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Now just a great swath of sand, mega-project Eko Atlantic will house 250,000 people behind a sea wall one day. (Iain Marlow/The Globe and Mail)
Now just a great swath of sand, mega-project Eko Atlantic will house 250,000 people behind a sea wall one day. (Iain Marlow/The Globe and Mail)

How activists and private enterprise are transforming Lagos Add to ...

As well as appearing on the website, messages – such as one that reads, “Police extortion refusal leads to bus conductor brutalised” – now pop up on a large TV in a central police station, alerting senior officers.

The “CcHUB,” as people call it, attracts young programmers for a number of reasons: It has free access to broadband Internet, which is neither cheap nor common in Lagos; uninterrupted power in a city where outages are almost hourly (the hub has its own generators); in-depth training seminars, and a collegial atmosphere. It also has a killer rooftop patio.

Despite their casual surroundings, the programmers have a mission more serious than most in Silicon Valley. “Trying to build a Nigerian Facebook is cool,” Mr. Tijani says, “but is that where there’s pain in this society?”

Their labours have also produced BudgIT, a website that allows people to slice and dice the federal budget and determine, for example, whether the government really needed to cut subsidies of imported fuel last year (none of the oil the country produces is refined here).

The cuts sparked large-scale protests that soon morphed into a loose movement dubbed Occupy Nigeria and fuelled by another of the hub’s apps: Ojise (“message” in a local dialect), which makes using Twitter and uploading files easier on Nigeria’s congested mobile networks.

Ojise developer Seun Akinfolarin, 28, predicts more protests as tech-savvy young Nigerians tackle what they consider to be the country’s corrupt old order.

“If we can’t get the government to help,” he says, surrounded by colleagues leaning over laptops, “we’ll have to do it ourselves.”

Makoko: A slum fights to stay afloat

With each paddle stroke, the canoe lurches slowly through the greasy water, drifting past floating trash and beneath footbridges that connect shacks built on stilts far into Lagos Lagoon. Here, in the middle of Nigeria’s largest city and within plain view of commuters, is a floating slum.

The air smells of raw sewage and wood smoke, but it is Sunday in this incredibly religious country, so children walk above the water in gleaming white robes; hymns drift from packed churches.

Half on land, Makoko is one of about 120 slums in the city. It has 150,000 residents, as well as schools, convenience stores, even sawmills, but nearly no services provided by a government that wants badly to get rid of the place.

That is why Djibe Felix has such an expansive view: A fishing boat is all that stands between the platform he shares with three wives and seven children and the towering 12-kilometre Third Mainland Bridge in the distance. But a forest of jagged stumps sticking from the water at his doorstep is a stark reminder of the many shacks authorities destroyed last summer in a week of violence. One shack was his, Mr. Felix says, his temper rising. “When they come again, we will fight them!” he yells, thumping his chest. “Their bullets will turn to water!”

Makoko is a test case for what the stewards of Africa’s largest city have in mind. It is one of nine slums meant to be improved by the Lagos Metropolitan Development and Governance Project with a $200-million (U.S.) loan from the World Bank.

The official goal is to improve basic services, but the city of islands in a swampy lagoon is desperate for land to expand.

“As the city expands, access to affordable housing is shrinking,” says Felix Morka, a Harvard-educated community activist advising Makoko residents. “Whatever is added, is added to the upper class.”

Slums are home to two-thirds of the population, and there is little low-income housing in central Lagos. Costs are so high even the middle class is scattered to distant suburbs.

Few inhabitants of Makoko – many of them originally from down the Nigerian coast or neighbouring countries – own their homes in any legal sense. Most lack education and don’t understand property law; they also fish for a living and do not want to move away from the water.

To help them stay, Mr. Morka is bringing in experts and wants to submit redevelopment plans that benefit the people already there.

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