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Lagos land reclamation: The panic button

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According to Wikipedia, land reclamation (land fill) is a process of creating new land from ocean, riverbeds, or lake beds. By, this, the land reclaimed is therefore known as reclamation ground or land fill. In its own definition, ritchiewiki website describes land reclamation as a process of repairing or restoring disturbed land to a useful state which can be used for construction and industrial activities.

The system of reclaiming land can be achieved through various methods. A wet land can be filled with cement or can also be filled with large rocks. In some occasions, it is filled with both. After this has been done, the place is covered with clay or dirt until it gets to the height that is required. This process of land reclamation is known as ‘infilling’ while the materials used for it is known ‘infilll’. However, there are other types of land reclamation, depending on the type of fill material, topography of the seabed and the type of equipment available.

Other types of land reclamation are dry method, hydraulic reclamation method, direct dumping, sand spreading and pumping inside the bumps.

Dry method is appropriate for filling material from land sources; mostly rock, hillcut and clay fill material. This method works well for foreshore locations with good seabed soil. The method is mostly regarded as the simplest one. Hydraulic reclamation method is a wet method that is used when fill material is obtained from an offshore borrow source. This method is suitable for granular fill. Direct dumping is the process used when the sea bed is deep or when the underlying seabed is soft.  Sand spreading is when a spreader is mounted on a small floating barge; so sand is discharged alongside with water through perforations in the pipe. This system is usually used when the sea bed is shallow.

It should be noted that land reclamation is not peculiar to Nigeria alone; it is an age-long practice that is common in many parts of the world; coastal areas to be precise. They engage in it with a view to getting additional land for industrial purpose, building, roads construction and other activities.  

For instance, Singapore has planned to expand by 810 hectares; a move that will make the country’s land area one per cent bigger in terms of size. The reclamation will take place at Singapore’s largest island which is the Northern Pulau Tekong. The deadline for the reclamation activity is 2022. Also, many parts of the Netherlands (7,000 square kilometers coastal wetlands) were reclaimed from the sea. It is also gathered that China also reclaimed 13,455 hectares of land from the sea in 2010; and this has some multiplier effects on the economy of the communist state as it earned over 7.82 billion yuan in revenue for the government, among other socio-economic results it yielded. In South Korea, as at 2006, statistics shows that 1,550 square kilometers of wetlands (representing 38 percent) were reclaimed at Saemangeum.

It is noteworthy that Songo International Business District also in South Korea which is reputed to be the largest private development in the country is built on a reclaimed land in the area of Incheon waterfront. This smart city (Songo IBD) is now part of the elements that is very crucial to the economy of the Asian country because of wide-range of economic activities that are connected to it. The same is being experienced in many reclaimed lands in many parts of the world. Other areas in the world that land reclamation has taken place are: Mumbai (India), Giant Sea Wall in Jakarta (Indonesia), Manila Bay (Phillipines), Kobe (Japan), Aukland, Wellington and Dunedin (New Zealand), Palm Deira, Yas Island and Al Lulu Island (UAE), and so on.

Here in Nigeria, the trend of reclamation of land is very common in Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, a coastal city that is located in the South West of Nigeria. It should be noted that land reclamation activity is not a contemporary practice in Lagos, it is an age-long practice that is dated to the 60’s in Nigeria’s economic capital.

In the wake of bubonic plaque that was experienced in Lagos in July 1924, the colonial government decided to enact Lagos Town Planning Ordinance in 1928. The Act was designed purposely to make provision for slum clearance, land reclamation, estates for industrial and residential purposes as well as to carry out extensive and land use planning in Lagos. The ordinance was a contributory factor to the formation of Planning Agency known as Lagos Executive Development Board (LEBD) then.

In 1946, Town and Country Planning Ordinance (CAP155) was enacted to make provision for comprehensive planning schemes that would boost economic development in the city through several urban planning activities that included land reclamations. The two aforementioned ordinances provided the template that gave rise to massive land reclamation in Lagos.

