On Saturday the 8th of July 2017 an outcry on Instagram by a lady, that this vast land of choice real estate in Lagos is sinking caught my attention. Even though it was a naïve expression, the realities of the flood event of that day confounded many. The experience, pictures, and videos shared on social media after the heavy rain spurred Lagosians into thinking of what the future holds for the region.
Lekki and Victoria island covers over 5000 hectares of land, just about the size of the country San Marino In Europe. Victoria Island and Lekki is home to some of the most expensive real estate in Africa and comparable to real estate value in cities like Jakarta in Indonesia and Warsaw in Poland. The terrain and landscape of this region can be compared to that of the Netherlands but while the Dutch have fortified their cities with dikes, flood gates, dams and sand dunes, we treat ours with levity.
Surrounding Water Bodies
Victoria Island and Lekki is bounded in the north and south by two great water bodies, the Lagos lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean respectively. This makes it vulnerable to tidal behaviour of the waters. Victoria Island and Lekki Phase one is drained by the Five-Cowrie creek, a water body stretching from banana island to the Bonny camp where it flows into the Lagos harbour or Commodore channel which is the only discharge outlet for the Lagos lagoon into the Atlantic Ocean in the Western part of Nigeria.
The nearest other outflow for the Lagos waters is in Cotonou in the Republic of Benin via the Badagry creek. The Itirin canal stretches from the Kuramo waters in Victoria island runs through the premises of Mobil Producing Nigeria head office and flows into Five Cowrie creek. It is a significant primary drainage canal that helps to remove rain water from most part of the Victoria island during a rainfall. There also exist several secondary drains that help to convey rainwater from interior parts of Victoria island into the Cowrie creek; they can be seen crossing Kofo Abayomi street at several locations.
History of Sand Filling in Lagos
The act of Swamp reclamation or popularly referred to as sand filling in pre-historic Lagos started as far back as the 1800’s. It commenced with the digging of McGregor canal in 1898 by governor William McGregor, a medical doctor and the governor of the then Lagos Colony. His activity divided the island into what we now know as Lagos Island and Ikoyi and help drain them. Swamps were sand filled in the process to curtail mosquitoes. Large scale commencement of hydraulic dredging in Lagos started in 1926 with the sand fill of wetlands in Ijora. Swamp reclamation later extended to Idumagbo, Yaba, Festac and many other wetlands. Sand filling activities continue extensively in recent times with the flourishing real estate business in Lekki. A major coastal reclamation in Victoria island is the ongoing Eko Atlantic city.
What Could Be Causing This Flood Menace?
Normally when it rains, water from our roofs, pavements and from the streets flow into small tertiary drains right in front of buildings, then multiples of this small drains should congregate into bigger sized secondary drains. These secondary drains should then discharge their waters into large primary water ways we call canals. This canals then offloads the collected water into a large water body just like the Lagos Lagoon. The Lagoon discharges into the Atlantic Ocean.
In an ideal situation, the entire secondary and primary drainage infrastructure for any area should be pre-planned before people move in to do developments. The land area should determine the size of tertiary drains and the route for secondary and primary drains should be established in a holistic plan before properties are sold off or proposed developments are approved by the government.
Land sold by “Omo-Oniles”, the aboriginal owners of land in Lagos, are often void of a defined route for these secondary and primary water ways. The quest for maximum profiteering blinds the need for a sustainable future development. Normally, before housing and road developments, the ground would soak some of the rainwater into underground water ways called aquifers and the remaining moves on the surface into nearby streams. It is a seamless process causing no harm to anyone. Once we begin to move in and build our houses and roads and business places, we cover up those lands with impermeable concrete and steel surfaces leaving little or no means for the ground to do its original work of percolation. This causes more water to flow on the surface and therefore needing more artificial networks of streams which are our drainages. The problem is, we do not plan holistically in most cases to ensure that all of these waters can find their ways effortlessly into existing larger water bodies like the Lagos lagoon without hampering such developments.
