Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Sagbo Kodji Island: Century Old Lagos Community Without Power Supply

SagboKodji Island is one of the 34 riverine communities in Amuwo-Odofin local government area of Lagos in Southwest Nigeria. The 100 year old Island is bounded by Apapa seaport to the South and has existed without no source of electrical power supply.

Residents in the Island who are predominantly Egun speaking people have ancestral ties with the ancient town of Badagry, known as one of the transatlantic slave route. Their main source of livelihood is fishing. Their fish farming is done in traditional method and processed locally with heat from firewood and sold in the metropolitan market as smoked fish.

Many residents in the heart of Lagos are unaware of this group of people who ferry daily in crowded boats to sell their fishes in markets and street corners in the city centre of Lagos.

The cloud around SagboKodji Island is usually dense due to the smoke emanating from many homes, as women are either smoking fishes with firewood heat or sawdust, or cooking for the family. Many children on the Island have lived all their lives believing that the only source of light is from the popular small fuel/diesel powered generator locally called "I better pass my neighbour" or when a cargo ship arrives the shore of the Apapa wharf at night with their scenic flooded light that temporarily lit up the community as the ship sails through.

In other parts of Nigeria, whenever power is restored excited children are known to chorus "up Nepa" but that has never happened on the century old SagboKodji Island. But on the 23rd of December 2014, some homes were powered for the first time as a pilot project of a solar energy company known as Arnergy. The Managing Director of Arnergy, Mr. Femi Adeyemo who first read about the plights of the SagboKodji people was too shocked that a community existed for 100 years without any source of power in the populous megacity called Lagos.

Mr. Adeyemo decided to visit the Island and after series of meetings with community leaders, a pilot project was launched.

One of the first set of homes to be powered is that of Mr. Friday Onos. To him, it is a dream come true after living on the Island for about three decades.

"I had big dream of setting up businesses but the lack of power supply to this Island kept extinguishing my dreams of creating alternative job opportunities for the youths here. Most residents are into fishing and because there is no power source, they smoke their fishes and ensure they are sold off immediately. But this solar power project is a big chance to ensure that fishes are preserved. I am now thinking of setting up a cold room business, so people can preserve their fresh fish. At nights children gather around my house and dance for joy as they play till they get tired. They have never seen 24 hour power supply till this solar power was installed".

Not all residents are beneficiary of the solar power project which has only been installed in five homes. Mr. Femi Adeyemo said the solar power project which enables users pay from #100, #200, #300 and #500 daily for 24 hours constant power supply was well researched to ensure efficiency.

"Before we install the solar panels in any home, we take inventory of gadgets and appliances that would be used by residents. This will help us in ensuring the right panel than can supply power to the home is installed. Also you know a times people can be tricky. After listing the appliances that will be used and we have finished installation. They will later include other appliances not listed. We have a technology that can detect overloading and this will be remotely switched off from our office".

"When we set out to light up SagboKodji Island, we were hopeful that we will get support but up till now most promises are yet to be fulfilled. These solar panels cost a lot of money to import. And there are many homes yet to be powered on this island. With support, the socio-economic life of residents of this abandoned Island will be boosted. Children will be able to study at anytime of the day without fear of power outage. Women will no longer inhale smoke from firewood that has continued to worsen their health conditions. Businesses will come alive on this Island. You can see that they are bounded by the most busiest seaport in Nigeria but so neglected and far from development. This solar power project will change the air they breathe on this Island. Clean air and no longer polluted air."

The World Health Organisation WHO, reported that in 2012 around 7 million people died. One in eight of total global deaths, as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world's largest single environmental health risk. In Nigeria, smoke from indoor air pollution contributes to 95,000 deaths every year.

A federal government clean energy project that cost #9.2 billion was meant to supply clean energy cook stoves to women in rural communities but the project was later cancelled. The Director of a non-governmental organisation Connected Development CODE Mr. Hamzat Lawal, said the supply of clean energy cook stoves to women in communities like Sagbo Kodji who don't have any clean alternative source of energy for household cooking would have benefitted from federal government clean stove project.

"When we advocate for transparency in government projects like the clean energy cook stove project, we know their are real women in poor communities like Sagbo Kodji who need this source of energy. When there is no power supply for communities, they turn to the forest and cut down trees as firewood for cooking. We lose our forest, the Sahara desert encroaches and our women continue to inhale smoke. But for how long will these women continue to inhale smoke from firewood as they cook for their family? He asked.

Many residents are hopeful that their homes will be installed with solar power in the next phase but for how long they will wait will depend on when Arnergy gets financial support to continue the light up SagboKodji project.