The breeze from the Atlantic Ocean whizzed past my face as I walked through the historical Slave Port on Gberefu Island in Badagry Town. It was as though the wind developed eight extremities like an Octopus, rustling over my head and lifting every strand of my braided hair from off my scalp into the air. This was how natural this Island was even centuries after the abolishment of Slave Trade in the world.
But it is gradually losing its virginity to invasive human activities that could pre-empt an environmental catastrophe. Compared to my visit to this same place some five years ago, Gberefu Island from where Badagry town originated, is under attack from the environmentally unfriendly act of tree felling. This disturbance in the ecosystem balance could lead to coastal erosion and eventually an ocean surge, as has been recently experienced at the Alpha and Kuramo beaches on the Victoria Island axis. The consequence, environmentalists forecast, may be as huge as the loss of its historical significance as the world renowned slave trade port, as well as losing its potential to rake in millions of dollars from tourism.
A lack of strong environmental regulatory laws to protect it may be responsible for the indiscriminate acts observed.
Home to the cenotaph, at the 'Point of No Return', stumps of already cut down coconut trees can be seen. It now appears the settlers have neglected their fishing, farming, and coconut production preoccupation, for tree falling in order to make quick monetary gains.
The over 550,000 African slaves transported to Europe, South America, and the Caribbean in the 18th century, all passed through this Point of No Return; symbolized by two poles slightly slanted toward each other, and facing the Atlantic Ocean. Around this portion of the Island, construction works are seen as are several coconut trees cut down.
As I continued on my walk, I saw a block symbol with a fading inscription in green ink thus, 'Slave Port Attenuation well'. Here slaves were made to drink from a well. The water is enchanted to make them forget their origin as they go to the unknown destination. While I allowed my mind to drift for a second, imagining what agony the slaves might have gone through, a slowly approaching silvery Nissan pick-up van, jostled me out of my day dream. In the van were stacks of finely cut, crisp, and fire-ready woods. At once my eyes and my tour guide's met; mine questioning, while he quickly answered saying, selling wood is big business here.
The Island's residents who barely live below the poverty line now sell wood for wood fuel, furniture, canoe building and raft house making.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, (FAO) report, every year, about three to six billion trees are felled worldwide. This demand for wood as fuel is reported to have led to an alarming rate of deforestation as the FAO estimates the net annual forest loss to be about 4 million hectares for the period 2000-2005. This speeds up the process of deforestation, which in turn increases global warming. Since trees take away carbon dioxide (gas) from the atmosphere, cutting down trees means this gas, (which is the chief cause of global warming) remains there, and the process of burning during cooking stockpiles more carbon in the atmosphere.
Trees also prevent coastal erosion by holding the soil particles, and act as wind breakers thus preventing the land cover from being run off by rain or strong winds which are common at the ocean front.
If the act of tree falling is unchecked, we are pre-empting an ecological disaster which may not occur in two years or five years, but surely going to happen soon, then we may lose so much value.
Government has to take a step to stop this act immediately, says David Okali, a Professor Emeritus of Forestry and Resources Management at the University of Ibadan.
"The roots of the trees will hold soil together and prevent the wind from blowing the soil cover away. Cutting them may result in an ocean surge because the ocean will advance further inland in the absence of any protection," the don says.
He proffers that the trees should not be cut if there are no plans of re-planting, and that seedlings can be obtained at the Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research, NIFOR at Benin. It takes four years to grow another tree.
Also, there are certain people from the Lagos State government selling land on Gberefu Island with the aim of turning the place into a highbrow estate; something that appears a norm in the state as some urban centres in the past were built on either recreational parks or relics. An example is Park View Estate which was the former site of the recreational Ikoyi Park. Already, fresh works of constructions, foundation laying and trailer load of sand, gravel, and stones are evident on the Island.
Badagry indigenes have mixed reactions. Some like the idea because it may bring civilization and development while others think that such an act may be injurious to Badagry's antique value.
Meanwhile, there have been efforts by the state governor, Babatunde Fashola, to transform Badagry into a world class tourist centre. This explains the current construction of the Badagry Expressway project, from Mile 2; and the commissioning of the Badagry Marina project to a private company Ocean Golf Resort. According to the chief executive of the company, Ibukun Fakeye, the Badagry Marina aims to create a new addition to the historic quarter of Badagry which links the adjacent existing settlements and historic buildings with the new park and the proposed activities at Lagoon front - social, cultural and commercial. The project also offers protection to the Slave Route leading to the Point of No Return at the Atlantic Ocean.
According to its Urban Development Plan, the Badagry Marina is designed to be an international tourist destination with state of the art facilities such as a beach front, refurbished museum, museum shops, fleet of boats, hotels, taxis, golf course, skilled tour guides and recreational parks. All these are supposed to generate huge economic returns for the locality and the state government. Work began over five years ago, but yet to be completed due to certain distractions.
"We are around 70 per cent completion on the project. He also frowns at the indiscriminate land sales. "Currently illegal land sales are on to turn the sacred and historic park to Parkview which the public should reject," Mr. Fakeye says.
Who protects the environment?
The body set up to protect environment in Lagos is the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA). The managing Director, Adebola Shabi, told PREMIUM TIMES that the agency would immediately send its officials there to Badagry to stop the act.
"It is against the law in Lagos to cut down trees. The fine is, if you cut one, you plant 10. But we will send our people there," he said.