For more than two months, the 376 households (about 2050 people) of Ago-Egun, a fishing community outside Bariga, a sprawling town in Lagos 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.
The community’s problem started around the end of May 2017 when a company, Nigerian Westminster Dredging and Marine Limited, started a land reclamation project on the edge of the Lagos Lagoon just at the foot of the Third Mainland bridge at Oworonshoki.
The land reclamation project, which is opposite the community is being done on the behest of the Lagos State government. On August 14, the state’s commissioner for waterfront infrastructure development, Ade Akinsanya, in a statement announced the state’s plan to transform the “blighted” area into “one of the biggest transportation, tourism and entertainment hubs in Nigeria.”
He said the project will enhance the aesthetics and improve security in the area. According to Mr. Akinsanya, the proposed project on the reclaimed land will attract investment in water transportation and boost socio-economic activities in the axis.
The proposed project includes shopping malls, an entertainment centre and a mega ferry terminal. The commissioner said the ferry terminal will divert human and vehicular traffic away from Lagos Island.
“Youths(sic) and residents will enjoy quality sports, recreational, entertainment and emergency response facilities at the terminal.
“Commuters transiting through the terminal will not only enjoy state-of the art infrastructure, they will also be able to park and ride and park and cruise from the state-of-the-art jetty, thus reducing the carbon emission level and travel time within the city,” Mr. Akinsanya said.
But as the reclamation of the 29.6 hectares site for the project continues, the misery of inhabitants of Ago-Ego deepens. Two months after the dredging and sand-filling commenced, the community started experiencing difficulty navigating their fishing boats into the lagoon. Silt flowing from the dredging site towards the community completely blocked the fishermen’s route to the Lagoon.
RESIDENT’S NARRATE EXPERIENCE
Francis Ajagun, 35, makes a little above N3,000 daily from fishing. He told PREMIUM TIMES that in last two months he has not earned a kobo. The father of three said his children were 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,” the burly man said in Yoruba.
Loko Joseph, 35, said besides blocking their fishing route and stifling their means of livelihood, the siltation of the waterway near the site of the sand-filling has destroyed their fishing equipment.
“Our fishing nets are and traps have been damaged by the mud, he said. Even the engines of our fishing boat are not spared. I have spent so much fixing my boats and engines in the last two months because they keep getting stuck in the mud,” he said.
Owowole Ayante, 50, who also does part time hunting alongside fishing, decried the destruction of the swamp near the site of the reclamation. He called on the dredging company to stop further work on the site until a channel is created so members of the community will be able to navigate their boats into the lagoon to fish.
NOBODY IS SAYING ANYTHING
The community through its legal representative, Justice and Empowerment Initiative, JEI, a grassroots advocacy group, sent letters to the Nigerian Westminster Dredging and Marine, and its parent company, Netherland- based Boskalis, asking for a meeting to discuss the negative impact of the dredging and how to mitigate it.
The Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure and Development was also copied in the letters
But neither the Lagos government, Nigerian Westminster, nor Boskalis responded to the letters and reminders, seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
When this reporter approached Nigerian Westminster at its head office in Ikoyi, a front desk employee took his identity card and went upstairs to talk to her superiors. She returned minutes later saying the that the company was just a sub-contractor on the project and not in the position to discuss the matter. She advised him to contact the main contractor of the project, Fountain Construction Company, FCC, for comments.
When this reporter insisted on talking to her superiors, she added that the company does not grant press interviews.
When PREMIUM TIMES called FCC through a contact number on its website, Adeola Alonge, the company’s head of engineering department, hung up the call after listening to our enquiry. He did not answer further calls made to him from the number he was originally called from. But he immediately answered when reached on a second number but immediately hung up after this reporter re-introduced himself. He did not answer further calls on the second number.
Ironically, on Boskalis’ website, its boasts of robust corporate social responsibility policy, which “creates shared value and prevents, mitigates or remedies (potential) adverse impacts on local communities.”
The company also claims to be driven by a desire to “achieve a healthy balance between economic value creation on the one hand, with caring for the environment and social responsibility on the other.”
Attempts to get the Lagos State Government to comment were also futile. At the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure and Development, the public relation officer, Tunde Awobiyi, said he was a civil servant and not authorised to talk to the media except when directed by the commissioner, whom he said was not around on the day.
Mr. Awobiyi then advised this reporter to go to the state’s Ministry of Information for comments. At the Ministry of Information, this reporter was told the commissioner, Steve Ayorinde, was away on another assignment. A director at the public affairs department of the ministry, who also claimed she was not authorised to speak to the media, advised this reporter to send a SMS with his enquiries to the commissioner’s number.
Mr. Ayorinde, a former editor of two national newspapers, did not answer calls made to his known mobile phone number. He also did not respond to text messages asking him for comment.
One organisation that has monitored happenings in Ago-Egun is the JEI. The Co-director of the organisation, Megan Chapman, told PREMIUM TIMES that the impact of the dredging on the community has become quite severe in the past week.
“The dredging started at the beginning of June, it’s only a few weeks now, but two or three weeks after it started, the impact could be felt and it is getting worse.
“So, we are deeply concerned about the impact and implication for their livelihood,” she said during a telephone chat.
“This is a community of hardworking people but they are very poor and this will further push them into poverty and it goes against everything a government should be doing. It goes against principles of business and human rights.” she added.
She explained that following the blockage of their fishing route, women in the community now rely on imported frozen fish from Russia to continue their fish processing business thereby having their income cut drastically.
Ms. Chapman said she wonders why Boskalis, which has a reputation of excellent corporate social responsibility in Europe and elsewhere is now acting with impunity in Nigeria.
“The parent company, Boskalis, is well-known for corporate social responsibility and the respect for human rights in The Netherlands, so we are deeply concerned by their behaviour in Nigeria.
“As a business under the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, corporate entities have the responsibility to respect human rights and to provide channels for remedies if human rights are not being respected. In this instance, there is the violation of human rights and the company is not responding to that complaint and it is a huge concern for us.”
She said she feared that the land reclamation could be a precursor to land grab.
“We see the government’s own responsibility in this. Apart from the impact of livelihood that we have already seen, we know from experience that when this kind of land reclamation activity props up, it is a warning of further land grab and forced eviction,” she said.
The state government has come under intense criticism for its relentless demolition of waterfront communities. The government said these communities are used as hideout by kidnappers and other criminals.
However, critics allege that most of the demolished communities are soon transformed into luxury estates.
They also flayed the government for not resettling the demolished communities.