Elegushi, a once-upon-a-time scenic community perched on the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, has become a shadow of itself in recent decades as strong ocean storms sustained by climate change, continue to decimate livelihoods, disfigure, and swallow shoreline buildings. This is what the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa found out when its climate change team paid a visit to the community situated in Okun Alfa, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State on Thursday, July 21, 2022, after receiving an SOS from residents.[spacer height=”25px”]
The visit undertaken by Phillip Jakpor, Director of Programs, Aderonke Ige, Associate Director, Olamide Martins, Programme Officer, Zikora Ibeh, Policy, and Research Officer, and Olalekan Fagbenro, Digital Officer afforded CAPPA the opportunity to document and amplify in the media, the challenges, impacts of climate change and rising sea levels on the coastal town.[spacer height=”25px”]
Resident Nojima Dupe told CAPPA in an embittered voice that the last fifteen out of the thirty years she has lived in the community were the worst as the rising sea water frequently accompanied by sand dunes has claimed businesses including her source of income, a mini provision shop. Once popular for its fishing activities, the alterations in storm frequency and intensity have also upset food security and fishing opportunities in the community.[spacer height=”25px”]
For 66-year-old Alhaji Yekini Ogun, who has lived in Elegushi all his life, coming to terms with the crisis is hard. The community, that supported his childhood and cherished memories of life, now faces the looming mortality of transforming into a real-life Atlantis.[spacer height=”25px”]
Buried inside the gnawing and yawning sea are many wrecked dreams like that of Hafsat Sanni, who was once a house owner but now manages as a tenant in a shanty. The stormy waves of the ocean turned her fortunes for the worse when her waterfront home lost the fight and succumbed to the sea. The same goes for students such as Aminat Yusuf whose classroom was swept into the ocean. She now walks a greater distance to a school far away from her home. Some days, she is away from school because of horrific floods caused by the ocean rise. On other days when she is able to step out of the house armed with transport fare to ease the long journey to school, she struggles to negotiate a fair price with motorcycle riders popularly known as Okada who charge exorbitantly because of the ocean-battered roads in the community.[spacer height=”25px”]
Away from the environmental damage, is the health implication of floods caused by rising sea levels. During extremely high tides, the seawater spills onto the neighborhood and inundates the low-lying community which also suffers terrible drainage and lack of sewage disposal systems. When this happens, deadly bacteria multiply and spread through stagnant pools of dirty water causing residents like Ngozi, who wade through the flood water to run unavoidable errands, to suffer foot blisters and other water-borne infections.[spacer height=”25px”]
Against this background of marine encroachment and woes of frontline communities, the Lagos State government invested in building embankments on some coastal communities like Elegushi to arrest rising tides and reinforce shorelines but according to residents like Alhaja Olabisi Hamzalat, embarkments constructed by the government have become weak and more transformative measures beyond embarkments such as raising the roads in the community and designing good drainage and sewage disposal systems to channel flood from the streets back into the sea amongst other dynamic schemes are required to tame the menace.
While climate change plays a huge part in the environmental challenges that plague Elegushi community, the questionable activities of corporate multinationals, and certain urban planning initiatives also contribute to the tragic situation. According to Hon. Sheriff Elegushi, a one-time Councillor of the community, the aftermath of the fence and road construction undertaken by Chevron, a multinational corporation situated within the community, to enhance access to its facility, has done more to increase the risk of flooding in the community. ‘‘During the construction of the fence, their heavy-duty trucks plied our road contributing to its degradation. Now, whenever there is a heavy downpour or surge from the ocean, pools of water accumulate in the community since access to flow out has become further restricted by the fence and bad state of our road’’, Elegushi said.[spacer height=”25px”]
There is also the issue of the Eko Atlantic project which locals also noted has exacerbated the onslaught of ocean water on their part of the coastal line, sinking more homes into the sea. The artificial island sits across a ten (10) million square meters expanse of land reclaimed from the ocean and is protected by an 8.5-kilometer sea wall also known as its great wall. State authorities and developers of the project say it sets out to arrest ocean encroachment with its ‘‘great wall’’ made of 100,000 five-ton concrete blocks acting as a bulwark against ocean surge and other impacts of climate change, but locals argue that the project has altered the sea flow pattern causing ocean water to overflow back to neighbouring vulnerable communities such as Elegushi which lack protective walls or strong embankment.[spacer height=”25px”]
Amid the conversation and troubles of climate change and the heightening occurrences of ocean surges are the grave fear of forced displacement and gentrification. According to the traditional ruler of the community, Baale Okun Alfa, there has been communication from the government in recent times expressing intent to relocate residents, but the locals worry that state authorities may forcefully kick them out without providing any resettlement support systems for them. Their fears are premised on a long history of state-backed midnight demolitions of housing settlements, forced evictions, and unjust relocation and gentrification programs of informal and waterfront communities often considered prime estates. In many cases of forced evictions, ultra-modern, corporate, and expensive housing structures and super malls were soon erected for the wealthy few in the society as soon as the poor had been forcefully uprooted from their ancestral homes and communities.
Stemming the Tide of Climate Change
Once again, reinforcing the salience of dedicated government intervention and financial support for frontline communities strongly impacted by climate change, Sheriff Elegushi and residents of Elegushi community told the CAPPA team that community resources and monies can only do so much in apprehending devastating ocean surges that have resulted in the loss of many valuable properties and structures. In light of the robust conversations held at the meeting, CAPPA noted the absence of waste collection facilities, proper drainage systems, lack of participatory mechanisms for engaging local authorities, and environmental rehabilitation as critical gaps in the government’s response to the plight of Elegushi residents.[spacer height=”25px”]
To stem the tide of climate change in Elegushi community, CAPPA recommends that state authorities declare a state of emergency on the rising sea level in the community – embark on a comprehensive audit of damages incurred by the rising sea level – institutionalize support funds for residents of Elegushi – enable a participatory process in developing a comprehensive and inclusive resettlement plan for community residents –embark on the process of building sustainable windbreaker mechanisms to block the further surge of the sea into the community, and consider the immediate stoppage of dredging and sand filling exercises that impact the environment of coastal communities in Lagos like Elegushi. [spacer height=”25px”]
On the other hand, while communities such as Elegushi are demanding actions and state authorities continue to draw up policy plans and actions, there is a need to realize the global mandate to provide budgets that can finance concrete and sustainable climate change interventions. In 2009, developed countries that account for 92% of global carbon emissions, pledged at a United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, to offer 100 billion dollars of aid a year to developing countries by 2020 to help them adapt to climate change crises, and mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases. Thirteen years later, the Global North has provided less than its fair share towards meeting the $100 billion dollars goal with the cost of their inaction resulting in growing hardship for frontline and coastal communities like Elegushi who struggle to deal with the ravages of climate change. At the last United Nations Climate Change Conference otherwise known as COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, adequate funding to mitigate and adapt to problems like receding coastlines was one of Nigeria’s major demands.[spacer height=”25px”]
As COP27 draws nearer, there is growing momentum for the global community to ramp up climate financing for mitigation and adaptation actions. Closely related to this is the conversation about a loss and damage structure which denotes reparations for irreversible damages caused by global warming that mitigation and adaptation cannot solve. As the example of Elegushi shows, there is an urgency in the situation, especially for developing nations that contribute little to global warming yet bear a significant burden of its impacts and shocks. This is why ahead of COP27, CAPPA and its networks are calling on the global north to provide adequate loss and damage financing for vulnerable communities in the global south that continue to suffer permanent losses of lives, properties, territories, and businesses due to climate change.[spacer height=”25px”]