THE DEBUT OF ECO-DREDGING IN NIGERIA
…How a Toxicology Professor migrated from research scientifica to wholesale dredging!
“You want to do finger-printing of crude oil…?” – Prof Akintonwa.
Professor Akintonwa Alade, better known since the early 1970s as an authority in toxicology and environmental research has pushed the limits of his practice to new levels: it now includes eco-dredging. The concept (eco-dredging), which is new to Nigeria, started as a happenstance when he was serially disappointed by some local dredging outfits he engaged on a remediation contract. But now, armed with a wholly-owned Ellicott 670 cutter suction dredger, Prof. Alade has braced to revolutionize dredging ethos in Nigeria’s fast growing indigenous dredge market. He might also shine amongst local dredge owners and operators who are angling to possibly displace the dominance of multinational dredge companies in Africa’s most populous country where his eco-dredging style could endear him to environmentalists seeking the higher profile in the rankled Niger Delta waters. In this interview, the former University of Lagos dean and a doyen of the oilfield mineral research group in Nigeria, reveals the exciting details of his foray into dredging and his well-known practice of chemical analysis of hydrocarbon-occurring metals, gases and sediments. He also ventured into explanations of how the Niger Delta degradation came to the present sorry pass and how to escape from that waterloo which was caused by long years of neglect of environmental due process.
Furthermore, from the chemical cubicles of Toxicology Research Laboratories Ltd at his highbrow Magodo GRA vicinity, he spoke from one extreme to the other: delving from the chemistry of matter to management of water transport resources in aquatic Lagos State, the home base of his prosperous practice. Excerpts:
On the Content and Scope of Toxicology Research Laboratories industrial work:
Akintonwa: (Pointing to cartons of samples in plastic sacks in one ground-floor office) These are all samples of environmental analysis from all over Nigeria, and these are mud and cutting samples, that is what we specialize in. The drilling mud is the chemicals you put in, when you are drilling to lower the temperature of the drilling bits. And at the same time, to stabilize the well before you put in the casing. When you are drilling down to about 4,000ft to 15,000ft, the tendency is that the well may collapse on you, so what they do is, as they go along, they put in this chemical mud all along to aid drilling. The Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) regulation says you cannot dump them – the oil on the cutting – (after use), until you bring them to the laboratory to analyze it for environmental toxicants. It is when we analyze them, they can dump them offshore or else, bring them onshore to start treatment. So we do that primarily for all the oil companies. Okay, this is Exxon Mobil, (picking up one corked orange-coloured plastic container and showing some writings on it), you have the date of the cutting sample and the well it came from and the depth of the sample, e.g. this one is from 3,135 metres deep.
(Picking up another container from the scores of samples on the shelves and floor, he shows that after some time, it dries up and can becomes brittle, like humus soil).
Akintonwa: We call it mud and cutting analyses. Not only that, all the effluents from treatment plants in industries, we bring them here and we analyze them to see it meets the minimum environmental requirements before they can discharge them into water bodies.
DDH: Do you issue them certificates or what?
Akintonwa: It’s a DPR guideline requirement. But when we finish we write a report and forward to DPR..
(Entering one of the offices upstairs, the excursion continues…)
Akintonwa: This is what we call atomic absorption equipment. This lab is used to analyze heavy metals in the industries. You know the elemental samples,
(pointing to two lists of chemicals pasted on the wall with their chemical symbolic notations).
Akintonwa: Our own area is a very narrow one that many people don’t understand at all. I am starting here to trace the story so that we can now link up to how we ended up at the dredging business. Because, all these things we are talking about metals, standards, etc, I don’t know whether you did some chemistry, aluminum, arsenic, gold, lead, nickel, these are all the metals under the ground; as it is in water and in the environment. Most of them have health value; if they are too low, something happens to the body. But more importantly, when they are in the environment, they create a lot of health problems to the human being. If they accumulate in your body, a lot of diseases can ensue. So, in all industrial operations it is required that you analyze for most of these metals. Precisely, in the oil industry, these are the ones, from chromium, nickel, potassium, manganese, sodium. All the time, you must monitor them from mud cutting samples obtained from those wells. And when even during exploration where there is an indication of evidence of heavy metals like nickel, vanadium, etc, it gives you a good indication that there is likely to be a lot of oil deposits.
