Lagos Coastline… No Longer At Ease
THE erosion problem in coastal communities in Lagos State is being aggravated by several human activities. These include the construction and development works that the State Government has been undertaking, either alone or in partnership with some firms along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline, investigation has revealed.
Apart from the evident threat to Okun Alfa community when the Atlantic Ocean boiled over on July 1, investigations revealed last week that more estates and residential areas in the state are at the mercy of the tremulous Atlantic.
The scenario has now become more fearful with renewed concern by residents of Lekki area close to Goshen Beach Estate.
The Guardian had gone to the shoreline at Goshen area about two weeks ago and by last week, the ocean had ferociously eaten the shoreline leaving less than four feet to the walls of the estate.
During a visit to the area last week, it was discovered that the beach was gone. The Atlantic ocean raged with fury, pounding the coastline intensely.
Just about half a kilometer to the breakwater walls of the estate and other residential areas was a new mole that is being constructed by proponents of the Eko Atlantic City project, South Energy X in partnership with the Lagos State Government.
In its edition of November 6, 2011 , The Guardian published an extensive investigative feature on the existence of submarine canyons and certain natural forces, which proponents appeared to have overlooked.
Residents of Goshen Beach Estate are smitten with fear over these realities.
The construction of the rocky moles began last week, and the estates’ foundation and that of the landscape are going to face harder times in the future. But some respondents did not want to ascribe the faster and unusual erosion rate to the construction work.
Goshen Estate has faced erosion problem over the years and residents have been combating it by removing sand from their drainages and canal constructed by the state government. Last week’s development, however, appeared beyond their capability.
Investigations in the last six months revealed that the construction of Eko Atlantic City around the East and West Mole which the British constructed in 1900s has now altered the features and landscape of the sand-filled land with the sea water constantly trying to find several channels to flow.
South Energy X and the Lagos State Government have reiterated that they mean well and that the project would save Lagos from the worst ocean surges in 100 to 1, 000 years.
Marine geologists , however, insisted that there is no way several communities and millions of people along the Lagos State coastline will not be affected now and in the future.
Studies and several photographs taken since January 2012 show the formation of certain gullies and miniature canyon-like structures on the landscape, which perhaps signal the wave movements and ocean bed formation that could probably be linked to underground forces.
On November 6 last year, The Guardian had revealed that there are two submarine canyons —Avon — which looks like a large amphitheatre with steep rims and Mahin, were under the sea in that part of the Atlantic Ocean.
At a point, the sea intrudes through a channel that runs through the back of School of Fisheries and Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR).
It was gathered last week that apart from communities such as Okun Alfa, Goshen Estate, etc. other towns along the coast in the Lekki area are vulnerable.
South Energyx, the contractors building the Atlantic City has been given certificate of occupancy for 18 years by the Lagos State Government. Facts that emerged between May and July this year showed as reported in the last November 6 publication that both the company and Lagos State Government did not carry out an EIA as stipulated by the processes as enshrined in the EIA Act of 1992.
Mr. David Frame, Managing Director of South Energy had told the media in an interview published on June 3 that the company submitted an EIA to the Federal Government on November 11. That was five days after The Guardian blew the lid on the possible violation of EIA stipulated process. It was also three years after the commencement of the Eko Atlantic City project.
The EIA Act 86 of 1992 states that environmental assessment should be done before the commencement of a project and not after the project has started.
The company stated that the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Environment gave approval for the reclamation works and sea wall protection being carried out by Lagos State Government and South Energyx.
It was gathered that Dutch Company — Royal Haskoning had submitted a draft of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report to the Federal Ministry of Environment on the first phase of Eko Atlantic City Project.
The Guardian also visited Goshen Estate and the nearly complete new mole being constructed on July 14.
Prince Adesegun Oniru, the Commissioner for Waterfront Development was spotted from afar conducting on the spot assessment of the situation and the work that was going on.
Studies by experts at NIOMR led by Professor Larry Awosika are not in doubt that the underground formations under the sea will have effect on the coastline stability as regards erosion.
