….Ondo Govt says “It’s a huge project, we cannot handle it alone“
located on the frontlines of climate change and exploration activities of oil firms, Ayetoro, a coastal community in Ilaje Local Council, is threatened with extinction, even as it faces ever-worsening sea incursions and rising sea levels; Guardian reported.
For tourists, tides are always a beautiful sight to behold at shorelines, but for Ayetoro residents, the waves have become a nightmare: a reminder of the community slipping into the belly of the Atlantic Ocean.
The theocratic community, also known as ‘Happy City’, was established in 1947, and is situated along the Atlantic coast in Ondo State’s southern region.
Ayetoro used to be recognised as one of the most prosperous riverine settlements in the country, due to its thriving fish trade. It also flourished because of its political and social framework, which guaranteed equality and a sense of belonging for all indigenes.
But following devastating sea incursions and surges, the Happy City has become a nightmare: a ‘Sad City’ for the inhabitants.
Ayetoro is on the verge of being completely lost to the sea, if nothing is done urgently. Also, the residents are gradually losing hope that their abode of many years would receive desired attention from relevant authorities.
According to findings, the sea incursion in Ayetoro is primarily caused by climate change, leading to rise in sea levels along the coastline. The situation is further exacerbated by human activities.
But these explanations do not hold water with the residents. As far as they are concerned, the floodgates of doom were opened in the 1970s, when crude oil was discovered in commercial quantities in the seabed. Then came visits by multinational oil companies with drilling ships and other equipment to extract the liquid gold.
Since the rush for oil began – the community claims – it has been experiencing turbulent sea incursions and oil spillage, which have rendered the inhabitants helpless, jobless, and homeless, while many properties have been washed away.
Worried by continued neglect of their community, the residents held various forums concerning the development, vowing to take appropriate action if the menace continued. They noted that the yearly disaster caused unbearable hardships. They highlighted the fact that most parts of the community had become submerged, owing to the incursions.
They said over a decade after a multi-billion naira shore protection project, aimed at rescuing the community was awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), nothing is on the ground to stop the surges that have washed more than half of the community away.
A particular surge, which happened toward the end of 2020, reportedly caused the displacement of nearly 2,000 people and the destruction of 200 homes.
The telltale signs of the disastrous incursions could be seen in every area of the community, and in the agony that sits on the faces of the inhabitants.
The traditional ruler of the community, the Ogeleoyinbo of Ayetoro, Oba Micah Olaseni Ajijo, attributed the frequent surge to activities of oil firms in the area, particularly, in Ilaje communities.
“That is the reality of rising temperatures and sea levels due to carbon emissions. The international agreement on carbon caps has not been implemented. And oil companies, off the coast of Ayetoro, still flare their gas, not minding the environmental challenges facing coastal communities.
“As there is no social justice, there is also no environmental justice in the policies of the political class. We only cry to God, as the sea eats our land and coastal towns in Nigeria. May our God and Creator give us peace and command the ranging waves to be still,” he said.
According to Emmanuel Aralu, Secretary of the Ayetoro Youth Congress, the latest incursion that happened on April 16, 2023, affected over 500 houses and displaced many residents.
Aralu said all efforts to draw attention of the state and federal governments to address the yearly incident failed, regretting, “the government has abandoned the community to the fangs of ecological disasters”.
He explained: “The ocean surge has been threatening the existence of Ayetoro community, and this has been happening for the past 20 years. The level of destruction cannot be quantified again. From 2015 till date, the community has lost over 10 kilometres of land to the ravaging sea surge.
“This time around, no fewer than 500 to 700 buildings have been destroyed or washed off, with properties worth millions of naira washed away. We have cried to the state and federal governments, but all efforts to get attention have proved abortive.”
Aralu disclosed that contractors had been mobilised to the site twice to dredge the ocean but said no work was done. He added that the government never bothered to query or probe persons behind the contract, even as residents die yearly.
He blamed the state government and the NDDC for turning a blind eye to the natural disaster due to what he described as their failure to complete the N6.5 billion shoreline protection contract awarded to a company, Atlantic Dredgers Limited (DAL), in 2006.
“We are calling on government, at all levels, to, please, come to our aid. We appeal to all relevant agencies and authorities concerned to help save Ayetoro community from extinction.”
On the delay in tackling the ecological disaster, Commissioner for Environment in the state, Sunday Akinwalere, blamed bureaucratic bottlenecks in accessing a coastal erosion fund from the World Bank
He said the project would cost about N30 billion, adding that the state government does not have financial muscle to take on a job of such magnitude.
“The governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, has done quite a lot about the Ayetoro issue. One thing we have discussed much at the State Executive Council that bothers Mr. Governor’s mind and the entire exco is the Ayetoro sea incursion.
“Between 2019 and 2020, under the New Map arrangement, I think the World Bank’s New Map arrangement is a counterpart funding intervention. Under the New Map agenda, the engineering design of the Ayetoro sea incursion was done.
“As at that time, it should gulp nothing less than N19 billion. But because of time lapse, the New Map arrangement was to end in about 18 months when we got the opportunity to access the window. But very unfortunately, Ayetoro was to be done in about 36 months. So, there was no way the arrangement could adequately address the problem at Ayetoro,” he explained.
The commissioner said: “Apart from that, we have engaged the West Africa Coastal Area Management Programme. It is also a World Bank arrangement for coastal erosion in the West African sub-region.
“Ayetoro has been listed for intervention. Before things could be done, the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Environment and the Federal Ministry of Finance, would still meet with the World Bank to discuss how to handle it.
“Except for our efforts in enlistment and other things, we are yet to get the green light. Apart from that, we have made several visits to the World Bank itself, so that we can present the Ayetoro sea incursion as a sole intervention, meaning we don’t need to add it to other interventions.”
Akinwalere concluded: “It is a project that no state government can handle. By now, the price must have skyrocketed to nothing less than N30 billion. It is a very daunting situation. But currently, the governor has constituted a committee, headed by the deputy governor, to look into all areas affecting our coastal stretch, most especially Ayetoro itself. We are doing everything to salvage the situation at Ayetoro.
“The governor empathises with our people there, and the government is mindful of their situation. We identify with the situation.”