DDH: So there are many uses of these analyses…
Akintonwa: It has many implications for health; it is important that you don’t get it into the environment. There are standard levels that must be in the water, the offshore area where you operate. And again, in case of the metals that we analyze here, you can use it in mapping, if there is a pollution. If there is a pollution, crude oil from Chevron, from Shell operation, from Texaco, you know, in the Niger Delta you cannot demarcate all the places where water goes. But we can say that this pollution is caused by so-so when we do this analysis. We know that crude oil from this area has this range of nickel and vanadium, the one from other areas have this range of nickel and vanadium. We are able to determine a lot of things, apart from monitoring the impact on the human health. There is nothing you can do about it getting into the environment, we are only talking about limits. So there is a standard, once it is high, we can tell you that you cannot discharge it from your system.
DDH: What do you mean by they cannot discharge it?
Akintonwa: You cannot discharge your effluent, although in production you generate a lot of water. For example, everybody looks at oil production and gas as just the oil alone. It just comes with a lot of oil. You know you are drilling in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, offshore, a lot of things you do it with water. Even when the crude oil comes, it comes with a lot of water and you have to separate it. That is the production water. Now you are producing, where do you dump it (the waste).
DDH: So in cases where the effluents are too high in these chemicals, they cannot just release it into the ecosystem? You said due to new laws, when you drill up to 4,000feet to 10,000feet, every waste you come up with can no longer be discharged into the environment. How is this enforced?
Akintonwa: That is called zero discharge, that is the law now. Before, you are allowed about 150 to 250 milligram per kilogram of oil on cutting. We went down as low as 20 and found out it’s still destructive to the environment. So, it’s now zero discharge. Thermal desorption unit (TDU) is the only answer. The TDU is a new system of waste management, whereby those sample cuttings that we have shown you, we now put them in the system, the system will extract the oil for you that is coming from that waste. The waste now has a very high tensile strength, you can use it in making concrete blocks or tarring road. The drilling mud extracts, you can add barite and reformulate into drilling fluid. So, it’s a win-win situation.
DDH: So that means that each well will have to submit their samples to you?
Akintonwa: As they are going they have to be giving samples. When you get to 500m, you give us the sample; 1000m, you give us the sample of the cutting and the mud for analysis. Not only that we determine all these heavy metals there, we determine the oil content. So, if the metals is above a certain measure, you cannot discharge into the open sea, you have to bring it down and start looking for another treatment system to be able to clean it. Apart from that, heavy metal is so important that in most of the manufacturing industries now, the mining industry, these are the things they are looking for. Silver, tin, gold, a lot of metals that we see here are found abundantly in several areas in Nigeria. But people don’t even know their uses.
DDH: Not to talk about recognizing them…?
Akintonwa: Not to talk about recognizing them.
DDH: That means that apart from the oil industry, you also work for the mines?
Akintonwa: Yes we work for the mines. Not only working for the mines as to the types of minerals that are there but the quantity and quality of the minerals that are there. We also assist on mine closure. When you finish mining, a lot of metals come out with a lot of radiation. For example, tin mining in Jos, there are so many local people going in and the whole thing (mines) is open. When you finish mining what do you do? After some time, you can’t expose them. We have to tell them the levels, the danger and how to close the pits, so that it does not become environmental hazard.
DDH: Do you do this so that radiation does not escape and harm society?
Akintonwa: Yes, from the operation. As a matter of fact, we are working with Atomic Energy Commission in this area. They are doing a great job now monitoring all those mining operations.
DDH: So they must use your services as scientific evidence?
Akintonwa: They must use our service even for their operation to be very effective, to know what is there. We will tell you what you have mined there and what amount you have taken. You can use that whether you are exploring or you are looking at the health impact on the community.
