If we don’t stop indiscriminate dredging in Lagos, we’ll soon run out of sand like Dubai – Alebiosu
Hon Yacoob Ekundayo Alebiosu popularly known as Dayo Bush is the Commissioner for Waterfront Infrastructure Development in Lagos State. In this interview, he bares his mind on the impact of indiscriminate dredging on Lagos waterways, and illegal reclamation along the waterfront corridors, he also spoke on the need to confront the menace so as to avoid the Dubai experience.
We have been seeing a lot of illegal dredging on our waterways, especially those without permit. Let us into your scope of work and how you intend to frontally curb this challenge?
Under the laws of the state, we have functions and duties over reclamation and dredging and other things. Talking about dredging, illegal dredging affects our lives in different ways, it affects our economy. If you take a look at the Gambia, they have a population of about 2.1 million, but they receive about 300,000 foreigners per annum. Why? Because they have clean waters. Anywhere you have clean waters, people will always go there but unfortunately, indiscriminate dredging is the reason we have dirty waters here and of course that affects the outlook and how people choose to come here. If you would spread the 300,000 that visits Gambia annually, that is about 20,000 foreigners visiting on a monthly basis. Now picture how it affects our economy, even among the local traders; the woman selling ‘boli’, the lady selling ‘akara’, bread and things like that, and they also get to experience our culture.
So, you want the dredging operation and operators regulated?
One of the things that really scares me, and that gives me a lot of concern is the Dubai experience. After Dubai reclaimed all their Islands; they ran out of sands. Dubai and in fact most of the Arab nations now import sand from Australia. You can imagine the cost. God forbid, but of course, there’s a possibility of that happening here too, if it is not controlled.
But can’t we just go to the Sahara Desert and fetch sand there?
It’s a totally different type of sand. The desert sand can’t be used, when you look at the composition; the shape, it is too smooth for construction, it is different from the sand we use for construction. Let me also tell you that sand is the second most sought after natural resource after water. It’s used for a lot of things, especially in building, construction, and so on.
Some would tell you, dredging is Lagos, and Lagos is dredging. If you go to Ojo and some other parts, that is what they do traditionally and they are already passing the job to their children. How much of this sand dredging would affect the environment, how bad can it be, would it not deprive people of employment in a way?
I am not saying we won’t dredge; we can’t survive without dredging. We’re saying it has to be controlled. If it’s not controlled, it becomes a mess. I’d give you an example of how it affects every day households. Dredging is basically sucking sands from water, and that is where you have micro-organisms. These micro-organisms serves as food for fish. Every time you disturb the water, you mess up the food for the fish, you also mess up their habitat. So what happens is, the fish would have to go further after their food. And the further you go, the more tedious and expensive it is to harvest the fish. The effect of that is, the fish that’s meant to cost like 500 naira, you’d get it for 5000 naira. So, it affects even the cost of food, and every way that we can’t even imagine. And when you refer to the traditional dredgers who uses basket, like their forefathers did, that’s their trade. I believe they should be protected, just like the Native Indians are protected in America, they’re not the problems, the problem is those who dredge indiscriminately at alarming rates and of course, they reclaim. The sands dredged are used for two reasons. The first is to reclaim land which is also done illegally, and it affects the alignment of the state and the second is they reclaim to stockpile.
By the way, how are they able to carry out such massive indiscriminate dredging without government knowing?
Well, every community is aware. They see them but they are afraid to talk, they are members of the community. But of course, there has been several issues, there’s this issue of Lagos State and NIWA; not just Lagos State, coastal states and NIWA, the case is in court at the moment. There was the high court judgement which went in favour of NIWA and then the appeal court judgement went in favour of Lagos State; saying that states are allowed to regulate their waters. NIWA approached the Supreme Court for interpretation, so comes up sometimes in January. Regardless, we as a government need to know the amount of sands that is pumped from our waters. Again, how many beaches do we see right now, because every time you dredge, you’re taking out sand, and nature has a way it works. What happen is, it compensates for what’s been taken out. So nature sends out water to reclaim sand, and where’s the first place the water goes? The beach! The beach mops up the sand and brings it in. When all that is done, it leads to erosion.
