COVID-19: Environmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey, parleys Lagos fishermen, doles out food items

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Nnimmo Bassey handing over the food items

RENOWNED Environmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey, has doled out food items to Lagos fishers during a parley he had with them on the challenges facing the trade-in Makoko, a Lagos fishing community.

The distribution, done in collaboration with FishNet Alliance, a network of fishers and Health of Mother Earth Foundation, HOMEF, attracted fishermen, fish processors and traders, who all left with food items as a palliative to help them cope with the impact of COVIDF-19 and the dredging activities being carried out on Lagos water body on Wednesday, August 19.

According to Nnimmo Bassey, Director of HOMEF, the palliative was crucial because fishermen are among those worst hit by the COVID-19 lockdown.

Bassey, in a statement, said: “The pandemic has ripped off the cover from healthcare delivery systems that had hitherto been hidden since citizens that could afford the bills could easily jet out of the country to nurse their headaches while the poor die on the doorsteps of health centres that are ill-equipped to deliver needed services. With lockdown and other restrictions, the impact has been disproportionately felt by the poor, women, and social classes with no support systems. One of such exposed and under-supported social group is that of artisanal fishers, fish processors, and marketers. Routinely ignored in the scheme of things, the lockdown measures have thrown 6.5 million strong fishers into abject stress,” he said.

He explained that the food item was just a phase of the intervention the fishermen would be receiving. “We are having a conversation with them about how to assist some of them structurally, in terms of helping some of them have shipping gears because to teach a man to fish is a lot better than giving them food,” he said.

He said one of the objectives of the parley was to also get the fishers organised in confronting such harmful environmental activities like filling up of wetlands, dumping of waste in water bodies, pollution of the lagoon and the ocean and others.

“We are working with them to ensure that we put the message out there that water bodies are not drainage channels. You shouldn’t just dump anything there to think that it is all forgotten. The more we take care of our water bodies, the better the economy of fishers would be, the sellers and fish processors. So, it is a very holistic approach we are taking.

“There are about 6.5 million fishers in Nigeria according to statistics, and that’s a whole lot. These fishers are key producers of animal protein, which is our fishes. But fishing has been seriously affected by pollution done by oil industries and other industry bodies. But if we have a safer environment, we are sure going to have a better economy where people are gainfully employed, better food and better health,” Bassey said.

The environmentalist made a case for marine protected areas, which he said, should be reserved for fish to live freely. “There is none currently in Nigeria. No water body that is protected in Nigeria. We want them to make that demand stronger, happily, the ministry of the environment at the federal level is interested. So, before long we hope to see some areas designated as protected areas.

“We want to see the mangrove ecosystem restored. In areas like Lekki, and so on, almost all the mangroves are gone. But there are still some that are still surviving. So, we need to protect those and preserve them. Niger Delta which has one of the biggest mangroves in Nigeria, a lot of it is being assaulted by the oil companies, by pollution and by people cutting them down as firewood. We want all that to be contained, and then the degrading areas restored. This is where the bulk of the fish in the Gulf of Guinea breeds before they go back to the ocean. So, when they come now and see all the pollution, the fish would get stranded. So, we are very specific in our demand that this has to stop.”

Bassey expressed concern over the failure of the government to diligently investigate the reason a large number of fish died in the Niger Delta during the COVID-19 lockdown. He said the outcome of such an investigation would help forestall future occurrence.

“Now, we are very concerned because that matter is yet to be closed. It is inconclusive. We expected to have the government do a thorough investigation and tell the world, and Nigerians what is the cause of the death of the fish. But we have not got that. The best we got was from NUSDRA, which said that it’s not from the oil spill, its from other toxic dumps like metals in the ocean. Now, who dumped the metal? We are not told. We expect that the government should be very definitive about this matter so that we can work against future occurrence,” he said.

He appealed to the government to put measures that would protect fisheries from industrial trawlers, who harvest fish irrespective of their sizes, and such pollutants caused by the dumping of chemicals and metals in the sea.

A Makoko community leader, Akintimehin Claudius Adewole, said the high activities of sand mining (dredging) going on in the area and have severely impacted on the livelihoods of the community people. He called on the government to support fishers by rolling out policies that protect the aquatic environment, clean-up already polluted areas, and guarantee the rights of the people to a decent livelihood.

Another community leader, Baale Jeje Ayinde Albert, said they were grateful for the palliative given to them by HOMEF and Fishnet. According to him, the gesture makes them proud of their fishing trade as it is their sole source of income which they use in the education of their children.

Vice President of the Lagos State Fishermen Cooperative, Segun Zebullon, said the parley was important in helping them have a voice in the scheme of things as they are being neglected in the society.

A beneficiary of the palliative, Janet Kpenje, said the foodstuff she has received would go a long way in her home.

– Aug. 22, 2020 @ 11:15 GMT |

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