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Lagos Canals: Polluted city’s waterways


Tye and dye at work, Itire, Lagos

Tye and dye at work, Itire, Lagos

• Stirring State’s Environmental Agency From slumbers

In Lagos, like in the tropics, dark rain-bearing cloud has a way of exercising authority, in its season, over a bright, sunny sky. In spite of the power of sunshine, the cloud comes, casts a pall over it and in a moment of time, a large expanse of the city feels the drizzle, then a drench of rain.

So it is, when a bucketful of liquid ink is poured into a large, clear water of a swimming pool. Gradually, because of little current in the water, the colour overpowers the entire pool, swimmers and users of the pool would recoil at the sight and seek physical exercise elsewhere.

This paints a picture of the power of the chemical substance, a dye, in a space as confined as a pool. But Lagos water is much larger than a swimming pool and activities of city dwellers are invariably tied to its natural aquatic endowment, one way or the other. It largely defines what makes the Lagos environment and with pollution, as the case is with the waters, there is a great cause for concern.

In Lagos, the traversing canals, are prominent landmarks, and have become like huge funnels dispensing steady doses of chemical and non-chemical effluent, from varied sources, into the lagoon.

Here, the environment is constantly under threat, and so are lives of millions that live and daily seek livelihood in the city. While the multitude of city dwellers are oblivious of the environmental pollution challenging their existence, the medical world is busy pondering the rising incidence of human organ disease and failure, especially the kidney and liver.

Only recently, the National Association of Nephrologists say that ‘one in every seven’ Nigerians has one form of kidney disorder or the other.

This implies that about 23 per cent of the country’s population or 37million Nigerians are suffering from a type of kidney disease.

Aside the genetic and hereditary cases, studies are turning up results implicating residues and bio-magnification of heavy metals arising from ingested foods sourced from pollution-laden environment.
Drainage architecture

The original plan, according to a strategy document of the State government on water, the Lagos area has storm drainage channels and secondary storm water concrete channels that help drain the heavy rainfall and accompanying runoff. However, with the exploding size of the city, the pressure on these facilities has become more intense.

Six drainage systems exist in Lagos presently, which include the Odo Iyalaro channel that drains Agege, Ikeja, Maryland, Ojota, Ketu and down to Agboyi Creek; Bariga Shomolu area channel that drains through to Unilag, and the one that services Unilag, Yaba and the Mainland generally.

The fourth drains the Surulere area; another flows from Ikate area and the sixth flows from Old Abeokuta Road to Isolo, Festac and Tin can.

Ultimately, water from these channels drains mainly to the Lagos lagoon or Ogun and Owo Rivers.

A female resident of Kehinde Street, adjacent to the concrete drain canal at Aguda, Surulere, Lagos told The Guardian it has been almost four years since the de-silting was done in that area. Now, there are breaks in the channel caused by piling of silt from adjoining streets, jotting out like small islands and the luxuriant, ubiquitous Water hyacinth plant sitting atop the water pools along the whole stretch.

The Drain Channels and activities

Along the LUTH, Itire, Ijeshatedo-Coker (Iganmu) axis of the canal, there are activities of textile workers – the ‘Tie and Dye’ or ‘Adire’ producing communities.

On a typical production day, aside the white textile materials they purchase in large quantities, on a weekly basis, the next most important item of production is the dye – synthetic in nature.

As Professor Babajide Elemo, Lagos State University’s (LASU) top scientist put it, ‘because Nigerians and Africans, largely, are colourful in our fashion craze, we are paying the prize,’ in that more dyes of various colours are heavily consumed. The end point is that more chemical effluent gets discharged down the canal or into larger bodies of water.

Similarly, whether on the scale of cottage activities or the large, industrial-scale textile or non-textile production, effluent discharge continues unabated. The challenge is that not much is treated before going down the sewers.

Last week, as The Guardian took a tour of the different stretches of the canal, it was quite revealing. In Aguda, by the Pako axis, as ‘Danfo buses,’ yellow-painted commercial commuter vehicles back up to load nicely, starched and dried adire cloth for the market, men and women, a mixture of Nigerians and Gambians, busy themselves in their carved out job areas.

The scissors works unhindered, cutting up the white cloth in metres (yards) – standard sizes of four or five yards each, depending on what tailors want to do for their clients. Many of the production units work in open areas, on concrete reinforced floors, where starch is mixed and firewood burnt to boil water for the dissolving dyes ready for the works.