(Moving into another laboratory in an adjacent room on the first floor, the interview continues…)
Akintonwa: This is our general chemistry laboratory, a wet chemistry laboratory, used for the analysis of things you want to determine chemically such as the amount of the oil in the sample. This is where we do all the analysis for common toxicants, not only in the Niger Delta. A lot of them are even occurring in Lagos here. You have over a thousand-plus industries in Lagos that are discharging into the Lagos lagoon. These are the places we monitor the common environmental toxicants. After determining the level in industrial effluents the reports are forwarded to FEPA (Federal Environmental Protection Agency) or Lagos State Ministry of Environment, to tell them these things are going too high, what do we do? We recommend appropriate treatment method based on the analysis. If you don’t analyze it, you don’t know what is causing the problem. Therefore, you don’t know what you are going to treat. A lot of people just build treatment plant, they don’t know what they are supposed to treat. You must know what you are bringing out that you want to eliminate before designing and building treatment plants.
(Moving into yet another laboratory in the expansive first floor of Toxicology Research Laboratories office, the erudite Prof continues to expose the rudiments of monitoring environmental standards in today’s industrial world…)
Akintonwa: This (pointing to a twin set of huge machines on a work table) is called a gas chromatograph. These are two equipment linked to a computer system. They are quite expensive. You can analyze all hydrocarbons from it, we standardize it regularly. Gas is from carbon 1 to carbon 4, to propane to methane, ethane, all those gases, and as they go from gases, they are now becoming liquid. After they become liquid, you then have some solid, from the crude oil, like tar. These equipment are to analyze all those things. It’s a very versatile equipment, it can analyze if there is a contamination in the water, air and in the oil. These are very dangerous contaminants, they can lead to cancer. They are cancer-forming if you get exposed to them. That’s why the people in the Niger Delta are crying that they have a lot of hydrocarbon in water, we have this, we have that, they give us cancer and those kinds of things. But it is not (just) the issue that it will give you cancer, we want to determine the level of different kinds of hydrocarbons in that water. That is our work. Not just shouting.
DDH: Does it mean that in those years, ten or fifteen years ago, they were not doing it this way?
Akintonwa: They were not doing it. For a long time we’ve not been doing this analysis. Everybody had been doing whatever they liked
DDH: That is in Nigeria?
Akintonwa: In Nigeria, yes. But I have been in this business going back to 1977, 1978. That was the time the Directorate of Petroleum Resources (DPR) invited five of us, Professors, to come and look at this issue based on the scientific work I was doing at that time. As a professional toxicologist, looking at the toxicity of chemical use in the oil industry and the toxicity of crude oil itself. Not only on the aquatic system when people get in contact with them, but what is going to be the long term effect. We were all called to the meeting and that is what led to the establishment of standards, called DPR Guidelines that are being used today. Before that time everybody just threw whatever they liked into the ocean or swamps during operations.
DDH: And you suppose that this is how the Niger Delta got into the mess that it is in today?
Akintonwa: Yes, but this guidelines began to help. At that time there was no FEPA until the Koko toxic waste incident of 1982, when the awareness started coming in. And the regulations began to be stiffer every year until we now had a Ministry of the Environment. Before then, environmental issues was under the Ministry of Works. The versatility of these equipment is so great that they are very expensive. Most of the (Nigerian) universities cannot afford them. And when they can afford them, they cannot get the manpower to operate them. Where they can get the people to operate them, they cannot pay them. (General laughter).
DDH: So the hurdles are so much?
Akintonwa: It’s so much that this is one of the few independent privately-owned laboratories in this country today. Because no bank is going to bank roll its purchase for you. But the beauty of this equipment is, if there is a pollution now, one, it can tell me what is the pollutant? Is it the crude oil and if so, what is the fraction of the crude oil?
DDH: What do you mean by what is the part?
Akintonwa: You know when you are talking about crude oil, pollution, when it gets into the water, you have to be able to establish what is the level of the hydrocarbon inside the crude oil that contaminated the water? And in the crude oil, there are some of the oil that get into the water and become water soluble, you don’t see them, they just dissolve like sugar in your tea. The one that you see physically, those are not even the most dangerous ones, the solids cause only aesthetic problems. But the ones that cause the real danger are already in the water and they are down in the seabed as sediments. Fish will now go and feed on them, crayfish will feed on them, and eventually both you and me are going to eat that fish. That is where the problem comes and it gets deposited in our bodies as cancer-causing agents. But this equipment, Gas Chromatograph, will analyze and determine the level of that hydrocarbon in the environment. Sometimes, you want to do finger-printing of crude oil, this is the equipment that we use. If it is Shell, Mobil or Chevron crude, this machine will analyze it for you and say this crude is from your area of operation. It has a lot of legal implications. When they demand for compensation in the Niger Delta, when we do analysis and we don’t see it, there is no way you are going to court to establish your case. This thing must be backed by a lot of scientific evidence, to be able to convince the court there is pollution by the crude oil. And if it is so, is it Mobil operation or Shell operation or Agip operation because the crude oil from many areas are quite different. We call it finger printing of crude oil, that is what this machine does.
