Daily, around 2 a.m., Kazeem Hassan and his colleagues would jump into their boat, fire up the engine and paddle to the deepest part of the waters in search of fish.
This is the daily practice of fishermen in Iwopin community of Ogun State and their survival is tied to fishing despite the risks. They believe that the early bird always catches the worm, hence the need to set out to fish early.
Iwopin is a famous fishing community in the Ogun Waterside area of Ogun State. About 90 per cent of the residents are involved in artisanal fishing.
For residents in the community, no other job serves them better than fishing. Fishing, though strenuous, has become a major source of income for residents who depend largely on the Iwopin River for survival.
Fishing in Iwopin is done in batches. While some leave in the early morning, others alternate between the late evening, around 6:30 p.m., and midnight.
Mr Hassan and his colleagues, after six hours of fishing, would usually return with a basket full of fish to sell to impatient traders and marketers. But, Mr Hassan’s daily struggles do not match up with his income as certain factors now limit his catch.
From his face, one could tell that Mr Hassan was not satisfied with the basket of fish he caught after a long day of fishing on Monday, October 5. His output would have been more than one basket had the lingering challenge of water pollution in the river been surmounted or even non-existent.
“Today, I could only get a basket of fish, not the way it is. Anytime we see much fish we are happy, but when we don’t there’s nothing we can do. This is our only source of livelihood.
“We usually go out to catch fish early with the hope of coming back with many fish to sell but most times we get disappointed as we might not get up to what we expected,” he said.
Fishing in the community is being hampered by the indiscriminate discharge of waste, erosion, and human activities leading to a decline in fish production for Mr Hassan and other fishermen in Iwopin.
Residents ignorant of waste management
Ignorantly, fishermen in Iwopin also contribute to the water pollution. Mr Hassan and his colleagues returned the waste water that had been used to clean their boat back into the river, thus further polluting the river.
Close to the river on another end is the Iwopin wharf – where people travelling on boats from Ikorodu or Epe to Iwopin or to other neighbouring communities disembark.
When this reporter visited the wharf on Tuesday, October 6, she observed how household dirt, dead animals and other waste products were disposed into the river. Similarly, while some are accustomed to washing their motorcycles and other equipment in the river, others urinate into the river and also defecate close by.
Soap and detergents also flow freely into the water. This practice has been identified to be dangerous to life under water as it damages the external mucus layers protecting fish from bacteria and parasites as well as affecting the critters fish eat. This disrupts their cell membranes and removes the protective waxes that help them cover the insects they eat, leaving them to die.
Unused fishing nets and equipment were also left abandoned at the edge of the river to rot.
Water hyacinth, the fish killer
Water hyacinth, locally referred to as ‘gbeborun,’ has been identified by fishermen in Iwopin and other fishing communities in Ogun, as another source of major water pollution affecting fishes.
The water hyacinth is an aquatic plant that grows on water. This plant also clogs waterways used by local fishermen for transportation. It is a major environmental concern in many countries. The water hyacinth also traps fishes, leaving them to die.
“In Iwopin, water hyacinth grows on the river sometimes, but not always,” said Olajide Balogun, a fisherman in Iwopin.
Aliu Ogunsanya, another fisherman in the community, corroborates Mr Balogun saying that fish in the river will die if the water becomes heavily polluted.
Meanwhile, Kazeem Omolaja, a resident of Iwopin, told this reporter that water pollution affects fishes but not all the time.
“There are times, the fishes die from water pollution, the fish sometimes have some kind of diseases on their body making them unfit for consumption but it’s not common,” Mr Omolaja said.
Another resident, Francis Olowojaye, corroborated Mr Omolaja saying the water pollution in the community was due to lack of drainage system.
Mr Olowojaye said the government should provide a good drainage for the community to further reduce the water pollution and erosion issues.
Water pollution everywhere
On Thursday, October 28, during a visit to Oni River, another fishing community close to Iwopin, waste particles and plastic were seen in some parts of the river.
