The fact that COVID-19 pandemic is a serious threat to global health is beyond question. What is often ignored is the fact that the pandemic is a serious socio-economic crisis in Nigeria and many other countries. 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 died 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 has thrown 6.5 million strong fishers into abject stress.
Fishers organised under FishNet Alliance have expressed how they groan under lockdown measures that deprived them of access to fishing grounds and daily income to take care of their families. There are stories of woes along the entire 850 km Atlantic coastline of Nigeria. Where fishers are not impacted by oil spills, they are limited by security cordons built around industrial facilities. In places like Makoko, a community on the edges of the Lagos Lagoon, life is precarious due to both the pandemic with heightened vulnerability due to the state of their environment.
The Alliance called for support for fishers in Makoko, Lagos State and in other coastal communities across the country. This call was made during a meeting of members of the Alliance in Makoko on Wednesday 19 August 2020.
Makoko is a community known for fishing but unfortunately its people and their livelihoods are suffering from pollution of their waters and constant threats of displacement from their prime location which luxury property developers desire to grab.
According to Akintimehin Claudius Adewole, leader of the Alliance in Lagos State, there are high activities of sand mining (dredging) going on in the area and this has severely impacted on the livelihoods of the community people.” Mr Adewole called on the government to support for the fishers and roll out policies that protect the aquatic environment, clean-up already polluted areas and guarantee the rights of the people to a decent livelihood as fishers.
Nnimmo Bassey, the Director of HOMEF, urges that adequate support systems should be in place to ensure the wellbeing of fishers whose services are essential. Without fish a vast population of Nigerians would go without that source of protein thus exacerbating the nutritional deficiencies in the population. “Our fishers are among the most vulnerable of our country,” Bassey said. “Special measures including ensuring that wastes are not dumped into our water bodies to ensure healthy aquatic species and higher catch for the fishers. It is regretted that thousands of fish died off the Niger Delta coasts between February and May 2020 and to date there is no definitive statement from government about what killed the fish and what actions have been taken to avoid future occurrences.”
Officials of FishNet Alliance urge that relevant government agencies should work with fishers to develop policies that will help protect the aquatic ecosystems, especially in the restoration of polluted areas and the creation of freshwater and marine protected areas.
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on movement imposed by the government have seriously impacted fishers and farmers in rural communities who have no formal jobs and who rely on their day to day expedition for their sustenance.
According to some of the fishers at the meeting, the pandemic has brought about disruptions in supply chains for fish due to disruptions in transportation, trade, and labour. Many people employed in the sector, such as fish vendors, processors, suppliers or transport workers lost their jobs and subsistence has become a huge challenge.
Recognizing how the pandemic worsens the situation for these fishers who were already vulnerable from the issues of pollution and displacements, HOMEF, during the meeting extended food items to the fishers as a way of cushioning the impact of the environmental and socio-economic stress brought about by the pandemic.
The vice president of the association of fishers in Lagos State, Mr Segun Seminor implored that the FishNet Alliance be extended to all 5 divisions of the fishermen association where fishers are also facing the challenge of pollution including from toxic chemicals.
At the end of the meeting, the group resolved and demanded that:
1. Government should put adequate measures in place to help fishers during COVID-19 pandemic
2. There should be increased participation of fishers in public policies with regard to the aquatic environment
3. Traditional knowledge of fishing practices, including those that would help mitigate climate change impacts should be adopted in policies.
4. All Indiscriminate displacement of fishing settlements and sand-filling of fishing creek, rivers and wetlands should be halted.
5. Polluting corporations should be held liable for the harms created, required to clean-up immediately and to duly compensate the affected people and communities.
6. Fishers should unite and engage in further dialogues to equip members with skills to serve as environmental defenders and as climate change.