29 January 2019

Nigeria: Meet Gani Taiwo, the Social Activist Who Advocates for and Upgrades Lagos Slums

Gani Taiwo is a 41-year-old artist and social activist who paints colourful murals on public toilets in the Ijora Badia slum of Lagos to help improve the settlement's profile and its inhabitants' quality of life.

According to UN-Habitat, 30 percent of the world's urban population reside in slums under deplorable conditions that cause people to suffer from a wide range of deficiencies.

Artist Gani Taiwo is a social activist who wants to see slum areas being upgraded rather than demolished. To help achieve this, he volunteers with the Nigeria Slum and Informal Settlement Federation, an organisation that advocates for the urban poor in 144 communities across Nigeria. The federation raises funds to carry out development projects in the slums - which, it says, houses 65 percent of Lagos's estimated population of 23 million - and is currently building biofil toilets in several informal settlements. It is these public toilets that are the main focus of Taiwo's artistic upgrade.

"Everywhere is beautiful in as much as you can add a concept to it, not destroy it. So, okay, the biofil toilet is a public toilet - let us make it something good, something cool. The local children can come and snap their photographs there whenever they have a birthday party, or with any other kind of ceremony people can use the walls for this kind of snapping. The can use the murals as a background. I decided to say, okay, let me add a different dimension," he told Africa News

Forced ejection

Unfortunately, safeguarding these areas from gentrification and reclamation is proving to be a challenge. At the 2016 World Habitat Day organised by the Lagos State Ministry of Physical Planning and Urban Development, State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode stressed the need for an additional 187 500 new houses in the next five years to reduce the housing deficit, which is estimated at 2,5 million in the state.

Ironically, in the same year the Lagos State government began the demolition and forceful eviction of waterfront settlements in a bid to transform these areas into prime real estate. This is contrary to what locals can afford, given that the rising cost of rent is the reason people move to slum areas to begin with.

Taiwo and other members of the Nigeria Slum and Informal Settlement Federation led a peaceful protest at the time to push for a more sustainable approach.

"Instead of sending us away, you can come around, see what the problem is and try to upgrade. You upgrade the slum; you don't send the slum people away. You upgrade it, you bring about development that provides the social amenities that are supposed to be there, such as water and good roads," he explained.

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