Hungry children in a Nigerian slum, but life is 'not too bad'; LAGOS DAYS

You can catch a glimpse of the slums from the motorways that bisect Lagos: clustered at the edge of a lagoon or spreading like a stain over waste ground, thousands of shacks with rusty roofs. But you do not really know what the slums are like until you are among the houses, a Nigerian friend said as we drove through town.

I was invited to Amukoko by Sister Patricia Hoey, a petite Irish missionary nun who has been working in Nigeria for three decades. For the past few years she has been running a health clinic in the heart of Amukoko, which is built on reclaimed marshland.

An estimated one million people live in Amukoko. They are among the poorest in Lagos, but are not the worst off: they have homes, some have jobs, they even have a couple of broken-down schools.

When it rains, the canals and open drains overflow. The smell of sewage around the Medical Missionaries of Mary compound was strong but the nuns said they only noticed it when it got really hot. ''These people wouldn't live here if they had anywhere else to go,'' said Sister Patricia. "They come from every state in Nigeria and every country in West Africa. There's not much of what you'd call 'social cohesion'. They're drawn by the prospect of work and more are coming all the time."

It would make more sense if I were to meet some of the residents, she suggested. Yemi Akintimehin, a 33-year-old health worker who grew up here, would take me along on one of her home visits to a slum where people walked in mud, the roads were strewn with refuse and there were waist- high piles of rubbish.

Josephine Nwokocha, the object of the visit, lives in a room with her husband and six children. Under the same roof, on either side of a dank corridor which runs the length of a typical single-storey boarding house, are 21 other families. They share a single latrine. But the Nwokochas consider themselves lucky: some families live a dozen to a small room.

''Things aren't too bad because my husband has a job with a shipping company," said Mrs Nwokocha. "I take the kids to the nuns every morning for a meal. We eat again in the evening when my husband comes home."

Here is how their money works out: Mr Nwokocha earns 2,000 naira a month (pounds 16) Rent is 500 naira a month. So there is 1,500 naira for food, transport, medicines and other necessities. Mrs Nwokocha says she is happier here than in her village in south-east Nigeria.

All of her children are under six. She has a set of twins. I learnt later that she probably had to leave her village as twins are considered evil, unnatural, and their mothers are often cast out for witchcraft.

"This child", said Ms Akintimehin, pointing to the baby at Mrs Nwokocha's breast, "is not well and his legs are too thin to support him. In fact, all these kids are malnourished.'' The situation should improve, however, when Mrs Nwokocha gets the market stall she has long coveted. She has been accepted into a scheme run by the nuns to set up women in petty trading: old clothes, bottles or simple foodstuffs. She will have to pay rent for her pitch.

We make our way through the smoke-filled corridor - some families are cooking on charcoal stoves - and into the mire of the street. Ms Akintimehin points out the local sights: a school with no windows and 9,000 pupils and, next door, the Sambot Hotel, which is a brothel.

"Like everything else here, sex is a commodity", said Sister Patricia."There's lots of prostitution. Sometimes you couldn't call it that. They sell their bodies to get kids through school."

The nuns - two Nigerian and two Irish - run a leadership course which deals with everything from inter-personal to community relations. They try to encourage basic social analysis: why are the streets so filthy, how come no one makes an effort to clean them, why is there no civic spirit?

Does it improve things? Not much, they reply with a smile ... not much.

Suggested Topics
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star