Eko Atlantic: Experts Speak On Impact Of Land Reclamation | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Eko Atlantic: Experts Speak On Impact Of Land Reclamation

Posted: Sep 22, 2015 at 12:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Nkasiobi Oluikpe,


Land reclamation is a worldwide phenomenon for countries and Islands with limited landmass and a growing population ratio. Lagos being a state with a long coastal line and a bourgeoning population that grows in limps cannot be exempted from the practice.

Reclamation in and of its own, isn’t a bad concept if done according to laid down principles and laws. But questions are being asked in some informed quarters, as to the reason why the country, especially Lagos State, is engaged in reclamation exercise. These include: “Do we really need the land; is it just because others are doing reclamation; or are we reclaiming to chase the poor away and have the rich take over the spaces, because the structures that spring up from such reclaimed areas, are usually not within the reach of the poor. They have decried that in Lagos, the wetland environment is being lost to sand filling and reclamation, resulting to flashflood in the inner land.

Studies and observed consequences have proven that reclamation alters the ecosystem by bringing about flooding, erosion, sedimentation, reverses both the seawater quality and the sea biota, as well as brings about the local depletion of several kinds of fishes such as snappers, groupers and other sea foods. Economically, the incomes of fishermen are adversely affected by reclamation activities and of course, seafood consumers are usually the final recipients of such activities.

In developed societies, and where the authorities have a listening ear, before reclamation takes place, attention and consideration is given to environmental, economic and social sustainability of the areas to be reclaimed. A conservation commission is also set up to regulate such activities.

In 1992, the Federal Government of Nigeria enacted the Environmental Impact Assessment Act (EIA). An EIA is the assessment of the possible positive or negative impact that a proposed project may have on the environment. The purpose of the EIA is to ensure that the authorities consider ensuing environmental impacts before deciding on whether or not to proceed on a project. The Federal Ministry of Environment (FME) is constitutionally empowered to ensure that all projects comply with the Act.

Concerned environmentalists, while doing their jobs, have taken a swipe on the Eko Atlantic City Project going on off the Bar Beach in Victoria Island, Lagos.  Though its contractors, South Energyx group are saying that the project is a reclamation of what the ocean took away, but Sulaiman Arigbagu, Secretary, Nigeria Climate Action Network and Executive Secretary, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HUDA), is of the view that the challenge against the argument that South Energyx group is putting forward is that they are presently experiencing an increase in sea level rising. As a result, there are, though yet to be proven suggestions, that that may be the reason why areas like Oko Afa are suffering and being lost.

However, it will be recalled that in a previous publication by Independent Newspapers Limited (INL), officials of the FME picked holes in the way and manner the developers of the Eko Atlantic City Project went about it, stating that it did not follow due process. Also, one of the legal minds that put in place the EIA Act in 1992, Prof. M.T. Okorodudu-Fugbara complained about the manner in which the Lagos State government circumvented laid down regulations with respect to the construction of the estate.

She said: “The EIA Act prohibits the execution of private or public industrial development under the mandatory list schedule to the statute without prior consideration of the environmental consequences of such a proposed action, in the form of an EIA and a certificate in writing by the FME signifying approval to commence.”

Arigbagu chided the FME for not coming up with any scientific proof to defend their position. According to him the FME has the resources and wherewithal to procure evidence/empirical based proof, which is beyond the reach and resources of the environmental group in Nigeria that will show that what the Eko Atlantic City project group are doing is not environment-friendly and risky. They did not do that, he said.

Partially absolving the FME of blame, he remarked: “They were operating in a politically-charged environment where it was difficult for the Federal Government to refute their EIA report without it being termed politically motivated, because as at that time Lagos was not in tandem with the government at the centre. And because this was a multibillion dollar investment, they started work ahead of the release of the EIA.

“Now, there are arguments on both sides. Lagos is saying that they have requested for the EIA and made everything they needed to make and made their submission that the Federal Ministry of Environment should not have delayed. The Federal Ministry of Environment on its part was saying that they shouldn’t have started without their approval. But then, the investors cannot wait forever. That was the problem. It got to a stage that they had to bring in Bill Clinton to force the hands of President Goodluck Jonathan. In a way, it was an indirect form of putting pressure on the Federal Government. They then decided to neither approve nor disapprove, but to just keep quiet.”

Faulting the flaws in the EIA Act, Arigbagu noted thus: “If I want to do a big project in Lagos, I do not have to make my EIA report available to everyone, but only to the local place where the project is going on. If for instance, you sit in Abuja or anywhere else and you have knowledge or information upon which to question my EIA report, you do not even have access to the report in the first place. And the law does not require me to make the information available to you in the first place, you have to come down and there are number of days for which I am required under the law to display the EIA report.

“We are in a digital age, you would expect that there is website from which these things can be accessed so that somebody in London or India who has the knowledge and capacity to look at the report can put up alternative argument and mitigation, detailing the likely negative consequences. But we have denied ourselves the benefits of that because the law is an archaic law. These are the challenges.”

Another climatologist, Prof Olukayode Oladipo, defended the environmentalists in the country, who he said are limited by various factors, by saying that the best they can do is to advice the government. He emphasized that one of the major challenges in the country is that when government officials believe in one thing, it is usually difficult to change their minds. “It is not helping matters in many instances. All these are due to the fact that the country does not really have a well laid out environmental plan for the country to be able to show what will happen if we do things otherwise. So there are no major strategic studies that would demonstrate what would happen if things are not done rightly. So in many instances, even when people are trying to make their voices heard, because we are not able to come out with very concrete evidences, in terms of the statistics and figures of what will happen from either modeling or measurement approaches, it is usually a bit difficult to convince the government in many instances. At the same time, government will not provide the funds to carry out such researches, therefore, we are in a limbo.

Using the Eko Atlantic City project as an instance, Oladipo said that government should have subjected the project to the totality of what may happen to the entire area they are working on, rather than applying segmental approaches.

When Independent Newspapers Limited (INL) put a call across to the Chief Responsibility Officer of Eko Development Company, Ibiene Ogolo, to respond to issues raised by the experts above, she replied: “I think the best people to speak to are the South Energyx Group, not me. I will speak to them and have them call you. Right now, I can’t give you somebody’s private number without first asking. Alright, cheers!

As at the time of filing this report, neither South Energyx Group nor Ogolo herself bothered calling back.