What’s your plan to sensitize people on its negative effects and how it affects everyday life, are you also going to use watchdogs for those illegal dredgers, like whistle-blowers?
As the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a step. We’re also reviewing our policies, it’s important for us to know the amount of sand that’s being dredged. In the past, we gave licenses and permits for dredging. When you’re licensed, it says you can dredge but then we would have to control the quantity you dredge which means we have to keep an eye on the amount dredged, to answer your question, yes we’re working on that.
Asides the issue of dredging, you get to some of our waterfront joints, and you see plastics and dirt all around, what are your plans to improve our waterfronts and make it attractive?
We have a lot of ministries coming together that we handshake like physical planning, environment, transport, survey, lands, etc. An example is when people apply for reclamation, we make sure that it is not sent for approval until we get their EIA Report, Environmental Impact Assessment, and their TIA, Traffic Impact Assessment, and Drainage report. We don’t proceed on their approvals until we get those things. One thing I am happy Physical Planning does is, if you reclaim, there’s no way you’re going to build on it, physical planning will not process your planning approval until they get clearance from us and of course you have to get approval before you reclaim. Indiscriminate dredging goes hand in hand with indiscriminate reclamation. And of course when you reclaim illegally, it affects the coastal lines. We had a meeting recently with some MDAs, where we all agreed there’s need for us to redefine an alignment so that we’re able to effectively monitor. Just like blood diamond, there’s need to monitor sand from when it is dredged to when it gets to the end user.
Do we even export sand?
Not that I’m aware of at the moment. But like I said, it is the second most sought after resource, all over the world, so it is something we must control and regulate to avoid the Dubai experience I spoke about.
We also hear of people who come to pay to dredge. Are you partnering with locals, especially the baale’s, what conversation are you having with them to understand the negative implications?
Certainly, they do, some of them are aware of its impact. You have cases, for example, in Ikorodu, where they dredge sand, and rather than stockpiling and having it drain, they put them in tippers and the tippers jump on the road and that’s what is largely responsible for bad roads. Illegal dredging reduces the life span of our roads too.
Do you have a taskforce that will be handling this?
Absolutely! That is the only way we’d have to do it. Remember we resumed about a couple of month ago and the very first thing I did was to have gone round to see for myself. Three days of the week, we’re out on water, including Saturdays, seeing what’s going on. We don’t just sit in the office. And of course, what we have seen so far and what we continue to see is what has helped us to determine what we are going to be doing which obviously I won’t be able to say.
Talking about Ikorodu, there is this road, Ibeshe which is now an eyesore due to dredging activities. Land speculators are just collecting money from the dredgers, they claim they are licensed to reclaim lands but they’re selling sand, are you aware and what are you doing about it?
It’s really hurtful to have seen the amount of money spent on that road and the only reason why it has gone bad is because of illegal dredging activities. One of the things we are planning to do is to say only certain number of people can dredge in a given location per time, when the time expires, they leave the place to recover. That is why we need to know the quantity of the tonnage dredged, we also need to specify tonnage that’s being dredged. What we have right now is; a place meant for just five dredgers, have like 100 people dredging there and that’s affecting the ecological system. People must also know that the water dripping from the sand in the tipper with the total weight of the tipper are disasters for our road infrastructure. We are looking at serious monitoring, serious enforcement and continuous communication.
We can see how passionate you are about checking this menace, what is the way forward?
We are planning in the first quarter of next year, a summit, a Waterfront Summit. We’re still in the process. The Summit amongst many other things would include some of the things we are talking about right now, everything that has to do with water and waterfront infrastructure. We would be letting people understand the impacts on our communities. When flooding happens, it is those communities that are affected and the cost of having to protect these communities comes very expensive.
I guess this summit will be elaborate because you’ll be spending money, but how do you intend to solve this problem locally before we get to that level of summit of stakeholders. How are you going to sensitize the locals, in their local language, like running jingles?
It is a campaign, not just a jingle, not a one-off thing. It’s something that has to be continuous, we have to keep talking until we get the desired result. We’re in the process of doing that. We’re also going to be engaging some people from the communities where they’re able to reach out to us discreetly as not to have them hurt in any way and that’s why I said there are some plans I won’t be able to disclose to you now.