Rains are supposed to bring the most beautiful scenery by making trees greener, flowers bloom, lakes and oceans filled which are opportunities for artisanal fishermen to capture more fishes for local consumption or sale for sustenance.
However, these are not the realities in so many parts of Lagos State as fears, trauma and anxiety fill the hearts of many residents whenever it rains.
One of those days in recent time was Friday, July 16th, 2021, where several locations across Lagos were flooded and vehicles were submerged in water.
In a more deteriorating condition was Oworonshoki community, where residents could not gain access to their homes, a regular circumstance whenever it rains, as a result of the land reclamation – sand filling (now abandoned) project at Oworonshoki Waterfront.
Oworonshoki is a coastal community with about 50% of its landmass occupying between 0m – 3m above sea level. The ongoing sand filling project attain a height of 2m – 5m above sea level, thereby posing huge flood impact on some part of the community.
How it started – Expanding ‘Eko Atlantic’ To Other Waterfront Communities
The Lagos State Government in 2017 started the sand filling of Oworonshoki waterfront, an attempt that could be identified as similar to the Eko Atlantic City on Bar beach.
The Eko Atlantic City, a mixed use coastal city being built beside Bar Beach, Victoria Island, Lagos, according to its developers, Messrs South Energyx Nigeria Limited, is said to be standing on 10 million square metres of land reclaimed from the ocean and protected by 8.5 kilometre long sea wall.
To replicate similar project, the Lagos State Government described the land reclamation project at the part of Oworonshoki close to Third Mainland Bridge as an attempt to transform the blighted areas of Oworonshoki Waterfront into one of the biggest transportation, tourism and entertainment hubs in Nigeria.
The then Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Engr. Ade Akinsanya said that the project will improve the aesthetics and security of the environment, while attracting investments in water transportation and boosting socio-economic activities in the axis, with the provision of shopping malls and related infrastructures.
However, environmentalists warned against the act and stressed that it could lead to climate change issues in the state.
Four years after the commencement of the project, the dreams and visions of the Lagos State government have been truncated and the lives of residents and fishermen in the community have been extremely worsened.
Government as ‘Causative Agent’ of Climate Change Issues
Seun Gbogboade, an environmentalist and resident of Oworo, lamented that the government is a perpetrator in a situation where it is supposed to be providing measures to mitigate climate change impact.
Gbogboade said, “climate change is a phenomenon that affects livelihood, infrastructure and it is caused by sea level rise and what the government has done is to halt the flow of water.”
He explained further that, “the natural terrain of water is zero and after sand filling (converting the water into land) it amounted to about 2 – 5 meters above sea level which puts the surrounding environment at risk.
“If you increase the height of a particular terrain, the speed of the water will affect the community in a lower terrain, that is the implication of the sand filling in Oworonshoki and what residents have been experiencing.”
Gbogboade who revealed that over 40 hectares of water have been sand filled also mentioned that, “the sand filling was so high and they did not reposition the drainage systems of the surrounding streets, so whenever it rains, the floods go into people’s homes.
“A lot of residents have moved away, those who are unable to move out are suffering from incessant flood even the fishermen in the area have been affected as well.”
The environmentalist who noted that “although, the sand filling has been abandoned, residents are still living in perpetual hardship as caused by the project.”
He bemoaned the actions of the government which he described as insensitive to climate change issues and by extension, the populace.
Gbogboade buttressed that, “the government described the action as efforts to make Lagos a safe and smart city, but there are better ways to do this without affecting the climate and the people
“Before embarking on projects like this, the government needs to work with the people and carry out environmental impact assessment.
“If an environmental impact assessment had been done, they would have considered rechanneling the water so that flood can be averted, but that was not the situation.”
On his part, Are Abdulfatai Ajibola, a resident of Oworonshoki said, “the government claimed that the area was eroded by flood several years ago and that’s the reason they are doing the land reclamation, so they can regain what have been lost to the sea.
“I would have expected that the government know this would affect human and aquatic animals because during the process of filling, a lot of things are deposited into the water which depletes the ozone and thereafter affects the functionality of the aquatic animals
“Most importantly, people who stay in land area are subjected to flooding, because whenever there’s ocean surge, they are supposed to deplete into the ocean but because there’s no ocean for the water to go into, it affects people’s houses and that is the true reflection of what has been happening in the community,” Ajibola added.
Residents Continue to Suffer Impacts of Sand filling
A special report by Premium Times in 2017 had revealed how 376 households (about 2050 people) of Ago-Egun, a fishing community outside Bariga, have had their means of livelihood cut off. Their fishing canoes sit on the shallow shores as the men of the community wander around unable to sail out to the Lagoon to fish.
Four years after the commencement of the project, lives are not better off for residents of the community, residents affirm that the four years have been like 50 years of torments and hardship, which have caused some people their lives, property, sanity and wellbeing.
Chief Kunle Alaya, the Chairman of Taiwo Street Resident Association in Oworo, decried the horrible situation that residents have been subjected to in the past few years.
Explaining further, Chief Alaya said, “the rain that fell on July 16th affected over 200 houses in Ifesowapo, Adeokun, Adeseeke, up to Adebare, Ojileru, Church Street, Olopomeji, Oko-cole and many others.
“Over the years, we’ve had situation whereby people move out of this community, some sold their properties and those who could not move are still here.
“Some have died in the process, you know too much thinking has impact on our health too, and we are never at rest whenever it is about to rain.”
Chief Alaya noted that he has been going to the Lagos State Ministry of Lands to seek for any kind of support possible so that the menace can be addressed.
