In the early hours of the morning, 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.
In Ogun State, Iwopin is a famous fishing community in the Ogun Waterside area. Over 90 per cent of the residents are involved in artisanal fishing with its river being adjudged the largest fishing community in the state.
Kazeem and his colleagues, after 6 hours of the 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 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.”
Fishing production in the community is hampered by the indiscriminate discharge of waste, erosion and human activities leading to a decline in fish production.
Residents Ignorant Of Waste Management
Fishermen in Iwopin also contribute to water pollution. Kazeem and his colleagues returned the wastewater from their boat back into the river contributing to pollution.
When this reporter visited the wharf on 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 the washing of motorcycles and other equipment in the river, others would urinate and also defecate close by.
Soap and detergents flow freely into the water. This practice, according to Lenntech, water treatment and purification companies are dangerous to life underwater as it causes destruction to the external mucus layers protecting fishes from bacteria and parasites.
Water Hyacinth, The Fish Killer
Water hyacinths, popularly referred to as “Gbeborun” around these parts have been identified by fishermen in Iwopin, including other fishing communities in Ogun, as the major pollution affecting fishes.
It is an aquatic plant that grows on water. This plant clogs waterways used by local fishermen for transportation and it is a major environmental concern in many countries. The water from this hyacinth is polluted water that flows once or twice a year. Once this water hyacinth mixes with the fish it results in death.
“Water hyacinth grows on the river sometimes, but not always, leaving many of the fishes to die,” disclosed Olajide Balogun, a fisherman in Iwopin.
Meanwhile, Kazeem Omolaja, a resident in Iwopin told this reporter that water pollution affects fishes but not all the time.
“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, urging the government to provide good drainage for the community to further reduce the water pollution and erosion issues.
Water Pollution Everywhere
On the 28th of October, during a visit to Oni river another fishing community away from Iwopin, the water where 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 when approached by this reporter says “The water is not a stagnant water, e no fit affects the fishes, e just dey go in own.”
However, experts nullified Okoro’s claim. Environmental expert, Wonne Afronelly, said dirt and other discharge possess a serious threat to the fishes in all the rivers. Afronelly explained that these are very grievous threats to the fishing industry as many species are now depleting in numbers and some going into forced extinction.
A visit to Imakun-Omi another riverine area and fishing community in Ogun Waterside shows that water pollution is everywhere in the community.
Ogun River Overrun With 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’ where large amounts of waste discharge into the water, as well as defecation, have affected the cycle of fishes as residents in the 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. A 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 while another young man was sighted by the reporter defecating close to the river.
While some of the fishes die, others contract certain diseases making them unfit for consumption. When the water source becomes contaminated due to pollution, the expert says it can lead to health issues in humans, such as cancer and cardiovascular conditions.
Lack of Proper Waste Disposal Systems
Further checks revealed that the area lacks a proper waste disposal system as erosion 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 prevails.
“Most of the time, we don’t get enough fish in the river and sometimes fish die too,” said Kayode a fisherman in Abeokuta.
Abattoirs, Car Wash, A Contributor To Water Pollution
Apart from waste, the activities of abattoirs around the rivers are a major contributor to water pollution. Two major abattoirs, Akinolugbade and Lafenwa visited in Abeokuta, have their wastewater channelled directly into the Ogun river.
Operators of these abattoirs are not oblivious of the damage this could cause for fish channelling their waste into gutters directly into the river.
Aside from the abattoir’s waste in Lafenwa, abattoir meat skin popularly called ponmo gets washed and cleaned into the river, while car washes were also seen 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 is one major problem they encounter, amongst other things.
Olalekan, who resides in Iwopin, said even though the community houses the largest amount of fishing activities in Ogun State, it does not have 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, the 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 floods are the major challenges 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 and refineries nearby in Lagos-Epe whose waste discharge goes directly into the river.
A Gloomy Situation
According to a report by the Water and Sanitation Programme, Nigeria loses N455 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’s oceans. In its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN in goal 6 (clean water and sanitation) and 14 (life below water) gave water top priority in the international agenda.
As is evident in communities visited, life below water is being hampered by plastic waste and other waste. Almost 1000 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. According to the World Pollution Statistics, 100 million marine animals die from plastic waste each year and this includes fish, mammals and seabirds.
‘Nigeria Might Not Meet The SDG 2030 Target’ – Expert
With the practices 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.
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 of the 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 ensure the reduction in water pollution, most especially plastic, adding that fishermen should be educated on the new technological advancements in fish processing.
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.”
‘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, explained 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.
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. adding a programme has been designed by the ministry to step up enforcement activities for 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
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