The impact of the flooding was huge and devastating and after an assessment of the affected areas Babatunde Adejare, Lagos State commissioner for the environment, aside showing his disappointment, made a commitment that things would change. This would happen through concerted efforts by the state government to ensure that some of the abnormalities that contributed to the flood caused by the torrential rain of July 8 and 9, 2017 in the state, do not happen again. He identified blocked drainage channels, unsanitary and poor waste disposal habits by inhabitants and structures on water channels as contributory factors to the floods with wide reaching impact. Days later, Adejare and a team of Lagos officials including Visionscape, a new waste management company in the state, embarked on what was called “Operation Deep Clean”. It was reported that during the exercise, the officials were able to “clear over 12,600 metric tonnes of waste from over 80 locations across the state within 10 days.”
That wasn’t all. The state government also
committed to plant 500,000 trees in 78 different locations around Lagos with the slogan Think Green, Plant Trees, Live Green echoing as part of efforts to mark this year’s tree planting day and checkmate climate threat.
But four months after, the momentum witnessed in the aftermath of the flood seem to have ebbed and most climate experts and residents interviewed in the course of this assignment were unable to score the government high for its work in reversing identified challenges.
“I haven’t personally seen any action in this direction,” Olusegun Ladega, an architect and chairman of VGC (Victoria Garden City) residents’ association declared. He revealed that “right next to where I live a developer sand-filled a section of a canal known as Drainage System 158; this has been brought to the attention of the State Government, up till now nothing has been done to remove the blockage while a number of properties in our estate have been adversely affected by this wicked act.”
As someone who saw firsthand, the impact of the July flood in Lagos, particularly in VGC and neighbouring areas, Ladega knows the price that residents of the state have paid. He estimates that the loss is between 100-150 billion naira as buildings, household utensils, cars and public infrastructure like electric cables were damaged. For some observers, waiting until disaster happens before taking action does little to address the issues that require long term planning to tackle.
While disaster could strike without notice, catching even countries with highest levels of preparation unawares, being proactive could go a long way in stemming the impact. That would require budgeting for climate related programmes and projects, and ensuring that the funds are well utilized. But a source at the Lagos State ministry of environment who asked not to be named to avoid victimization said with just two months to the end of the year, not a dime of the N100 million budgeted for climate change in Lagos for this year has been released. Although there are provisions for road/drainage maintenance amounting to N4, 356,799,974; waste management on streets, highway, public schools and public health facility N1,123,328,000; greening/beautification/landscaping of public spaces N528, 790,725.
The 2017 Lagos budget totalling N812, 998 billion was approved by the Lagos State House of Assembly on January 3 and was passed into law days later by Akinwunmi Ambode, the state governor. Unlike many states, Lagos is not known to suffer cash crunch as regards budget funding. It generates the highest revenue and remains Nigeria’s most industrialized and commercially viable state.
According to the source, the non release of the climate change budget stalled plans for climate change programmes in the state. “The truth is that this government has not done much on climate change. The administration does not believe in investing in things like clean energy. It prefers construction and physical projects.”