Samuel Okoro, a fisherman in Oni, who has been in the fishing business for over 20 years, was approached by this reporter.
He got off his boat after the tedious fishing of the day. Evidently, looking tired. Mr Okoro said he saw nothing wrong with the waste flowing into the river.
He said the water gets polluted but it has no effect on the fish especially as the water keeps flowing.
“The water is not a stagnant water, e no fit affects the fishes, e just dey go in own,” he said.
But experts disagree with Mr Okoro’s claim.
Environmental expert, Wonne Afronelly, said dirt and other discharge pose a serious threat to the fishes in all the rivers.
She noted that marine debris, plastic pollution and oil spill cause a lot of problems including instant death, suffocation and entanglement of aquatics, starvation leading to death of many aquatic animals who have ingested these plastic particles, damage and habitat degradation, economic loss to fishing and maritime industries, threat to human health and safety, amongst others.
Ms Afronelly said these are very grievous threats to the fishing industry as many species are now depleting in stock and some going into forced extinction.
A visit to Imakun-Omi, another riverine area and fishing community in Ogun Waterside, also showed that the entire fishing community has the problem of water pollution.
In Imakun-Omi, refuse is routinely dumped in the river and major water pollutants including plastics are seen on this river.
Corroborating other fishermen, Shehu Olumope, a 70- year-old fisherman in Imakun-Omi who has been in the fishing business for over 40 years, lamented the adverse effect water hyacinth has on fishes.
“Water hyacinth kills fish greatly, plastic waste is much here but they cannot stay as it is a big river.”
Ogun river hugely stockpiled by waste
In Abeokuta lies the Ogun River which flows across major communities. The river stretches across several areas but more noticeably is the stretch around the Lafenwa area popularly referred to as ‘Ori Omi’.
Although fishing usually happens here, large amounts of waste discharged into the water, as well as defecation, has affected the cycle of fishes.
Residents in the Ori-Omi Lafenwa area see the river as a dumping ground for their waste.
As the reporter moved near the river, the sound of waste being poured into the water by a resident in the area got her attention. The young lady, unmindful of this reporter’s presence, emptied her basket of rotten oranges along with other waste directly into the river.
Few minutes after the young lady left, another middle-aged woman came in with her bag of waste, dumping it very close to the river.
As the river flows freely, so also is the large amount of waste following in suit.
With a water bottle in his hand, this reporter sighted another young man heading towards the water direction. With the uneasiness on his face apparently he was going to ease himself very close to the river.
Alas! The reporter’s instinct was right! Undisturbed by this reporter’s presence he quickly undressed himself to answer the call of nature bending very close to the river. This human waste will eventually get washed by erosion into the river, sadly getting the water polluted for the fishes as faecal and other waste materials have been identified to be a threat to fish health.
While some die off, others contact certain diseases making them unfit for consumption. When a water source becomes contaminated due to pollution, experts say it can lead to health issues in humans, such as cancer and cardiovascular conditions.
Lack of Proper Waste Disposal System
Further checks revealed that the area lacks a proper waste disposal system as erosion waste was greatly noticeable along all the minor stream points linking the river.
A visit to another river, Sokori River, in Abeokuta, shows the huge waste discharge also happens there.
Fishermen in these areas are also affected by the frequent and indiscriminate water pollution as they are also battling low production.
“Most of the time, we don’t get enough fish in the river and sometimes fish die too,” said Kayode Olanrewaju, a fisherman in Abeokuta.
Abattoirs, car wash, a contributor to water pollution
Apart from waste, activities of abattoirs around the rivers are a major contributor to water pollution. Two major abattoirs, Akinolugbade and Lafenwa, visited in Abeokuta, have their wastewater channelled into the Ogun River.
This waste could cause a lot of damage for fish even as animal blood, bone or skin remnants, and dirty water from the abattoirs flow through the drainage back into the river.
Aside from the abattoir’s waste in Lafenwa, meat skin popularly called ‘ponmo’ gets washed off and cleaned into the river while car washes were also seen operating close to the rivers.
