ON THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION


In the beginning, Okun Alfa was an idyllic seaside town. Sitting a few kilometres to the Atlantic Ocean, the community hosted the popular resort, Alpha Beach. The shoreline was an exotic spectacle of gangling coconut trees lined up in an aesthetic, breathtaking formation. The natives and other residents farmed and fished. Most residents had cassava farms, just as nearly every household owned several coconut trees that gave the town a magnificent look. Each day, hundreds of men set out to the sea in their canoes, returning in the evening with boatloads of assorted fish and other seafood. Elderly women and young girls sorted the catch. Some were roasted and sold, and the rest disbursed for gastronomic purposes. The breeze from the sea wafted to the community and its neighbours – Igbo Efon, Okun Lafiaji, Okun Ajah, Okun Mopo and others. Residents enjoyed life to the fullest.
In those days, Okun Alfa and the other communities along the coast were the place to be. Adewale Sanni, President, Eti-Osa Heritage Organisation, was born and raised in the area. Sanni, a lawyer now in his late 40s, tells the reporter that he enjoyed the tranquillity of the seaside as a youngster growing up in Okun Mopo and Igbo Efon. He recalls how he, alongside his mates, vended smoked fish on foot across the villages in the area, from Mopo to Igbo Efon and to places as far flung as Maroko. Then, the sea was peaceful, and the fish, plenteous.
He’s not the only one. Alhaji Mustapha Okunmoyinbo immediately concurs. A native of Ajah, a neighbouring town, Okunmoyinbo too grew up enjoying life in and around the coastal communities.
Soon, large estates owned by multinational companies and construction giants, among others, started springing up in the area, creating more economic boom for the residents of the area. The sandy streets of Okun Alfa beckoned to the rich and the not-so-rich. From far and near, fun seekers trooped to the community to enjoy the beach and the pure ambience of the serene seaside. Life was good.
Paradise lost
But that was then. In the last few years, there has been a reversal in fate and fortunes.
These days, Okun Alfa has lost its allure. The beach has vanished; the coconut trees uprooted and flung far into the sea. Right now, no one ventures near the Atlantic on fishing expeditions. Even the fish and other animals hunted by the ancestors of the present dwellers of Okun Alfa and its neighbours seem to have disappeared from the sea. The persistent ocean surges terrorising Okun Alfa and its fellow coastal towns in the axis have ensured that life in the simple, once sublime address has lost its appeal.
Today, the community is a shadow of its old self. It looks hapless and forlorn. The sea eyes Okun Alfa and its residents menacingly, threatening their very existence. Already, many houses have been destroyed by the ocean surge. Substantial portions of the major road in the town have been occupied by the sea. A large part of what used to be Okun Alfa has been seized by the Atlantic Ocean. Now, residents of Okun Alfa live in utter trepidation, unsure of what the next ocean surge would bring.
Many of the young natives of this community would never believe that the town was once a commercial hub where traders from far and near bought and sold seafood, coconut, cassava and other items. Many vestiges of that forgone era have been carted away by the sea.
As it stands, Okun Alfa and many other communities along the coastline are under threat of total extinction. But they are even lucky. Many towns in the axis are no more; completely annihilated by the Atlantic Ocean. The indigenes have been settled in some relatively safer places, as the sea took over their communities. The sea has occupied their ancestral land, washing away prized artefacts, crafts, shrines and history. The graves of many of the ancestors of such communities now lie in the sea.
Over the years, ocean surge has been a persistent problem for the dwellers of Okun Alfa. But the one that nearly sacked the town in September 2012 has remained the most destructive in recorded history, according to the residents.
A community in ruins
“It was an incident that left the community in ruins,” Sanni tells the reporter. And he isn’t exaggerating. It was an event that would remain indelible in the minds of many residents.
One of such is Babade Hassan. He lost virtually everything he owned to the ocean surge of that year. And even now, deep in his mind, the very memory of the disastrous sea surge evokes pain and agony.
The morning after the catastrophic surge was one of terror, trepidation and tears. Babade gazed at his apartment – actually, what remained of it – in the single-storey building consisting of four flats. From time to time, he shook his head, scratched his beards and let out a sad, fleeting smile.