It was gathered that the new mole that is being constructed just before the Goshen Estate is part of the “Great wall of Lagos” which the State Government said would prevent the city from ocean surges and possible sea level rise as a result of climate change.
The wall will be seven and a half kilometres long, six metres high and one and a half kilometers into the ocean.
The most critical area affected by erosion before the construction of the Eko Atlantic City project is the beach fronting the Federal College of Fisheries and Marine Technology. The buildings are said to worth over 10 million dollars and it was donated by the Japanese Government to Nigeria 19 years ago.
Dr. Regina Folorunsho of NIOMR noted in one of her researches that at the time the building was donated the beach was about 150 metres wide adding that two years after “the foundation of the building was only a few metres from the breaking waves.”
Folorunsho noted that in order to protect the buildings, a “T- Groyne was built in 1995 but it resulted in rapid erosion along the down drift side and due to continual erosion on the down drift side of the school building, another shore parallel break water was constructed between April and June 1999 to protect the eastern part (down drift side) of the school.”
“Again the up drift side was saved from erosion. But the down drift side is now plagued by rapid erosion”, said Dr. Folorunsho in her study noting that this “wise practice is in my opinion, getting controversial because in one sense the break waters area wise practice and in another sense a bad practice.”
Olugbenga Okunsanya, an engineer, and Chairman of the Erosion Committee of Goshen Beach Estate, spoke to Tunde Akingbade on how the twin threats of ocean surges and coastal erosion have been impacting communities such as Okun Alfa, Akodo and others.
WHAT is your observation of the coastal erosion problem in this area in recent times?
The situation has become really bad. I have watched this for some years now. The water has been removing sand during seasons and at others, it will bring sand but in this period it has removed sand at an accelerated rate within the last one month.
It has removed the sand from the drainage, which had protected the estate.
It has removed the sand from the portion of the canal, which Lagos State built about eight years ago. The canal has totally fallen apart. Right now the water is going from under the canal to our side of the estate.
This is threatening the existence of our wall and our estate. If it continues like that, our estate will be in jeopardy. A lot of families live here; a lot of life and property are at risk. We are exposed to the onslaught of the ocean. There is imminent total collapse of structures if something is not done quickly.
Is this problem limited to Goshen Estate alone?
It not a problem of Goshen estate alone. It’s just a problem of coastal erosion in this Lekki axis. All the residential buildings in this area are facing erosion. Some of the palm trees in the area have been uprooted. If you go all the way down to Akodo you will see that there is erosion. What is causing it, I don’t know. The sea has been taking more sand than it has depositing in recent years.
If the sea brings sand, we can deal with that. We have done that over the years but when it’s taking sand, it’s a trickier phenomenon.
This appears to be a problem along the West African coastline because there are constructions going on along the coastal areas…
It’s quite possible that, that is the problem but I am not an expert in environmental impact. I will wonder what is going on in Ghana, Benin Republic and other places. But it’s possible that constructions along the coastline have impact but that is something we need to look at properly to know whether they are really the cause.
How vulnerable are some of the communities?
The situation of some of the areas is precarious. I mentioned it at a meeting held by Heinrich Boll Foundation sometime ago. I said that I don’t think Alpha Beach would survive if they have the kind of rain that came last year. The roads are gone. You can’t differentiate the road and the sea. Alpha is totally unprotected. The only reason why we survived it at Goshen is because of the canal. And if the canal is gone it will be precarious.
How much do you invest monthly to combat the sea?
Over the year, we have done quite a bit to maintain the canal, which was built by Lagos State Government. We bought an excavator to remove sand regularly. We have been maintaining the canal because we know it’s our last line of defense.
Now that it is going, the only thing we can do is to use sandbags. Once the sand is removed from our walls, the walls will come down. We are quite aware now that we have to take stronger measures. Our walls are not that deep, so once water removes the sand, the walls will come down. That’s what we are afraid of.
