The disappearing beaches of Kuramo, Alpha, and other smaller ones, indicates a longstanding problem of coastline neglect in Nigeria. Shipwrecks, sand mining activities, are some. However, this report takes a look at the implication on Lagos and the country at large.
Everything looked normal at Gbara-Maiyegun, popularly known as Lekki Beach- a famous destination for beach tourism in Nigeria. Normal tent activities were ongoing with music blaring from speakers elevated on the shore’s sand.
A first timer at the beach would never have known that this beach is gradually becoming a shadow of itself. No doubt, the elegant coconut trees are still erect as though arranged on a row along the beach’s stretch. But a year ago, there were more trees. As at the time of coverage, the shoreline had advanced by at least 900 metres land-ward and the ocean keeps advancing with an unrestrained vehemence as its every roar slaps the motionless ships on its shore. The beach chairman, Moses Enebeli, who was in office a year ago, when three shipwrecked simultaneously reported that, tents, chalets, entertainment spots dotting the beach, have been washed away by the Atlantic Ocean’s turbulent waves, and the ones seen presently, are newly built.
Razaq Maiyegun, the current beach chairman, however thinks differently today. Rubbing his hand on his rounded belly, he says he’s more confident about the safety and level of patronage of the beach.
“Everything is going on well at the beach,” his eyes lit satisfactorily, “People are still coming to Lekki Beach, for example during the last holiday, (Muslim Ileya festival), many people came to have fun here. We only warn them not to swim because the water is not safe.”
In his layman judgement, the effect of the shipwrecks is not felt at Lekki. “We are not feeling any effect here. It is alpha beach that was really affected.” Pointing towards the remains of the wreck of two years ago, he however expresses concerns; “But all we want is that we are begging the government to come and remove the remaining of the ship that is there.”
History of wrecks
Clearly visible is the spot of the shipwreck of May 2010. The wreck which was by the shore at the time of the incident has been claimed by the ocean, and this is a proof, that there has been massive ocean erosion. Six months after this wreck, the ocean angrily surged into the Alpha beach, a neighboring beach of about thirty minute’s walk from Lekki. It wasted almost all the entire community. Residents, being used the ocean’s occasional surge from year to year thought it was ‘one of those things’, but the magnitude of the wreckage this time was immense as up till today, the beach has not fully recovered from its loss.
Who owns the ships?
It has not been ascertained who owns these vessels. But a description of the wreck of the ship named ‘Techno’ in February 20th 2011, shows that they are clandestinely abandoned by some private owners who are themselves Nigerians.
“On the morning of February 20, 2011, my workers arrived at the Beach to find that another ship has been abandoned overnight shortly after the one of December, 2010. The crew members, were washing their clothing and refused to talk or disclose who the owner is. When we went to challenge them, they could not even present their ID card for proper identification,” former beach chairman, Mr. Enebeli recounts.
According to him, the captain (who gave his name as (Krist) had told him that ‘Techno’ is an old ship currently at sea undergoing servicing. But it lost its anchor and became wrecked. “The captain said he was going to call a company to come assess the wreck. And when the company representative assessed it, he (Krist) was billed a sum of N4million to evacuate it.
What the law says
According to the Merchant Act of 2007, every ship owner is responsible for the removal of his vessel. But like the previous shipwrecks, most owners cannot afford the cost of evacuating it as it costs at least N4million to remove a wrecked ship.
That is the reason for the many abandoning. However, it is also within the stipulation of the law that if a ship owner cannot afford to remove the wreck, as a matter of responsibility to people and marine environment, relevant government authorities such as the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigerian Ports Authority, Ministry of Transport should collaborate on the removal.
These agencies are also responsible for making laws that prohibits non sailable ships to go on shore. But the game of who is responsible has been a contentious one.
As at the time of this occurrence, the former Minister of Transport, Yusuf Suleiman told ‘The Punch’ that there is an existing standing committee set up remove the over 100 shipwrecks all over Lagos. They include Lagos State government, Federal Ministry of Justice, Federal Ministry of Transport, Federal Ministry of Environment, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and Nigerian Ports Authority.
According to him, the two agencies came out with a memorandum of understanding stating that all wrecks within the Lagos channel that constitute an impediment to marine navigation will be a responsibility of NPA, while those outside the channel will be the responsibility of NIMASA as the safety agency.
The Ecological Fund, a special intervention facility under the Presidency to tackle ecological problems such as coastal soil erosion, flood, drought, desertification, oil spillage, pollution, general environmental pollution, storm, tornadoes, bush fire, crop pest, landslide, earthquakes, is also responsible for intervening at such a juncture so as to remove immediate threat.
But Desmond Majekodunmi, the chairman of the Awareness and Fund raising Committee of the Nigeria Conservation Foundation says its all a joke. “Absolutely nothing had been done to remove the wrecks. Despite all our cryings, protests, warnings, the government has turned a deaf ear to it.”