His flat was on the ground floor in the house, its right side facing the Atlantic Ocean. All was well with the building and others in the community by the time the Ogun State-born bachelor, who worked with a private construction firm in Ajah, left the house the previous day. He had journeyed to Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, to attend a private engagement. But after receiving a call from one of his neighbours very early the following morning, he was fully convinced that his entire life had fallen apart.
In the dead of that night, the sea roared ferociously and rolled down to Okun Alfa. While the men and women of the town slept, the Atlantic overran the coast and swept through the serene, blissful seaside community. Snarling and screaming, and with all the fury it could muster, the sea brought down virtually everything in its path. Buildings collapsed in the ensuing commotion, and the roaring tide dragged household items and other personal belongings to the waterlogged streets. The long coconut trees adorning the shoreline were totally uprooted and hurled into the sea. A mast belonging to a telecommunications outfit was pulled down by the tide. A section of the popular Engr. Murphy Adetoro Road, which transformed to the Alpha Beach Road further down close to the beach, was totally destroyed. The community health centre collapsed and was washed away by the strong, five-metre-high tide. The spot where the health centre once stood is now in the sea.
The angry sea had reverence for neither man nor God. Even the community’s deities were not spared. A church building close to the beach was washed away, just as a mosque was pulled down by the force of the surging waters. And in a glaring display of downright disdain for its patron goddess, the sea surge also sacked the Olokun grove.
Within minutes, household items were floating in the flooded streets. Thousands of residents abandoned their homes and sought refuge on the main Lekki-Epe Expressway, far away from their wrecked homes in the ravaged community.
Babade said he couldn’t communicate his frustrations to anyone. That was understandable. On that day, there was scarcely any resident of Okun Alfa that was ready to listen to the cries of a neighbour. The Baale’s palace was flooded, and the royal household also fled from the rampaging salty waters. The following morning, virtually all the residents of the community were engrossed in sober thoughts. Indeed, for residents of Okun Alfa, that day, in September 2012, was a sad, sombre one.
Incidentally, the residents are no strangers to occasional visits from the Atlantic waters. Chief Yusuf Elegushi Atewolara, Baale of the community, popularly known as Alpha Beach, informs the reporter that strong tides from the sea had for long brought the ocean surging into the community. But he says the 2012 incident was particularly devastating.
“It was a serious incident; no one can forget that day in a hurry,” the royal father recalls, as he reclines in an elevated chair in his palace. “Canoes were moving unhindered outside this palace. Property running into millions of naira was lost in the community. This palace was not spared. You should have seen the water here. We survived the incident by the grace of God.”
That incident cost the community more than the loss of buildings and household items. They equally lost a large swathe of their land to the sea. By the time the Atlantic calmed down, and its angry waters receded, the Alpha Beach was no more. About 200 metres of what used to be part of Okun Alfa had been fully occupied by the Atlantic.
“That’s usually the problem,” the Baale asserts slowly, his left hand adjusting his white, royal cap. “Whenever we experience an ocean surge like that, more problems remain after the water might have receded. The sea takes over part of our land, and it would refuse to shift. Since the days of our forefathers, this has been the case. The difference is that, in those days, the water came slowly. But right now, we have lost substantial parts of this community to the surging sea. The sea eats up our land, and we are helpless in its presence. On many occasions, we have been forced to relocate from our ancestral land close to the ocean. See where we are now; there is nowhere we can go again. That is our dilemma,” he adds.
Even as the royal father speaks, the sea snarls menacingly. The palace is just about 50 metres from the sea. And from the short distance, the waters growls furiously, baying persistently like a pack of famished wolves.
How solid was the support from the government back then? The Baale sighs. “The government tried its best,” he mutters slowly. “The governor was here. The president then, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, also came around. But he was in a chopper, where we learnt he was inspecting the damage. We thought he would land the chopper and come here to witness the devastation himself and maybe give us some reassuring words. But that never happened.”
Affirming this, Sanni of Eti-Osa Heritage Organisation, a socio-cultural group, tells the reporter: “The people have been relocating far from the shore over the years, driven away by the sea, which had been taking up their land.