The Lagos state government, through the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Physical Planning, had since made it compulsory that a comprehensive storm water management plan be submitted before layout plans are approved. But then, how well are these followed through during implementation? Are these plans considered holistically? A proposed site seeking approval might probably be a small area in comparison to the possible watershed or existing settlements which could be hundreds of hectares of land needing a water way through such proposed site to discharge its rainwater into the lagoon. For example, it is possible that somewhere around Lekki foreshore you require a 50m wide canal to convey all waters from Chevy view estate which is 3km away. Same as many other settlements in the south below the Lekki Epe express way and this 50m wide canals needed to run from south to the north of Lekki at several intervals but then, all these lands have been sold without considering the big picture. This should lead us to the new land reclamations especially in the northern boundaries of Lekki town, right into the Lagos lagoon. The more land is reclaimed especially around the ends of existing canals the more the distance or time it requires for such canal to pour out its water into the lagoon. This increase in time and distance will increase the time it takes water to leave the streets of Lekki and Victoria island and during a heavy rainfall, this build up causes a major flood. This situation will be further aggravated if existing drainage system is not consistently maintained from accumulated debris and waste. I am not saying that land cannot be reclaimed but then proper considerations must be in place to accommodate existing settlements, such consideration could be as much as sacrificing 50 hectares out of a 150 hectares development just to allow for a detention pond as a buffer for others.
What of the Eko Atlantic City?
I see the Eko Atlantic city as a project to save the eventual loss of the entire Victoria island Lekki and a great part of Ibeju Lekki. As at the year 1999, the shoreline of the Atlantic Ocean was already abutting Ahmadu Bello Way. At the time, the properties in the backshore of Victoria island especially on Ahmadu Bello, Bishop Oluwole, Tiamiyu Savage, Akin Adesola, Adetokunbo Ademola, were already under threat. It was only a matter of time that half or eventually all of Victoria island would be no more. The ebbing away of over 3.5km of the Bar Beach shore land which I still met growing up in Lagos in the 90’s was caused by the creation of the east and west moles (big rocks piled up in two lines) in Tarkwa Bay. These rocks were stacked in place by the British around 1900 to form the Lagos harbour also called Commodore channel, that allows international ships come into the Lagos ports in Apapa to berth. The rocks cut off natural sand replenishments due to sand transport from the west coast lines of Lomé, Cotonou towards Lagos and by so doing causes the Bar Beach to disappear.
Since the Lagos Habour is the only outlet for the Lagos lagoon in Lagos and nowhere within the Bar Beach performs this function, the Eko Atlantic city cannot be the cause of the floods in Victoria island or Lekki. Or could it be that the disappearance of the Bar beach sand was a temporary relief, via the Commodore channel, for the inadequacies of Lekki? A situation that would have eventually swallowed the region. In fact, I see the rebirth of a once ‘lost city’ in the west coast of Africa.
Impact of Flood On The Economy Of Lagos
It is a well-known fact that land is one of the greatest sources of wealth for Lagos state. Infrastructure such as effective and adequate drainage system should be of utmost priority to the government especially in this region, being a low-lying area, having elevations barely over 2 meters above mean sea level and even much lower in many parts of Lekki. The high cost of relief and recovery from flood event within this region will adversely impact on the investment in infrastructure and other developments in many other parts of the state as a whole. Consistent flooding will cause the private sector to lose confidence in investing long-term in the region. The influx of blue chip investments that can bring high tax revenue for the state will diminish.
What Can the Government Do?
The Lagos state government should invest in carrying out detailed and holistic studies that will establish the nature and behaviour of the existing drainage system of the entire region during a worst rainfall scenario.
Such studies should establish the deficit and propose new routes for canals and secondary drainage systems that will help make up the deficit. Existing developments obstructing major water ways might need to go. Places like VGC, as well as many parts of Lekki like Agungi, etc. might require Dikes and huge pumping stations to relieve the existing developments which are built on low terrains.
Of most importance, Ibeju Lekki is fast developing, mistakes already made in Lekki should not be allowed to perpetuate itself in this area. Places like Eputu, Lakwe, Sango Tedo, Langbasa are already showing deep signs of impending catastrophe. The government would need to dig several networks of artificial canals wide enough to cater for the future of Ibeju and not just depend on existing natural water ways that nature created for itself thousands of years ago.
As already being practiced by the Lagos state government, real estate developments in this region should be carefully assessed for holistic drainage system vis-a-vis existing developments within the watershed of such sites and compliance should be strictly monitored in the course of construction. The government should establish a minimum elevation of sand filling for all developments in this region.
Prepared urban master plans should feature routes for both primary and secondary drainage systems.
Effective and consistent maintenance on drainage system should be conducted in every area especially well before the beginning of the rainy season.
In conclusion, we can create a better Lagos for us all. Thank you.
Olajide Dosunmu is an infrastructure development expert and director at Hanorado Global Solutions Ltd.