By Megan S. Chapman, Co-Founder and Co-Director, Justice & Empowerment Initiatives – Nigeria
The footage you see at the beginning of the promo clip for “The Legend of the Vagabond Queen of Lagos” showing thousands of people in wooden fishing boats on the Lagos Lagoon watching their homes being burned by the government was taken almost a year ago to the day by my husband. He was with the evictees while tear gas and live bullets were being shot in their general direction to keep them from returning to land.
The man in the second clip whose head was lolling back was Daniel Aya, a young man and Federation member who was hit by one of those bullets in the neck and whose community members were trying to pole him to another boat that could try to take him to get urgent treatment across the Lagoon. I met that boat when it landed 45 minutes later carrying his dead body. A few minutes later, another boat arrived with a young man shot in the chest whose life we were able to save.
The Otodo Gbame community including 30,000 people was violently and forcibly evicted so their land could be turned into a luxury real estate development. It was destroyed violently and ruthlessly despite peaceful protests by thousands of Federation members from the Lagos waterfronts. Despite a court injunction restraining the government from carrying out the eviction of Otodo Gbame and 39 other communities who remain at risk of eviction up to today despite a court judgement in their favour.
This project is born out of the need for alternative ways to get the message out and change these lived realities of the urban poor in Lagos, in Nigeria, and around the globe. There is urgency in the struggle. It is personal to me and to hundreds of thousands of Lagos urban poor who are leading the struggle for dramatic change.
We believe deeply in co-creative processes. These are the key to alternatives we are pushing for the government to take to pursue win-win solutions with the poor instead of violent land grab. But co-creation is messy, is labour intensive and takes time to be done well and be truly co-creative and pluralistic. I both recognize the “essentialness” of this approach and struggle to be patient for the end-product (or mid-stream) tools that will advance the struggle — and hopefully transform it into something that will change the conversation and lived realities of the people with whom my daily life is intertwined.
By James Tayler, SDI
Legends of Lagos is an online documentary series in production by SDI’s youth media programme, Know Your City TV, which seeks to reveal the invisible legends that hold the waterfront communities of Lagos together by collecting stories of resilience and hope from informal settlements.
The documentary series serves another function as research material for a fictional narrative feature film to be produced by KYC.TV titled “The Legend of the Vagabond Queen of Lagos.”
The inspiration for this story comes from news reports that have surfaced in Nigeria about million dollar caches of paper money, hidden away by corrupt politicians and officials, that have been discovered in graves and other unlikely places. We wondered: “What if a grass roots community activist happened to discover one of these million dollar hoards and, instead of using the cash to enrich herself, set out to transform her community?”
Why are these stories necessary?
Lagos is undergoing a face-lift; plans are in action to turn this congested mega-city into Africa’s Singapore. But the slum dwellers living in the waterfront townships create a major problem for city officials: they are now an inconvenient eyesore that does not fit into this grandiose vision.
The Lagos State Government’s response has been brutal, swift and unjust – tens of thousands of people have been displaced and made homeless overnight in illegal evictions. Thugs and police in the employ of wealthy landowners forcibly drive people from their homes and possessions. Communities that have existed for decades – or over 100 years as in the case of Otodo Gbame – are barely given warning before the bulldozers and hoodlums armed with machetes and gasoline move in to hurt and burn. People have been killed, families ripped apart, and lives upended but hardly anyone in Nigeria or the international community knows about it. When the evictions are covered in the news, the stories are often met with a fatalistic shrug.
These stories, told and produced by slum dweller youth, are going to help change that. We will show that these communities are sites of resilience, innovation and practical solutions to very real problems. With this feature film and documentary series we want to show that true progress and innovation means that every citizen, no mater how poor, has something to contribute.
There is an emergency – lives and livelihoods are at risk. We need to swing public opinion, mobilize communities and forge new partnerships with other global citizens.
Please watch this space – we will take you on a journey through the waterways and alleys of Lagos slums where you will hear whispers of the Legend of the Vagabond Queen of Lagos. A fabled kingdom where corruption and self-serving leadership is not welcome, a place of resilience and innovation built on water and hope.