“Whenever the sea seizes part of the land, the people quickly shift further up. When we were growing up in this area, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, where Okun Alfa was then is now in the high seas. The community was not here then, and the sea was far away. In those days, there was still some distance between Igbo-Efon and Okun-Alfa. You would have to do a lot of trekking from Igbo Efon to access Okun Alfa. Now, there is hardly any difference between Igbo Efon and Okun Alfa
“The sea surge of 2012 is the worst in modern history. It destroyed a lot of things. It destroyed and took over the main road. The community is now on the brink of extinction.”
But even at that, the people of Okun Alfa are still lucky. At least, a part of their land still remains, even if it is quite small. In that same axis, the sea has sacked many communities, and it has since taken over the land where such towns once sat.
Alaguntan, Alagbonkan, Morekete, Apese, Inupa, Olukotun and many other hitherto thriving coastal towns with hundreds of years of rich history have been sacked and occupied by the sea. Besides such towns, many little villages and settlements have been annihilated. And, forced out of their ancestral lands, the natives have taken up residence elsewhere, much to their perpetual sadness.
Telling the story, Chief Elegushi says:  “In the days of yore, the sea visited this community occasionally, maybe once in eight or 10 years.   And it receded almost immediately. The sand that it would bring would be as high as a small building. But now, it comes whenever it likes. If you were in this community four days ago, you would see that everywhere was flooded. There is nowhere the water doesn’t ravage, including this palace. May people would come back from work to meet their homes and property totally damaged by the sea. Sometimes, it comes in the night and the people would have to start running helter-skelter in the dead of the night.
“We have been forced to move away from the sea, which has been eating up our land. Over the years, we have been moving. Many of our people whose lands have been taken over by the sea have left. Where would they stay again? Some have moved to Awoyaya; others to Epe. Or what could they do? Life must continue anyhow.
“But now, there is nowhere to shift to again. We have reached the end of the road. The fenced land you saw on your way here belongs to Chevron. That automatically means we can no longer shift again. That is why the government must come to our aid as quickly as possible.”
The traditional ruler notes that unless government moved quickly to address the issue, even a community as far away as Epe would soon meet its Waterloo, after the sea might have sacked all the communities in the Eti-Osa and Ibeju/Lekki axis.
The Baale walks with the reporter to the edge of the community where the sea’s tide seems to taunt the surviving houses. The remains of the homes destroyed during the last major ocean surge in the community stare everybody in the face, standing as a reminder to the day catastrophe visited.
Interestingly, the embankment being done by the state government from the Kuramo waterfront is gradually getting to the community. The embankment, including several boulders, stretches from the sea to the shore. Its mission is to break the current and weaken the surge.
“If they can do this as soon as possible, maybe our problems at Okun Alfa would no longer be as life-threatening as they had been over the years,” the Baale states.
Other communities along the coastline are equally under threat, the reporter gathered. Places such as Igbo Efon, Okun Lafiaji, Okun Ajah, Okun Mopo, Igbara, Maiyegun,Aro, Ologolo, Baruwa and scores of other towns and villages stretching from Victoria Island to Epe are all facing threats of extinction.
The traditional ruler says his people have always informed the state government of the environmental challenges faced by Okun Alfa and other communities along the coastline. He shows the reporter a copy of a letter dispatched to the former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, after the last major devastation of Okun Alfa. The letter, dated September 27,  2013, was written by the Alpha Beach Neighbourhood Residents Association. In the letter, the community begged the state government to help with the reconstruction of the Alpha Beach Road, also known as New Road, which was damaged by the ocean surge. They also pleaded with the government to find a permanent solution to the ocean surges as well as the coastal and beach erosion eating up the community. The letter was signed by several notable indigenes of the area, including Oba Tijani Akinloye, Ojomu of Ajiranland, Hon Anofi Elegushi, Chairman, Eti-Osa Local Government, Chief Yusuf Atewolara, Baale of Okun Alfa and Professor O.S. Adegoke.
The letter partly reads: “A decade ago, Alpha Beach and the surrounding villages had over 200 feet of protected beach land. Uncontrolled sand mining, seashell harvesting and the Eko Atlantic project have led to the aggravated erosion of the beach. Today, the entire coastline in an easterly direction from Victoria Island is in immense danger from massive ocean surges and wave-induced erosion.”
The letter called on Fashola to initiate a land-reclamation programme that would include the erection of E-W wave breakers. Many photographs of the devastation of the area were attached to the letter.
Sadly, nothing of such was extended to the community until the former governor left office.
