Most evenings, Abigail Hounkpe can be found paddling her wooden canoe on the murky waters in Makoko, a waterfront community on the Lagos lagoon in Nigeria’s southwest. She stops in front of a church perched precariously on top of stilts.
Holding the wooden paddle in one hand, she stretches the other to take a photo of the church. She then enters the coordinates into her phone.
“I have lived here for all of my life and I still find places I have never seen,” Hounkpe said.
Her trips around the floating community dubbed the ‘Venice of Africa’ are part of a project that seeks to put the renowned slum on the digital map.
A settlement for diaspora
Makoko has a diverse and colorful history and was established when fishermen from nearby Togo and the Republic of Benin settled there about a century ago.
Like much of Lagos, it is highly multicultural; conversations on the floating slum are usually in a language which is a peculiar medley of Yoruba, French, and Egun, a local dialect.
The slum which was initially just a place to fish has grown to be the home for generations of fishermen from neighboring countries.
It is hard to tell how many people reside in Makoko as there has never been an official census carried out there, however, locals estimate more than one million.
But the Lagos government would prefer that Makoko does not exist.
In 2012, the Lagos state government announced plans to demolish the slum and gave a 72-hour eviction notice to the residents.
The stilt structures in the fishing community posed a security risk and undermined the megacity status of the city, Lagos state authorities said in a letter served to the community, local chief Victor Panke told CNN.
The government came with the police and soldiers to evacuate the community and destroy their homes, according to Panke.
A community leader, Timothy Hunpoyanwha, was shot dead by police which led the authorities to pause on the eviction process, Panke said.
Since then, he says Makoko has received subtle threats of eviction and they are watching keenly as other waterside communities are demolished.
“We are still living in the fear of losing our homes and land,” he added.
Lagos Commissioner for Physical Planning & Urban Development Idris Salako told CNN that authorities in the state was not behind the eviction of residents in waterfront communities but gave no further details or comment in his response to the allegations.
Fear of looming eviction
The digital mapping project is going some way to allay the fears of Makoko locals who are worried their land is at risk.
Launched in September 2019 by Code for Africa in partnership with Humanitarian OpenStreetMap is working to put Makoko on digital maps in a bid to drive social and financial inclusion.
“We want the community, like other communities in the world, to be available and navigable on maps. From there, new development plans might come” Jacopo Ottaviani, Chief Data Officer Code For Africa told CNN.
To take up this project, young residents of Makoko were taught to pilot drones and populate the map with images from the community. Hounkpe is one of the residents on the project that is also teaching residents how to fly drones.