By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Lagos State Government, as part of 2014 pre-raining season measure against flooding, last week Tuesday, ordered the immediate stoppage of further construction of structures by a developer at Osborne foreshore, Ikoyi area for encroaching on limitation area as well as violation of the state’s environmental law.
It will be recalled that there was heavy rainfall on July 10, 2010 in Lagos that left in its wake, several loss of lives and properties across the state, with women and children being the highest causalities. The major cause of the incident was later attributed to lack of adequate functional drainage system.
The state government had late last year discovered that over 51 percent of wetland areas including mangrove swamps along the coast and freshwater swamps in the state had been encroached upon indiscriminately due to urbanization.
The topography of the state haboured about 78 percent water bodies of various sizes such as ocean, lagoon, lakes, streams, wetlands, among others.
It was also discovered that most of the wetlands in the state had been severely bastardized as a result of anthropogenic activities thus the need to sensitize residents on the importance of wetlands to the survival of human beings with a view to returning it to its natural state.
Lagos State Commissioner for Environment, Tunji Bello, described wetland as an area that provided valuable services to satisfy economic, social and ecological needs of local, national and international communities, adding that wetlands also played important role in flood assimilation as well as source of food, medicine, fuel and building materials to people living around them.
He explained that the explosion of the state population vis-à-vis limited land size and the demand for housing and industrial development had placed the wetlands in Lagos State on the verge of extinction.
Similarly, a study carried out by the Building Nigeria’s Response to Climate Change (BNRCC) in partnership with the Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST) on Lagos State Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, stated that in 1965, wetlands covered about 53 per cent of Lagos State, but as at 2003, this has been reduced to 2 per cent with great loss of biodiversity.
Ramsar convention on wetlands (1971) defines wetland as “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres”.
Agriculture, (fishing and cultivation of crops) had the highest land use with 55.9 percent occupancy, followed by residential with 31.2 percent, recreation 3.9 percent, transportation 2.6 percent, herb collection 2.6 percent, worship 2.6 percent and 1.3 percent for others (sand mining and trading).
“The preservation of wetlands is a compulsory option for life and living. If we continue to destroy it, we compromise our future and endanger posterity. If our forefathers had preserved it for us, we also have the sacred responsibility of conserving it for unborn children”, he said.
Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, a Professor of Botany and Director of Academic Planning, University of Lagos, Akoka, described the relationship between wetlands and agriculture as resourceful and healthy.
He posited that there should be strategic plan for bio-diversity management so as to achieve the partnership of wetlands and agriculture, stressing that the state government should put in place a policy that would protect wetlands in the state.
Some of the wetlands still noticeable around the state include; Majidun, Ipakodo, Owode, Ise, Ibeju-Lekki, Iba, Abia, Iworo-Ajido, Morogbo, Ajido, Isheri-Olofin among others.
Rolling out strategy to combat flooding in 2014,
Bello who disclosed this during the January edition of the monthly sanitation exercise monitored in Ifelodun Local Council Development Area, LCDA, said that the strategies were already ongoing and would be intensified as the state moved closer to the rainy season.
According to him, “We will do more of what we did last year in 2014 and some of the strategies include: Pre-rainy season cleaning, mid-rainy season cleaning and Post rainy season cleaning.
“We will sustain this. Our plans are already on ground and we are ready to work towards it this year to ensure that Lagosians enjoy a flood free 2014.”
He explained: “We are ready to start rolling. We have started the cleaning and we have deployed all the relevant agencies especially officials of the Emergency Flood Abatement Department, EFAD. You will begin to see some of them on the road. So we will intensify on that.
He however urged residents “to tidy up their surroundings and do mild cleaning of your drainages. We need to be positive and mobilise ourselves to respond to our environmental challenges.”
However, last Tuesday, while conducting an on the spot assessment to various de-flooding projects, which was part of the on-going inspection of drainage systems and canals in preparation for this year rainy season in the state, Bello, ordered immediate demolition of a developing structure built along a wetland foreshore on Osborne, Ikoyi, as well as under high tension cable of the defunct Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN.
According to Bello, the construction of the structure being constructed on drainage course, being a wetland, could lead to heavy flooding during high tide of the lagoon and rainfall.
The commissioner said: “It is not only dangerous to the occupants of the estates around here, but also to residents and road users on the Lagos Island as it could cause serious flooding that could claim lives.
It is a disaster in waiting, and we (the state government) will not allow it to happen. “Whenever, there is high water level, this canal will not be able to absorb much water as it has been encroached upon, hence, the entire area is in danger. We will resist it by all means. It must be stopped.”
When Bello approached the site manager of the construction company, (names-withheld), it was discovered that the structure, with the plan to build an estate, was approved by the Federal Ministry of Environment, he retorted: “How can this be approved by the federal government. If you look at that fence there, that is the limitation.
This is a natural water way and this is a high tension cable passing through, it is obvious, how can anybody approved this.’
Also speaking on the encroachment, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry Engr, Muideen Akinsanya, explained: “From the lagoon to the foreshore, a limitation has been done in terms of the extent the federal government can develop inorder to be able to facilitate the backlog for water to be able to recede without causing any havoc in Lagos and to residents.
This drainage is called Osborne, it is the one parallel to the expressway and as we all know the expressway is deck compiled and the most important aspect of it is that the popular Dolphin and Ijeh canals is connected to Ijeh, so if there is any back flow, it is here the water will depend on, so if there is any obstruction here, we all know what will happen. So this is a surprise to us and we will not allow this.”.
It was however, learnt that officials of the Federal Ministry of the environment had denied knowledge of any approval given for such construction.
Also, conducting another inspection in Ifako-Ijaiye Area, the Special adviser to the Governor on Environment, Dr. Taofik Folami, decried the level at which canals and drainages were being subjected to by residents, as most of the places visited showed blocked and abandoned drainage projects that needed quick intervention or else flood will be inevitable in the event of slightest rainfall.
At Orimolade Street off Yaya Abatan Road, Ifko-jaiye, Folami ordered an immediate stoppage of a building that had reached roofing stage as it was built on canal alignment.
One of the community leaders, Alhaji Olayiwola Salami, accused the contractor of abandoning the drainage project half- way which allowed the developer to build along the course of the drainage. He therefore, appealed for government’s prompt intervention before the rains as the present state could lead to avoidable loss of lives and properties. “We need to change our attitude to the environment if we must remain safe.
The climate change is here as evident even in what is happening in the advanced, well organized clime where flooding is currently ravaging their citizens. The United States of America, USA, is one, Britain is another. So all hands must be on deck, the government can’t do it all alone.” Folami maintained.
According to him, many identified structures built on drainage alignment and wetlands would all be removed to avert flooding in the state.