By Victoria Ifeoma Nwosu
The gradual deterioration of Nigeria’s coastal environment and its effects on the health and standards of living of inhabitants require all hands to be on deck if the Federal Government must realise its aims of tapping into the Blue Economy.
The coastal areas are a huge asset for Nigeria in broad terms of material, human and cultural resources which must be well harnessed and managed for the benefit of all. They indeed constitute a major gateway to the outside world and enabler of maritime trade.
It is inconceivable to imagine the Nigerian economy without the coastal areas, including the ocean and sea ports that have contributed to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product and Gross National Product over the decades before and after political independence.
When well cultivated and developed, the coastal areas constitute a huge tourist attraction and revenue spinner for the nation. This is one of the reasons why the Federal Government cannot afford to ignore or neglect the coastal areas and their largely yet-to-be-tapped resources in many forms.
Apart from serving as the facilitator of international trade, the coastal areas are also living areas for millions of dwellers who carry out their daily activities both in traditional and modern ways. Fishing, transportation, cultivation of other forms of aquatic farming – including folklore story-telling – constitute a major segment of economic activities in the coastal areas.
The coastal dwellers largely live in squalor with no dream of a bigger picture of modern living conditions. They lack basic social amenities such as pipe-borne water, electricity, schools, clinics or hospitals and recreational facilities.
The Lagos Situation
A field trip to Ebute Ilaje Community, Bariga Local Government Area of Lagos State, presented a complex web of problems facing the coastal dwellers. Prominent is the diminishing harvest of their aquaculture (fishing) because of environmental disruptions to the feeding and breeding areas of fish habitats over the years.
They blamed the problem on constant transportation of engine boats which disturb and disrupt the fish habitats and drive them to migrate elsewhere that is safe for them to breed and multiply.
The second problem they identified is sand mining. The coastal dwellers also mine sands at artisanal level from the coastal areas to sell. However, sand mining has been aggravated by large-scale mining by construction industries including the government. This two-layered sand mining has not only caused sub-marine disruptions to the fish habitats but also disrupted the regular pattern of ebb and flow of tide in the coastal waters during raining and dry seasons, ultimately affecting their means of livelihoods.
The third problem is that housing construction companies have encroached on their dwelling areas which have been their ancestral homes by evicting them without adequate compensation and without relocating them to better places – to construct their high-rise buildings and build industries.
In their view, government is not particularly interested in their economic, social and cultural well-being; not interested in their sustainable small and medium-scale aquatic farming and other businesses – but in providing enabling environment for the elites.
The overall effects of all the problems itemized above are increasing poverty level and diminishing standards of living or quality of life in coastal areas in Lagos State as an empirical case study.
While efforts by government at curbing criminal activities in the coastal areas have not yielded too much success to make the coastal areas a safe place to live, the enforcement agents have come to increase their daily miseries by incessant raiding of their dwelling places in search of criminal elements.
The real effects of climate change on Ilaje Community are manifesting in dwindling economic activities.
The first observation is the difficulty in finding access to Ebute area in the community because of ongoing sand mining and granite excavation. This is further compounded by heaps of filth composed of non-degradable materials mainly plastics, water sachets, sanitary pads and disused clothes.
The second observation is the palpable fear of government intervention that may result in displacing them from their dwelling places. The coastal dwellers are often afraid of journalists, even NGOs. They said once their community names pop up in the media space, government might become interested in intervention that may end up displacing them from their ancestral and dwelling places.
The third observation is that there is division of administration of the community by the local people – a division that is directly related to the second observation above.
There are two set of “Baales” (Chiefs) in the community – one administering the shoreline area popularly known as “Ebute” where sand mining and granite excavation are carried out on artisanal and industrial scales. The second administers the upland area where government has registered its interventionist presence with heavy-duty machines for road construction and rehabilitation of broken-down roads which involved demolition of buildings.
The Lagos coastlines are losing their natural peace owing to increasing slums and sinking houses. The lagoons have turned brown in colour (instead of remaining blue) as a result of incessant sand mining, granite excavation and dredging. There is an abandoned dredging machine in the middle of the lagoon at Ebute Ilaje.
Indeed, there are lots of sea weeds and dirt in the lagoon; there is constant immigration and emigration into and from the area visited for this report; there is diminishing harvest of fishes. Mature fishes are increasingly becoming harder to catch – except fingerlings, the inhabitants claimed. Most disturbing is the
environmental filth perpetrated by the community dwellers themselves such as open defecation into the coastal waters.
On the flip side, coastal dwellers are however happy and at peace with themselves amidst their poor living conditions. There is close social and cultural interaction among all categories of inhabitants.
The coastal areas, including rivers, rivulets, lagoons and the oceans constitute a very critical part of the larger ecosystem that is impacted by global climate change and also by unhealthy environmental practices among coastal dwellers. Often times, government policy interventions are misdirected.
However, findings from the field trips show clearly that the problems or challenges facing the coastal areas can be surmounted or mitigated if and when all hands are on deck in a well-coordinated manner.
Coastal dwellers are not difficult to deal with once the purpose of government interventions are honestly explained and properly communicated to them.
Indeed, there are lot of misconceptions about the coastal areas that are not scientifically valid. Therefore, there is urgent need to generate new and correct narratives and mainstream the environment of the coastal areas as part of the larger ecosystem.
The foundation for sustainable development of the coastal areas for overall national economic development must be provided by all stakeholders. A variety of commodities, goods and services can be produced around the coastal areas which include clean water, aquaculture, biomass and biodiversity.
These vast resources generate wealth, health and livelihoods for the poor in the coastal areas. The coastal areas, when properly managed, can also help to mitigate the negative impacts of global climate change. The coastal areas are part of our natural resources that must be sustainably protected.
How do we maximize our coastal environment and resources to foster local and national economic development and sustainability?
There is urgent need for community self-help as the structural foundation of a balanced management of the coastal areas. The first step here is to cooperate in promoting a health environment by promoting community awareness for a clean environment. The second step is for the coastal community dwellers to form cooperatives for their various economic activities. The third step is to reduce any form of economic activity that impacts or disrupts the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem so as to maintain sustainability of the coastal environment.
Government policy intervention thrusts and implementations should be people-centered, people-friendly and community-based. Government intervention should be based and driven by concern for the well-being of the coastal dwellers and on modern best practices, standards and benchmarks. Government’s interventions should integrate the coastal dwellers into the Blue Economy model, train all those who are willing to adapt to enhance their scope of economic activities, create value-added chain of wealth, and improve standards of living and livelihoods. Government’s intervention cannot always be to displace the coastal dwellers from their ancestral homes. However, where they must be displaced (especially to avoid environmental disasters) they must be properly resettled elsewhere with adequate compensation for loss of their ancestral homes. Government intervention must include provision of modern amenities such as schools, health care centres, recreational facilities, electricity supply, and proper road network, among others.
There is urgent need for intervention and involvement of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations in the area of education, public enlightenment campaign and provision of soft infrastructures to the coastal dwellers. Important at this point is public enlightenment campaign against unhealthy environmental conditions and practice as well as global climate change issues as they affect coastal communities.
*Nwosu is a Fellow of African Climate Stories.