A  research article published by Ibidun Adelekan titled “Vulnerability of Poor Urban Coastal Communities to Flooding in Lagos, Nigeria” says: “Metropolitan Lagos, situated on the narrow lowland coastal stretch bordering the Atlantic Ocean and originally covered with mangrove swamps, has experienced significant land cover changes as a result of past and present land reclamation activities to secure land for urban development.”

The article says further: “In 1960, Lagos covered an area of about 200 square kilometres, but by the beginning of the twenty-first century, its contiguously built-up area was estimated at about 1,140 square kilometers, and sections of the metropolis along the coastline have high population Densities.”

Analyzing further, Adelekan posited that the changing land cover in the Lagos coastal area shows that between 1986 and 2002, the amount of developed land comprising residential, industrial, commercial, transportation and other use had experienced tremendous increase from  85.4 square kilometres (43.36per cent) to 111.9 square kilometres (56.8per cent).

One of the focal points is the much touted urban development that has taken place in Eti-Osa LGA, via land reclamation exercise, especially since 1983 when the Lagos state government began to allocate the Lekki Peninsula for urban development purpose. Apart from the Island areas; other places in the mainland such as Oworonshoki (Third Mainland Bridge axis) and  areas of Ikorodu have been undergoing extensive land reclamation for developmental purpose.

Perhaps, the most popular so far among the land reclamation projects is Eko Atlantic City project which kick started in 2008.  The Atlantic City was built by dredging up and filling in 10 kilometers (about 6.2 miles) worth of land. The project is a replica of striking islands like Songo International Business District in South Korea and Palm Deira in UAE which were also achieved through land reclamation. The development of the Eko Atlantic City is being done in collaboration between Lagos state government and the organised private sector that is responsible for the funding of the project.

Like other Atlantic Cities in some parts of the world, Eko Atlantic is constructed to be a citadel of infrastructural development because it is designed to create over 250,000 new jobs and address housing deficit. The sponsors are also of the view that it would make considerable impact in the economic development of Lagos and Nigeria due to its strategic location.

Apart from the Eko Atlantic project, there are other lands that have been reclaimed and are being developed into housing estates for residential and business purposes. Developmental activities are carried out in them through collaboration between Lagos state government and private developers. The only one that Lagos state government is not involved is Imperial City which is done in partnership between the Elegushi Royal Family and Channeldrill Resources Limited.

Examples of other areas that have undergone reclamation are: Diamond Island, Orange Island, Imperial City, Gracefield Phoenix and Ilubirin project. Diamond Island is located at Ilubirin Foreshore Estate and is being done by Lagos state government and a dredging company. The investment company of Lagos state, Ibile Holding Company is carrying out the project on behalf of the state. The reclamation land which is in two phases is located on a reclaimed land of over 100 hectares. Diamond Island is also seen as a cradle of commercial activities because the plots of lands there are available and meant for commercial, industrial and also residential activities.

Orange Island is another reclaimed island that covers about 150 hectares of land and is located within the Lekki axis in Lagos. The gigantic project, like others, is being done as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) between Lagos state government and Orange Island Development Company (OIDC). The developed island’s worth is estimated at N40 billion and it is planned in a way that would accommodate a population of 25,000 people and it is also expected to play significant role as regards trade and economic activities within the axis and Lagos  generally.

Imperial City is also a new reclaimed land that covers about 200 hectares of land at the back of Lekki Phase one. Gracefield Island is another new joint project between the Lagos state government and Gravitas Investment Limited and it is expected to cover 100 hectares of land of the Lagos lagoon at the Northern end of the Chevron Way and the Northern Offshore of the Ajiran Land.  Ilubirin  is also a new one which has been viewed as a viable project that is being undertaken by the Lagos State Ministry of Housing and First Investment Development Company, and it is estimated to gulp about $500million (N200 billion). It is also designed in such a way that it will accommodate massive commercial and residential purposes.

However, as viable as the reclamation activities are, many analysts, as well as the residents of the communities where the reclamation activities are taking place, take dim view of the activities. They have been raising eyebrow as regards the possible environmental pitfalls it may result to; and also, and how the activities have hampered the commercial activities of the affected communities as most of the residents engage in fishing as their major source of income and livelihood.