(Then the interview train moved on again to another laboratory, to another sophisticated machine…)
Akintonwa: This is total organic carbon analyzer. Is there any carbon in an environment or in anything that you see, this is the machine that can tell you the carbon number, etc. The human body is carbon, oxygen, etc these are the elements. You know we are made up of 75% water and carbon. It is the same elements that you see all over our environment. God used the same materials.
Entering another lab and pointing to yet another machine, he relates the sequence of laboratory procedures from the previous lab to the present one and explains…
Akintonwa: This is what we call mass spectrophotometer (indicating the machine with a wave of the hand). It is a version of those equipment over there but this is the bigger form, it is called the mass selective detector. With this equipment, if you bring air, water and soil samples, and sit down and analyze it, without even knowing what is there, this machine will tell us what is in that sample. It has a library memory of over one million chemical compounds from all over the world.
(Next Prof. Akintonwa moved out of that laboratory into the first floor landing corridor where three wide shelves have been erected with fairly large rectangular plastic tanks sitting on each level of the 3-step shelves. Many blue box-like and round galvanized plastic water tanks were arranged on the floor under the shelves and some were hung near the ceiling directly above the row of shelves. This is where the Prof led the interview procession next in the excursion. He continues his explanation…)
Akintonwa: Those things you see (pointing to scores of samples in small plastic containers arranged on a worktable inside one of the laboratories) were harvested from these tanks (pointing to the fairly large rectangular plastic tanks). These tanks are what we call biodegradation setup. We are the first to have this kind of setup in this country but there are about three or four laboratories that have copied it now. What it’s doing is, you know we have a fresh water environment, that is simulated in this tank (pointing to one of the tanks on the shelves labeled “fresh water”), and we have brackish water environment that is simulated in this tank (pointing to another tank on the shelves labeled “brackish water”). What we are trying to say here is that we are simulating what you have in the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean which is a very salty water, that is the brackish water. The fresh water is the one that comes inland, that doesn’t have a lot of salt, which people can put into the water treatment plant to produce potable water or bottled water and then we can drink. You can’t do that with brackish water, marine water. In the area of operation in the industry, it’s either you are operating in brackish water or you are in fresh water. So, all the chemicals you are going to use in your operation, most especially in oil and gas, at the end of the day, it has to be used in either fresh or brackish water. Then this test is designed to let us know, when you use the chemicals in operation and are drilling, there is a lot of chemicals that go into drilling. When you are drilling to say 4,000 feet, you do put them in tonnage, not just one drum.
DDH: To do what for them?
Akintonwa: To soften the place, to kill micro-organisms in the stream, in the pipeline, etc. In the industry, there is a weed-killer. If you don’t put weed-killer, along the line there is going to be weed growing in the pipeline. And you know what that means, it will start corrosion. There is anti-corrosion chemical that will block corrosion, thousands of chemicals in this industry. But our job is to say now look, this chemical that you are using, you are using them in the area of fresh water or brackish water, we want to know how long it is going to persist in our environment. Is it going to stay like that forever or can it be degraded? We call it biodegradation studies. It’s like you use this pure water bag, that is non-biodegradable, it stays forever. That is why you see them all over Lagos. If you are using something that is bio-degradable, like leaves, you throw it into the gutter, in three days, it’s gone. That is bio-degradable. So we test the biodegradation of those chemicals which are used in the oil industry, manufacturing industry and mining industry. If it persists in the environment for a long time, then that means there is serious problem. We want chemicals that when it gets into the environment, it will be rapidly bio-degraded. Before any chemical is brought into this country for use, it must pass all these tests. Any chemical that is non-biodegradable, we don’t allow it to come into this country. Therefore the oil companies will wait for that report before they buy it from you. These studies take almost 90 days, those are the things you have seen us harvest in all the water you see under these shelves. These are all brackish water, we go to the area of operation of those companies. If you are proposing operation in Forcados, we go to Forcados to bring the water. These are the harvests for all those studies (pointing to the small plastic containers on the worktable).
