Dredging making our lives miserable –Residents living around Third Mainland Bridge

Tunde Ajaja

With the way he leaned on his tricycle and stared intently at the sky, crossing his two arms across his broad, hairy chest, with a cigarette tucked in-between two of his fingers, it was as if the odds were stacked against him. He looked truly worried.

Just as the cloudy sky slowly heralded a heavy rainfall, he took a long puff on his cigarette as he settled into the front seat of the tricycle.

Life has somewhat become tragic for Tajudeen Olowo since dredging and sand-filling activities began at the Oworonsoki end of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, as he has had to abandon his home and squat with friends due to the influx of water into his compound.

According to him, the dredging has not only resulted in the flooding of their premises, the drainage that used to empty waste water from other adjoining areas into the lagoon is also blocked, causing spillage of dirty water to overtake the only entrance to their apartment and the premises of several others.

But more disturbingly, the area had become a haven for mosquitoes, which has landed a number of the inhabitants in the hospital, owing to malaria, while a few others who could afford it have also moved away from the area.

“As I’m speaking with you, my wife is on admission in the hospital,” Olowo said, adding, “she has been diagnosed with malaria. I have taken my children to my sister’s house, from where they go to school, so that they also don’t fall sick too.”

Pointing at his toes that had obvious signs of infection as a result of dipping his legs in the dirty, stagnant water, Olowo lamented that he had spent all he had treating his wife “because she also walked through the water, coupled with the influx of mosquitoes in this area.”

He added, “Before I took my children to my sister’s house, all of them had become lean, due to mosquito bite. With the way the water took over everywhere, they couldn’t go out of the house nor play around; no one could send them on an errand and they had no freedom. Even though we pumped out the water several times, it refused to go down.

“I beg you in God’s name, whatever can be done, help us beg the government to come and help us. We were living happily before they started the dredging. We are not opposed to development, but life has become so difficult for us,” he concluded, as he drew another long puff and threw away the butt.

Whether ascending the Third Mainland Bridge towards Lagos Island or descending it towards Lagos mainland, where the activity is going on, one would not but notice the dredging and sand-filling going on by the bridge.

The area which is now largely covered by sand used to be occupied by boat operators, fishermen and sand miners, all earning their daily living, until few months ago when contractors, at the instance of the Lagos State government, began the exercise.

The state government had said that the aim of the dredging and sand-filling was to make the Oworonshoki waterfront one of the biggest transportation, tourism and entertainment hubs in the country, coupled with the fact that it would improve accessibility to other parts of the state, like Apapa and Epe.

The project is to reclaim 29.5 hectares of land, and according to the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Ade Akinsanya, the first phase is to be completed by November.

Part of the plan is to construct a 2.8km road through Ariyo Street, at Bariga end of the bridge (inward Lagos Island) as an alternative road that would go through under the bridge. The state government had expressed confidence and given assurance that the project would be a commercial success.

Reasonably, new developmental projects in urban areas and especially a built up city like Lagos come at a price to people living in such areas. It often leads to displacement, and when it doesn’t, it could come at a great discomfort for the dwellers.

A flooded compound

Many times, the impact of such project could leave the residents of the area devastated, sometimes, it would almost snuff life out of them, due to the discomfort, and in some other cases, it pushes them out of the area.

Perhaps, people living around this waterfront in Oworonsoki would find it difficult to choose which of the three has become their lot, as all seem to apply to them at the moment. And it is the same story for people living in Bariga, which is the right side of the bridge while heading towards Lagos Island.

When our correspondent visited the area on Tuesday, the residents lamented their losses, saying even though they are lovers of development, the dredging and sand-filling had turned them to refugees in their homes where they used to live happily.

Fred, 37, a tailor, is one of those who have been badly hit and one way residents have been thoroughly affected is how the displaced water has found its way into their homes.

When our correspondent approached the apartment where he has a room, most of his co-tenants already brought out their personal belongings after their rooms had become flooded.

He said, “What happened was that when they started the sand-filling, water started coming out from the floor. We had to remove our carpets, but after scooping out the water, it still didn’t stop. Our passage also became flooded and we had to go and pack sand from outside to put on the floor so we could pass.”

He also explained that most of the houses in that axis had their septic tanks at the outer part, facing the bridge, but that during the sand-filling, the contractors already levelled all the septic tanks in the area, thus they had been at the mercy of their neighbours.

He said, “As I’m speaking to you, we no longer have a functional toilet, because there is no septic tank. Since the waste is not going anywhere, if we keep using it, it would block over time and the whole place would be messed up, so what we do is that we men use the bush at night when we want to poo, while the women beg people who live some distance away to use their toilet. You know it’s not really safe for them to go to the bush at night.

“One of my neighbours has already relocated with his family when the water was too much. Some others are making efforts and those of us who can’t afford it would try and live with it because we don’t have anywhere to go.”

While the tenants levied themselves to construct a new septic tank, which they dug in the premises, water from under the soil has equally overtaken the pit, even whilst under construction, which the residents say, had stopped them from going ahead with the construction.

Across the length of the bridge on the Oworonsoki side, it was a harvest of lamentation from residents, most of whom said their lived had been complicated by the development.

One of the canoe owners, Sadiq Karu, who used to mine sand from the area told Saturday PUNCH that he had been out of job since the sand-filling started.

Walking alongside a friend of his, Gabriel Ado, who used to be a fisherman, Karu said they were heading to Oshodi to see if they could be employed as labourers at the park being constructed beside the Oshodi bridge.

He said, “I sold my canoe when they came and since then life has been hard for me. The person I sold it to said he would move to another area where he could start mining sand. That was my only source of income, but it has been snatched from me.”