Here, women are in charge of the dyeing jobs, supported by young men, when needed to apply more physical strength to transfer wet cloth from one plastic drum to the other. The same applies when the bulk of wet, dyed cloth is to be transferred for sun drying besides the canal, the usual practice.

As the dye gets fixed to the cloth, and the strength drops, the canal gets the pounding; upturned, the spent dye in the plastic drums are poured on the work floor on its way out to ‘drain’ – canal built with tax payers’ money to keep the environment properly drained.

A cash-strapped community of local textile workers is lamenting the lack of support from government, according to Comrade Oluwaseyi Ayinde, General Secretary, National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, Kampala sector, while a more troubled environment is bearing the brunt of unrelenting breaches to the law regulating the discharge of wastes.

A long look at the stretch of the canal reveals different ‘ducts’ from which rivulets of environment-degrading effluent find their way to the lagoon via the canals.

Character of pollutants

Two Lagos State University teacher-researchers, Julius Agboola of the Department of Fisheries and Abiodun Denloye of the Department of Zoology of the Faculty of Science, in a recent paper, emphasised the continuous inflow of pollutants into drain channels and water bodies.

According to them, they include “inorganics such as metals from industries, detergents, organics such as sewage (including human and animal excreta), most of which are sources of water borne diseases.”

Corroborating Elemo’s assertion on the industry density of the city, their paper reported that ‘of over 5,000 industries in Nigeria, 60 per cent are sited in and around Lagos metropolis.’ But it is worrisome that effluents from many of them are still discharged without treatment.
Urban Sanitation Status

A World Bank report indicted the Lagos public of turning these channels to sewage dump. Nothing has changed much, 10 years after, especially with the city still ranking high among the cities where open defecation is rife.

Now that the rains are coming back and in a city still contending with sanitation issues, flooding of the canals will yet expose the underbelly of its unpreparedness at peak of the rainy season.

Although, Olu Odeyemi, Obafemi Awolowo University professor of Microbiology and environment expert advocates construction of effluent treatment tanks or ponds in various parts of the city, less than a million residents in Lagos are serviced by wastewater treatment via the use of treatment plants.

To deal with this challenge, the State established the Lagos State Wastewater Management Office in 2010 as a pathway to a five-year plan to improve urban sanitation issues.

There are four Lagos State-owned Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) in Abesan, Satellite Town, Amuwo Odofin and Alausa Secretariat; three Federal Government owned WWTPS and several mini privately-owned WWTPS. The bustling population of the city continues to task the agencies thereby efforts pale to insignificance.

Wastes: Taking the toll

Elemo, in a bid to bring home the adverse effects of these pollutants, told of a company, Drury Industries, which was producing Sulphuric acid at Agbara Estate on Lagos-Badagry Expressway, many years ago.

“At the beginning, they planted Royal palms in front of their premises; they grew, but within 3-4 years, the trees started drying up and died,” he narrated. As a scientist, Elemo said the reason is most likely to be sulphuric acid.

“If the sulphur dioxide goes into the atmosphere, it returns when there is dew, condense as sulphuric acid and get at the trees. The change is not instantaneous, but the effect is huge and devastating.”

In our culture, he said, it is believed that anything that does not kill instantly is not dangerous. Some ailments were not rampart 25 years ago, like kidney failure and cancer of various kinds (cervical, lung, prostate, colon, intestine, etc).

“Everything is not as a result of genetics, though it is also part of it. If we get constantly exposed to ‘invisible’ and ‘invincible’ pollution, the danger can be palpable,” he revealed.

For the environmental malaise attached to textile dye effluent, scientists have shown that these substances are ubiquitous because they are synthetic, mainly derived from petroleum products.

They stay in the environment for long and bind with other compounds to form complexes.

These complexes, called ligans, Elemo explained could be picked up by plants and then get to humans through crops grown in the polluted areas.

The crops take up the nutrients from surrounding soil including these complex compounds and store.

Plant nutritionists agree that the content of surrounding soil determines the total nutrient or mineral composition of the food derived. This angle to it refers to the small portion of land by the channel, where plantain was planted at the Aguda, Surulere axis. So, even when they engage in peri-urban horticulture, they are not aware of what dangers lie in the fruits and vegetables being grown as food.

Therefore, growing crops on the silt excavated from the canal can expose the harvest to ligans and heavy metals that can go into it from the soil.

