Gani Taiwo is brushing up on his latest project at the Ijora Badia slum in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub.
The 41-year-old artist and social activist are determined to use the colorful murals he paints on the slum’s new public toilets to improve the settlement’s profile and raise the spirits of its residents.
“Everywhere is beautiful in as much as you can add a concept to it, not destroying it. So I feel like, okay the biofil toilet is a public toilet, let us make it something good, something cool so that people can even come around. The children around on the street, snap their photographs whenever they are having a birthday party or the kind of ceremonies around, so they can easily use the walls for all this kind of snapping, background all those things. I decided to say okay, let me use a different dimension,” Taiwo said.
Instead of sending us away you can come around, see what is the problem and try to upgrade. You upgrade the slum, you don’t send the slum people away
Taiwo is a volunteer with the Nigeria Slum and Informal Settlement Federation, an organization that advocates for the urban poor in 144 communities across Nigeria.
The federation raises funds to carry out development projects in the slums it says houses 65 percent of Lagos’s estimated population of 23 million.
The federation is currently building biofil toilets in several informal settlements. The biofil toilets rely on microorganisms to decompose the waste that was previously being flushed into the coastal city’s waterways.
“The only toilet here is this our canal where people normally go to the canal and throw their excreta to the canal but if they can make this one to be numerous, it’s only one here, around here, and its insufficient for the environment here,” said Lukman Yusuf who lives in Ijora Badia.
“Before this toilet, the rain would cause floods that would carry all the feces we would throw into the carnal back into our homes. There was a horrible acidic smell and we would get sick from various diseases. I have just come back from the hospital but my daughter is still sick,” added Olabisi Ifeoluwa, another slum resident.
In 2016, the Lagos State government began the demolition and forceful eviction of waterfront settlement communities in a bid to transform the state into a megacity of prime real estate.
Gani and other members of the federation led a peaceful protest at the time, and have continued calls for a more sustainable approach.
“Instead of sending us away you can come around, see what is the problem and try to upgrade. You upgrade the slum, you don’t send the slum people away. You upgrade it, you bring about development, the social amenities that are supposed to be there, water, good roads,” Taiwo added.
A Gates Foundation report projected that by 2050 more than 40 percent of the world’s extremely poor people will live in just two countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria.
The Brookings Institution estimates that Nigeria’s extreme poverty rate is currently at six people per minute.