SPECIAL REPORT: Lagos govt’s attitude to poor residents raised amidst Oworonshoki Waterfront project

Oworonshoki Waterfront
Oworonshoki Waterfront

Our vehicle snaked its ways gently out of the congested streets of Lagos Island, en route to Oworonshoki, before moving swiftly upon the asphalted layer of the Third Mainland Bridge, due for renovation before September. Soon, the vehicle approached Oworonshoki waterfront, located just on the edge of the mainland axis of the Third Mainland Bridge. The Lagos State Government has since begun massive sand-filling of the Oworonshoki waterfront, as parts of its plans to transform the place into one of Nigeria’s biggest transportation, tourism and entertainment hubs.

“We don’t know what would eventually happen to us now,” said Adams, a seventeen-year-old boy who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES at the site of the proposed hub.  James Adams lives with his parents in one of the crowded houses on the bank of the lagoon, right behind the area now being sand-filled by the Lagos government. He hawks petty goods in the evening to augment the little his mother makes from her trade, he explained to our reporter. Since the sand-filling exercise began, he said, they have been living under the fear of total eviction.

“We have been here for many years, living in peace,” he explained. “But since this sand-filling thing started, we have heard so many things about what the government may eventually do to many of us living here. We now fear they may send us packing eventually,” he said.

Lagos, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, is surrounded by waters. With a population estimated at about 21 million in 2016, the city is Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre. And at the heart of the city is the Lagos Lagoon, sometimes serving as the gulf between the city’s Island and its Mainland.

The Proposed Oworonshoki hub

In August 2017, the Lagos State Government announced that the Oworonshoki waterfront would soon be transformed into “one of the biggest transportation, tourism and entertainment hubs in Nigeria.” The State’s Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Ade Akinsanya, said the project would improve the security of the environment and attract investments in water transport.

“The proposed entertainment and mega ferry terminal site, already under reclamation, will divert some of the heavy human and vehicular traffic away from the Lagos Island,” said Mr Akinsanya.

“Commuters transiting through the terminal will not only enjoy state-of-the-art infrastructure, they will also be able to park and cruise in the state-of-the-art jetty, thus reducing the carbon emission level and travel time within the city.”

According to the state government, the project would be in three phases. The phase one is the reclamation of the 29.5 hectares of the project site.

This will be followed by phase two, which will involve provision of shoreline protection and reconstruction of 2.8-kilometre Ariyo Street as an alternative road that will run under the Third Mainland Bridge along with other infrastructure.  It is expected to be completed by June 2018.

The third phase, which will be financed by public-private-sector, will involve the construction of the mega jetty and bus terminal with entertainment and tourism facilities like boutiques, hotels, as well as a 1,000-capacity car park.

The project, supervised by Mr Akinsanya’s ministry, is being handled by Fountain Construction Company.

An official of the company handling the sand-filling who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES under condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to talk to journalists, could not ascertain whether the timeframe set aside for the project would be met, due to what he described as “logistic issues”. By the end of May, the sand-filling exercise had been completed and works are now ongoing on the phase 2 of the project, he said.

Environmental Concerns

Aside the potentially negative effects of the project on the economy of the poor in the community, there have been concerns around the environmental implication of the land reclamation exercise.

In 2017, a former Surveyor-General of the Federation, Peter Nwilo, blamed the massive flooding of parts of Lagos on the construction and sand-filling works around the Lagoon and waterfronts in the state.

To stop the incessant flooding of Victoria Island, Lekki, Ikoyi and adjoining areas submerged by water, Mr Nwilo urged the Lagos State Government to stop construction and all sand filling works around Lagoon and waterfronts.

“I do not think the water level of the Lagoon has risen like this before in the state,” he said. “Look around you, Lagos Lagoon and all waterfronts in the state are being sand-filled for development of estates.

“This is being done without proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on consequences of such development on the environment. The natural canal is being blocked all round the state and when this happens, the water stays with us and that is the flooding we are experiencing. We will work on the other causes of the flooding later and that is when we can proffer sustainable solutions to what is happening now. But for now, sand filling of Lagos Lagoon and waterfronts should stop,’’ Mr Nwilo, also a lecturer at the Department of Surveying and Informatics, University of Lagos, said.

Crippled Local Economy

Already, about 2,050 people from about 376 households in Ago-Egun, a fishing community outside Bariga, have had their means of livelihood cut off due to the sand-filling exercise. Their canoes sit on the shallow shores as the men of the community wander around unable to sail out to the Lagoon to fish after the sand-filling exercise began in May 2017. ().

Narrating his ordeal to PREMIUM TIMES, Francis Ajagun, 35, said he used to make a little above N3,000 daily from fishing. Since the sand filling exercise began, however, he has not earned a kobo just as his children had been sent home from school because he could not pay their fees.

