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All Hands on Deck: An African Climate Change Stories

By Victoria Ifeoma Nwosu, African Climate Stories Fellow

The gradual deteriorating environmental conditions and their effects on the health and standards of living of the coastal dwellers in the coastal areas of Nigeria as perceptibly caused by varied factors such as global climate change, neglect by Government and unwholesome practices by coastal dwellers require hands of all stakeholders to be on deck to salvage the worsening conditions in the coastal areas of Nigeria including other West African regional coastlines.

The coastal areas, unlike landlocked countries, are a huge asset for Nigeria in broad terms of material, human and cultural resources which must be well harnessed and managed for the benefit of all.

The coastal areas, apart from airports and road transport, constitute a major gateway to the outside world and which brings in the highest volume of goods and services to (in form of import) and from (in form of export) the country.

It is inconceivable to imagine the Nigerian economy without the coastal areas including the ocean and sea ports that have contributed to the entire nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) over the decades before and after political independence.

The entire coastal areas including the superjacent ocean and the sea ports constitute a micro ecosystem of its own within the macro or larger ecosystem: economically, politically, socially and culturally. For instance, when well cultivated and developed, the coastal areas constitute a huge tourist attraction and the corollary revenue for the nation. This is one of the reasons why the Federal Government cannot afford to ignore or neglect the coastal areas and their largely yet-to-be-tapped resources in its various sectors.

Apart from serving as the intersection of import and export of goods and services, the coastal areas are also living areas for millions of dwellers who carry out their daily activities both in traditional and modern ways. Trade and commerce are daily preoccupations of the coastal dwellers constituting their main source of living. Fishing, transportation,

cultivation of other forms of aquatic farming – including folklore story-telling – constitute a major segment or sector of economic activities in the coastal areas.

What are the major problems facing the coastal areas and their dwellers? How can we maximize the coastal environment and resources to foster economic development and sustainability? How can we change the “culture” of ignorance about the huge potential of the coastal areas? How can we prevent environmental disasters from overwhelming the coastal areas? How can both the state and federal governments make coastal areas a more livable environment for their dwellers and others?

This report investigates some of the conditions in the coastal areas with Lagos State as a case study. The report also recommends some steps that can be taken to positively impact the conditions of the coastal dwellers and to mitigate the encroaching global climate change adversities.

Mud or Blue Economy in Nigeria: a Climate Change Perspective

This report refers to “mud” economy as that of coastal areas where the coastal dwellers still live and carry out their economic activities in traditional ways – devoid of government intervention and without being fully aware of the depth and scope of dangers threatening them as a result of global climate change and unwholesome practices by the coastal dwellers themselves.

Mud economic situation in the coastal areas also refers to a state of ignorance of the coastal dwellers about the scientific knowledge of the ebb and flow of the coastal waters, the lagoons, and the superjacent ocean as a result of negative man-made activities and/or global environmental climate change and the scientific ways to mitigate and manage these negative conditions.

The coastal dwellers largely live in slum conditions, in squalor with no dreams of a bigger picture of modern living conditions. They lack basic social security amenities such as pipe-borne water, electricity, schools, clinics or hospitals and recreational facilities.

On the other hand, a Blue Economy is defined by the World Bank (2017)

as the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem.

This definition excludes the coastal areas as part of the ocean system.

The five key pillars of a Blue Economy, according to the Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Dr Bashir Jamoh, are:
(1) Sustainability
(2) Promoting Ocean Resources
(3) Preservation of Ecosystem
(4) Economic Growth, and
(5) Improved Livelihoods and Jobs (Bashir Jamoh: “Banking on Blue Economy for Nigeria’s Economic Development” 7th Annual The Bullion Lecture organized by Centre for Financial Journalism, Lagos, Nigeria, April 13, 2023)

In our view, a Blue Economy is where all aspects of the economic activities of the ocean system including the coastal areas, and the lagoons are integrated into a single whole and carried out in a sustainable manner to the mutual benefits of all stakeholders especially to the benefits of national economic growth and development.

It is also a situation where the negative effects of global climate change and other unwholesome man-made activities are carefully managed and mitigated using both traditional and modern (scientific) methods.

It is also a situation where the diverse factors such as social, cultural and even political considerations are factored into the policy framework and mainstreamed into the sustainable methodologies adopted to safeguard the coastal environment.

It is in this broad context (especially between the mud and blue economic intersection) that the diverse problems facing the coastal areas must be X-rayed and find lasting solutions to them.

What are the main problems or challenges facing the coastal areas in Nigeria?