For instance, The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), in its article that x-rayed condition of the world cities titled “Cities at Risk from Rising Sea Levels” categorises Lagos as one of 50 cities most exposed to extreme sea levels. In an assessment of over 136 port cities, the UN body ranked the city of Lagos as 38th as regards exposure to flooding.

Ibidun Adelekan, claimed further in its article “Vulnerability of Poor Urban Coastal Communities to Flooding in Lagos” that the present development of the Lekki Peninsula has been embarked upon with little or no consideration for sea-level rise, arguing that this trend poses serious risks of flooding.

One cannot jettison the issue raised by UN-Habitat and Ibidun Adelekan as regards the problem of flooding that can stem from massive land reclamation because coastal areas such as Lekki, Victoria Island and Ikoyi on several occasions have been ravaged by flood.

Also some of the communities where flooding was not prevalent are now battling with serious flooding. So, some observers are of the view that the recent flooding that are now common in these areas are not unconnected to the ongoing massive land reclamation. Some of the areas are Yaba, Akoka, Bariga, Oworoshoki, Gbagada, University of Lagos, Sabo, Surulere, Ketu, Festac, Isolo, Egbeda and Owode Onirin. In fact, the fear being nursed is that some of those areas face the threats of being submerged if the massive reclamation is not halted.

Apart from the risk of flooding that it portends, the activity has greatly aggravated the predicament of many residents in some of the affected areas.

A perfect example is a fishing community called Ago-Egun which is located at the outskirt of Bariga axis in Lagos. Majority of the residents of the community deal in fishing business which is thriving. However, their predicament began when a company known as Nigerian Westminster Dredging and Marine Limited commenced sand filling project at Lagos Lagoon, at the foot of Third Mainland Bridge at Oworonshoki. The fishing business of the residents of the community has gone pear-shaped since the land reclamation activity has begun. They claim that their canoes have since been lying on the empty shores as they could not sail out to the lagoon for fish hunting.

Narrating their ordeal to Premium Times last year, the residents whose hope of economic survival has been tampered with, have tales of woe to tell concerning their awful experience. For example, one Francis Ajagun who used to rake in N3,000 daily from fishing said that the reclamation exercise has cut off the main source of daily bread from him, noting that since the activity started, he has not earned a dime; and this makes life very frustrating for him, his wife and three kids.

Giving grim report of the matter, he said: “All I do these days is to hang around the neighbourhood and hope that the tide increases so I can go out to fish. But in the last two months I have not caught a single fish. I’m a fisherman, how am I supposed to survive,” the man lamented.

Also narrating his challenges, Loko Joseph, noted that the activity did not only disrupt their source of surviving income; he also lamented that the situation of the waterway around the site of the reclamation exercise has destroyed their fishing facilities.

“Our fishing nets and traps have been damaged by the mud. Even the engines of our fishing boat are not spared. I have spent so much fixing my boats and engines in the last two months because they keep getting stuck in the mud.”

Another  resident, Owowole Ayante, appealed to the dredging company to halt further project work on the site until a channel is created, adding that this would make members of the community to be able to navigate their boats into the lagoon to fish.

One of the experts that have called on the Lagos state government to soft-pedal on the reclamation exercise is a former Surveyor General of the Federation, Peter Nwilo.

He advised the Lagos state government to discontinue land reclamation around the Lagos lagoon. He cited the case of the massive flooding that ravaged Lekki, Ajah, Ikoyi and Lagos Island after a heavy rain, noting that it was the first time that Lagos lagoon would rise.

Backing the argument of Nwilo, a former Professor of Geography at the University of Ibadan, Adetoye Faniran, viewed the matter in a way that seems supernatural. According to him, artificial land reclamation activities have been an age-long war between man and nature, noting that Lagos state government needs to get things right and be careful as the exercise could lead to disastrous consequence.

In his opinion: “When we talk about sand filling and its negative effects, we are talking about the war between ecology and economy, which translates to nature versus man. The economy is all about the desire for resources and land. But ecology sees farther ahead.”

“Probably half of The Netherlands is a reclaimed land from the sea. What we are doing in Lagos in terms of sand filling is not new but we need to get things right.