The OAU environmentalist, Odeyemi agrees that if harvest from such plots or portions of land is consumed by humans, it will undergo some bio-magnification and create a complex difficult for it to handle.
Elemo likened it to mercuric oxide found in bleaching or whitening creams and soaps; “the compound goes into the body and cannot be expelled. It mostly leads to kidney failure in them that use these products.”

On LASEPA’s function and the effect of discharging untreated effluent into the lagoon and rivers, the LASU Professor said the ecosystem risk being destroyed and food chain distorted.

“Some plants and animals die, while others adapt and survive; some species of fish that are resilient may survive, while others may be eliminated.

“When these fishes survive, they end ingesting heavy metals into their body, which may also end up in the human body, when they eat. Since the body would not also be able to handle the heavy compounds, there may be reactions, which partly explain the increase in organ challenges. Notice that there are some kinds of cancers these days that are not common in the past.

Elemo blamed the government on any lapses in environmental policing since the agency can only function as much as the political will of their employers allows. “The athlete, in a 100m dash, cannot have his hands tied to his back and expected to return a good time.

“When there is only one personnel carrying out the job of 10 in monitoring the industry, the workload is such that as soon as he/she leaves, the operators may easily slide back to wrongdoing,” he said.

On the basis of the size of the economy of Lagos that is bigger than that of some ECOWAS countries, and a monthly IGR of about N25billion, he said the size of the manpower of LASEPA should be doubled.

This is even more so that more than 50 per cent of industries in Nigeria are in Lagos and environs. This would make them operationally effective, Elemo argued.
On faecal discharge

There is a discharging point for faeces collected from homes and industries at Mile 2 and it should normally go through some form of treatment, but that is not usually the case any longer. Sometimes, these sewage collectors just put their trucks by the canal and offload their content into it. This is usually done at night. It is also the reason, at times; raw faeces float on the surface of the canal the morning after night-time discharge of raw sewage into canal.

Ironically, the spots being used to illegally dump faeces into the canal is just metres away from the legal point for the discharge of faeces.
Mile 2 Sewage Treatment Unit

One of the sewage truck operators, who spoke to The Guardian at Mile 2 Collection/Treatment Pond said that they pay between N2,500 and N3,500 per truck to get the sewage collected from homes discharged into the treatment tank.

According to him, the operators of the treatment tank use to mix the sewage dumped into the tank with some chemicals before it is flushed into the canal nearby. None of the officials at the Mile 2 treatment facility was willing to comment on their operations.

The General Manager, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) Mr. Adebola Shabi however does not agree that the agency is challenged. He puts the task on the citizen, demanding that they should be alert by reporting any negative environmental act to the agency, promising that the agency will act promptly on any incident reported.

“As a citizen, when you see something in your area that is affecting the environment, please report it and we will act on it.”

He said that the issue of discharging faeces into the canal and lagoon would be looked into, as he would send a team to the spot for investigation and action.

On the mandate that industry operators are supposed to build effluent treatment ponds or tanks to handle waste before discharge, and if LASEPA is enforcing and monitoring this, he stated that over 60 per cent of industries with wet processes have effluent treatment plant in place, 30 per cent have withholding, while the remaining 10 per cent, his agency is keeping watch on them.
Penalty for contravening the laws

Lagos State already ranks high in the country as tops in the level of internally generated revenue. It rakes in an average of N25 billion, but it would also make greater impact if those who contravene the environmental pollution laws were brought to book.

Monitors and enforcers from the Agency would not find any difficulty nabbing offending companies, communities and individuals, if the system worked efficiently.

For instance, part of the penalties gleaned from the Agency’s website says:

• “Any person who willfully delays or obstructs a person duly authorised by the Agency in the performance of its functions under this Law or fails without reasonable excuse to give any information, which he is duly required to give shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of two hundred thousand (N200, 000) or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or to both.

• “Any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any provisions of this Law is guilty of an offense and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred thousand naira ((N500,000) or a term of five years imprisonment in case of an individual and in case of a Company or Corporate body, a sum of one million naira (N1,000,000).”

It also states that “Where an offense has been committed against this Law by an establishment, company or corporate body, the person in charge of such establishment, or in the case of a company or corporate body, every director, manager, secretary and other officer knowingly being a party to such an offence shall be guilty of the like offence and liable to the same punishment.

Further, it states that a person on whose land untreated, unpurified waste as specified in section 22 of the Law is dumped commits an offence and shall on conviction be liable to:

A term of five years imprisonment in case of an individual; and in case of an establishment, company or corporate body, a fine not exceeding N2, 000,000.00 and in addition shall bear the cost of removal of the dumped waste.

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