Estimated reading time: 46 minute(s)
BY Fasilat Oluwuyi
In the early hours of the morning at about 2a.m, Kazeem and his colleagues would jump into their boat, fire up the engine and paddle to the deepest part of the waters in search of fishes.
This is the daily practice of fishermen in Iwopin and their survival is tied to fishing despite risks. They believe that early bird catches the worm hence the need for setting out to fish early.
In Ogun State, Iwopin is a famous fishing community in the Ogun Waterside area. Over 90 percent of the residents are involved in artisanal fishing with its river being adjudged the largest fishing community in the state.
For residents in the community, no other job serves them better than fishing. Fishing, though strenuous, has become a major source of income for residents who depend largely on Iwopin river for survival.
Fishing in Iwopin is done in batches. While some leave for the early morning, others alternate between the late evening, 6:30pm, and midnight, 12am.
Kazeem and his colleagues, after 6 hours of fishing expedition, would return with a basket full of fish to sell to impatient traders and marketers. But, Kazeem’s daily struggles do not match up with his income as certain factors now limit his target.
From his face, one could tell that Kazeem was not satisfied with the basket of fishes he caught after the long day fishing expedition on this day, Monday, 5th October. His output would have been more than the one basket had the lingering challenge of water pollution in the river been surmounted or even non-existent.
” Today, I could only get a basket of fish, not the way it is. Anytime we see much fish we are happy but when we don’t there’s nothing we can do. This is our only source of livelihood.
” We usually go out to catch fish early with the hope of coming back with many fish to sell but most times we get disappointed as we might not get up to what we expected” he said
Fishing production in the community is hampered by the indiscriminate discharge of waste, erosion and human activities leading to a decline in fish production. Iwopin is no exception.
Aforementioned hindrances in the river has led to a decline in fish production for Kazeem and other fishermen in Iwopin as waste discharge is littered and scattered on the ground close to and in the river.
Residents Ignorant of waste management
Ignorantly, fishermen in Iwopin also contribute to the water pollution. Kazeem and his colleagues returned the waste water that had been used to clean their boat back into the river contributing to water Pollution
Close to the river on another end is the Iwopin wharf where those on boat transport from Ikorodu, Epe to Iwopin or to other neighbouring communities disembark.
When this reporter visited the wharf on a Tuesday, 6th, October, she observed how household dirt, dead animals and other waste products are being disposed into the river. Similarly, while some are accustomed to washing of motorcycles and other equipment in the river, others would urinate into the river and also defecate close by.
Soap and detergents flow freely into the water. This practice has been identified to be dangerous to life under water as it causes a destruction to the external mucus layers protecting fishes from bacteria and parasites as well as affect the critters fish eat disrupting their cell membranes and removing the protective waxes that help them cover the insects they eat leaving them to die due amidst water loss.
While the water has been polluted by waste and other human activity, unused fishing nets and equipment were also left abandoned at the brim of the river to rot.
Water hyacinth, the fish killer
Water hyacinth popularly referred to as “Gbeborun” has been identified by fishermen in Iwopin including other fishing communities in Ogun as the major water pollution affecting fishes.
The water hyacinth is an aquatic plants that grows on water. It is a plant that clogs waterways used by local Fishermen for transportation. It is a major environmental concern in many countries.
Water hyacinth usually grows on the river. The water from this hyacinth is a polluted water that flows once or twice a year. Once this water hyacinth mixes with the fish it results in death.
In Iwopin, Water hyacinth grows on the river sometimes, but not always, leaving many of the fishes to die.” disclosed Olajide Balogun, a fisherman in Iwopin.
Aliu Ogunsanya, another fisherman in the community corroborates Balogun saying that fish in the river will die if the water becomes heavily polluted.
Meanwhile, Kazeem Omolaja, a resident in Iwopin, told this reporter that water pollution affects fishes but not all the time.
Omolaja said “There are times, the fishes die from water pollution, the fish sometimes have some kind of diseases on their body making them unfit for consumption but it’s not common”.
Another resident, Pastor. Francis Olowojaye corroborated Omolaja saying the water pollution in the community was due to lack of drainage system.
Olowojaye said the Government should provide a good drainage for the community to further reduce the water pollution and erosion issues.
Water pollution everywhere
On Thursday October, 28th during a visit to Oni river another fishing community away from Iwopin, the water though not really large but major fishing activities take place, waste particles and plastic could be sighted around in some part of the river.