“Some people believe that there is nothing that man cannot do. So, they use a quote in the Bible which says a man has been given dominion status to justify the claim. Yes, today, man will have his way but eventually, nature will have its way later. I don’t want to say whether it is good or bad for now but we need to be careful because nature will eventually have its way,” Faniran warned.

Umar Afegbua of the Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, Toro, Bauchi State, in his own view said that that the reclamation exercise is not done in the right way in the sense that it destroys the other aspect of the environment; thereby, creating disequilibrium in the environment.

He said: “Personally, I do not think that we are doing it the right way. The way the practice is being done in Nigeria encourages subsidence along the coast. We have carried out some investigations. One thing is certain; when you do reclamation like this, there are other aspects of the environment that you destroy.

“You set a kind of disequilibrium in the environment. Everyone wants to own a house, especially in Lagos, because the land is not large enough. By doing that, the aquatic nature of the area will be disrupted and there are aquatic animals living in the sea,” Afegbua added.

According to him, disruption of the ecology would also have a negative impact on the people living in the affected area.

Lending his voice on the matter, an environmentalist, Osawe Irabor’s view differs from those of Nwilo, Faniran and Afegbua. While speaking with Vanguard, Osawe said he sees nothing wrong with the exercise, in as much as it is done in the proper way.

“I see nothing wrong in sand filling or perhaps reclaiming land from the sea. If done in an organised manner, I believe nobody will complain. But when it becomes rampant and reckless, the people must resist it because usurping natural settings could be disastrous in the long run,” he said.

 Irabor said: “Nearly every part of the Netherlands was reclaimed from the sea. What is happening in Lagos should not be different. I have this example for you. Statistics have it that China reclaimed 13,455 hectares of land from the sea in 2010, resulting in earnings of more than 7.82 billion yuan.”

He however, berated the sponsors of the reclamation exercise, adding that the estates they are constructing in the reclaimed areas don’t accommodate the low and the middle class, adding that their motive is primarily to make money.

According to Irabor, ‘’with every sense of purpose, I will say that what is happening in Lagos is being driven by the desire to make money. It is business on the part of those doing it because poor people don’t benefit from the houses being built on the reclaimed land. I hope they are being done according to the best practices in order to protect the ecosystem.”

He concluded by saying that: “land reclamation for the purpose of constructing properties in commercial quantities is risky.”

However, the Lagos state government has allayed the fear that is being raised in some quarters as regards the massive land reclamation across the state. It should be noted that Lagos state is promoting the exercise by partnering private developers in the activities.

Speaking during an interview with Punch, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Kehinde Bamigbetan said that the Environmental Impact Assessment, EIA report on the project had taken care of future negative impact on the environment, adding that the Lagos state government, as a responsible government, carried out comprehensive EIA before embarking on massive land reclamation going on in the coastal areas of the state.

Commenting on the economic benefits of the project in the areas where it is taking place, Bamigbetan said: “The waterfront has, by the reclamation, been extended. This means that those living on the old waterfront now have a large expanse of land bordering their respective locations.  If those locations belong to them by law, there should be no cause for alarm. They stand to benefit from future developments in the axis. This means they would be the ready pool of labour for construction projects and their tenements will be enhanced by the investment flowing into the site.”

Allaying the fears of the people, the commissioner said: “The Lagos state government, as a responsible entity, pursues a policy of ensuring that Environmental Impact Assessment is done by every individual or corporate body that seeks to embark on projects. It cannot, therefore, violate its own laws and standards by doing otherwise.’’

Speaking  on the Oworonsoki  land reclamation exercise, Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Ade Akinsanya said that the project would add immense economic values to the state.

He said that it would attract influx of investments and would boost socio-economic activities in the area, adding that there would be provision for mall and other crucial infrastructures that would improve the  aesthetics and security of the axis.

On the Eko Atlantic project, the Managing Director of South Energyx Ltd.,  David Frame said that the project has been fortified with a wall known as “The Great Wall of Lagos,” adding that the wall has the capability to ward off flood storms in hundreds/thousand years.

“The Great Wall of Lagos will ensure that everyone living and working within the 10 square kilometres (6.2 miles) of reclaimed land for Eko Atlantic and the population of Victoria Island are protected from the sea,” Frame assured.

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