Okun Lafiaji: Constantly under threat
A 20-minute drive takes you to Okun Lafiaji from Okun Alfa. Okun Lafiaji, like its neighbour, has, without a doubt, seen better times. The sea has done considerable damage to the community. The seaside town is vacant and empty. But there seems to be some life yet in the nearby community of Lafiaji Oju Egun. The people are worried though that the current peace might not pervade the community for long. Every now and then, the sea bellows like a maniacal beast, and everyone recoils in utter trepidation.
Elder Alade Balogun is a businessman and community leader in Lafiaji Oju Egun. Born and raised in the community, Elder, as he’s called, left Lafiaji for the pursuit of knowledge years back. He returned to the community 12 years ago, and he’s taken up the job, alongside others of like minds, of trying to save his homeland from the threats of the sea.
He tells the reporter in his house at Lafiaji Oju Egun that ocean surge has, over the years, devastated the community. In his words, hardly does a year roll by without the community recording many surges. He informs that while he was young, the distance between the community and the sea spanned a few kilometres. “It’s like you’re journeying from here to Okun Alfa or Igbo Efon. Now, from here to the seashore takes just a few minutes on foot. So, naturally, one is worried,” he admits.
He notes that the founders of the communities in the axis planted coconut trees by the seaside, running several kilometres along the coastline. In the older days when there were no paved roads, he recalls with a hint of nostalgia, the spaces between the aesthetically lined coconut trees served as road for trucks and commuters from Apese in Maroko to Leke, the community now known as Lekki.
He laments: “But now, the coconut trees are no more. You can only find a scatter of them in some of the communities. In others, the sea has destroyed them all. Even the ones planted by people of my generation and those that are younger than us have been devastated by the sea.”
In his view, the community land seized and occupied by the sea could not be an inch less than two kilometres.
“Back in the days, there were settlements by the sea, apart from the main Lafiaji town. All those are gone now. The people have relocated.”
Why the sea gets very restive
To him, many reasons could be adduced for the fury with which the sea now attacks the coastal communities of Lagos. One of such, he informs, is the effect of the global warming and climate change, which is threatening virtually all aspects of life. Another is the emergence of many beaches in the axis and the unbridled recreational activities that go on in those fun parks.
Hear him: “Back in the days, our fathers did things the way they were supposed to be done. But nowadays, life has turned upside down. In those days, people knew that the sea had its own taboos. But not anymore. These days, people bring food from fast-food restaurants and dump the refuse in the sea. You see all sorts of people swimming in the sea, including women that are menstruating. The sea hates all these. It’s like we’re provoking it deliberately. Our fathers observed these taboos, but today, no one cares again.”
Elder Balogun tells the reporter that in years past, the sea mildly overflowed its banks once in the year during the rainy season. “The reason, as we were told, is that the sea does not accommodate foreign water from other sources. So during the rains, water from the streams will flow into the sea and after some time, the sea will expel such water. That happened in the past, but it was never serious. Of course, it took some part of the land, but it was too insignificant to be noticed. But right now, the sea surge devastates the community and seizes our land,” he says.
He laments that the dredging of sand and allied activities taking place in and around the coastal communities are equally responsible for the wrath that the sea unleashes on the area. According to him,  it is unimaginable that people are even dredging the sea, noting that these days, dredgers no longer limit their activities to the lagoon. To him, another cause of the sea surge is the sand filling of the water bodies in the area, notably the lagoon. Most of the islands, he stated, were reclaimed from the sea and the lagoon and transformed to residential neighbourhoods. He’s scared stiff that many of such neighbourhoods now occupied by the mega rich and highly influential members of the society might be a significant contributor to the ordeals of the people in Okun Alfa, Okun Lafiaji and other communities under threat of total obliteration by the sea.
Yet another reason, according to Elder Balogun, is the total abandonment of the appeasements and rituals being done in the days of yore to pacify the Olokun, the goddess of the sea. He asserts that modern civilisation has ensured that many of those rites and rituals have been neglected, even as he laments that such neglect has been provoking the sea, causing its restiveness.
He explains that in the not-too-distant past, the Olokun had its own grove, where the necessary rites were done. Now, he regrets, Olokun has been relegated totally.
