From Daniel Kanu, Lagos
Eminent environmental activist Dr Nnimmo Bassey has asked the Lagos State government to respect the Makoko residents’ rights to shelter and livelihood.
This, he said, is central to the survival and wellbeing of the people.
Bassey made the call during a community consultation parley with Makoko residents on “the rights of Makoko fishermen and women”.
The community consultation meeting was organised by Fishnet Alliance, an association of fishers within African shoreline, and Global GreenGrant Funds.
Many such meetings have been held in the past, and in each of them,the people turned out in their numbers, as they saw it as an avenue to amplify their voices for help.
Makoko, a fishing community in Yaba area of Lagos, has been in the news following the public outcry that greeted some developmental projects around the area by the state government.
The projects, which included dredging and sand-filling of the shorelines, were said to pose serious threats to the Makoko people’s existence by destroying the very areas where they conduct their fishing activities, as well as increasing flood incidents that submerged their living hut and shanties.
Speaking at the event with the fishermen and fisher women groups, Bassey said whatever developmental project that is done must be in agreement with the people, otherwise it is unacceptable.
According to him, “everybody has right to safe and satisfactory foods and fishers are the ones providing safe fish.
“They have human right to life, they have a right to involve in lawful economic activities.
“They have a right not to be rendered homeless. Some of the rights I believe fishers must be protected and assisted to have”.
He said Makoko people, through their fishing occupation, were contributing immensely to the economy of Lagos State and needed to be applauded , not demolished.
According to Bassey “Makoko is one of the riverine communities in Lagos. It is a place where you have people from various parts of the country, people who are fishers and they come from other places to reside here. So,it is a place where you see life in most likely manner, people are very hardworking and families are so united. It is a place that we need to learn from.
“But they face serious challenges. One is the threat of displacement . It is always hovering over this community. This is a place to live and sleep with one eye, and sadly the activities around the area, the sand-filling, dredging , all these are affecting fishing.
“This is a very vital community that is really helping the economy of the state. The community has been working on how to get Government pay attention to their plight, to support, rather than threaten them.
“I have seen cases of many informal communities demolished across the city, but this can only be called informal because they don’t have enough support. It is an under served community and we are calling on government to come here and see how to improve the situation,not to demolish or threaten the people. The work they are doing here is something that they should be applauded, because the fish they produce is one of the best forms of protein for average Nigerian.”
Dr Bassey pointed out that if fishers on the country’s 850kms of coastline are supported, they would contribute immensely to reviving the economy,just like their counterparts in Ghana, who rake in about 1 billion dollars every year.
“We have seen that fishers in Nigeria don’t have the due support they ought to have. If you go to other West African countries, fishers are well organised. They have fish pots, they have facilities for refrigeration and for processing,” Bassey said.
“If they are supported,rather than being threatened, they will help in tackling sea level rise and climate. These are communities that are helping to revive the economy of this nation.”
He went on to advise them to properly organise themselves as a group, have leadership and always speak with one voice ,in order to get urgent attention from donors and other support organisations.
On their part the fishers expressed dismay that all efforts to make the state government come to terms with their plight yielded no results as the dredging and sand-filling activities were ongoing, threatening their existence on all fronts.
According to them, with the sand-filling of the shorelines, they are now compelled to go to the high seas for their fishing activities,and they do not have the facilities to go that far.
The fishers,who called on donors to assist them with funding to acquire bigger boats and other equipment suitable for open ocean fishing, decried that their small and rickety boats often capsize because they cannot withstand the strong ocean current.
Among the fishers were women, aged from 60 years upward including Mrs Victoria Oyoola and Mr Dosugan Isaac who said he was born in Makoko over 70 years ago, spending his entire life there.
Isaac noted that he inherited the fishing occupation from his father, insisting that at his age, he could not switch to any other occupation outside fishing.
High point of the event was the donation of fishing nets, baskets, ropes ,among others to the fishermen and women by Fishnet Alliance, coordinated by Dr Bassey.