Samuel Okoro, a fisherman in Oni who has been in the fishing business for over 20 years was approached by this reporter.
He got off his boat after the tedious fishing of the day. Evidently, looking tired, Okoro says he sees nothing wrong with the waste flowing into the river.
He said the water gets polluted but it has no effect on the fish especially as the water keeps flowing.
“The water is not a stagnant water, e no fit affects the fishes, e just dey go in own” he said.
But experts nullified Okoro’s claim as ignorance and improper understanding is what affects them.
Environmental expert, Wonne Afronelly said dirt and other discharge possess a serious threat to the fishes in all the rivers.
She noted that marine debris, plastic pollution and oil spill causes a lot of problems including instant death, suffocation and entanglement of aquatics, starvation leading to death of many aquatic animals who have ingested these plastic particles, damage and habitat degradation, economic loss to fishing and maritime industries, threat to human health and safety amongst others.
Afronelly said these are very grievous threats to the fishing industry as many species are now depleting in stock and some going into forced extinction.
Further visits to Imakun- Omi another riverine area and a fishing community in Ogun Waterside shows clearly that the entire fishing community has the problem of water pollution.
In Imakun- Omi ,refuse dumps were abandoned and the major water pollutants ranging from plastic are seen on this river.
Corroborating other fishermen, Shehu Mustapha Olumope, is a 70- year old fisherman in Imakun Omi who has been in the fishing business for over 40 years further lamented the adverse effect water hyacinth has on fishes.
He said the major threat to fishes in the river. “Water hyacinth kills fish greatly, plastic waste is much here but they cannot stay as it is a big river.”
Ogun river hugely stockpiled by waste
In Abeokuta lies the Ogun river flowing across major communities. The river stretches across several areas but noticeably is the stretch around the Lafenwa area popularly referred to as ‘Ori Omi’.
Although fishing expeditions are highly here, large amounts of waste discharge into the water as well as defecation have affected the cycle of fishes.
Residents in the Ori-Omi Lafenwa area see the river conserving fish as a dumping ground for their waste.
As the reporter moved near the river, the sound of waste being poured into the water by a resident in the area got her attention. The young lady unmindful of this reporter’s presence emptied her basket of rotten oranges along with other waste directly into the river.
Few minutes after the young lady left, another middle aged woman came in with her bag of waste dumping it very close to the river.
As the river housing fishes flows freely, so also is the large amount of waste following in suit.
With a water bottle in his hand, this reporter sighted another young man heading towards the water direction. With the uneasiness on his face apparently he was going to ease himself very close to the river.
Alas! The reporter’s instinct was right! Undisturbed by this reporter’s presence he quickly unboxed himself to answer the call of nature bending very close to the river. This human waste will eventually get washed by erosion into the river, sadly getting the water polluted for the fishes as faecal and other waste materials have been identified to be a threat to fish health.
While some die off others contact certain diseases making them unfit for consumption.When water source becomes contaminated due to pollution, expert says it can lead to health issues in humans, such as cancer and cardiovascular conditions.
Lack of Proper Waste Disposal System
Further checks revealed that the area lacks a proper waste disposal system as erosion waste was greatly noticeable along all the minor stream points linking the river.
A visit to another river, Sokori river, in Abeokuta shows the huge waste discharge also prevail.
Fishermen in these areas also gets affected by the frequent and enormous water pollution.
“Most of the time, we don’t get enough fish in the river and sometimes fish die too,” said Kayode a fisherman in Abeokuta.
Apart from wastes, activities of abattoirs around the rivers are a major contributor to water pollution. Two major abattoirs, Akinolugbade and Lafenwa visited in Abeokuta, have their waste water channel into the Ogun river.
Operators of these abattoirs are not oblivious of the damage this could cause for fish channeling their waste into gutters directly into the river.
Blood stains, bone or skin remnants and dirty water from the Abbattior’s flows through the drainage back into the river.
Aside the Abbattior’s waste in Lafenwa abattoir meat skin popularly called ponmo get washed off and cleaned into the river while car wash were also cited operating close to the rivers.
Water Pollution, a major problem for Fishermen- President, Ogun Fishermen
Reacting, the President of the Fishermen Association in Ogun State, Mr. Sanni Olalekan said water pollution, amongst other things, is one major problem they encounter.
Olalekan who resides in Iwopin said the community though houses the largest fishing activities in Ogun State does not have a drainage to help prevent erosion run-off and harmful waste from flowing into the river.