DDH: Is the soil the natural soil from those areas?
Akintonwa: These are not ordinary soil but sediments from the seabed in those areas. The test is to find out, those chemicals when it gets to the seabed, how long it’s going to persist there before it is totally broken down? If you are working in the brackish water, the swamps, how long is it going to take to degrade there?
DDH: So, when you get to Forcados, you get the water and you also get the seabed?
Akintonwa: Exactly. And then test against all those chemicals that are being proposed for use in that area. After that analysis, we go into computer calculation to define the bio-degradation rating. And by the time they bring those chemicals to us, they make sure they are coded, we don’t know who is bringing them in, because once they know it is coming to Prof. Akintonwa’s lab, the people will come and greet you tomorrow morning, that please do it for me quickly. (General laughter). The code is to neutralize the ownership and make sure the analysis is purely scientific. It is when we conclude our report, we submit to the DPR. They will now review and based on what we submit, DPR can say, no, you cannot bring this chemical in. And these are multi-million-dollar chemicals but even if they are at the port they will just have to send it back.
The last one that we concentrate on, and we are experts in, is chemical dispersants, drilling fluid, before they are used in the industry, you must do toxicological studies on them. If you are going to use them, in the Niger Delta, we look at the organisms of ecological and economic importance. So we use paleamelontus africanus, the brackish gray fish or the fresh water fish. We test those organisms using those chemicals in our lab here, and we can say, at this level this chemical will kill so many when you get it into the environment. So the DPR keeps that report and they will now keep a catalogue of all those chemicals. If you say 50 milligram of this chemical will kill, they will say okay that one has passed. Immediately you bring another chemical, if it is about 200 milligram that gets into the environment that will kill, they will say, you see this one is safer than the one of 50 milligram. So, we can substitute that for this. So that is how they manipulate the use of the information we provide to manage chemicals that come into the country.
DDH: So without institutions like Toxicology Research in this age, environmental control cannot be effective?
Akintonwa: It cannot be effective. You see when you go to environmental meetings, everybody talks grammar, social science, they don’t talk the fact until…this one you have to determine it scientifically. But immediately people see (pollution), they go and grab Shell, you want compensation. And that’s why most of the cases are lost in the court. The court will want this kind of evidence. I have been going to court for almost a week to give evidence. Some lawyers will hire me; most of the communities, you know they can’t pay for this kind of service, so some of the lawyers make an arrangement with us that if they can do the scientific analysis for them, the lawyer can pay us or we can wait for the end of the case (to get paid). Because we have to keep life going; this analysis runs into millions, it’s not a small kid analysis. We have over a billion Naira worth of equipment and we have to maintain them regularly. And we keep on acquiring them, radiation measurement equipment, everything.
DDH: Do you also do remediation?
Akintonwa: That’s what led us to the issue of dredging, that’s what we are talking about. We have to go to the ocean bed. During those missions, we found out that most of our seabed, lagoons, lakes were really in bad shape. People are just looking at the surface, they are not looking at the bottom of the sea or the lagoons or the creeks. So what triggered us? This is one company that is an environmentally technological company and we thought with all the sizable background that we have what do we need to do? We are the ones that have done most of the major bio-remediation jobs in this country, Forcados remediation, Ibeshe river (Lagos State), etc.
DDH: What did you people do there?
Akintonwa: It was some time ago, we used to have an office there at that time. We were doing their bio-remediation. That is when there was excessive pollution, what we now do for them is we find a way of cleaning it up and bring the environment back to its natural form. During the Forcados work, we were invited and it happened to be one of the biggest works in this country and since then we have been always invited to come and do all these types of work. And it happened not too long ago, Lagos State had a big problem in this area. There was a company in Ikorodu, a textile industry that messed up the whole area of Ibeshe River. And we assisted them to get some grants under the Ecological Fund. All the reports are filed here (waving to a nearby glass-fronted cabinet full of reports). All the bio-remediation we did, we spent quite a lot of money, renting dredger to get good sand to be able to do remediation, sand worth over a billion Naira. In that case, we completed the phase one. Phase two we had to go down and clean it up, we had to pump out the sediments and bring it out and you can’t even dump it, we have to treat it before we can even dispose it. But we have to be able to bring it up from the seabed.