Efforts to clarify this claim and other issues with Adejare were unsuccessful as he referred the reporter, through his PRO, to Maximus Ugwoke, a staff of the ministry who’s in charge of climate change in the state. But Ugwoke declined to answer questions about budget, saying it is not part of his brief. He pointed out that the state government had been up and doing as regards tackling climate change since the past administration of Babatunde Fashola and that a lot has been achieved under Ambode. “This government has done a lot in terms of storm water management, deflooding the state, cleaning drainage channels, under the Cleaner Lagos Initiative.” He added that the state government had also planted 500,000 trees in the state this year, accumulating to over five million trees since 2008 and that initiatives like the BRT transport scheme started in the previous administration continues as it is meant to reduce green house emission. “The whole essence of BRT scheme is for people to use the buses instead of their cars. If you are in a BRT and your car is at home, it will reduce green house emission to the atmosphere.” He insisted that Lagos State views climate change seriously, which explained why, at a point, over 300 climate clubs were set up in schools to create awareness about climate issues and how to overcome them but that their activities in recent times had been downscaled due to fund challenges caused by recession. As regards physical projects embarked upon by the Lagos State government, one of them, still at the preparatory stage, is located at Oworonshoki, which overlooks the lagoon. It involves reclaiming land from the lagoon for a tourist and entertainment centre. The area to be reclaimed covers 29.6 hectares and is being handled by Fountain Construction Company. Residents of Oworonshoki and adjacent waterfront communities of Ebute Ilaje and Ago-Egun who spoke to the magazine in October said the sand filling had negatively impacted their environment and livelihood. While those in Oworonshoki complained of incessant flooding as a result of the sand filling, residents of Ebute Ilaje and Ago-Egun, both fishing communities, said the fish population in the lagoon has depleted owing to the pollution caused by the reclamation work. Although TELL investigations show that residents have not been displaced, the Oworonshoki project is believed by some to be a continuation of Ambodes threat last year to demolish all waterfront slum communities in the state within seven days. It’s a threat that has not been denied and Ilubirin, another waterfront community was last year demolished to make way for an ongoing housing project. There’s also Otodo Gbame, home to an estimated 30,000 people, which government agents led by the police on April 9, this year, invaded and set ablaze at dawn, leading to a stampede as residents fled. A court order mandating a return to status quo has been ignored by the Lagos State government. Critics of the Lagos State government say it only targets poor settlements while ignoring rich neighbourhoods. Indeed, many lands taken over by force by the state government are sold to affluent persons.
Demehin Adebayo, one of the fishermen in Ebute Ilaje, explained how the construction affects their livelihood. “As they are sand filling that place, theres massive out push of mud. The way the dredging nozzle rolls under water; it rolls and mixes the water before the sand is sucked into the pipe. That has really polluted the water and it smells badly. In the past, during this period, woman and children normally catch crayfish around here. This year, nothing like that has happened, the whole place has been polluted. It has become shallow water and fish cannot thrive in shallow water.” As a result of the challenges, the fishermen complained that they now have to advance far into the lagoon to be able to catch fish.
In Oworonshoki, residents also said that the sand filling has blocked a major water channel in the area which leaves their neighborhood flooded most times it rains. “Yesterday, when it rained, this area was flooded. Once it rains like that, people outside find it difficult to access their homes while those at home battle with the flood,” said a resident.
Emmanuel Adebola, manager of Fountain Construction Company, denied that the flooding was caused by the sand filling work. He blamed it on the low nature of the area and said that even before the reclamation began, residents of the area were exposed to flooding risk. He insisted that, contrary to their claim, Fountain helped to create channel for the free flow of water in the area.
Aside from the complaint of flood and poor fish harvest, residents also said they were never informed about the project by the state government. Although Adebola said that an environmental impact assessment was carried out prior to the commencement of the project by another company, not one of all the people interviewed at Oworonshoki, Ebute Ilaje and Ago-Egun said they were consulted.
Chigozie Chikere, a lecturer at the Institute of Maritime Studies, University of Lagos said “although the government had prior to the flood of 2017 embarked on projects that could tangentially reduce the impact of climate change such as the 7km Great Wall of Lagos, ironically, the government is at the same time carrying out land reclamation projects at Oworonshoki, Eko Atlantic, and Lekki-Epe axis activities that have apparently put the state at the risk of ocean surge and would further deepen the impact of climate change.”
Oluwatosin Kolawole, President, Climate Aid, also thinks that reclamation works as seen in some parts of Lagos is fraught with danger and wants the government to rethink its strategy. While such projects in a populated coastal city with limited land area like Lagos with approximately 18 million inhabitants may be seen as an attempt to create something from its resources, Kolawole says it does more harm than good.
“There is no gainsaying that Lagos is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Megacities all over the world often pull significant strain on the ecosystem in order to expand,” but, he notes, “in this age of climate change with attendant warming atmosphere, and warming ocean which leads to water expansion and higher tides globally causing coastal erosion and inundations, it is imperative for Nigeria and especially Lagos to rethink its coastal development and infrastructural designs to accommodate living with water not fighting water, something similar to its Dutch counterpart,” he said.
