Elder Isaac Dosugan, 72, resides in a 100-metre foot shack in Makoko Lagoon, he shares the hut built with tin and wood with his wife and four children. Bubbling Dosugan seems contented with his way of life as a fisherman who resides at the lagoon.
To him, he is living the best life anyone could ever wish for. “As a fisherman, I have a canoe, and I have over the years used my earnings from fishing to feed my family,” he said while speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend.
Makoko community is the biggest floating slum in Lagos, Nigeria, where over one hundred people reside. The community comprises four floating communities which are Oko Agbon, Adogbo, Migbewhe, Yanshiwhe, and two land communities which are Sogunro and Apollo.
“Pedalling my canoe to harvest fish is the only job I know,” Dosugan said. He stated that it is the only trade he can use to provide food for his family, adding that he has also trained his children on how to fish.
Though he said he has no regret living in the community, he said the slum lacks nothing. “We have a market, school, and church, just to name it. I can spend one month on the water, without coming to the land, because there is nothing I would need that I cannot get on Makoko Lagoon,” he stated while smiling.
Constant fear of eviction
As pleasant as Dosugan has painted his life on Makoko Lagoon, he said Lagos State Government has over time threatened to evict the residents living on the Lagoon.
Recall that in July 2012, the state Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development issued a 72-hour quit notice to residents. The squabble ended with one chieftain being killed and rendered about 30,000 people homeless, as their homes were burnt.
The same incident is about to happen, Makoko residents told LEADERSHIP Weekend even as they disclosed that plans have been concluded by the state government to give Makoko Lagoon a new look.
A community member, Elder Claudius Akintimehin told LEADERSHIP Weekend that it is no longer news that the Lagos State Government has given the nod to a private contractor, to sand fill Makoko lagoon.
“This means that they have made up their minds to evict us from our home and our livelihood. We can’t accept this because this is the only place we know as home. Some of us are fishermen, who go into the lagoon to harvest all kinds of fish; we have people who buy from us and sell them to Lagosians; we have women who sell food stuff and provision on the water, and we also have some women who help to smoke the fish for buyers. If they succeed in evicting us from our home and livelihood, I don’t think we can survive for long,” he lamented.
He, however, appealed to the federal government to intervene. “During the time of governor Ambode, when they wanted to sand fill the area, we took him to court, and seeing our plight, the Court ruled in our favour and said that they should not evict us away from the water, because we have nowhere to go.
“We are appealing to the federal government, to come to our aid again. We don’t want to leave this place. We don’t want them to sand-fill it either. There are many areas that they can sand fill, we are appealing to the government to please leave us alone. This is the life we know,” he stated.
“Over one hundred people are living in six villages in Makoko community,” said the secretary, Makoko Waterfront/Lagoon, Francis Samson.
Samson told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the planned compensation by the government is a scam.
“Where is the government going to relocate us to? The government had earlier said that they will either compensate us or relocate us to another place. But you and I know that it is a scam. The government has even shot itself in the leg by asking for proof of ownership before they can compensate us. Makoko Lagoon is a slum, and many of us don’t have Certificates of Occupancy. So we are appealing to civil society organisations, rights activists, and the federal government to fight for us,
Reclaiming wetlands and its implications
“Taking away our livelihood and our home will be like a pinch of salt to the problem that would eventually happen in the future,” Dosugan said, adding that residents living in the Yaba axis should brace up for flood if they allow the state government to sand fill the whole of Makoko Lagoon.
Explaining further, Dosugan said, “We have seven canals that are channelled to Makoko Lagoon. If the government decided to sand fill Makoko Lagoon, they will definitely sand fill it close to Makoko Land. If that happens, where will the seven canals including Shomolu and Yaba canals that flow into Makoko lagoon go? We don’t need experts to tell us that the water that flows through those canals will remain in those communities, leading to serious flooding, during the rainy season. I am using this medium to appeal to the government to reconsider its decision.”
Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey stated that flood-prone cities such as Lagos should cease the acts of so-called land reclamation as such activities worsen the crisis and reduce the city’s climate change resilience.
“Wetlands must remain wetlands and people who have kept such ecosystem balances should be supported and not criminalized or victimized,” he advised.
Corroborating Bassey’s views, several studies, and experts have stated that wetlands are a very important aspect of the general ecosystem as they play vital roles in the sustenance of both the surface and groundwater resources of the earth.
For instance, they revealed that Wetlands contribute to the national and local economies by producing resources in terms of fish, fibre, and water while enabling recreational activities and providing other benefits such as climate regulation, water purification, pollution control, and flood protection. “Additionally, wetlands serve as sites for scientific research and discovery, education and commercial fishing, habitats and site of nutrient cycle for mammals, plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds and fishes,” they averred.
Nigeria is richly blessed with both coastal and inland wetlands, however many of them are threatened by anthropogenic drivers and human-motivated factors such as land use activities, urbanisation, and agricultural activities in addition to the emerging threats of climate change.
