By Edmund Chilaka
Was the recent ban on sand mining throughout Lagos State triggered by a violent clash of rival cult gangs at Ebute Ilaje in Bariga in late January this year, as some national dailies reported? Although subsequent announcements by the government did not link the incident with the stoppage, the coincidence could not be denied.
DDH investigations show that during the clash, one of the cult gangs burnt a house belonging to a member of the rival gang, resulting in the death of a 65 year-old woman, who was sick and could not escape the inferno.
Subsequently, a security report on the matter got to the Governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, who went to the trouble spot during the January environmental sanitation Saturday to see things for himself.
According to an eye witness who lives in the area, after touring the burnt house and the surrounding locality, including the Ebute Ilaje artisanal sand miners’ site, an emergent security report implicated the waterfront operations there. Some sources said that the government got information that the cultists, who constantly scuffled in the area, used to escape by speed boats which took off from that waterfront. Thus, the sand miners were suspected to be responsible for aiding the escape of the cultists.
They were reportedly blamed for tacit support for the cultists since they did not raise alarm over the cult clash and the fatal fire incident, hence a stop-work order was handed down soon after the Governor’s visit to the area. When DDH visited the area one week after the Governor’s visit, a police patrol van was seen parked at the sand site. Local sources said that suspected members of the cult gangs in the area were being picked up by the authorities.
However, when the magazine interviewed the secretary of the Ifesowaso Association, the sand miner’s group at Ebute Ilaje, Mr. Olu Eremiye, he absolved his association members of any linkage with the cultists. He said they did not know nor support the cultists in any way and have made representations to the state government to state their case. Although the stop-work order was being observed at the site, he hoped that their site would be re-opened the following week after the Governor considers their plea.
Nevertheless, two weeks after the ban, more clarifications via an official government statement emerged, attributing the measure to the environmental hazards of dredging activities in the state and the non-payment of royalties and annual license and permit fees by the operators. With the clarification, there was a slight sigh of relief by the operators who had feared that the ban meant a fresh round of the cat-and-mouse relationship that used to exist between them and state regulatory agencies in the sector over what the former termed “double taxation” and high license fees.
At a one-day stakeholders meeting organized by the Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront and Infrastructure Development (MWID), the ministry engaged the services of an environment expert, Dr. Reginah Folorunsho, from the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography and Marine Researcher, to demonstrate the delicate nature of the state’s aquatic ecosystem.
Using a Powerpoint presentation, Dr. Folorunsho revealed the environmental degradations mechanized sand mining had caused across the state and the consequent fall in the total volume of sand left to be mined. It was obvious from the presentation that serious remedial measures were needed to arrest the anomalies and restore sanity to the environment and the practice of the dredgers.
In a keynote address, the Commissioner of Waterfront and Infrastructure Development, Mr. Ade Akinsanya, reiterated the ban on dredging activities in the state pending the correction of the observed anomalies.
A list of guidelines was later distributed to all attendants for compliance before individual dredging sites would be permitted to re-open.
In a remarkable twist of events, the state liaison officer of National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), Malam Sambo, attended the forum and spoke in unity with the state government despite the history of disagreements between the two sides.
It will be recalled that since 2007, NIWA and the state government had been in a face-off over the state government’s repeal of the NIWA Act to pave way for the establishment of the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA), which NIWA termed as illegal and unconstitutional, the subject of a subsisting court case. Moreover, the activities of the Waterfront Ministry since then had not gone down well with NIWA which alleged undue interferences by the former in its regulatory activities. At the one-day stakeholders’ meeting, however, the sudden rapprochement was suspicious to some operators. Others wondered whether it was a consequence of the emergence of the All Peoples Congress government at the state and federal levels, unlike the situation in the past.
Operators were also heard whispering whether the administrative shakeups in dredging regulation and the new prohibition of dredging activities at Ado Road in Ajah were pointers to hidden plans by powerful personalities in the state to corner the entire land for a proposed mega estate said to be in the offing, waiting for an auspicious time.
Aside from NIWA, MWID and LASWA, other agencies that equally regulate dredging and sand mining in the state include the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD), the Lagos State Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and the Federal and State ministries of Environment.
While NIWA charges a royalty of N40 per ton of sand mined, the MMSD charges N100 per ton for the same subject.
The Lagos state ministries, LASWA and MWID, require dredgers to obtain licenses for their dredgers in three categories of A, B and C, depending on their sizes. Also, operators need to obtain a license for the sand dump site.
Ab initio, any dredging company which plans to own a river-sand mining site must apply to the NIWA for cadastral license, as an approval for the specific location’s geographic coordinates.
The application presupposes that the applicant has bought or leased the land from the land owners and enjoys their backing. A similar application to MMSD and approval process will be made if the sand mining project is in a shore location. For large-scale reclamation projects, the Federal Ministry of Environment also charges additional royalty per ton of sand dumped as well as an approved environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project.
Nevertheless, the sand mining industry in Lagos state is the most diverse and controversial of all the sand markets by state in Nigeria. Many reasons account for this. The state produces and uses the largest quantity of sand in Nigeria as well as absorbs supplies from neighbouring Ogun State to satisfy the domestic, commercial and industrial needs of the estimated megacity population of over 20 million, plus suburban inhabitants.
The heavy demand also arises from the fast pace of civil construction projects and the constant need to reclaim the land for most infrastructure works due to its marine topography. Being an aquatic state, lots of sand and concrete piling are required for foundation laying. Coupled with major road constructions to Epe and Badagry, massive real estate developments and Free Trade Zone mega reclamation projects at the Lekki peninsula, and the springing up of whole new cities from the sea, such as Eko Atlantic City, Lagos State easily consumes an estimated 40 million to 50 million cubic metres of sand per annum since the new millennium.