disturbed.
“We eat good food and have peace of mind here,” contributes an elderly one among them. “All these fish, crabs, crayfish and other sea food we catch from the water makeup what we feed our family with. There is always enough fish for everyone to eat in my family. Fish is good for the body.”
Majority of the people in Makoko are into fishing. The children start fishing from an early age as they join their parents on long fishing trips in the canoe. It is common site in the waterfront to see children from age five, fishing with their nets. While one paddles the canoe, the other throws the net in anticipation of a catch.
I didn’t leave Makoko without my own share of the look-good secret. I bought a big basket full of assorted fresh fish.
To the Lagos State Government, Makoko may be a slum. But the resolve of these awesome dwellers to live a healthy, law abiding and economically-productive communal life is an example I believe other perceived slum dwellers in the Lagos metropolis should emulate.
By Tina Armstrong-Ogbonna