Residents of Ikorodu community in Lagos State groan as seaweed invasion of the lagoon in the area threatens them and cripples their sources of livelihood. CHIJIOKE IREMEKA reports
Residents of Ikorodu community in the Ikorodu Local Government Area of Lagos State have lamented the impact of strange rebounds of seaweed, which has affected their environment and made life difficult for them by crippling business activities.
Our correspondent, during an on-the-spot assessment of the seaweed-infested lagoon the community members complained bitterly about, observed that the environment was in deplorable condition.
Some of the residents told our correspondent that they have been battling malaria since the seaweed took over the lagoon, aside from the losses they are incurring due to their inability to move on with their businesses.
Fishermen say whenever the seaweed also known as water hyacinth takes over the lagoon, they are unable to go out to fish for fear of losing their nets to the plants.
The residents expressed displeasure over the state government’s failure to clear the seaweed and ameliorate their plight, lamenting that this year was one of the worst hyacinth invasions recorded in the community.
For the past two months, the residents said they have been battling malaria as their environment had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes due to the water hyacinth.
According to experts, the invasion of water bodies by water hyacinths has been highlighted as a source of problems for riparian communities.
Meanwhile, The National Inland Waters Authority said it has suspended all boat operations to the Ikorodu Ferry Terminal.
The Lagos Area Manager of NIWA, Sarat Braimah, in a statement on Friday, said the development was due to strange rebounds of water hyacinth, which affected the Ikorodu water corridors.
Recall that a commercial passenger boat, ‘Oyebola Marine’, on Thursday, caught fire at the loading point in Ikorodu Ferry Terminal. But all passengers onboard the boat were rescued alive.
Speaking on the incident, Braimah maintained that she had ordered an immediate suspension of boat operations to and from the Ikorodu ferry terminal.
She said the move was to avoid the breakdown of boat engines and avoidable boat mishaps by the water hyacinth in the area.
Malaria out of control
Residents who spoke with our correspondent during the visit said that they suffer from malaria, cough and recurrent colds that have defied medical treatment.
A resident and food seller, Mrs Tosin Taiwo, said, “We are already suffering a lot of sicknesses like malaria because of mosquito invasion. I am calling on the Lagos State Government to understand that Ikorodu is part of Lagos and that we are suffering; this seaweed needs to be taken away. Our sufferings need to be ameliorated.”
Taiwo further said the seaweed had reduced commercial activities in the area, which she said had affected her business due to low patronage.
A mother of three, Mrs Abigail Kolawole, said her three children were always on malaria medication since the invasion occurred.
“One of them, who is nine years old, was unable to go to school for one week because she was down with malaria. This is what we experience every year and the state government is not doing anything about it.
“A lot of the children that you see here are down with malaria. We want the government to help us. This year’s invasion is something else and it has affected our health and our income. People cannot go fishing anymore and the cost of living is high,” the trader lamented.
Malaria public challenge in Lagos – Abayomi
The State’s Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, during an awareness walk to commemorate the year 2022 World Malaria Day in Lagos, said malaria remained a major public health challenge in the state and the disease remained the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the vulnerable group, especially children under the age of five and pregnant women.
“We must ensure that we clean our environment properly via effective refuse disposal and management, covering of water storage containers, clearing of gutters, dredging of canals and channels among others, clearing of unkempt and dirty environments as these are breeding sites for mosquitoes,” he said.
The latest World Malaria Report by the World Health Organisation shows that Africa bears a high percentage of the global malaria burden, with Nigeria having the highest burden in the world.
In 2022, the African region was home to approximately 95 per cent of all malaria cases and 96 per cent of deaths, with children under the age of five accounting for 80 per cent of all malaria deaths, the report stated.
The report shows that four African countries, including Nigeria, accounted for over half of all malaria deaths worldwide, saying that Nigeria alone accounted for 31.3 per cent of global malaria deaths, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (12.6 per cent), the United Republic of Tanzania (4.1 per cent), and Niger (3.9 per cent).
In Nigeria, according to the report, malaria remains a significant public health challenge, with an estimated 97 million cases and 300,000 deaths annually.
Seaweed breeds mosquitoes
Experts say water hyacinths are known to reduce the velocity of water bodies, thereby serving as suitable breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
“Their obstruction to water transportation also means students who cross invaded water bodies to school will have their education negatively affected”, the experts said.
An environmental activist and founding partner, Dawn Project Initiative, Desmond Majekodunmi, told PUNCH Healthwise that the state government shouldn’t have allowed the water hyacinths to grow to the point of threatening human lives and taking boats hostage.