Very little effort has been made concerning the wrecks removal. Mr. Maiyegun reported that the ‘Techno’ wreck was eventually removed by the owner, one year after the wreck. And it took six months to scrap the ship. Experts opinion portend that a wreck should be removed immediately as it is far cheaper to remove than to wait till it sinks into the water bed, where it costs more and disrupts marine ecology. “They say it was already too late, so they had to scrap it.”
Despite this, the rusty metallic parts of the ship can still be seen in the water as the removal was not complete.
Similarly, the May 2010 wreck which the Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development attempted to remove a year after the original wreck, is left abandoned at the ocean front.
Adding to the list of ship carcasses which continually cause erosion and deface the beachfront is another ship that wrecked since March this year. The same negligence towards the coastline is seen here as this vessel, said to be a towing ship still lay stranded and unattended to, even eight months after.
Lekki Beach, one of the most valuable stretches of Nigeria’s coastline, is the beehive of fun and activity during festive seasons and a source of income generation to many Nigerians “If there is a disaster, Lagos being the financial hub, accounting for over 55 percent of industrial activities and for 70 percent of imported goods which comes through the ports, may be adversely affected. To render this place a horrible scene of unimaginable disaster is damaging to the Nigerian economy,” Philip Asiodu president of Nigeria Conservation Foundation says. In summary, analysts’ estimates put the amount of land lost to erosion on this prime real estate at over a billion Naira.
Already millions of naira that could be made from tourism is lost due to the wreckage of the alpha beach in October 2010.
The erosion may also threaten food security in terms of fish production believes Jide Ayinla, the executive director of the Nigeria Institute of Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR).
“It is bound to affect the marine life because it affects the breeding ground of the fishes, by so it creates obstruction to the fishing. It can restrict movement of fishermen and if the normal marine habitat is disrupted they will get less fish.” He says the supply of fish production in Nigeria now is 0.65 million metric per annum yet the requirement is 2.0 million metric per annum. “You can see we are supplying less than required, if such an incidence now occurs, it will further dwindle supply.”
Lekki is a coastal area of Lagos prone to flooding going by assessment of climate scientists. It is estimated that by 2050 the seas might have risen one metre and places like Lagos will be under the sea. Although the cause of the sea level rise is due to global warming, coastline neglect leading to erosion such as this can aggravate a disaster in the already vulnerable area.
Temi Ologunorisa, a professor of Climatology and Environmental Studies at Osun State University says the environmental implication are varied.
“First, oil and chemical leakages from the vessel can possibly cause marine pollution, killing marine life or fish becomes toxic to human health.”
Another point is the possibility of submergence. “The icebergs in the polar region are melting due to global warming; and it is a huge quantity of water. As this melts, the volume goes into water bodies such as seas and oceans.”
Explaining the phenomenon, he said that is the reason for the reduction of the popular Lagos Bar Beach Shoreline.
“In the early seventies, you have to walk for several meters to get to see the ocean at the Bar beach, but now the Atlantic has gotten bigger and advanced more into land. It is a sign that these icebergs are melting the sea volume are getting larger.”
This however portends danger for places like Kuramo, Lekki, Badagry, Ikoyi, Victoria Island, which are all less than 10 meters above sea level.
Does he smell a disaster? Yes. In several years if appropriate measures are not put in place. “Nobody can stop a natural disaster. That is why places like the United States, with all their technology and civilization, are still experiencing hurricanes, likewise Japan is still experiencing earthquakes.”
The way forward is therefore disaster reduction. “Scientists world over have come to a consensus that there is a paradigm shift in addressing the global warming and environmental issues, which is ‘disaster risk reduction’. This simply is accepting that natural disaster are bound to occur due to the location of certain countries on the globe, but what governments need do is mitigation, reducing the risk and making us less vulnerable,” he adds. “All the coastal protection that Lagos is doing is just mitigation.”
But an unhappy Mr. Majekodunmi doesn’t think government is doing enough to protect the coastlines. He believes it’s a combination of several factors namely, abandoned vessels, illegal sand mining and the Eko Atlantic City project, are threatening Lagos coastlines. Expressing concerns about the Eko Atlantic wall, he says, “No doubt the sea wall of the Atlantic city is there to stop the erosion, but where the wall ends is where the erosion begins. We have to keep extending the wall.”
Several environmentalists have blamed the recent ocean surge in Kuramo that claimed lives and property on the Eko Atlantic City project, although authorities from the Lagos State government have denied such claims, stating rather that the plan is for the Great Wall of Lagos to be over 8 kilometres long. At the moment, it is about 3 kilometres long. It is predicted that it will protect not only Eko Atlantic City, but the whole of the Atlantic coastline of Victoria Island and Lagos.