The Third Mainland Bridge is the longest bridge in all of Africa. It brings Nigerian motorists from the mainland to Lagos Island and back again, crossing more than seven miles over the Lagos Lagoon.
If you'd driven across the bridge last week, you could have looked down to see a collection of ramshackle structures hugging the shoreline, built right atop the water. These shacks on stilts were home to tens of thousands of people who navigated their Venice-like village on long canoes, or on narrow crossings made of wooden planks. The micro-economy here survived mostly on fishing and the trade of basic staples, without much interference from federal or local governments.
The community was called Makoko, and it had been there in the Lagos Lagoon for decades before the Third Mainland Bridge was even conceived. But after this week, all of those homes on stilts may be completely demolished. Only those that are built on the shoreline will be allowed to remain.
Last week, government authorities served Makoko residents with a written eviction notice. They had 72 hours, said the note, to leave their homes before demolition forces would move in.
According to Agence France-Presse, the letter said the unwholesome structures on the waterfront would be razed because they constituted an environmental nuisance.
As promised, demolition began on Monday. Men with machetes arrived to hack away at the wooden stilts keeping many of the structures aloft. These efforts are all part of a plan to develop and beautify Lagos, making it appealing for Nigerian businesspeople, tourists, and foreign investors.
Nigeria has a history of evicting slum dwellers, according to an investigation conducted by Amnesty International.
Forced evictions are continuing throughout the country, said the report. Since 2003, an estimated 800,000 people have been removed from their homes in Abuja, the capital. Between May and July 2008 forced evictions took place on an almost weekly basis in Lagos, with some communities facing their third forced eviction.
Even the people of Makoko have seen evictions previous to this one. In 2005, according to the report, about 3,000 lost their homes and belongings as bulldozers razed their property. They received no prior warning, and no rehabilitation.
Today, as then, many have no idea where they'll go after their homes are destroyed.
These impoverished people are right to consider their eviction a grave injustice. The government appears wholly disinclined to offer any housing assistance to evicted families, although it seems to have the means. Just minutes away in Lagos, there are luxury hotels, bustling shopping centers, and new architectural marvels like the National Arts Theater. These signs of wealth sit amidst sprawling slums -- Makoko is only one of many -- that still take up much of the metropolis' real estate.
Then again, neglect of the poor throughout Nigeria is nothing new. The government is saddled by corruption, so revenues from the country's abundant crude oil reserves, which have helped the sub-Saharan country achieve an impressive GDP of about $250 billion, have not resulted in developmental progress.
It is no secret that a select few Nigerians -- those at the upper levels of politics and finance -- enjoy opulent lifestyles, even while poverty plagues the general population. A full 94 percent of Nigerians believe that the government is pervasively corrupt.
Still, some good work is being done. There are housing construction projects underway across the country, and in Lagos it's progressing under the banner of the Lagos State Home Ownership Mortgage Scheme, or HOMS. The project pairs government-owned land with private developers, and the finished homes are intended for middle- and low-income earners.
But those units are still out of the price range of most Makoko dwellers, who may now be forced to bring their families into other slums, or to homeless shelters in the city.