He said the big problem was why the water hyacinth was not cleared when it was sighted initially.
“The water hyacinth doesn’t happen overnight. It moves gradually until its impacts are felt in the environment. How did it get to the point that it is difficult to handle? Who was responsible for ensuring there is free movement of water and boats on the water?” he queried.
Majekodunmi stated that water hyacinth damaged the paddle of small boats and made paddling a canoe difficult.
“It’s all damaging. Whoever is responsible for that should be queried because it didn’t start one day or happened overnight, it’s been a long time since it started building up”, he said.
He noted that suspending the terminal without clearing the hyacinth would not solve the problem, saying that the government knew what to do to clear them.
A fisherman, Johnson Oke, said since the seaweed took over the water, he and his colleagues had stopped going out to fish.
Oke said when the nets are let down, the fishes that are supposed to be caught will not be able to enter the nets as the seaweed and planks get stuck in the nets.
“When the seaweed season is around, we hardly go out fishing. We don’t usually catch any fish when we let down our nets. The seaweed gets entangled in the nets as well as the planks underneath them.
“We normally return home with torn nets as we struggle to free the nets from the elements. This is our trying time; this is when we need the government”, he lamented.
Water transportation suspended
Other residents who spoke with PUNCH Healthwise shared their frustrations of having to travel by road amid the hike in fuel prices, following the temporary suspension of ferry services at Ipakodo Ferry Terminal due to the seaweed.
Mr Charles Balogun, who works at the Apapa Wharf, said he now spends more money going to work than when he used to travel by water.
Balogun, an Ikorodu landlord, who also complained of recurring malaria after treatment, said the closure of the terminal made going to work stressful for him.
He said apart from wasting hours on the road, he spent more money on commercial motorcycles (Okada) and buses and got to his office tired.
“I resorted to going to work by road pending the time Ipakodo becomes operational. I know there is an alternative jetty at Majidun, but it will be unwise for me to use such a developing jetty while the water hyacinth still poses a great threat to the boats and travelers.
“I live close to Ipakodo Ferry and going from Ikorodu to Apapa by water is faster than going by road. Though some may say that the N2,000 we pay to and fro fee is expensive, I think it saves me a lot of stress and time.
“With the ferry, I get to Apapa between 25 and 30 minutes without stress. The stress on the bus is too much and seeing area boys misbehave, breaks my heart. So, I prefer water transportation and it is easier, cheaper and more convenient for me to transport goods via water.
“It takes me only N3, 500 to ferry to and fro Ikorodu and Apapa and back to my house. My house is a stone-throw from the Ipakodo terminal, so I don’t have to pay any other money to get it done.
“But for me to board a bus, I will first take an Okada of N300 to Ogolonto before I will get a bus to Ketu (N300). Then, from Ketu to Mile 2 (N800) and Mile 2 to Apapa, I will take another Okada N500 despite the stress. The total is N1,900 to and N1,900 back.
“On the average, you are spending N3,800, a difference of N300. This amount applies during off-peak hours because, during peak hours, you will pay higher than the amount I said, but that of the ferry is fixed; whether during peak or off-peak hours.
“Apart from the increased expenditure, I have to board four different vehicles, whereas one boat takes me to my destination. Even if the price of a ferry is higher, I would still prefer it to save myself some stress. I try to avoid any avoidable stress.
“I just hope that the authorities in charge will clean up the water hyacinth and return us to Ikorodu terminal. This water hyacinth is very unusual because the government didn’t start on time to clean it when it started building up.
“On several occasions, I have witnessed what it does to the boats and their engines. The suspension was good, but let the government do something to end this permanently. People would have died last week due to this water hyacinth,” Balogun said.
Extra to use alternative jetty
Another resident lamenting the suspension of the ferry services is Mrs. Bridget Egbokhare, who sells chemicals at the Wharf.
The mother of two said she had to pay extra to transport herself to Majidun jetty, where she boards a boat.
“At this time, when the prices of goods and services are going up, we are paying extra on transportation. And after paying the extra, I hope to recover it because nobody wants to incur extra costs these days,” she said.
According to her, since the Majidun jetty is far away from her house, she has to board a motorcycle for N400 to the jetty if she is going alone or pay N300 if she were to share one Okada with another passenger.
“It’s a lot easier for me to walk to the Ipakodo Terminal than Majidun. If I add the extra that I will pay to get the alternative jetty, I would be spending N800 extra.