EXACTLY 22 years and two days ago, Maroko, the shanty town located in Victoria Island was demolished visiting untold hardship and agony on the thousands of inhabitants of the town whose original inhabitants were the Elegushi, Oniru and Oloto families of Lagos. A ruthless Colonel Raji Rasaki, the then Military Administrator of Lagos, during the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida ordered the bulldozers to move in and raze down Maroko.
And contrary to the promise of the Raji administration then that the displaced inhabitants of Maroko would be adequately compensated and relocated to another place, many of the victims ended up losing their property and their land while the vast land that was once Maroko was reclaimed and parceled to richmen who now live in their opulent mansions in the so-caled Victoria Island extension.
Last Monday, Makoko, a fishing community whose existence spans over 100 years similarly began experiencing the fate suffered by Maroko over two decades ago. The community is currently coming under the hammer of the Lagos State government, which has for long made known its desire to clear the area. The message that forewarned the inhabitants of Makoko numbering about 100,000, came in the form of a letter to head of the fishing community, Baale Emmaunel Shemede.
Akin Tijani of the Lagos State Ministry Waterfront and Infrastructure Development signed the letter.
Fifteen hours before the demolition began on Monday, The Guardian was on the lagoon at Makoko to feel the pulse of the people and share their experiences. Eighteen hours after the demolition, the hapless residents of the area could be seen struggling to cope with the pains that came with the excercise.
In the July 12 letter, which was sent to the communities of Makoko and Iwaya, the state government accused the people of “occupying and developing shanties and unwholesome structures on the water front without authority, thereby constituting environmental nuisance, security risks, impediments to economic and gainful utilization of the water front(sic) such as navigation, entertainment, recreation etc.”
Akin Tijani who signed the letter with Reference No: MWFID/EST. 621 on behalf of the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure and Development stated that the State government was keen on restoring the value of the waterfront. The letter further noted that government’s action was informed by the need to protect life and property, promote legitimate economic activities on the water front, restore security, improve water transportation and beautify the Lagos water front/coast line. These motivations, government stressed, underline the megacity status of Lagos State and as such necessitated the clearing of all illegal development on the waterfront and water bodies.
Consequently, the government said “notice is hereby given to you to vacate and remove all illegal developments along Makoko/ Iwaya water front within 72 hours of the receipt of this notice!”
There was palpable fear all over the community after the receipt of the letter. Information was sent across the waters through the numerous houses built on stilts.
The first indication that the Lagos State government was going to evict the people came through a letter, which invited the leaders of the fishing communities at Makoko and Iwaya to a meeting at the State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja. At that meeting were civil servants including engineers, community leaders and the Commissioner of Water front Infrastructure Development, Prince Adesegun Oniru. The community leaders became nervous when Prince Oniru told them that government does not wants houses built with planks to be on the coastal waters of the state.
Members of the communities were asked to either voluntarily dismantle their plank houses on water or the government would move in to do it for them by cutting them with saws.
Emmanuel Shemede, head of the Makoko fishing community told The Guardian that the people of the area had been living in fear since the government made this known to them few weeks ago. He said that their ancestors had been living on water and fishing for years.
He recalled that many of the fishermen who lived in Lagos were chased away from Makoko and Ilubirin in 1990 and later in the mid 1990s.
According to Shemede, “there is no other place where fishermen harvest fish as the people of Makoko in the entire state”. He pleaded with the government to “please leave us here”.
His words: “They fish in Epe town but they do not fish like us in Makoko. If they ask those in Ibeju-Lekki area to compete with us in fishing, they cannot beat us in what we harvest regularly.”
The fishermen asked people in Lagos to help them appeal to the government to leave them at Makoko adding that whatever the state administration wants to do in terms of beautification in the area could be done without dislodging the people. He added that the people were willing to comply with government’s directives.
The 52-year old community leader said when people were chased out of Maroko and Ilubinrin it was the people of Makoko who harboured the displaced people and built houses on stilts for them.
