If all mankind were created on one single continent, its coastline would be situated in just Lagos island, India.
While the 20.7 million people residing on this sliver of land are hard hit by the global crisis threatening their lives and livelihoods, those threatened by the full breach of sea in Lagos are an entirely different category of people: the people who face its demise.
According to the Directorate of Oceanography and Coastal Areas of the Ministry of Forests, Tourism and Environmental Protection, only about 15.5 of the over 100 communities residing along the 1,500 kilometre lagoon, depend on the lagoon to survive; the rest are made up of lagoon dwellers who are fisher folk.
No nation, which is not paying its full share to mitigate climate change will be able to do anything to stop an impending humanitarian and economic disaster, the directorate averred. And the issue is no different in Nigeria.
Travelling down the coast, one gets a better appreciation of how sensitive the land is and how fragile the environment is. The lagoon is basically a shimmering sea of pale blue, fading into crystal-clear white, as it stretches more than 80 kilometres from Apapa to Mile 2 in Lagos. From there, the Niger takes a 360-degree turn west, disappearing before Mowe in Ogun State, and then plunging again into the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
The natural fortifications of the Nigerian Sea which once stood tall, making the land solid are no more. They are being eroded and broken by the force of the waves pounding the shore. And this is no work of God as the destructive process of climate change is man-made.
But it could have been the length of the lagoon that made the man-made catastrophe more devastating as it generated only a thin white line of land, not the thin white sand one would expect along a lagoon, ocean-ers said. The barriers between land and the sea were less than a metre, once.
Maritime safety experts have said that taking a portion of land away by sea or earthquake, is not uncommon. However, their results usually take place after a thousand years. What happens in the 21st century will be devastating. One is already in sight, and no country is likely to escape its effect.
What causes Lagos Island to be so vulnerable? Half a century ago, its economy was reliant on fishing. But, today, most of its coastline – an endless swarm of palm trees that provide a perfect shield for man-made hazards – is already overgrown and, frankly, in need of tender loving care. Many state governments are struggling to preserve their coastlines and human settlements. In the good old days, communities like Ikeja, Ajah, Banana Island, Ogba, Ijora, Ajah, Ajegunle, Oniru and Igando were the unsung heroes of the Nigerian economy.
They were the industry hubs, serving as the West Africa’s – and today Africa’s – iron ore/waste terminus. Aside the processing of thousands of tonnes of copper, lead and zinc per day, Lagos was once a bustling centre for manufacturing industries. Now, its industries have been relegated to the periphery.
Vivienne Azimike of the Local Media Relations Department of the Federal Ministry of Environment, describes it like this: “Lagos is Nigeria’s industrial centre, so, it is easy to connect the dots. With the advent of oil in the 1970s, these industries could no longer continue production in their factories or stage imports.
“All were forced to relocate to the Lagos industrial park or its environs, but the unbearable flooding of this zone from the Bayelsa/Edo sea flood is compromising the integrity of these creeks and that is why industrial companies relocate to Port Harcourt and Abuja.”
People who live in these communities – whose humble lifestyles were made possible by Lagos Island’s sea defences – feel the pain. Terrence Johnson, a native of Ikoyi community, Lagos Island, said: “This is where the Niger takes a 360-degree turn west, disappearing before Mowe in Ogun State, and then plunging again into the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Fisher folk cannot compete in a sea with massive aquaculture farms – most of which are private companies. As a result, the lagoons have become ravaged. Here, each level of lagoon has the capacity to support three to five villages depending on the type of lagoon.
“Again, going by what is happening to some communities such as this one, I am sorry to say that the outlook for Lagos Island is bleak,” Ter