By Professor Ako Amadi
The Eko Atlantic City Project plans to develop the shoreline of Victoria Island in Lagos State, Nigeria, specifically by dredging approximately 90 million cubic metres of sand from marine shelf waters to reclaim 900 hectares of land for the future development of a modern city. South Energyx Nigeria Ltd (SENL) is the company created to undertake the development of the project, while Royal Haskoning completed the environmental impact assessment (EIA) under the title: Draft Final Environmental Impact Assessment (E.I.A.) Report for the Proposed shoreline Protection and Reclamation of 900 Hectares of Land that was submitted to the Federal Ministry of Environment in Abuja and subsequently displayed for public comments there, and in Lagos in the one month from 13th July to 12th August, 2011. It constitutes, according to the developers a Phase 1 of the Eko Atlantic City Development Project at the Lagos Bar-Beach, Victoria Island, Eti-Osa Local Government Area, Lagos, Nigeria.
It is important to note: SENL indicates that the present EIA is only in respect of the dredging and land reclamation activities, and promises to submit a further study/report on construction of Eko Atlantic City over the reclaimed land. Dredging and reclamation works have already begun under the supervision of Haskoning Nigeria Engineering Consulting Limited, and planned to last until May, 2016. From the dates given in the EIA, as well as within the project website, the document was submitted to the Federal Ministry of Environment after, and not before the commencement of the project as required by the Nigerian EIA legislation.
The main reclaimed area is projected to be about 6 km long, with a width of 1.5 km on the western end, tapering to 0.5 km on the eastern end. The outer edge of the reclaimed area will be protected from the sea by an approximately 7 km rock revetment to provide shoreline protection to the new land and to Victoria Island. Since the 1980s the beach has been ravaged by coastal erosion, unusual storm surges, resulting in a combined retreat of the shoreline and the populations living close to it.
According to the EIA document, Eko Atlantic City is projected to occur around to the East mole, on the entrance to Lagos Harbour, off Bar Beach, Victoria Island. The area is arguably one of the most sensitive and most debated ecological systems in Nigeria.
The vulnerability of the low-lying Lagos coastline to accelerated sea level rise impacts and related hydrometeorological hazards, the persistent search for a lasting solution to beach erosion and the magnitude of costs involved accentuate public interest in the proposal for dredging activities, lasting until 2016, and leading to construction of Eko Atlantic City by a partner of the Lagos State Government, the South Energyx Nigeria Limited, SENL.
Evidently, the environmental impact assessment in respect of this initiative has been a residual exercise, presented to the Federal Ministry of Environment by SENL for public scrutiny, long after the project launch and the commencement of dredging and physical alteration of this critical coastal area. The study leading to the compilation of the EIA appears to be detailed and comprehensive. It’s submission after, and not before project commencement suggests a disregard by the proponents of crucial problems and risks related to environmental and socio-economic sustainability of the project.
The EIA process ignores one of the basic tenets of EIAs globally, and in Nigeria specifically – to ensure the raising of pre-project public awareness by encouraging individual and community participation, and connecting with key stakeholders to promote understanding of the essential linkages between the environment, resources and development. Possibly, this approach has been adopted to avoid communal protests and perhaps eventual conflict over location of the project.
Lagos is not populated by rich people alone and the proposed state–of-the-art city will definitely test the resilience of the entire social strata in the state. This constitutes an additional risk category which the EIA perceives, but to which it does not suggest ameliorative mechanisms.
The Phase 1, (dredging) of this project will last for almost a decade. The period of subsequent phases are not indicated. In effect there are bound to be two categories of impacts – during execution and after, the latter surrounded by uncertainties and risks which are not adequately considered in the EIA, but mostly described as “negligible.”
A low-lying coastline such as Victoria Island is evidently prone to accelerated sea level rise (ASLR) resulting from global warming. In effect, what the Eko Atlantic City project plans to execute is of great interest to the people of Lagos, since it envisages a package of integrated coastal zone management that projects to check the impacts of sea level rise, absorb an escalating population of a megacity and create jobs.
Doubts over the ability of the project to check coastal instability, particularly of sea level rise through a massive physical alteration of the shoreline have spiraled into growing dissent within community members, the academia and civil society in Nigeria. In view of the fact that EIAs represent an assessment of the possible positive or negative impact that a proposed project may have on livelihoods, they are concise public documents. The EIA report of the planned Eko Atlantic City project should be subjected to further scrutiny under wider participation of communities likely to be impacted by it.