“I have also been going to the Lagos State Ministry of Lands, almost all of them know me there, but they keep saying they will fix it but we don’t know when,” he added.
Mrs Felicia Adekoya, a widow and a landlady in the community recounted how she’s traumatized whenever the clouds is filled with rains.
“I am a widow and the only thing I have is this house that I stay where I manage to sow cloth and that’s if there are customers. The situation has been overwhelming and I really wish I have options but I don’t.
“Imagine that with my age, I have to start packing water from the house whenever it rains, we spend money almost every time to fix the house because of the flood.
“I had to take a loan from the bank to raise my room, so that whenever it rains, my room is not flooded. Every other part of the house is in ruins as a result of the constant flooding,” she bewailed.
Mrs Adekoya, who said she heard the reports that Lagos might cease to exist in 50 years, as reported by NIHSA, noted that the current experiences of residents of Oworonshoki is a clear indication that such projection might come to reality.
Philip Jakpor, Programme Director, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, described land reclamation exercise as a dangerous activity and of utmost concern because the government is the perpetrator.
Jakpor said, “the reclamation exercise being carried out by the Lagos government at Oworonshoki is dangerous because it blocks what should ideally be the path for water. Since water will always find its level, the blockade in Oworonshoki will force the water to other parts of Lagos and cause havoc there.
“It is even more disturbing that the reclamation exercise is being carried out by government to pace way for selling of the reclaimed expanse to land and property developers.”
Reacting to the current experiences of residents of Oworonshoki and how the government ought to have learnt from similar cases in the past, Jakpor noted that, “the reclaimed areas are not immune from flooding because that is the original path of the sea waters. The integrity of whatever will be built there in future will also be questionable.
“Similar exercises were carried out in many parts of Lekki and the effects are now being felt in many sinking houses and many others where there are cases of water coming from the floor and swarming the buildings. Building collapse will be more frequent and ultimately many of the property will be uninhabitable.”
Expressing disappointment about how the government is a violator where it is supposed to be the penalizer, the CAPPA programme director said, “Government should be the protector of the environment and it’s also supposed to penalize those who breach environment laws. Government should also be at the fore in educating the masses about the dangers of reclamation exercises and how rising sea levels will rubbish all the activities they are doing in virtually all the coastlines of the state But unfortunately government is the violator.”
The Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development is responsible for the execution of the land reclamation project while the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources is responsible for the construction of the drainage systems within the neighbourhood, to help with the challenges of flooding.
An official of the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development who is not authorized to speak on the issue opined that there are some specific areas that are not for residential purposes and if not that people built properties there, they wouldn’t have been experiencing any impact from the reclamation exercise.
She explained that, “there are some people who are not supposed to live within that area, some houses have been demolished while some others have been marked for demolition, which means those houses were not supposed to be there.
“Some people build houses where they are not supposed to, hoping that once they built, there is nothing the government can do about it.”
She also noted that the project has not been abandoned, “we’ve not abandoned it, it is supposed to be in phases, the contractor will resume work on it very soon.”
The Ministry of Environment and Water Resources did not accept that the drainage project has not been completed and could not have been the reason for the flooding in the area.
Responding, the Director, Public Affairs at the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Kunle Adeshina noted that the Olopomeji drainage channel (SYSTEM 1E), stretch from Olopomeji bus stop down to Oko-cole and Jesu/Imesi drainage channel (SYSTEM 1D), stretch from Adeniji road down to Lagos lagoon were worked on in 2020.
“They were some of the drainage systems worked on in Y2020 by the State Ministry of the Environment and Water resources. What we do now is that our EFAG team cleans all collectors leading to the channel regularly.”
Mitigating Climate Change Impacts
To achieve Goal 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, nations of the world are required to “Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries; Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning; as well as Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.”
To mitigate the impact of climate crisis in Lagos, Philip Jakpor wants the Lagos State government to stop all the dredging and sea reclamation exercises that will make it ultimately inevitable for the state to go under water in 50 years, according to the forecast by Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, NIHSA.
Jakpor said, “Lagos is surrounded by water and many parts of the state including Victoria Island and Lekki are geographically below sea level. The state is already feeling the impacts of sea incursion in many parts.
“The state government should therefore respect its own laws and stop all the dredging and sea reclamation exercises.”
Seun Gbogboade believes that it is important “that there is a control measure to reduce wetland encroachment because incessant encroachment into wetlands is one of the main factors responsible for climate change issues.”
He explained that when wetlands are encroached, it affects the natural climate adding that, “encroachments cause impacts to the functions and values of the natural areas, such as a decline in water quality, loss of habitat (both aquatic and terrestrial), disruption of equilibrium (or naturally stable) conditions, and that’s what we currently experience in Oworonshoki.”
Gbogboade also recommended the immediate implementation of the proposed drainage masterplan which he believe will reduce flood impact that affects residents living in flood plain.
He butressed that, “there are two primary drainage channels that help to divert storm water down from Odo-Iyaalaro to Lagos lagoon; the Olopomeji drainage channel (SYSTEM 1E), stretch from Olopomeji bus stop down to Oko-cole and Jesu/Imesi drainage channel (SYSTEM 1D), stretch from Adeniji road down to Lagos lagoon.
“The drainage master plan developed in year 2015 by Dar al-handasah for Lagos proposes proper construction of the two drainage channels by year 2021. The proposed implementation plan is construction of concrete embankment at a depth of 2.5m by 13m wide, this I believe would be sufficient for diversion of storm water.”
Gbogboade also believes that people are adding to the complications through indiscriminate refuse disposal and thereby noted that, “there should be advocacies so residents can understand that waste management is important.”