“Water pollution is one of the major things affecting us here, there are times we find it difficult to fish and fishes die greatly leading to low production.”
Also, Chairman of the Fishers Association in Iwopin, Chief Waheed Eriogun described the water hyacinth problem as a fish killer.
The 40- year old man did not see water pollution as a threat to fish life, noting that water hyacinth and flood is the major challenge leading to large numbers of deaths for the fishes.
He also confirmed that the community has no waste disposal system and no proper environmental health enforcement to help monitor the waste from going into the river.
“When water hyacinth is being nourished by the huge wash of erosion into the river we find it difficult to catch fish.”
The Chairman disclosed that the river is also being polluted by companies nearby in Lagos Epe whose waste discharge goes directly into the river.
“The refineries effort is also a major contributor to the waste and water pollution” he said
Nigeria according to a report by the Water and Sanitation Programme loses 455 billion annually due to poor sanitation.
Water pollution has been identified by the United Nations (UN) as a serious threat to the fishes in the river and the World ocean.
In it’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN in goals 6 (clean water and sanitation) and 14 (life below water) gave water top priority in international agenda.
As evident in communities visited, life below water is seriously being hampered by plastic waste and other waste.
Almost 1,000 species of marine animals, according to a UN report, get impacted by ocean pollution, and over 500 locations have been recorded as dead zones where marine life cannot exist across the World while 100 million marine animals die from plastic waste each year this includes fish, mammals and seabirds.
The World Pollution Statistics shows that, 100 million marine animals, fish inclusive, die each year from getting entangled in plastic.
Nigeria Might Not Meet the SDG 2030 Target- Expert
With the practices mitigating against the Social Development Goals in Nigeria with water pollution inclusive, SDG expert, Micheal Ale, said Nigeria may not meet up the 2030 target.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development enshrines 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets to be achieved.
The Agenda is a commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development by 2030 world-wide, ensuring that no one is left behind.
Ale identified lack of finance and government’s failure to properly domesticate SGDs development model to meet peculiar status, as factors inhibiting Nigeria from realising the goals, after five years.
He noted that Nigeria’s late entry into the earlier MDGs’ model had adversely affected its socio-economic development pace, adding that there is an urgent need for the government, at all levels, to domesticate the principles of 17 SDGs for the nation to achieve meaningful development.
Meanwhile, environmental expert, Musa Ibrahim, Founder Voice for Environment described water pollution as a lingering issue affecting fishes in Nigeria and globally. He challenged the government to do more in curbing the menace.
“We are in a decade of action, all hands must be on deck to ensure there’s a more sustainable and resilient environment,” he said
He called on the Government to try as much as possible to see how water pollution, most especially plastic, can be reduced in the rivers adding that fishermen need to be educated on the new technological advancement in fishing processing to increase fish production in Nigeria.
Another environmentalist, Wonne Afronelly, charged both the government and fishermen to action to reduce water pollution.
“The fishermen should engage more in Aquaculture to augment fish catch from the wild. They also need to work tirelessly to ensure barriers in water bodies are removed to prevent disruption of movement for Migratory Fish species.”
Afronelly further urged the Nigerian Government to introduce more economic instruments for pollution control as well as for other public policies.
She also charged the government to adopt strategies by the UN on the SDGs directly related to water SDGs 3, 6 and 14, domesticate these strategies according to peculiarities of the country and create a blueprint to guide everyone.
We are working to improve waste Management in rivers, others- Commissioner
Reacting, the Commissioner for Environment in Ogun State, Hon. Abiodun Abudu-Balogun, who spoke with our reporter on phone, stated that the state is working to ensure proper waste management in the rivers in the state.
“There are two major activities that are giving us problems in the state, one is building on river drainages, illegal structures while the other is people dumping their waste into the canal and rivers.”
On lack of proper waste disposal system in Iwopin, the Commissioner stated the ministry is aware and working on it.
“I think I have heard of that, it has been brought to my attention. For Iwopin with lack of waste disposal, the state management is aware of it and it has been brought to our notice.”
However, the Commissioner also stated that the ministry of environment is collaborating with the Ogun State Waste Management Authority (OGWAMA) to improve its waste collection operations within the state to prevent waste discharge from affecting fishes in the rivers.
He added that the ministry of environment has designed a programme to step up enforcement activities for the abattoirs discharging waste into the rivers noting they will be closely monitored from next year.
“Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’ and is made possible through funding support from Ford Foundation”