It was discovered that Taiwo Shemede, son of the community leader attends North American University in Benin Republic where he is studying Business Administration. His father said that it’s the money he makes from fishing in the community that he uses to pay Taiwo’s school fees which is about N350, 000 a year.
Emmanuel Shemede has two wives and 12 children. His children, alongside others in Makoko attend Lagos City College, Yaba and other institutions in the neighborhood.
The community leaders narrated their origin from and cultural affiliations to, the Yoruba stock. They speak the Egun dialect and belong to the Egun sub ethnic stock of the Yoruba. Yoruba speakers cannot easily discern the words of the Eguns. The people c
claimed that the late Oba Gbobi Sabe, the Onirus and the Olotos are of Egun extraction.
At the Makoko fishing community, about 60 students attend a school built through funds provided by foreign donors. Rev. Dare Douglas, an American Missionary/Pastor, pays teachers in the school. There is another primary school built by some other foreigners but residents groaned about the insufficient number of schools in the area.
So far the community has produced six graduates. But fishing is in their blood. Whenever these graduates and undergraduates come home they all returned to the sea to fish.
Already Kunle Adeyemi, a Nigerian Architect trained in Holland, is building a “floating school”. He is an expert in floating architecture and he has carried out various programmes around the world. The community leaders said that they have embraced the new and modern approach of floating houses designed by Mr. Kunle Adeyemi of NLE Works and they are willing to change their houses to modern types being proposed by the organisations that he runs rather than being uprooted from what they believe is their ancestral home.
The designs of the floating homes have been shown in and outside Nigeria. Investigation revealed that about three months ago the design was submitted to the State government and the Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), and Commissioner for Environment Mr. Tunji Bello, appeared to have been impressed by what they saw.
Adeyemi told The Guardian last week that he believed that the notice of demolition at Makoko was as a result of inadequate communication within the government.
The Architect added that “Governor Fashola’s administration is visionary and committed to people. The Governor is aware of NLÉ’s proposal for developing water communities (that are adapted to the changing environmental conditions) based on the knowledge and resourcefulness of Makoko people and international expertise”. Adeyemi disclosed that Governor Fashola expressed interest in the concept adding that “we are certain this will be properly communicated to all other relevant government parastatals.”
“As it stands, the UNDP under the Africa Adaptation Programme, the Lagos State Ministry of Environment has taken a laudable step to explore a solution by committing funds to build the pilot project — Makoko Floating School. Other supporters include Heinrich Boell Stiftung, GT Bank, Lagos Business School (Centre for Infrastructure, Policy Regulation and Advancement) and several international collaborators. We trust the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development will also see value in the project.”
TAIWO Shemede, son of the traditional head of Makoko had come to show me the way to his father’s abode. It never occurred to me that the residence was on the Lagos estuary, which at the tail end empties its waters into the Atlantic Ocean.
We rode in my car up till a point on the dirt road in Makoko. Taiwo then asked me to park. It was drizzling as we walked along a footpath until we got to a locally constructed jetty.
“We will take a boat from here,” he said.
“A boat? To where? I asked, fear apparent in my voice.
My fear was not borne out of the need to travel on water. I had cruised across the Atlantic Ocean several times before. But those trips were done on foreign-made boats with outboard engines. This time however, the mode of transport was a locally made canoe and a paddle. The ‘captain’ of the boat was Gbenga, an 18-year old student of Lagos City College, Yaba. Whenever he is on break from school, Gbenga deploys his canoe to earn some money. He is also a fisherman whenever the need arises.
“Won’t it be nice to turn back at this stage,” I thought, even as I dreaded that it could be a dangerous voyage. I had no insurance cover. I had seen some people who looked like journalists saying they would not go in similar boats. Their reason was same as mine; they had no insurance cover.
But my mind returned to the person who gave me the hint that the government was about to demolish Makoko. She is a white woman whom I got to know had also been to Makoko many times.
