Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Shoreline Protection Efforts Failing in Nigeria

A decade after the project began, crucial sea defences in southern Nigerian town remain unfinished.
By Adetokunbo Abiola

Nearly eleven years after an engineering company won the contract to build shoreline defences in the southern town of Ayetoro in Nigeria’s Ondo State, and with more than three billion naira already paid out in “mobilisation fees”, the project has not been completed.

The failed project that was agreed in 2004 has created economic and social hardship for local residents who are at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean and frequently face being flooded.

“Since [the project] has not been done, water from the Atlantic Ocean is coming in,” said Amos Olorunlola, a youth leader in Ayetoro. “We have to abandon fishing or farming because of coastal storms. Buildings are collapsing because of the coastal erosion. Water covers the town so we can’t move around. The palace of our king sank as a result of ocean coming into the community.”

Tope Olowodasa is the spokesman for the town’s monarch, Oba Olofin Gad Ashogbon.

Olowodasa laments the fact that Ayetoro’s residents are being forced to abandon their homes because there is no defence from the advancing sea. He explains that houses near the shoreline are sinking and people are being forced to move out. He fears the entire community could be swallowed up by the sea if the shoreline protection is not completed soon.

James Oludare is a local resident who inherited a house from his father near the shore. Due to the advancing ocean, he was forced to abandon it and seek shelter elsewhere. Now he has to squat with others just so he can have a roof over his head.

Ayetoro was established in 1947 and is inhabited by the Ilaje people, a linguistic subgroup of the Yoruba. The town lies east along the coast from Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. Due the effects of oil exploration, the community has lost a considerable portion of coastline to the Atlantic Ocean. Residents say the ocean incursion has impacted their livelihoods, particularly since the community’s entire mangrove vegetation was destroyed.

The Atlantic’s surges have also destroyed Ayetoro’s marine life, crippling people’s fishing businesses, which are the mainstay of the local economy.

The slow execution of the shoreline defence project means that protecting Ayetoro from the ocean has become a nightmare for local residents.

A visit to the community showed that the residents of the town are under huge pressure. Most of its shoreline is mud, and it might take many years for the beach to return. The vegetation near the shore is also under threat. Due to regular high sea levels and the muddy ground, coconut trees and other farm produce are not growing well.

According to respected environmentalist Nnimmo Bassey this may be connected to the oil content of the water that washes the shore.

According to Dele Kudehinbu, a spokesman for the Ayetoro community, it was the persistent cry for something to be done that eventually got the attention of the federal government and in 2004 the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded a contract to build a sea defence to Gallet Nigeria Limited. The state paid the company an initial “mobilisation fee” of 650 million naira [3.2 million US dollars].

Despite the outlay, it remains unclear how a project that was awarded in 2004 and was scheduled to be completed within 18 months remains unfinished ten years later.

“We don’t know the reason why,” said Olorunlola. “And the ocean kept coming into our community.”

Writing in The Nigerian Voice, Agreen Nemba, a commentator, noted that the Gallet contract is one of numerous ones awarded by NDDC in its five years of existence. According to Nemba, more than 70 per cent of the projects handled by the firm have either not been executed or have been abandoned.

According to Kudehinbu, the contract with Gallet was terminated after four years on the grounds of non-execution. However the hopes of Ayetoro residents were raised again when NDDC re-awarded the contract to another company, Dredging Atlantic, at a cost of 6.5 billion naira.

The Niger Delta Development Commission paid the company a mobilisation fee of 2.5 billion naira [, about 40 per cent of the total contract. However, five years after it signed the contract, Dredging Atlantic has not completed the work.

So why has Dredging Atlantic not executed the contract? Kudehinbu said it was because it has not managed to source the right materials.

“It is common knowledge that the company has paid over 100 million naira to groups and surrounding communities in [a] fruitless search for [the] desirable quantity of sand for the project,” said Kudehinbu.

“This suggests that there was no adequate planning and preparation for the project before it was contracted and no credible pre-contract feasibility study.”

Dele Omogbemi, former spokesman of NDDC in the town of Igbokoda a short distance inland, confirmed that a shortage of sand was a major setback in executing the project.

Omogbemi defended the Ayetoro shoreline protection contract and said the NDDC does not award contracts to companies without the financial means to execute them.

“The current contractors, unlike the earlier one, have the capacity because they have moved sophisticated equipment to site,” Omogbemi said. “But they could not find sand.”

Residents of Ayetoro disagreed with Omogbemi on this point. Olowodasa said that Dredging Atlantic officials were shown a site less than ten kilometres away at Igbo Aiku, where there was enough sand to complete the project.

However, he said, Dredging Atlantic officials had said that Igbo Aiku was too far away from Ayetoro.

Besides the issue of sand, some allege that there is another reason for the delay – failure to pay workers. Local residents have observed that even when the contractors brought workers to the site, the work never progressed smoothly because they always complained that they had not been paid.

“The workers of the company always stop work on the project when they come,” Olorunlola said. “They did the same thing the last time they came. They say they had not been paid.”

To make matters worse for residents of Ayetoro, NDDC has problems of its own. News reports reveal no fewer than 4,000 of its projects worth trillions of naira and scattered across the Niger Delta have been abandoned.

The chairman of the governing board of the NDDC, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, said the practice of providing only a 15 per cent mobilisation fee to its contractors was leading to projects being abandoned.

Sources say NDDC finds it difficult to provide the remaining 85 per cent of contract fees, causing contractors to either do a bad job or abandon projects completely.

It is unclear exactly why Dredging Atlantic has not completed the project in Ayetoro, but other communities, too, have been unhappy with its work in the past.

On March 4, 2013 Nigeria’s Punch newspaper reported that the Okoloba people in Bayelsa State had raised the alarm that a separate shoreline protection project abandoned by Dredging Atlantic had led to landslides.

Unfortunately for the residents of Ayetoro, they too are experiencing the fallout from an abandoned coastal project.

Visits to Ayetoro show no evidence that the shoreline protection project is on course for completion. In the years that the project lay abandoned, the Ayetoro ocean front has been subjected to massive sea surges that overwhelm the community during the rainy season. Houses close to the shore have been swept away.

The Hope sought to contact the companies involved in the shoreline defence project. However, e-mails sent to Gallet Nigeria Limited went unanswered. Calls to the company’s international telephone lines were not picked up. The Hope also sought comment from Dredging Atlantic but was unsuccessful. On a visit to its offices in Port Harcourt, our reporter was told that the company’s spokesman was travelling.

When The Hope’s reporter telephoned Dredging Atlantic two weeks later, its project manager, a man who gave his name as Akin, said it had not abandoned the project and its workers were on site in Ayetoro.

However, when The Hope’s reporter returned to Ayetoro, the workers were not on site. In fact, the community had been flooded by the sea and many residents had been forced to up sticks and move inland again.

“They have not been here for the past one year,” Olowodasa told The Hope. “Even when they come, they are not doing work on the project. They just come into the town, stay at the hotels, and do nothing. They don’t have sand.”

Nigerian journalist Adetokunbo Abiola produced this article with support from Partners for Democratic Change and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. A version was published in The Hope newspaper, Nigeria. The report was produced under the Access Nigeria/Sierra Leone programme funded by the United States Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

   

 

 

More IWPR's Global Voices