For Lagos to effectively tackle climate change, experts canvass for more awareness. Notwithstanding Ugwoke’s claim about Lagos State government’s awareness campaign, impact is crucial.
Glory Oguegbu, Executive Director, Climate Smart Nigeria, points out that a Gallup poll “survey of 119 countries shows that 70 percent of Nigerians are not aware of Climate Change.” To combat climate change, she said, “Education and awareness is key, because you cannot galvanize people to combat a problem that they are not aware of. Therefore we must join hands to promote the learning of climate change across our institutions, teaching people about the menace and the role they must play to combat it.” She upholds an innovative way of checkmating climate change through clean and renewable energy. “The government should deliberately invest in renewable energy projects across the state/nation and provide grants to encourage youths to go into renewable energy. This will help to reduce the emission of greenhouse gas, improve the power sector, create green entrepreneurs and generally boost the economy,” she said.
Chikere, who suspects a “near-zero awareness at the grassroots level,” wants to see more action. Comparing the budget of Lagos and that of the federal government to what obtains in other parts of the world, Chikere said it says something about seriousness.
“As predicted, Lagos and Durban are two African cities at the risk of being submerged within the next forty years. Others close to them are Abidjan, Dar es Salaam and the coastal cities of North Africa. If Ghana that is not anywhere in the list could budget 210 million US Dollars (over N80 billion) for climate change, what is N8 billion and N100 million that the federal government and Lagos State respectively are budgeting in 2017? These figures corroborate the widely held view among Nigerians that the federal governments response to climate change is simply lip service.”
Going forward, Chikere has a word of advice: “The 2015 Paris Conference emphasised on reduction of carbon emissions. Tree planting and drain cleaning efforts, commendable as they are, have had little or no impact. Lagos State Government should begin now to think towards Ecomobility – investing in low and zero emission BRT buses propelled by Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The Federal Government on their part should not ignore the vulnerability of Lagos to the effects of climate change. Large chunks of annual budgets for climate change should go to Lagos to enable the state secure adequate financial resources and technology support to reduce emissions and to build resilience.”
Lookman Oshodi, the Project Director of Arctic Infrastructure, also wants the Lagos State government to review its drainage policy as part of efforts to mitigate against climate change. He said a situation where people are at liberty to construct drainages as obtains in the state doesn’t allow for uniformity and timely completion.
He also advised for better waste disposal system. Although the state government recently signed a 10 year contract with Visionscape to provide waste management services in the state, according to information on the company’s website, Oshodi said its impact is yet to be felt. Prior to engaging Visionscape, the government dispensed with the services of PSP (Private Sector Participation) operators, who had partnered with the state government since 1999 to collect and dispose waste within the state. But the effort of the PSP generally, was far from perfect as there were often breaches in the process. But the attempt to disengage the PSPs was fraught with acrimony as the PSP resisted the move meant to put them out of work while the state government stuck to its guns insisting that an overhaul of the waste disposal system was necessary as it would give room for the private sector to invest in the sector.
The government’s critics however say the founders of Visionscape are friends to powerful Lagos government officials and may well be fronting for them. Lagos, with its huge population, a total mass (land and water) area of 3,577.28 square km, and a solid waste generation 4,741.24MT/Per Day, according to information on the state’s 2017 budget paper, is literally bursting at its seams and waste generation and management had long posed a challenge. It is left to be seen what impact Visionscape will have but Oshodi says any breach in the value chain in refuse collection and disposal diminishes the effort. “Within the value chain of generation of waste, disposal of waste, collection and processing, whether recycling or not, if theres any chain along that value thats compromised, the entire system is compromised. If there is gap in disposal, the next option for some is to dispose it in the drainage system and that is common with many residents in Lagos. It is because of the gap along the value chain so all we need to work on is closing the gaps. If we are going to deal with VisionScape, how will they work with people in Bariga or Ajegunle? (Relatively poor neighbourhoods) What strategy do they have to penetrate those communities?” asked Oshodi.
Perhaps, only time will tell how effective or not Visionscape will be.
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