Lagos coastal community scrambles to fight off encroaching climate change

By Sam Olukoya - RFI
Europe © RFI/Sam Olukoya
DEC 4, 2021 LISTEN
© RFI/Sam Olukoya

The people of the Okun Alfa costal community in Lagos, Nigeria, have had to move multiple times due to the encroaching waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but land, and time is running out, according to locals.

"The community has relocated thrice because of ocean surge, the other three previous places are now buried deep inside the ocean, our former houses are now home to mermaids," says Muftau Ayodele, 75, who is one of the community's leaders.

He pointed to a space in the ocean while standing on nearby Alpha Beach, part of the community oceanfront.

"I used to live far away over there but the ocean has taken over the place," he adds.

The shoreline is littered with relics of buildings, remnants of houses swallowed by the rapidly advancing ocean, while many others are gradually sinking into the ocean.

Lost royal land
Sad tales abound in Okun Alfa on the losses the people have suffered in recent years due to rising sea levels.

"As the royal family, we had a lot of land in the community but the bulk of these have been lost to the ocean," says Sheriff Elegushi, a member of a Nigerian royal family.

The loss of land has also resulted in the loss of income, especially from tourism, which used to be the main revenue earner for people in the community, whether it meant providing services or goods to tourists, says Elegushi.

"A lot of tourists were coming here and we used to make money from chalets at the beach but the ocean has swept them away," he says.

Besides losing its expansive beach, the Okun Alfa community has lost lots of other valuable assets like houses, shops, roads, the community's only hospital and the main mosque to the ocean.

Now, Okun Alfa faces extinction, as the ocean is about to take away what is left of the community -- just a small strip of land sandwiched between the ocean and land belongs to another community.

“If we lost this last land to the ocean, our community will be extinct," Elegushi says.

Climate change
Many of the coastal communities in Lagos face a similar threat of extinction due to rising sea levels, an environmental problem attributed to climate change.

The Lagos State Ministry of the Environment says sea level rise is likely to be the most significant impact of climate change in the long term for Lagos.

Lagos is not an isolated case as communities on Nigeria's 850 km coastline are threatened by rising sea levels, says Philip Jakpor of the Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

"The communities that are on the coastline, they are all being submerged and what this means is that we are going to have a lot of displacements," he says.

Environmentalists like Jakpor say authorities are not doing enough to protect Nigeria's coastal communities from rising sea levels.

In Lagos, some groups like the Nigerian Bar Association's Sub-Committee on Ocean Surge are partnering with the government in a bid to save the vanishing coastlines. 

"There is a need for us to bring in all our resources in Lagos, if it is going to take us to have ocean surge trust fund for every Lagosian and every corporate multinational to contribute and rescue this situation, we are going to get it done," says Oladotun Hassan, the head of the group.

For an audio version of this article, check out our Africa Calling podcast.

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