Photo Story: Makoko Shantytown in Lagos

Words and photos by Chris Osburn.

Lagos, Nigeria might not be the first choice for a city break. But, for the intrepid urbanite keen to experience some adventure, this west African mega-city rewards. From dancing the night away to some of the world’s most viciously addictive grooves to sampling the local fare of especially fiery (and perhaps surprisingly delicious) food, Lagos offers delights that must be taken on this city’s terms and its terms alone. It’s not for the weak, not for the impatient and definitely not for those with a strong sense of smell.

Key to understanding the dynamics of this heaving mess of a city, with its dozen or so million residents crammed on top of each other, is a trip to the shantytown canals of the lagoon village of Makoko. Land is at such a premium in and around Lagos, that what was once long ago a small fishing village is now an open sewage slum on stilts where the poorest of the poor have been pushed off the land.

How to get there? Makoko is a cheap taxi ride from pretty much anywhere in central Lagos. It’s best to have a trusted guide lined up – whether organized through a well established charity or local church or with a savvy photojournalist or community leader. There’s limited government presence in Makoko, with the security provided by “area boys” (the Lagos term for gangs), so this is not a place to explore alone however street savvy you are.

Despite the extreme poverty, squalor and inescapable stench, joy exists even here where playful children gawk and tease visiting outsiders and a vibrant micro-economy of transactions aboard makeshift boats seems to somehow flourish.

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