In Lagos state for instance, 40 per cent of the state is covered with water bodies and wetlands, and its coastline account for 180km out of Nigeria’s 850km stretch, yet, a study titled: “Environmental Change and Ecological Services in System I Drainage Area of Lagos”, showed that the extent of inland wetlands and coastal wetlands was decreasing from 1840.41ha (43.45 per cent) and 2074.22ha (48.97 per cent) respectively in 1965, by the turn of 2008, the extent of inland and coastal wetlands had reduced to 222.37ha (5.25 per cent) and 667.12ha (15.75 per cent). By 2014, it was as low as 203.9ha (4.82 per cent) and 626.56 (14.79 per cent).
Factors responsible for wetlands loss in Lagos Metropolis as highlighted by a study titled: “An Assessment of Wetland Loss in Lagos Metropolis, Nigeria”, revealed that urbanisation is the 1st major factor causing the degradation, depletion, and subsequent loss of wetland ecosystems in Lagos; Sand-filling of wetland site for construction was ranked 2nd while conversion of wetlands for housing and infrastructural development was both ranked 3rd.
“Toxic chemicals and industrial wastes emptied into wetland ranked 4th while the disposal of non-biodegradable wastes into wetlands is ranked 5th. Dredging of wetlands, climate change, and the unsustainable conversion of wetlands were ranked 6th, 7th, and 8th respectively. It could thus be deduced that urbanisation is the major factor causing the degradation, depletion, and loss of the wetland resources in Lagos,” the study highlighted.
Regarding the loss of wetlands within the Lagos conurbation with implications for flood control, the results of a study titled: “Loss of wetlands in Lagos (Nigeria) and the adjacent territory: Implications for flood control,” indicates that these new developments on wetlands on their own generate more surface water that can no longer be absorbed by the lost wetlands, and it becomes easy to see why there appears to be an exponential increase in flooding in Lagos.
“This is because development or construction on a given area of wetland displaces water that could have been absorbed within that space and throws it out to add to the volume of water that needs some space to be absorbed. It is no surprise then that since the turn of the millennium, Lagos has witnessed flooding of unprecedented magnitude,” the study explained.
Urban farming, and consequently urban food security is another sector most likely to suffer the effect of wetland conversion for the purpose of urban development and other uses, the study has shown, “this is because, many wetlands are used to grow many crops that would be out of season in the dry season”, the study added.
“Among numerous other services, the diverse kinds of animals and plants found in these wetlands appear huge and serve as a sanctuary, especially for endangered species. With the loss of these wetlands, however, the environment is deprived of the aesthetics and the tempering of the weather and climate of the area that they hitherto provided,” it stated.
In the same vein, a professor of Biomonitoring and Restoration Ecology, Department of Fisheries, University of Port-Harcourt, Prof. Nenibarini Zabbey while speaking on the recent surge in flood cases in Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, told LEADERSHIP that sand mining and reclaiming of wetland areas are major contributors to flooding in Nigeria.
“Unregulated sand mining must be guided by an environmental impact assessment to prevent erosion and flooding. Also, the reclaiming of wetland areas should be stopped immediately to prevent flooding because wetlands are very important to our terrestrial environment. The wetland areas help retain water, thereby preventing flooding. But when, as a result of unplanned development, we are encroaching wetland areas, there is going to be flooding. When we deforest swamps that retain water, there is going to be flooding, because water must find its way,” he explained.
To protect the water system, Zabbey called for a multi-stakeholders approach. “It starts with citizen stewardship because what we do at the household level is contributing to the crisis. For the government, they must enforce laws and regulations that are intended to protect the environment. The private sector must adopt international best practices that would protect the environment.
Drawing the battle line
From all indications, sand filling Makoko community will only not lead the over one million people who are living on the water to abject poverty, but could also lead to flooding of the communities in that environment, hence the reason, the youths of Makoko Lagoon has taken the government and all those involved in the proposed demolition of Makoko Lagoon to court, the youth leader, Makoko Lagoon, Caleb Dosugan told LEADERSHIP.
Though they have stopped sand-filling the place, we believe it is because of the 2023 election, that made them stop the project. Of course, they need our votes. We are convinced that they will fully resume work, immediately after the election. We do not want to wait until they bring the battle to us, hence the reason we took them to court on the 24th of January, 2023.
This is a federal government’s waterway and as such the Lagos state government, Baales nor contractors do not have a say in this. We have taken the governor of Lagos state; attorney general of the state; FBT Coral Estate limited, the private contractor, Femi Adelaja; Incorporated Trustee of Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC); activist Dr. Felix Morka; National Inland Waterways Management Authority and the attorney general of the federation to court. The Ikoyi High Court has served them a notice. The court will meet again on the 28th of February, 2023.
Lagos state government’s response
During a fact finding visit to the office of the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Physical Planning and Environment efforts to seek the reasons why the state government is sand-filling Makoko Lagoon, where they are planning to relocate the residents too and if environment assessment has been done on the area, and if plans are in place to avert possible flooding was abortive. LEADERSHIP Weekend is also yet to get feedback from these ministries, at the time of filling in the report.
Meanwhile, at a town hall meeting with the residents of Makoko Lagoon, the commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Kabiru Ahmed, assured the community that no one will be left behind by the government, but that everyone must be on the same page.
“We are here to tell you that that place cannot continue to be the way it is, there is going to be development and progress. But the government has however put the welfare of the people first and will also ensure that the interests of the people are protected,” he assured the residents.
This story was supported by the African Data Hub Community Journalism Fellowship Programme.