In the News:
On the trail of sand: A special focus on the Ikorodu axis.
Sand, as always, is the fulcrum of development in the current frenzy of civil works in Lagos and around much of the country. At the federal capital territory in Abuja, construction giants like Julius Berger and Dantata & Sawoe are neck deep in various road and human habitation projects. The federal government this year has voted billions of Naira to road construction and reconstruction, road widening and rehabilitation and various other civil engineering activities covering hundreds of thousands of kilometers of roads around the country. In the Niger Delta, it is already worldwide news that various state, federal and local governments, NDDC and oil company road and civil construction projects are competing for priority in the race to satisfy the yearnings of the natives and thus, probably, bring down the orgy of violence and community angst against everybody perceived to have kept the region down and in the backwaters of modern development.
In Lagos, it is probably the first time that so many huge projects…new roads, upgrades, housing and estates in Lekki and other new towns, bridges, jetties, free trade zones in and around the former federal capital, etc… are competing for the available quantity of sand in supply. Overall, therefore, the summary is that sand, the basic component in all these equations, has to be sourced. Lagos right now is about the place with the highest pressure on the supply of sand to the extent that sand suppliers are making the highest profit margins so far in many years. A 13-ton truck load of sharp sand bought from an Ikorodu sand dump at about N21,000.00 and ferried many miles away to the Lekki axis is sold as 20-tons by the truck drivers at a price of N75,000.00. And the market is buying the deal, albeit grudgingly. This is sequel to a serious clampdown on sand dredging from the Aja river; only very few sand dredging projects have been permitted there since the beginning of 2008 when the Lagos State Government banned the group of local dredging firms winning sand along the Aja-Badoreh road. Local dredging contractors spoken to at Ikorodu maintain that the spike in price will continue upward for as long as the ban on sand dredging at Aja continues. According to Mr Roland Erhahon of Roseland Dredging and Marine Services, only the Aja river can produce sufficient sand quantities to bring down the price of sand in Lagos state at the moment.
But why not Ikorodu river as well? DDH investigations show that the matter is rooted in the geology of the area. At present most dredgers at the Ikorodu river whose burrow pits are located nearer to the shoreline due to the lengths of their pipes are only struggling to meet their production targets. Many are still tarrying at these burrow pits despite the low takings probably due to the cost of upgrading their equipment. They say that after the initial scoops of sharp sand that may be in a burrow pit, the dredger hits a layer of clay that ranges up to 4 metres deep. For them this is bad news. First of all, there is presently zero demand for clay. Secondly, as a waste product, why cumber precious land space with a product whose usage or evacuation is not certain. This is the quandary most dredging firms are facing right now at the Ikorodu axis where dredging is being permitted to take place. A visit to this place proved this as one dredger in one of the sites was scooping scanty sharp sand mixed with brackish mud, a product for which they had to drop their price by about N200 to N300 per ton. ( A ton of sharp sand in Ikorodu as at press time was between N1,600 to N1,700 per ton or slightly higher.) The immediate solution being spoken of was the introduction of booster pumps so that longer pipelines can be installed. For sure there is evidence that sharp sand is available 500 metres further into the midstream. A source confirmed that the only exceptional lucky case was the burrow pit being used by Ibile Holdings which seems not to be running out of sharp sand. According to this informant, throughout the Ikorodu waterfront where dredgers are operating presently, the Ibile burrow pit is about the only one lucky to boast of sharp sand at that same location after some years of sand winning. But another observer countered with the fact that the Ibile Holdings dredger was well up into the midstream and this was the reason for the ‘luck’ some people are talking about. Otherwise, the rest of the dredgers in the axis have similar stories of sharp sand running out after the initial first phase of pumping which is about 1 – 2 years.
But if the dredgers are more or less idle, why tarry at Ikorodu when they can go to other areas. One of the operators, a supervisor in one of the dredging sites in this axis by the name of Cocodia, an engineer, claimed that it is because the waters of the Ikorodu river are calmer than at some other places like Aja. He also felt that incidences of sharp practices by nefarious people like stealing dredge parts or outright piracy attacks are highly limited at Ikorodu. He maintained that the local community youths are also calmer when compared with their types at places like Aja.
However, the same complaints of dredge operators held sway at Ikorodu: multiple taxation and a virtual scramble to levy sand dump operators at every turn. One operator who spoke to DDH in Ikorodu counted the number of callers at their site for one form of levy, license or tax or the other. They include the National Inland Waterways Authority, Federal Ministry of Solid Minerals and Steel Development, Lagos State Ministry of Environment, Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront Infrastructure Development, Lagos State Waterways Management Agency, government-licensed revenue consultants for checking on number of trucks loaded from each site and applying appropriate levies on them according to their tonnage, Local Government officials, the community hosting the dredging site, the land-owning family and their youths and the local king or traditional ruler. One of the most irksome of the group was said to be the government-licensed revenue consultants whose job was said to be undefined. A receipt belonging to one of them was shown to the DDH team. It belonged to a privately registered limited liability company without any obvious association with the State Government. Asked how monies paid to these consultants were remitted to the State Government, our source said he did not know but that if one refused to pay them, they had officials supporting them from the State Government who would swoop on the dredging site and begin to raise issues of nonpayment of taxes and would disrupt activities of such operators.
But the paradox of the situation could be seen at the road that leads to these dredging sites where hundreds of trucks are loaded with sand on daily basis. Some of the big sand stockpile sites in Ikorodu are said to dispense over 500 trucks each on a good day. The smaller sites can do up to 100 or 200 trucks daily. The majority of the trucks are the 13-ton carriages which the drivers retail for 20 tons at the open market. But their greatest problem is the road linking Owode Ilaje and the Ibeshe areas of the Local government to Ikorodu Town. The bad section of this tarred road which may be about 5 kilometres can take the better part of 25 minutes. From the look of things, some repairs in the past have tried to manage this failed section with large and small stones some of which now jut out at very dangerous angles to vehicle tyres. The ride is totally uncomfortable, resembling the kind of neglected roads deliberately left potholed for the conveyance of convicts to an isolated prison yard! But here at Ikorodu, it leads to money making dredging sites which annually produce billions of Naira in revenue for many stakeholders: public and private alike.
Coincidentally, a few days after DDH’s tour of the various Ikorodu sites, officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Waterfront began what the Ministry called Operation Sandy where sand stockpiles belonging to the dredging and sand contractors in the Ikorodu axis were impounded for sell off to the public. Details of this can be read in other sections of this edition.