I could not phone back to say the journey was frightful. It would look ridiculous. I then sent an sms to a friend so that at least someone would know where I was.
“There is no problem sir,” said Taiwo.
He urged me to enter the wooden boat. I stepped gingerly into the boat and Gbenga rowed on.
He meandered through the lagoon; prompting me to ask if his house on the water had an address.
He merely smiled and replied that he knew how to navigate the routes. I quickly found that I was on what could be described as a “royal ride.” As the son of the village head, Taiwo was known, and greeted by everyone, as the boats snaked past others.
Suddenly, Taiwo’s language changed from the Yoruba I understood to Egun and I could not understand a single word.
Everyone spoke Egun, a sub dialect of the Yoruba ethnic group, which is spoken in a place as far as Benin Republic. It was unbelievable that this community spoke a language most people in Lagos would not understand.
“That’s our house,” said Taiwo, as the boat came to a halt.
The house, a one-storey building made of planks was on the water.
We went upstairs and I met Emmanuel Shemede, his father who heads the fishing community. Inside the house was a big television set, a gas cooker, and household items that make people comfortable.
I looked outside, after exchanging pleasantries and found the womenfolk smoking fish, while children swam, enjoying their very existence. Toddlers were among those in the boats and they seemed to be enjoying the way things were. Everyone in this community could swim. Even their animals had been trained to get used to the water. I saw a dog inside the boat playing with the children and balancing on the edge without fear.
Some six-year olds even paddled boats for commercial purposes. On the lagoon, there were different women, buying and selling right inside their vessels.
The community had gathered to see the journalist that came to visit them. There was Noah Shemede who runs a school in the community. He had been involved in raising awareness on many issues affecting the community. The men and women of Makoko know themselves; as such they know when a visitor has entered.
Within a short time, I gathered that the Lagos State Government was unhappy about the impression the community gives first time visitors. Government, according to the people of Makoko, is miffed that photographs of Makoko are being taken by foreigners who put them on display at international forums. The government officials believe this is belittling the status of Lagos and as such, the community has to go.
Where the people would go does not seem to have featured in the plans of government.
Emmanuel Shemede had this to say about the travails of his people: “This was where we were born and we have lived here for generations.
“Do you think there is crime in this community? There is no way a thief will enter the community that we won’t know.”
According to him, no crimes are committed in the community because it is a very difficult terrain for men of the underworld.
“Our children are even scared of going out on land to meet other children because they are not used to it and they are afraid of the outside world because of what they hear.
“We have to tutor them very well when they are about to go for further education which we cannot provide here,” said Shemede.
He continued: “We have never had accidents on our boats the way accidents happen with cars. We are very afraid of vehicular accidents. But when we travel on our boats it’s with pleasure because we know all the rules governing movement on water. It is the common bond amongst fishermen,” he said in Yoruba.
The Baale had observed that the reporter was afraid when getting off the boat. He began to counsel that the reporter should banish fear, noting that people in the fishing community, will never allow anyone drown.
“When there is any problem in the sea or lagoon, you will see a fisherman dangling his paddle. Whenever this is seen, the rule is that everyone around must stop what they are doing to race to find out what is going on and come to the aid of the person in trouble.”
The storm had gathered before I finished my assignment.
Then it began to rain. I reasoned I might have to sleep on the lagoon that night if the rain did not stop. When the rain subsided, I seized the opportunity and stepped into the boat.
I signaled that I was about to leave. Shemede told me he was going to Ijede Town in Ikorodu area. I volunteered to give him a ride when we arrived back on land. He looked at me and laughed.
“I am going to Ijede with my boat and very soon I will get there,” he revealed.
I stepped into the boat carefully. But Emmanuel Shemede was not happy with the way I did it.
“Do it like a man!” he counseled adding ‘you should step into it at once!”
“Look at those kids the way they are doing it,” he said.
“They were born here; this is the first time I will ride in a canoe,” I protested.
This time around, Taiwo his son took the paddle and rowed me back to land. It was twilight by the time I got back to land.