There are two major categories of problems facing the coastal areas:
(1) Unwholesome activities (often civil and criminal in nature) and practices by coastal dwellers and other foreign persons or agents coming to the coastal areas for one reason or the other.
(2) Neglect or lack of adequate attention by all levels of Government, the lack of enforcement of all applicable laws relating to the management of the coastal areas.

However, a research and field trip to Ebute Ilaje Community of Bariga Local Government Area of Lagos State revealed a complex web of problems facing the coastal dwellers in this particular community (videos and photographs attached).

Some of the dwellers, in hours-long interaction with this writer, revealed that they are faced with multiple problems.

The first of these problems is the diminishing harvest of their aquaculture (fishing) because of environmental disruptions to the feeding and breeding areas of the fish habitats over the years.

According to them, this was caused by constant transportation of engine boats (not canoes) which disturb and disrupt the fish habitats and drive them to migrate elsewhere that is safe for them to breed and multiply

The second problem is sand mining. According to them, the coastal dwellers also mine sands at artisanal level from the coastal areas to be sold to who-would-be buyers. However, the sand mining has been aggravated by large-scale mining by the construction industries including the government. This two-layered sand mining has not only caused sub-marine disruptions to the fish habitats but has also disrupted the regular pattern of ebb and flow of tide in the coastal waters during raining and dry seasons, ultimately affecting their means of livelihoods.

The third problem is that housing construction companies through the state government have encroached on their dwelling areas which have been their ancestral homes by evicting them without adequate compensation and without relocating them to better places – to construct their high-rise buildings and cite their industries.

There are two major categories of problems facing the coastal areas:
(1) Unwholesome activities (often civil and criminal in nature) and practices by coastal dwellers and other foreign persons or agents coming to the coastal areas for one reason or the other.
(2) Neglect or lack of adequate attention by all levels of Government, the lack of enforcement of all applicable laws relating to the management of the coastal areas.

However, a research and field trip to Ebute Ilaje Community of Bariga Local Government Area of Lagos State revealed a complex web of problems facing the coastal dwellers in this particular community (videos and photographs attached).

Some of the dwellers, in hours-long interaction with this writer, revealed that they are faced with multiple problems.

The first of these problems is the diminishing harvest of their aquaculture (fishing) because of environmental disruptions to the feeding and breeding areas of the fish habitats over the years.

According to them, this was caused by constant transportation of engine boats (not canoes) which disturb and disrupt the fish habitats and drive them to migrate elsewhere that is safe for them to breed and multiply

The second problem is sand mining. According to them, the coastal dwellers also mine sands at artisanal level from the coastal areas to be sold to who-would-be buyers. However, the sand mining has been aggravated by large-scale mining by the construction industries including the government. This two-layered sand mining has not only caused sub-marine disruptions to the fish habitats but has also disrupted the regular pattern of ebb and flow of tide in the coastal waters during raining and dry seasons, ultimately affecting their means of livelihoods.

The third problem is that housing construction companies through the state government have encroached on their dwelling areas which have been their ancestral homes by evicting them without adequate compensation and without relocating them to better places – to construct their high-rise buildings and cite their industries.

The coastal dwellers revealed that in their views, Government is not particularly interested in their economic, social and cultural well-being, not interested in their sustainable small and medium-scale aquatic farming and other businesses – but in providing enabling environment for its elite clientele.

The overall effects of all the problems itemized above, among others, are increasing poverty level and diminishing standards of living or quality of life in coastal areas in Lagos State as an empirical case study for this report.

The implication of the above scenario is the disconnection between mud and blue economy which produces another set of problems especially for the blue economy.

This set of problems was well captured by Dr Bashir Jamoh (ibid) which he tagged as threats to blue economy. These threats are: (1) piracy (2) smuggling (3) illegal oil bunkering (4) narco-trafficking (5) arms running (6) non-payment of taxes (7) pollution (8) kidnapping (9) encroachment and (10) human trafficking.

Even though Government efforts at curbing these criminal threats or activities have not yielded too much success to make the coastal areas a safe place to live, the enforcement agents have come to increase their daily miseries by their constant raiding of their dwelling places in search of criminal elements.

A further field trip to Ilaje Community also in Bariga Local Government Area of Lagos State yielded a different perception and perspective on how climate change affect the local community.

The first observation is the difficulty in finding out ways to Ebute area in the community because of ongoing sand mining and granite excavation there. This was further compounded by heaps of filth composed of petro-chemical products such as plastics, sachets of water, sanitary pads, and clothes etc.

The second observation is the palpable fear of government intervention that may result in displacing them from their dwelling places. The coastal dwellers are, therefore, afraid of media people, even NGO or CSO

people because, according to them, once their community names pop up in the media space, Government might become interested in intervention that may end up displacing them from their ancestral and dwelling places.