“All I do these days is hang around the neighbourhood and hope that the tide increases so I can go out to fish. But in the last two months I have not caught a single fish. I’m a fisherman, how am I supposed to survive,” he narrated to PREMIUM TIMES.

Like Mr Ajagun, hundreds of women engaged in fishing on the bank of the lagoon had been thrown out of business due to the land reclamation exercise.

Megan Chapman, the Co-director of the Justice and Empowerment Initiative (JEI), an organisation involved in advocacy for the rights of slum communities’ dwellers in Nigeria, also lamented the economic impact of the project to residents. Following the blockage of their fishing route, she said, the women now rely on imported frozen fish from Russia to continue their fish processing business thereby having their income cut drastically.

Mr Adams also told this reporter that buying and selling activities have been affected since the land reclamation exercise began. He explained that the local economy of residents of the area have been seriously affected as the major source of livelihood for people around the lagoon has been blocked.

Of course, for a city perpetually locked in the embrace of traffic snarl, analysts are beginning to give the government a benefit of the doubt on the project, particularly with regards to the potentiality of changing the face of the city’s transport system.

Jide Ojo, public affairs analyst and newspaper columnist, told PREMIUM TIMES the initiative is a “welcome development”. He explained further that if the people that would be affected by the land reclamation exercise will be compensated duly, there may be reasons to support the government on the initiative.

“However, we all know what happened to Maroko residents who were similarly dislodged only for the land to be shared out to the elite,” he added.

A History Of ‘Crowding Out’ The Poor

The proposed hub has been touted to be a revolutionary initiative by the government and its supporters, even as details of the cost implication still remain largely unknown. The Lagos State government is notorious for hiding budgetary and financial details of such huge projects.

The government said the third Phase which will be both state financed and Public-Private Sector (PPP) financed, will involve the construction of the Mega Jetty and Bus Terminal, complete with entertainment and tourism facilities. The facilities, it said, include multiple boutique, hotels, museums/art galleries, sport and recreational facilities as well as a 1000 capacity car park, based on the design master plan of the area.

The Lagos government has in the past embarked on similar “ground-breaking” urban restructuring projects built with the bones of the poor. In most cases, upon completion, such projects end up being priced far above the means of the poor who constitute about 60 percent of the city’s growing population.

In 2014, seven years after the old Tejuoso market was gutted by fire, the Lagos government facilitated the complete re-construction of the market through a public-private partnership deal. With more than 4,000 shops, a police post, a fire station, a parking space and mini-power plant, the new market is a sight to behold. Other facilities at the market include a waste disposal system, elevators and ramps, a water supply system among others.

In 2017, a PREMIUM TIMES investigation revealed that the shops are largely unoccupied as most of the old traders could not afford the shops, priced at N500,000 and above. The situation was the same at the ultra-modern Oyingbo market.

A similar arrangement played out in July 1990 when poor residents were evicted from what used to be a slum community known as Maroko. The then military government, headed by Raji Rasaki, had claimed that the community was below sea level and needed to be filled with sand as parts of its infrastructural needs. The poor never remained in the community, now known as Oniru Royal Estate, a part of Victoria Island and some parts of Lekki Phase 1.

No Retreat, No Surrender

In the middle of the uncertainty that surrounds the means of livelihood and the local economy of the poor communities affected by the Oworonshoki land reclamation efforts, the government seems determined to pursue the project to a conclusive end.

When PREMIUM TIMES visited on two occasions in April, workers were seen on site keeping the ocean at bay.

Between 1970 and 2016Lagos has enjoyed tremendous growth, reaching 21 million from just 1.4 million. About 25 per cent of Nigeria’s total gross domestic product is being generated from economic activities in the city. Reputed as the 8th fastest growing city in Africa, it also boasts of a large population of slum dwellers now displaced and pushed into acute poverty by the land reclamation initiatives of the government––from Otodogbame through Maroko and, now, Oworonshoki waterfront.

“There would be a serious displacement crisis as a result of this decision which is not looking at implication of creating artificial Internally Displace Persons in Lagos,” says Auwal Rafsanjani, right activist and public affairs analyst.

“This is more so when Nigeria has no IDP policy in place. The poor people have been subjected to unfair hardship, Lagos State Government should have dialogues with these communities and ensure that they provide them with an alternative livelihoods, living conditions and even pay them adequate compensation for putting them in this unfair condition,” he told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview.

Repeated efforts by PREMIUM TIMES to get reactions of the Lagos government on whether it has plans for the Oworonshoki residents were unsuccessful.

The Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Kehinde Bamigbetan, did not respond to calls and a text message sent to him. The media aide to Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, Habib Haruna, did not also reply to calls and a text message.

While the government keeps mum, the apprehension among Oworonshoki residents about their future remains.

As this reporter moved away from the site of the proposed hub, Mr Adams said they have very little hope the government would consider the effects of the project on their survival and ensure that measures are put in place to cater for them.

“I just pray we survive this,” he said, head bent.


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