He says: “Does the Olokun even accept the rites again? Those that perform the rites these days, are they like their forefathers? In the past, the priests of Olokun have their own rules that they must abide with. How many of such traditionalists painstakingly abide by those rules these days?”
Is he hopeful that the sea surge might be totally curtailed anytime soon? Elder Balogun shakes his head vigorously. “I cannot categorically say,” he notes. “The Bible tells us that God would no longer destroy the world with water. But with what we’re seeing here, we can rest assured that the end of the world is near. Well, the embankment being done by the government along the corridor might be working. Maybe if it is extended all through the coastline, it would whittle down the strength of the tide and prevent sea surge. That’s the only hope that we have.” .
Fear, panic in other seaside communities
Residents of Okun Ajah and Okun Mopo, two other communities along the coastline, are also scared that the sea might soon be visiting their homes. Alhaji Sulukaleen Babatunde Adamson is a businessman and a community leader at Okun Ajah, another vulnerable community in the axis. He tells the reporter at a fuel station on the Lekki/Epe Expressway that he was born and raised in the town. He says the sea has never ravaged Okun Ajah, but in his view, the place is, nonetheless, under serious threat from the ocean. If nothing is done urgently, Okun Ajah might soon witness a devastating call from Olokun, the goddess of the sea, the man avows.
The elderly man recalls that over the years, the sea has been moving dangerously close to the community, tremendously shortening its expanse. The distance from the town to the seashore when he was younger has become condensed as a result of the expansionist tendencies of the sea. The entire economy of the place has been battered considerably, he laments.
In the past, members of the community were mainly farmers and fishermen. Cassava and coconuts were the major crops. Today, the coconuts have been washed away by the sea, even as the cassava farms have been totally destroyed.
Sulaiman Sanni and Korede Shonibare are natives of Okun Mopo. They also reside in the community. They say to the reporter that though the community is not as devastated as Okun Alfa, it’s just a matter of time before Okun Mopo too gets inundated and ruined.
Sanni says he was born and raised in the community. He observes that even though the sea has not been terrorising the community, the signs are there that it might start very soon. He informs that the sea has shifted considerably from where it used to be. He notes that Okun Mopo 11, the community next to Okun Mopo but which is in Ibeju Lekki Local Government Area of Lagos, is already battling ocean surge.
Shonibare totally concurs. He says residents of the community can no longer sleep comfortably. He informs that right now, the coconut trees in Okun Mopo have also been destroyed by the sea, avowing that the trees, which were the major source of livelihood for the dwellers of Okun Mopo, have totally disappeared.
“Our forefathers were farmers and fishermen. They had vast coconut plantations by the seaside. But the coconut trees have disappeared now. Those still trading in coconuts no longer get their supplies from Okun Mopo. They now have to move to other communities. Our economy is in dire straits. We need help. Whatever they can do to prevent the sea from sacking our community will be appreciated. Government should extend the embankment they are doing at Okun Alfa to our community,” he pleads.
Climate change and global warming
Environmental experts are not surprised one bit about what is currently happening in some of the coastal communities of Lagos. The global consequences of climate change and global warming, they insist, were the major cause of the ocean surge wreaking sheer calamity on the coastal communities and their dwellers.
Experts inform that currently, around the world, sea levels are rising at alarming proportions. An article published on Climate Hot Map website noted that higher seas are currently endangering coastal communities, affirming that up to 40 per cent of the world population live in such communities and are at risk.
The report, published on http://www.climatehotmap.org, also explained why the sea level is currently rising: “Two major mechanisms are causing sea level to rise. First, shrinking land ice, such as mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets, is releasing water into the oceans. Second, as ocean temperatures rise, the warmer water expands. Trapped within a basin bounded by the continents, the water has nowhere to go but up. In some parts of the world, especially low-lying river deltas, local land is sinking (known as subsidence)—making sea levels rise much higher. “The consequences of sea level rise include: threats to coastal communities, high tides and storm surges riding on ever-higher seas which are more dangerous to people and coastal infrastructure; natural protections against damaging storm surges are increasingly threatened.
“Barrier islands, beaches, sand dunes, salt marshes, mangrove stands, and mud and sand flats retreat inland as sea level rises, unless there are obstructions along the retreat path. If they cannot move, these natural protections are washed over or drowned.
