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Going To Makoko To See Dear Mandela

The Nigerian version of Dear Mandela is rendered in Pidgin with short video modules. There was also a screening of the documentary on the building of the floating school via the rebel architecture of Kunle Adeyemi.

The trip to Makoko started out as a mystery. There was a text mes­sage from my friend Toni Kan, the writer and newly-minted brand ambassador of Samsung Note5, that I should keep the evening of Friday, October 9, free for an engagement. Further text and email messages in­formed me that I should get to MRS filling station at the Adekunle end of Yaba, Lagos by 5.30 PM for the trip to the Makoko floating school for the screening of the award-winning docu­mentary Dear Mandela. I had happy company in the white-bearded sep­tuagenarian taxi driver who took me to the Adekunle axis, a personification of the dignity of labour, who gave me the history of WEMA Bank and pointed to the house of the founder of the bank at the end of the street.

Toni Kan and his personable busi­ness partner Peju Akande drove into the filling station at just about the same time. We made small jokes about Toni now being a Samsung ambassador and having a ready Personal Assistant (PA) in Peju Akande (PA), for as it stands, a PA is a PA!

We drove through a crowded nar­row road in Toni’s jeep until we could move no more. We asked some of the urchins around how to make our way to where we can board canoes going to the Makoko floating school built atop the lagoon. We were told that we had missed the entry point but that we could still make our way through one narrow pathway they pointed at. It was a winding journey past many corners and shanties. There was the Catholic Church serving the commu­nity, St Andrew du Lac, an outstation of St Dominic’s, Yaba. Past the modest church, we walked on until we saw the ill-assorted canoes manned by youths who could speak neither English nor Yoruba. Their language was Egun, but somehow we managed to communi­cate. At N50 per head we took to the canoes not bothering about life-jack­ets or insurance.

The waters were dirty black in the narrow estuary leading to the broad­ness of the cleaner ocean. The masses of Makoko waved at us, wondering at the strangers in their midst. There was a very large stationary canoe filled to the brim with heavily dressed men and women, mostly women, having a party atop the sea. Our canoe had to make way to a corner to allow another much bigger canoe to pass by.

The floating school stood to our right, and the paddler of our canoe expertly maneuvered to the scene. The other canoe carrying some of the ladies banked somehow, with water coming into the board, which saw one lady going almost hysterical. It was the same lady who kept stressing that we must not go back in the night with the same small canoes.

We climbed off the canoes into the floating school teeming with some men and mostly children and youths of Ma­koko. A cinema screen was mounted inside a big canoe by the southward end of the school. A couple of white folksy cineastes made the final arrange­ments over the screening. The floating school is a three-storied structure. Go­ing up the wooden the stairs, we saw on the board a biology lesson on the stages of puberty in boys and girls.

Looking farther ahead, the Third Mainland Bridge meandered in its majesty with traffic flowing fast and free to the island while standing still on the other lanes leading to the main­land. One could not but remember that one’s idea about Makoko only emanated from looking down at the shacks from the heights of the Third Mainland Bridge.

Lagos advertises itself as the “Cen­tre of Excellence” but the neglect of Makoko belies such honorifics. The Makoko slum which had been in exist­ence since the 18th Century has never ever been counted in the country’s census. The 500,000-odd inhabitants can hardly ever count on any govern­mental welfare except repeated plans to evict the masses so that the rich can construct magnificent waterfront edifices in their place. Thus far the residents of Makoko have somehow survived the sad eviction that was the lot of Maroko during the military re­gime of Colonel Raji Rasaki. It was in solidarity with Makoko against forced eviction that we made the trip to watch the documentary Dear Mandela, a film that won the coveted Best South African Documentary at the Durban International Film Festival. The docu­mentary has thus far been screened in 40 countries, and has been translated into 12 languages.

Dear Mandela is on a Nigerian tour being facilitated by Amnesty Interna­tional Nigeria, The Ford Foundation and CMAP as part of a cultural ex­change programme. After the screen­ing in Lagos, it would be shown in Port Harcourt and Abuja. The Dear Mandela project is aimed at raising “awareness about housing rights’ is­sues and forced evictions as well as their impact on lives while telling the stories of communities struggling with this gross violation of their human rights.”

According to Amnesty International Nigeria’s Housing Rights Researcher Morayo Adebayo, “Our objective at this event is to highlight the human rights issues evoked by forced evic­tion while sensitizing stakeholders on their obligations and rights, through human rights education and discus­sion sessions. Amnesty International is very much concerned about the trend of forced eviction which appears to be spreading across the country at an un­controllable rate. It is in this light that we have considered it necessary to make the conversation a national one, and this tour which took off in Mpape, Abuja on World Habitat Day, Monday October 5, 2015 is one of the means for achieving this objective.”

Astutely directed by Dara Kell & Christopher Nizza, Dear Mandela traces three friends who refuse to be moved from their shack in Durban’s vast shantytowns when the South African government undertakes the so-called programme of “eradicate the slums” which entailed evicting shack dwellers far outside the city. This way, the project plays out thusly: “Dear Mandela follows their journey from their shacks to the highest court in the land as they invoke Nelson Man­dela’s example and become leaders in a growing social movement. By turns inspiring, devastating and funny, the film offers a new perspective on the role that young people can play in po­litical change and is a fascinating por­trait of a South Africa coming of age.”

The special guests in Dear Manela are Thembani Ngongoma and Nan- dipha Chala who are founding mem­bers of the South African shack-dwell­ers movement known as Abahlali base Mjondolo. Also known as AbM or the red shirts, Abahlali baseMjondolo is a shack-dwellers’ movement in South Africa. The movement grew out of a road blockade organized from the Kennedy Road shack settlement in the city of Durban in early 2005 and is now the largest shack dweller’s or­ganization in South Africa.

The Nigerian version of Dear Man­dela is rendered in Pidgin with short video modules. There was also a screening of the documentary on the building of the floating school via the rebel architecture of Kunle Adeyemi.

It was the big canoe bearing the cinema screen that ferried all of us out of the Makoko floating school into the Makoko slum proper and into the Yaba mainland of Lagos.


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