DDH: What form was it at the seabed?
Akintonwa: It can be there as mud, clay or sand, but most of the time they are not more than about three metres of pollution. And you just have to find a way of cleaning them up. You can’t scoop them out as if you are dredging and pour them onto a site but these are sand that you cannot leave like that, you have to treat them. You can’t just take them to another place, they will pollute that area. Then you have to look for some fine sharp sand to replenish, you don’t just clean, you replenish. So it is really tedious, we are the only ones that have that capability right now in this country. As a matter of fact, a South African company is trying to partner with us in this area now. That is what led us to the area of dredging, because most of our jobs are time-limited: we want to finish them at a particular time. Three companies have actually come here to take money from us and they have been unable to perform.
DDH: Are these three dredging companies?
Akintonwa: I can name them for you, as a matter of fact, the Police has just recovered some money from one of them (names withheld).
DDH: So this is what forced your company into dredging?
Akintonwa: What forced us is that we need to have (service), much as we have acquired all these equipment, and these people are messing us up, six months we don’t get service, and you know you have to deposit money before people move in their dredger. But because of these bioremediation studies, degradation studies, we said what do we do with four companies in Lagos failing us. They can’t go in, they can’t work to terms… And the dredging companies that you see, the way they are doing the job is not acceptable to us. As an advanced environmental technological company, we cannot let those kinds of people work for us, even though they are even unreliable, most of their dredgers are old, they don’t do things right the way it should be done. That is why we say, we are the only company in Nigeria now doing what is called eco-dredging. From my conference experiences in the USA, we found out that most of the dredgers being used are Ellicott brand and the USA is highly advanced in the area we are working. Before they began sending samples to us, they used to ship them to the US for analysis in Houston. It became very difficult to ship samples out because of terrorist concerns. So that gave us a lot of patronage. So that’s how we got in contact with Ellicott and were able to acquire a 670, one of their medium type dredgers. It came in December 2006 and is working right now.
DDH: When you talk of eco-dredging, what does it involve?
Akintonwa: Eco-dredging means that you have to dredge taking into consideration, the total environment. We just don’t take a dredger and start dredging anyhow. Before we do our dredging, we do a good environmental impact assessment (EIA), in that area. That is one. Through the EIA you have to know what is going to be the after-effect of this dredging and look at how you ameliorate it after you have finished. That is second. And you have to look at the fauna and flora in that area. Flora means that you are going to dredge and it is not going to hinder these smaller plants, and fauna because you are working in an ecological chain, all these small organisms you have to care for them. And the run-off water too, we make sure that most of them don’t just run off like that, we filter them. That is what we call eco-dredging.
DDH: When you did the remediation of Ibeshe River as you mentioned, how much quantity of polluted sand did you remove from the seabed and how much clean sand did you put back in? Did you have to bring the same quantity back?
Akintonwa: You don’t have to…depending on the coastal area, you want to make sure the coast is cleaned. When we did the one we did, first of all, we established that this is a major problem. The Senate Committee came up to look at it before they could approve the funds for Lagos State Government. It was through the Ecological Fund, which the state government didn’t even know. It is meant to look after ecological disaster in your own area and see how you can contain it. For example, there are so many ecological disasters in Lagos State that government doesn’t even know, and we are tired of calling on them. Look at all these pipeline explosions that have been going on, these are ecological disasters. Look at the (Ikeja Cantonment) bomb blast (of 1999) where we lost so many lives. Those are ecological disasters which the Lagos State government has to get something to go and correct. We have done one for them at a place called Baruwa village. If you go down to Baruwa village, you dig a borehole or a well, it’s oil that will come out from that place. There are about 150 houses there, NNPC have come into the area but the technology that is needed to bio-remediate that place, an underground water treatment plant technology, nobody can do it in this country. We have even brought in foreign experts to come and take a look at it. It has contaminated all the water aquifers in that place that when the people dig a borehole or well in their own houses, what comes out is 50% oil.
DDH: Baruwa is in what part of Lagos?
Akintonwa: That is Ejigbo area.