“Many shorelines have sea walls, jetties, and other artificial defenses to protect roads, buildings, and other vital coastal resources. In these areas, sea-level rise increases erosion of stranded beaches, wetlands, and engineered structures.”
Another report published on the website of the United States Environmental Protection Agency further expounded: “As water gets warmer, it takes up more space. Each drop of water only expands by a little bit, but when you multiply this expansion over the entire depth of the ocean, it all adds up and causes sea level to rise. Sea level is also rising because melting glaciers and ice sheets are adding more water to the oceans.
“Average sea level around the world has been rising for many years. Over the past 100 years, the average sea level around the world rose by nearly seven inches. If people keep adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, the average sea level around the world by the end of this century (the year 2099) could be anywhere from 7 to 23 inches higher than it was in 1990. Sea level could rise even more if the big ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica melt faster.
“Rising sea level is a threat to people who live near the ocean. Some low-lying areas will have more frequent flooding, and very low-lying land could be submerged completely. Rising sea level can also harm important coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests and coral reefs.
“Global climate change threatens coastlines and the buildings and cities located along them. Hundreds of millions of people around the world live in low–lying areas near the coast that could be flooded as the sea level rises. Rising sea level will also erode beaches and damage many coastal wetlands. Rising sea level and stronger storms caused by warmer oceans could completely wipe out certain beaches and islands.
“Climate change poses risks for cities near the ocean. Places like Miami; New York City; New Orleans; and Venice, Italy, could flood more often or more severely if sea level continues to rise. If that happens, many people will lose their homes and businesses.”
Though Nigeria is not mentioned in the report, the Lagos coastline could as well have been its case study. Right now, buildings and businesses have collapsed. And they are still collapsing.
Even in the country, the statistics are not looking too propitious.
Professor Iyiola Oni of the Department of Geography, University of Lagos, is the dean, Faculty of Social Sciences of the institution. He affirmed that the projected sea level rise in the coastal areas of Lagos State could be more than one metre by 2100, resulting in ample loss of land to the sea. The university teacher informed at a lecture in Lagos early in the year that recent studies suggested that the expected climate change in Lagos State might include: temperature increase of 0.04 degrees Celsius per year from now until the 2046-2065 period, with areas near the coast expected to warm up at a slower rate than elsewhere.
Said the don: “Besides, a wetter climate, with the annual rainfall increasing by about 15cm and a rainy season that will be longer by up to two weeks by 2046-2065, an increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, such as extreme heat days (with the temperature exceeding 38 degrees Celsius), with more violent tropical storms are expected.
“Sea level will rise by about 3.1mm per year as a result of increasing global temperatures, and the concomitant thermal expansion of water and melting of polar ice caps.”
The scholar said the impacts of climate change in Lagos include loss of land to the sea; loss of livelihoods; loss of physical infrastructure (transportation, industrial, energy, water storage/supply; real estate, etc.); displacement of settlements and population; Loss of ecosystems and biodiversity; pollution of surface water and groundwater; increased frequency and magnitude of climate-related disasters; and Increased risk of water-borne diseases.
So how could the coming calamity be forestalled? Prof Oni recommended the construction of dykes for protection; relocation of homes or businesses, or demarcation of certain zones as off-limits for development; institution of stronger building codes, or strengthening of early warning systems.
An environmentalist and environmental activist, Desmond Majekodunmi, also said a symptom of climate change is ocean rise caused by melting of the polar ice caps and expansion of the ocean waters through thermal induction. “Another symptom is more virulent offshore storms giving rise to hurricane force winds. All these symptoms have started to manifest in different parts of the world and are providing the practical positive proof of the horrific realities of climate change, brought about by anthropogenic induced global warming, caused mainly through the unabated release of greenhouse gasses, particularly CO2 and methane, into the atmosphere,” he explained.
He added: “Unfortunately for us here in Nigeria and particularly in the coastal states like our dear Lagos, when the symptoms of heavy volume of rain, ocean rise and virulent storms occur simultaneously, it can spell disaster for a low lying coastal area, especially when the lagoons in that area are also the final destination for a series of major river systems.”
