Save a last-minute intervention, Ayetoro, a coastal community in South-west Nigeria, may soon be swept into the bin of history.
This is as a result of natural and human activities, worsened by the abandonment of a multi-billion naira shore protection project, which was first awarded in 2004 and awarded again in 2009 by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Ayetoro, otherwise known as “Happy City” because of the unique and communal lifestyle of its inhabitants, is located in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State.
But today, the community, which is one of about 400 villages and towns that make up the local government area, has lost its happiness. it is now almost a ghost of its old self.
The rise in sea level – a result of both global warming and oil exploration – has led to floods that have washed away homes, the cemetery and the iconic worship centre of the town.
Sixteen years after the multi-billion-naira shore protection project aimed at rescuing the community was awarded by the NDDC, with billions of naira already paid the contractors, nothing is on the ground to stop the ocean surge that is fast washing the community away.
The NDDC’s intervention
As early as 2004, just four years after its creation, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) – a government agency tasked with providing essential services for oil-producing communities – awarded the contract for the construction of a shoreline protective wall designed with a geo-tube technology in Ayetoro.
Gallet Nigeria Limited was awarded the original contract at a cost of N6.4 billion, of which 25 per cent was reportedly paid. Later, Gallet was adjudged to be incapable of handling the project.
While it was not clear whether additional money was paid to the contractor before the revocation of the contract, in 2009, the contract was re-awarded to Dredging Atlantic Limited at an undisclosed cost. The new contractor, which according to NDDC was selected after a competitive bidding process, was reportedly paid 15 per cent of the cost for mobilisation.
However, 11 years after the new contractor took over, and 16 years after the contract was first awarded, there is nothing on ground to show any intervention by the government.
Happiness turned agony
The community dwellers told our reporter that in the beginning, the discovery of oil in Ayetoro’s neighbourhood did not derail the peaceful co-existence and orderliness enjoyed by the people until exploration activities in nearby communities contributed to rising sea level, thereby gradually making the town uninhabitable.
According to Priscilla Offiong, in a report entitled; “Nigeria Relies on Oil Despite Having Large Coal Reserves,” and published by Climate Scorecard, an organisation focused on environmental sustainability, Ondo State contributes 60,000 per barrel of crude oil per day to the country’s oil production. Ilaje Local Government Area is said to be the state’s only oil-producing local government.
The 60,000 BPD, Ms Offiong noted, amounts to about 3.7 per cent of Nigeria’s total oil production with the state ranked 5th among Nigeria’s eight oil producing states captured by the NDDC law.
But what was meant to be a blessing soon turned into a curse for the peace-loving people as the once-friendly atmosphere became so violent that a hitherto happy city has now been enveloped by gloom.
Residents of the community point accusing fingers at the oil exploration activities at nearby oil well such as Opuekepa, Omuro, Ojumole, Malu, Eko, Parabe, operated by oil giants including Chevron Nigeria Limited
Experts on possible causes of ocean surge
An expert in Marine Biology, Ecosystem Health and Risk Assessment, Lucian Chukwu, linked ocean surge to natural occurrences and consequences of human activities.
Mr Chukwu, a professor and former dean of the postgraduate college at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, said Ondo State has Nigeria’s longest coastline of about 180 kilometres, noting that the impacts of various structures such as drill ridge “and others that can change the hydrodynamic properties of the ocean water affect wave patterns and eventually lead to surge.”
He said; “Now, this ocean surge usually happens during the rainy season. Oftentimes, between the months of April and October but usually more in August. It is usually as a result of meteorological changes which are caused by something called roaring forties – strong winds that we normally have in the southern hemisphere.