Water Pollution, our major problem – President, Ogun Fishermen
Reacting, the president of the Fishermen Association in Ogun State, Sanni Olalekan, said water pollution, amongst other things, is one major problem they encounter.
Mr Olalekan, who resides in Iwopin, said the community, though housing the largest centre of fishing activities in Ogun State, does not have drainage to help prevent erosion run-off and harmful waste from flowing into the river.
“Water pollution is one of the major things affecting us here, there are times we find it difficult to fish and fishes die greatly leading to low production.”
Also, the chairperson of the Fishers Association in Iwopin, Waheed Eriogun, described the water hyacinth problem as a fish killer.
The 40-year-old man did not see water pollution as a threat to fish life, noting that water hyacinth and flood is the major challenge leading to large numbers of deaths for fish.
He also confirmed that the community has no waste disposal system and no proper environmental health enforcement to help monitor the waste from going into the river.
“When water hyacinth is being nourished by the huge wash of erosion into the river, we find it difficult to catch fish.”
The chairperson said the river is also being polluted by companies nearby in Epe, Lagos State, whose waste discharge goes directly into the river.
“The refineries are also a major contributor to the waste and water pollution,” he said.
Nigeria according to a report by the Water and Sanitation Programme loses $455 billion annually due to poor sanitation
Water pollution has also been identified by the United Nations (UN) as a serious threat to the fish in the river and the world oceans.
In its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN in goals 6 (clean water and sanitation) and 14 (life below water) gave water top priority in the international agenda.
As evident in communities visited, life below water is seriously being hampered by plastic waste and other waste.
Almost 1,000 species of marine animals, according to a UN report, get impacted by marine pollution, and over 500 locations have been recorded as dead zones where marine life cannot exist across the world while 100 million marine animals die from plastic waste each year.
The World Pollution Statistics shows that 100 million marine animals, fish inclusive, die each year from getting entangled in plastic.
Government must do more
In his reaction, Musa Ibrahim, founder, Voice for Environment, described water pollution as a lingering issue affecting fish in Nigeria and globally. He challenged the government to do more in curbing the menace.
“We are in a decade of action, all hands must be on deck to ensure there’s a more sustainable and resilient environment,” he said.
He called on the government to try as much as possible to see how water pollution, most especially plastic, can be reduced in the rivers.
Ms Afronelly, the environmentalist, charged both the government and fishermen to action to reduce water pollution.
“The fishermen should engage more in aquaculture to augment fish catch from the wild. They also need to work tirelessly to ensure barriers in water bodies are removed to prevent disruption of movement for migratory fish species,” she said.
Ms Afronelly further urged the Nigerian government to introduce more economic instruments for pollution control as well as for other public policies.
She also charged the government to adopt strategies by the UN on the SDGs directly related to water SDGs 3, 6 and 14, domesticate these strategies according to peculiarities of the country and create a blueprint to guide everyone.
We are working to improve waste management in rivers, others – Commissioner
Reacting, the Commissioner for Environment in Ogun State, Abiodun Abudu-Balogun, who spoke with our reporter on phone, stated that the state is working to ensure proper waste management in the rivers in the state.
“There are two major activities that are giving us problems in the state, one is building on river drainages, illegal structures while the other is people dumping their waste into the canal and rivers,” he said.
On lack of proper waste disposal system in Iwopin, the commissioner stated the ministry is aware and working on it.
“I think I have heard of that, it has been brought to my attention. For Iwopin, with lack of waste disposal, the state management is aware of it and it has been brought to our notice.”
However, the commissioner also stated that the ministry of environment is collaborating with the Ogun State Waste Management Authority to improve its waste collection operations within the state to prevent waste discharge from affecting fishes in the rivers.
He added that the ministry of environment has designed a programme to step up enforcement activities for the abattoirs discharging waste into the rivers, noting they will be closely monitored from next year.
Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’ and is made possible through funding support from Ford Foundation
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