A group and its efforts
The Eti-Osa Heritage Organisation has been fighting hard to bring attention to the plight of the communities in the area. Adewale Sanni tells the reporter that his organisation has been very concerned about the devastating consequences of the persistent ocean surges ravaging the seaside communities. Early in the year, the group organised a lecture where experts were invited to speak on ocean surges and other issues afflicting the area. The lecture, he notes, got the government sufficiently informed about the situation. The theme of the lecture was ‘Climate change, ocean surge and sustainable development in Nigeria.’
Sanni says virtually all the experts at the event focused on ocean surge as it affects the communities and their people.
“We are very much concerned,” he says to the reporter, his back resting on the stump of a lifeless coconut tree by the sea at Okun Ajah. “This is our heritage. What we have here are hundreds of years of tradition, of culture, of arts, of literature, of social interaction. We cannot replicate these anywhere. So, we are concerned, naturally.”
He describes the dwellers of the coastal communities as simple people whose lives revolve around farming and fishing. Unfortunately, he laments, the people’s source of livelihood has been virtually destroyed by the sea along the Eti-Osa/ Lekki axis. He complains that the land not threatened by the sea has been forcefully taken over by the government.
“In my first 12 years, I didn’t taste beef. Well, maybe I did during the Ileya festival. All that we had then was fresh fish. But today, it is no longer so. The fish too have disappeared.”
Alhaji Mustapha Okunmoyinbo is the secretary of the Eti-Osa Heritage Organisation. He tells the reporter that climate change has indeed been causing unmitigated disasters in several parts of the world. In the northern part of Nigeria, he says, it has been the cause of desertification. He notes that the Federal Government should give more support to Lagos State to address the problem of ocean surge.
“Nigeria should learn how other countries have been tackling this problem,” he says.
“The topography of this coastal area has been destroyed. The coconuts and the beaches are gone. The few ones left are going. The embankment being done at Okun Alfa should be replicated in other communities. That will bring some respite, even if it is temporary.”
He does not blame the state government for the environmental crisis foisted on the coastal communities by the ocean surge. To him, the state is handicapped. “It is the Federal Government that should take over and help save these communities, he pleads.
Do the people have any role to play? Yes, the man avers. “The coconut trees are gone now. Once the embankment being done by the state government is completed, residents of these communities should start planting coconuts again. Government should encourage people to plant coconuts. We can make that happen. The ambience would be great again. And it could be a breaker for the tide,”  he says.
Anger of the gods
But besides the effect of climate change, the ocean surges affecting Lagos communities might be the handiwork of some angry gods, residents say. Chief Nurudeen Odofin, a traditional priest and Alase of Ajiranland, tells the reporter that some rites through which Olokun, the sea goddess, was appeased in the olden days have virtually been abandoned.
Says he: “Back then, when the weather was not too favourable, our fathers would do some rites and appease the Olokun. And it was only the Oba that could lead the rites, not just anybody. But now, all that has changed.”
He’s unhappy that governments at all levels hardly want to have anything to do with adherents of traditional faiths.
“Look at what has been happening in Eti-Osa. See those communities that are being destroyed. But for the sacrifices and other rites that we do, what do you think would have happened in the entire area? But we have not stopped appeasing the sea and we won’t stop. It is our land and our heritage,” he says.
He believes government has been too apathetic towards traditional religion and its followers. “Why can’t the government declare, just one day, August 20, as a holiday for the adherents of our traditional religions? Christians and Muslims have at least four days for each of their religions in a year. But we have none.”
Many people would wonder, however, that since the priests of Olokun still worship the deity, why does the sea still surge? “Olokun is not being worshipped as it should,” he explains. “When we were young, I never heard it that just anyone would go and be appeasing Olokun. No. It is the responsibility of the Oba to appease Olokun. And it is not every time. There are ms and seasons for it,” he adds.
He also accuses fun seekers at the different beaches of annoying the sea with their activities. He notes that the sea doesn’t like refuse or any strange items on its surface. “It will always expel such items by all means. These are some of the things responsible for the ocean surge,” he says.
Eko Atlantic City
Every member of the communities and others outside the area believes the Eko Atlantic City project is a major harbinger of the people’s woes. Baale of Okun Alfa, Alhaji Atewolara, says it is natural for the sea to seek alternative outlets after it had been forcefully sacked from the Bar Beach area. He tells the reporter that the embankment being done in his community now should have been done much earlier.