“If you add the N800 to N3,500, it will amount to N4,300 per day. If I calculate it from Monday when it was suspended till Saturday, I would have spent N25,800 on transportation alone.
“If I pay this amount weekly, how much will I make? The hardship is everywhere. No matter how small you think the government’s decision is, it affects you in many ways.
“If the government had done what it was supposed to do when it was supposed to do it, we wouldn’t get to this point of suspending ferry services and transferring the burden on the travellers.
“The whole place looks like a bush, yet the government collects money from the operators for using the waterways. It’s sad that the government cannot clear ordinary water hyacinths. Up till now, the government doesn’t know what to do with the situation,” she lamented.
We are facing low patronage
A 31-year-old food vendor beside the perimeter fencing of the Terminal, Mrs. Vanessa Igolo, was seen virtually begging for customers’ patronage at about 2:41pm when she was supposed to be packing her things on a normal day.
“Delicious rice and stew is available. Order your own,” she sang with a cheerful smile, eagerly looking from one passerby to another, hopeful for last-minute patronage.
She said the low patronage was due to the suspension of the activities, which has diverted traffic to Majidun jetty and was ready to deliver the food to any location as long as there were sales.
Also, her neigbhour, who sells beans with roasted plantain and yam, Josephine Isakor, followed the same part with the food vendor.
She said, “My plantain doesn’t stay long on the tray because people buy them even before they are done. But you can see my tray with already done plantain and yam and nobody is pricing them.
“This place used to be filled with people including Okada riders. In fact, people used to queue to carry passengers. We don’t know how long this will last, but we hope it doesn’t last till December because our own season has started.”
“I’m going inside the complex to call them out for food. I can also package it and send it to them in their offices to make sure I completely sell food,” she said.
Experts blame the government
Continuing, Majekodunmi called on the government to address the problem.
He said, “There are special boats designed for this. It can only take one or two of them to clean up the water hyacinth.
“But I am afraid that the government will now require quite a number of them to clean up the water hyacinth because it had allowed it to multiply uncontrollably. But the point that I’m making is that it is cleanable. So whoever is responsible should move into action.”
Breeding sites for disease-carrying mosquitoes
Speaking on the environmental impact of the water hyacinth, Majekodunmi, who is also the Chairman of the Lekki State Urban Forest and Animal Shelter Initiative, said the water hyacinth was damaging to the environment and provided a favourable habitat for breeding mosquitoes.
He said, “Water hyacinth has some pool of water in its leaves and therefore creates a great habitat for disease-carrying mosquitoes to thrive. They lay their eggs in the water and hatch them into larvae.
“These larvae later grow into adult mosquitoes, especially anopheles mosquitoes and begin to spread malaria by feeding on human blood and depositing the parasite into humans. And these are part of the environmental factors that make malaria endemic in Nigeria and Africa.”
A Public Health Physician at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Idi-Araba, Lagos, Dr. Azeezat Shopeyin-Dosunmu, said malaria is endemic in many tropical countries, including sub-Saharan Africa, where Nigeria is located.
She said due to various environmental factors including temperature, high humidity, stagnant waters and rainfall, which are favourable to the survival of the anopheles mosquito and plasmodium parasite, malaria will continue to thrive in Nigeria.
She added that these environmental factors make it difficult to eliminate malaria in Nigeria.
“Clean environment and good environmental sanitation will help. We need to get rid of any stagnant water, ensure that we don’t store up water in the containers around our house and ensure that the drainage systems are well treated and covered,” she added.
When contacted, the Director of Public Affairs, Lagos State Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, Kunle Adeshina, said the clearing of Water Hyacinth at the Ikorodu Terminal was not under the purview of the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, but the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development.
On the environment and mosquito infestation caused by the water hyacinth, which has also resulted in malaria transmissions in the community, he said people cannot live in a flood plain, where they are not authorised to live and begin to call on the government when something went wrong.
“Of course, there will be malaria due to mosquito bites. But they have gone to live in the habitat of water and the water will take its course. I don’t know what to say about this because when they live in a water-logged environment, there will be mosquitoes there. Of course, we are not saying anybody should die of malaria,” he said.
“However, water hyacinth in an environment like that will also result in mosquito infestation and that is still because they are living in a flood plain. We are aware of some Ibeshe areas that are affected, especially when water is released from the Osun dam. But when you tell them to leave, the constant argument will be, where will they go?” he added.
Also, when contacted, the Director of Public Affairs at the Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Mrs. Dupe Ileyemi said she was on leave and did not “have anybody’s contact” to give to our correspondent.
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