Also, Ado said, “As you can see, there is no water for fishing again. All of us have been sent out of business and life has not been the same for some of us. I have been in this area for nine years and fishing is the only trade I have always known. My brother taught me and it was even the money from that trade that he used to go back to school.

“In the past, we used to catch fish easily, even without wasting time or sailing to the middle of the lagoon, but with rising human activities, it started reducing, because the fishes are also sensitive to sound and other human activities.

“By the time the dredging started, of course catching fish is as difficult as you can imagine. The noise of the equipment they (contractors) brought was even enough to drive them away. What’s the essence, staying here without the hope of catching any fish? I’ve moved on. I’m going to look for work to do.”

Also worthy of note is that some of the houses on the Oworonsoki axis already look like a sinking ship as the sand used to fill the site now compete with the height of the buildings.

Apart from hampering business activities, most of the residential houses in the area also seemed quiet when our correspondent visited, as some residents have relocated, whether temporarily or permanently.

While the people on the Oworonsoki side of the bridge count their losses, those on the Bariga axis, where Olowo resides, are not spared. In fact, they seem to be the worst hit, because the water and sand that were being excavated were channelled towards under the bridge, which inadvertently find their way into people’s premises.

When our correspondent took a tour of the area, starting from Ariyo, to Opeloyeru, Church, Olowolagba, Seriki and many other adjoining streets, residents complained that the dredging and sand-filling would seem to be the worst experience they have had since they moved to the area.

On Olowolagba Street, one of the worst hit areas our correspondent observed the stagnant waste water at the end of the street, which was occasioned by the blockage of the drainage that empties the water into the lagoon. A resident of the street, who identified herself simply as Sade, said she had to take her children to a relative’s house so as not to expose them to diseases.

She said, “The water was much and it was coming at a high speed. Before long, it took over everywhere. That was on one side. This drainage (pointing) collects waste water and erosion from Gbagada and some other parts of Bariga and empties them into the lagoon. But when the dredging started, after much noise and cries from people in our area, the contractors constructed a makeshift drainage to prevent the water from crossing from under the bridge to our side. That was what blocked the drainage.

“But we thank God it’s getting better now. We are trying to get used to the bad smell and the mosquitoes.”

A food seller on Ariyo Street, simply identify as Mrs. Aminat, also lamented that most of her customers, most of whom used to sit under the bridge, no longer come to the area, since the dry part under the bridge where they used to play has now been replaced by mud as a result of the dredging.

She said, “We even begged workers of the company that came to sand-fill the main road to help fill our entrance that was already overtaken by water, but they said they were not given such task and that if their bosses met them attending to our demand, they would think they had collected money from us. So, they left.

“Please tell the government to come to our aid. We can no longer bear this. They have refused to provide job; yet we provided for ourselves but all they could do was to frustrate us. Did they carry out any survey or an assessment of the impact of what they wanted to do? Development and urban renewal is good, but how does it make life comfortable for people.

“These days now, there are days I don’t make up to N1,000, when I have children to take care of.”

Truly, some environmentalists have expressed reservations about the dredging and sand-filling activities in different parts of the state. They stressed that the state government should exercise caution in the way it had been going about the exercise.

In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria recently, an environmentalist, Mr. John Ekoko, had said the state government had not put surrounding coastal areas into consideration in its sand-filling activities.

He said there should have been a detailed Environmental Impact Assessment before the project began, noting that the coastlines were being depleted, in the face of climate change.

He said, “Environmentalists have spoken against the sand filling and dredging of the lagoon, but government does not want to listen. You see what is happening at the western part of the Bar-beach because of the Eko Atlantic City project; the coastal areas are now shadows of what they used to be.

“I want to use this opportunity to remind the state government that climate change is real, the world over. The sea level is increasing as a result of the melting ice and that is why the issue of flooding is becoming very, very dangerous.”

Ekoko also cautioned that if the government didn’t do the needful, the effect would be more than the flood that ravaged Lekki in July.

Another environmentalist, Mrs. Olayinka Abiola, also told NAN that there should be EIA report before dredging or sand-filling began, given how such exercise could pose danger to human habitat.

She added, “If you have been paying attention to the environment, especially around the areas where dredging is taking place, you will discover that the water level is depleting. Wells dug in houses along dredging sites are either virtually empty or polluted; making it difficult for residents to get water for domestic use.”

Meanwhile, the Secretary of Orile Kuseyin Community Development Association in Bariga axis of the waterfront, Mrs. Aduke Hanson, said the situation was getting better.

“The issue is the water that came and has refused to go. And if the water is not going, the resultant effect is the influx of mosquitoes. I was at the last Town Hall meeting when the governor said the contractors wouldn’t work until they found solution to the issue.

“My brother who stayed down the street had to relocate to Mowe temporarily when the water was much. But the governor said they would give us a very good drainage so the waste water could flow into it. And we also appreciate the fact that the contractors listened when we complained.”

Speaking on the travails of the residents in the area, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, said the flooding being experienced by residents of the area was not caused directly by the reclamation exercise. He said the flooding must have been caused by the incessant rainfall, but that regardless, government would continue to work with the residents of the area.

He added, “Proper Environmental Impact Assessment was done, including flooding assessment, and adequate precaution was taken, in all the reclamation being done or approved by the Lagos State government. So, the reclamation is not in any way affecting anybody.

“The flooding they are experiencing would be because of the rain and partly a product of haphazard planning, but in spite of that, the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure, our engineers and the contractors are constantly liaising with the residents to help mitigate the situation.”

Ayorinde explained that residents of the area would benefit more from the project when it becomes a tourism and entertainment hub, especially the night life that would accompany it. He said the Baales and leaders in the area endorsed the project.

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Source: Punch