“The Eko Atlantic City is part of the cause of the problems here. But the truth is, if that project was not conceived, the entire Ahmadu Bello Way, maybe the whole of Victoria Island, would have been at risk. The land already claimed from Lagos by the sea, I’m sure, is not less than half of Lagos. And even the Niger Delta too. That is why the government needs to be more committed before the sea sacks the entire Lagos.”
Elder Balogun is more candid. “The Eko Atlantic City being built by the state government in partnership with some private firm is, perhaps, the major contributor,” he notes. According to him, “we have been told that such project was done in Dubai and other places, and that there were no repercussions. But how sure are we that these communities are not the ones that would bear the brunt of all the diversion that is being done to the sea?
“We have been told that the project would save Victoria Island from being wiped out by the sea. But what about the rest of the communities sitting along this axis? When you have driven the sea from that place, it is basic that the water would seek a fresh outlet. So, while the sea surge has drastically reduced in that axis, it has vigorously increased in this area.”
But experts have also argued that the reclamation of land for the Eko Atlantic is not the sole reason for the sea surge and the threatened extinction of the coastal communities. Professor Emanuel Oladipo, an international climate  change expert, says that coastal erosion had started along the Okun Alfa axis before the project was even conceived However, he also stresses that the water displaced from the Bar Beach would naturally seek another place to percolate.
The state government, however, insists that it is not resting on its oars. Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Ade Akinsanya, an engineer, tells the reporter in his office at the expansive Lagos State Secretariat Complex, Alausa, Ikeja, that the state government is quite concerned about the challenges in the coastal areas, which he blames on the global effects of climate change.
He informs that the state did a comprehensive analysis in 2011 about the challenges facing the coastal communities and how they could be tackled. Since then, the commissioner says, the state has been working hard to implement the recommendations.
The commissioner engages the reporter alongside the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, NM Salami, and the Director of Engineering, Tosin Igun. He says there are three phases of the project. Phase one, he notes, is already done, while Phase Two is on-going. Phase three will be done as soon as Phase Two is completed, he assures.
Says he: “We have limited resources, but the state has not and will never abandon the area. What happens in that area has tremendous impact on other parts of Lagos.”
According to him,  in its determination to proffer a permanent solution to the incessant ocean surge being experienced along the Lagos Atlantic coastline, the government invited a reputable construction company with expertise and experience in tackling coastal problems to come up with lasting solution.
On why the action was taken at that time, he says: “The objective of the project is to protect and restore the topographical characteristic between Goshen Estate Beach and Alpha Beach. After extensive consideration of various engineering solutions, the option of the groynes (a longitudinal massive wall made of huge granite deposit of various sizes built into the ocean) was eventually adopted as the most effective solution to combat the devastating perennial ocean surge and ameliorate the drastic erosion of the shoreline.
Consequently, a contract for the holistic solution to the state ocean surge between Goshen Estate and Alpha Beach using groynes was awarded in year 2012, the commissioner explains.
“The project involves the construction of 18 groynes at an interval of 400 metres along the entire length of 7.3km. Presently, the contractor is working on the 15th groyne of the project and this is about 6.0km of the entire 7.3km total length to be covered. The present location of Groyne No.15 is about 1.3km from Alpha beach.
“By the time the contract for the construction of the groynes is completed, the Alpha Beach (Okun Alfa) shoreline would have been protected from further erosion and damages to lives and properties,” he asserts.
Elder Balogun suggests that an ambitious project like the Eko Atlantic would also solve the problems along the Okun Alfa/Okun Ajah coastline. “If the state government can construct such a city here, we will be safe, and the water would be diverted towards some other place. That is how we can be free. And if they can extend the current embankment being done by the state to this area, there would be some relief, even if temporary. The government should come to our aid now.”
The commissioner advises Lagos residents to be more committed to the protection of the environment. He says the state is in consultation with the Federal Government and expresses hope that the federal authorities would do more to protect the Lagos coastline.
“We’re collaborating,” he says. “Collectively, we’ll work as a single team to ensure that this problem is solved. Another major cause of this problem is the case of abandoned ships. There are many ships that suffered shipwrecks and they are there, contributing massively to shoreline erosion. The burden has been left to the state alone, over the years. We need the help of the federal government to address it,”   he adds.


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