DDH: Well that place has a history of these oil pollutions, spillages, etc…
Akintonwa: If you don’t do the study, you cannot say this is what happened. Nigerians like to talk and talk…
DDH: Because acting is expensive …(General laughter)
Akintonwa: So, it’s easier to talk. But these are things you must be able to do scientifically to say this is what happened and this is the level of pollution, this is the level of destruction. As I have told you, you cannot say that unless you have done this analysis. When we take you to one of these rivers that we are talking about; to put it back into shape, you need to dredge (out) at least over 500,000 cubic metres of sand, clay and mud. Again, in remediation of mining sites, that is another area but people don’t even look at that. The closure of land fills after they have filled it up, you know we have so many landfills all over Nigeria, they are not properly closed.
DDH: Is it not just to cover them with sand and go your way? (General laughter)
Akintonwa: At least, that’s what people know. Of course, you know that it is not as easy as that now. All the landfills you see around here (Toll Gate area of Lagos), there are a lot of chemicals. At night the gas is being formed, and that can cause explosions and you see flares from the landfills. In this landfill close to us here, all the wastes in Lagos are being dumped by the refuse trucks, but after it is filled, you need to close it up properly. There’s a lot of treatment that needs to be done. You have to do monitoring to know what gases are released. When it rains, the weather brings up all these chemicals, you would be able to know what they are dumping in these land fills. A lot of them dump chemicals from industry to landfills, which they shouldn’t do. They should have had proper treatment plants in their own sites. But most of the companies are now building treatment plants in their sites because when we go around and get something like that, as a research laboratory, we send report to government. They now go and talk to them. In one of your remarks, you mentioned LASEPA, it’s actually necessary….
DDH: Yes, that was in respect of the agency requiring EIAs from sand stockpilers at Badoreh Ajah…
Akintonwa: There is a lot of problems there too. The government sometimes doesn’t understand what they should be asking of them. EIA is needed when you want to start an industry or you want to extend your industry. Before you put up this industry you want to establish what are the possible socio-economic effects of your industry, health impact of this industry on the people of the area. But most important thing people don’t understand about EIA is that it is to help you too. All the problems they are having now would have been treated if they came up with a proper EIA. Community issues will have been dealt with in EIA. You would have talked to the community to know what you expect from them, and they would have allowed you to understand their feelings. But when industries now come, everybody starts fighting one another. You don’t do EIA after you have been operating, what you do is environmental audit of your activity, that is what LASEPA should be asking them to do.
On how Lagos State Government can exploit its aquatic endowment
Akintonwa: We want to do a real environmental survey of Lagos waters. Lagos State government could, instead of all these buses and demarcations on the roads, move people through the water lanes. Where are they going, Mile 2, Ajah, Victoria Island…all of them surrounded by water from point of origin to destination. I think they have realized that the way they are going about it now, like everything government, is without finesse. What they should have done now is, you have a map of water lanes, we need to do that in Lagos State. After that, you need to do proper channeling. That channeling, you are going to take a lot of sand up from it. One of the things we have on the drawing board now is what they are doing in Dubai, Al Jamerach Project. We have two projects we are looking at. We are going to create some islands around Lagos that you wont believe it, with dredging. Everybody wants to live in Victoria Island but in this one, you are going to live in some artificial islands surrounded by water, like you have in Dubai where you can go with a fine boat to your house! There are so many areas that we are working on to create artificial islands that are going to be exclusive – we call it green living.
On the national control of dredging and sand mining…
Akintonwa: There must be a good control. One must not only control (the fact of) do these people have knowledge (of dredging)?. Most of the people in dredging don’t have knowledge, they don’t have the manpower, they just want to dredge sand for sale. You don’t just take a dredger and start dredging all over. The country too must determine, within five to ten years, how much sand must I allow them to take? Because that sand you are seeing didn’t form there in one day. It took thousands of years of sedimentary accumulation. Environment is now a global issue and people are even taking the challenge individually, like Al Gore now, that is his pet baby. All over the world and even businesses now must do business to be environment-friendly. If you cannot meet environmental and safety standards, then it doesn’t worth doing it. So our dredge has been busy since it came and as a matter of fact, we are being invited to West Africa now to do some work for them in this area of environmental remediation.