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The critical scarcity of sand in Lagos

The demand and supply of sand in Lagos currently is reaching a critical point. Sharp sand from the rivers is almost non available while the variants now taking its place in most construction projects are produced by canoe-men popularly called hand diggers. One can find them along various waterfronts all over Lagos, the most important difference between them and mechanical dredges being that they use big canoes to go deep into the lagoon and scoop the mineral from midstream.

Along the spectrum of this supply chain the next major suppliers produce red sand from surface mining and put it on the market. Even very many big construction companies now doing projects in Lagos are relying on these sources to feed their projects. As per the cost of these sand types, it’s also on the rise … a point that doesn’t seem to faze the state government so far.

One of the sticking points of the critical sand situation in Lagos is that the government is going mainly after mechanized dredgers in its bid to control dredging which has reached a muzzling point. As usual the large reason for the control measures is said to be environmental protection but a cursory look at the activities of the hand diggers and surface miners reveals that the responsible departments of the state government in charge of environmental protection must have a very skewed definition of the term if the extra-huge holes being made in the ground by surface miners is not a prime candidate for erosion and flooding in those areas. As per the hand diggers, it is an open secret in the industry that at Ajido, hand diggers who scoop from the lagoon are precipitating what could eventually be the first man-made breach of the geological formation hedging the Atlantic Ocean from joining with the waters of the Badagry Creek, and whatever flooding problem that could stimulate.

Another sticking point in the sand business in the state is the unspoken regime of artificial bottleneck in the supply chain being perpetrated by a situation where only specially chosen companies are given the ‘almighty’ permits to dredge sand from the rivers in the state under arrangements that are widely known to be as good as joint ventures between the favoured companies and state government top officials in charge of dredging and sand mining in the state. Since May this year when a heightened regime of clampdown on dredging activities began, no company has been given permits to stockpile sand for commercial sales without stories eventually emerging that proceeds from the projects are to be shared between these officials and the dealing companies. Is this the new way to go in Lagos state? How about the fact that the price of sand is now steadily rising in Lagos and it is not seen as a problem to be solved? Is the allegation now making the rounds true that the state government is not fazed by the rise of sand prices for the fact that the business is now being tightly controlled by top government officials and prominent indigenes of the state as a cash cow meant only for Lagosians and highly connected people? Does this also explain the kid gloves being used to treat the cases of hand diggers and surface miners since all of the practitioners for now are indigenes?

One thing is for sure in the particular case of sand in Lagos state: it won’t be an easy meat to swallow for any group that wants to create and sustain a monopoly in the business. The government is better advised to tow the path of transparency and fairness in its dealings and curb the over-zeal or fraudulent collusion of its officials in the management of sand dealing licenses, permits and other fees. It is already public knowledge that environmental impact assessment reports in the state are now ‘political’ in the sense that unless they are done by the anointed firms and persons, it would be rejected and referred to be redone. What other revelations would eventually emerge? Wouldn’t it be wiser for this state government that is being lauded for its good performance ensure that there are no fifth columnists in its ranks that would eventually tarnish its image and bring opprobrium on the innocent? Surely the business of sand and dredging in Lagos state is like the maxim on conscience: It’s an open wound; only truth can heal it.

4th Quarter 2009


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