The third observation is that there is division of administration of the community by the local people – a division that is directly related to the second observation above.

There are two set of “Baales” (Chiefs) in the community – one administering the shoreline area popularly known as “Ebute” where sand mining and granite excavation are carried out on artisanal and industrial scales, while the second administers the upland area where Government has registered its interventionist presence with heavy-duty machines for road construction and rehabilitation of broken-down roads which involved demolition of buildings.

Our findings include but not limited to the following:

(1) The coastal areas are slums

(2) There are lots of sinking houses.

(3) The lagoons have turned brownish in colour (instead of remaining bluish) as a result of incessant sand mining, granite excavation and dredging (There is an abandoned dredging machine in the middle of the lagoon)

(4) There are lots of sea weeds and dirt in the lagoon.

(5) There is constant immigration and emigration into and from the area visited for this research report.

(6) There is diminishing harvest of fishes. Mature fishes are increasingly becoming harder to catch – except fingerlings.

(7) Environmental filth perpetrated by the community dwellers themselves such as open defecation into the coastal waters.

(8) Coastal dwellers are however happy and at peace with themselves

amidst their poor living conditions. There is close social and cultural interaction among all categories of people of the coastal areas.

(9) There is observed skilled and focused young fishermen ably assisted by their spouses and apprentices. This include other skill-acquisitions by those not engaged in fishing.

(10) There is observed sense of tolerance and accommodations of strangers among them. No observed harassment or molestation of strangers who came visiting – even though they are suspicious.

The coastal areas, including rivers, rivulets, lagoons and the oceans constitute a very critical part of the larger ecosystem that is impacted by global climate change from one degree to another and also by unhealthy environmental practices by coastal dwellers and wrong Government policy interventions.

However, our research findings from the field trips to the coastal areas show clearly that the problems or challenges facing the coastal areas can be surmounted or mitigated if and when all hands are on deck in cooperation and integrated approach.

Our research findings also include the fact that the coastal dwellers are not difficult to deal with once the purpose of government interventions are honestly explained and communicated to them and are tailored to benefit them.

Another fact revealed is that there are lot of misconceptions about the coastal areas that are not scientifically valid. Therefore, there is urgent need to generate new and correct narratives and mainstream the environment of the coastal areas as part of the larger ecosystem.

The importance of mainstreaming the coastal environment in Nigeria cannot, therefore, be overstated.

The foundation for sustainable development of the coastal areas for our overall national economic development must be provided by all stakeholders. A variety of commodities, goods and services are produced or provided by our coastal areas which include clean water, aquaculture, biomass and biodiversity. These vast resources generate

wealth, health and livelihoods for the poor in the coastal areas. The coastal area, finally, when properly taken care of also help to mitigate the negative impacts of global climate change. The coastal areas are part of our natural resources that must be sustainably protected.

How do we maximize our coastal environment and resources therein to foster local and national economic development and sustainability?

(1) There is urgent need for community self-help as the structural foundation of a balanced management of the coastal areas. The first step here is to cooperate to carry out environmental sanitation on a regular basis to reduce the outbreak of water-borne diseases, improve their health status, healthy living and promote community awareness of clean environment. The second step is for the coastal community dwellers to form cooperatives for their various economic activities. The third step is to reduce any form of economic activity that impacts or disrupts the delicate balance of the marine ecosystem so as to maintain sustainability of the coastal environment.

(2) Government policy intervention thrusts and implementations should be people-centred, people-friendly and community-based. Government’s intervention should be based and driven by concern for the wellbeing of the coastal dwellers and on modern best practices, standards and benchmarks. Government’s interventions should integrate the coastal dwellers into Blue Economy model, train all those who are willing to adopt Blue Economy practices to enhance their scopes of economic activities, create value-added chain of wealth, and improve standards of living and livelihoods. Government’s interventions must not displace the coastal dwellers from their ancestral homes. However, where they must be displaced (especially to avoid environmental disasters) they must be properly resettled elsewhere with adequate compensation for loss of their ancestral homes. Government’s interventions must include provision of modern amenities such as schools, health care centres, recreational facilities, electricity supply, and proper road network, among others.

(3) There is urgent need for intervention and involvement of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations in the area of education, public enlightenment campaigns and provision of soft infrastructures to the coastal dwellers. Important at this point is public

enlightenment campaigns against unhealthy environmental conditions and practices; of global climate change issues as they affect coastal communities. NGOs and CSOs can come together to form a Joint Action Committee or Syndicate to provide soft loans to coastal dwellers to facilitate and grow their economic activities.

The Laurels International Magazine

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