3hours, the Scant and the Fisher

On a quiet Wednesday morning in the countryside of Ibeno, arrived a group of people seeking to relax and rejuvenate the work spirit in preparation for the task ahead. To the beach, they set off, and to a quiet beach, they arrived. Empty yellow and blue seats under different shades and kinds of canopy/tent lined up the shorelines, a few people were cleaning their spaces in preparation for guests who may arrive at a later hour. Motorbikes conveying humans and goods zoomed off to and fro the hot Atlantic Ocean shorelines.

Another end had buildings with lost “appendages”, abandoned wooden boats,s and huge deposits of spewed-out debris from the belly of the deep blue sea. Leading the pack in the garbage, was the man-made ubiquitous substance – Plastics in their various shapes, types, and forms. Eastwards, were Exxon Mobil’s huge crude oil tank farms. Their helicopter went to and fro above deep waters to their offshore oil extraction platforms.

Spiking ahead westwards the beach was “nose leveling up” wooden boats with Red flags, which screamed I am here! , crab holes and crabs adapting to the color of the beach sand crawled happily on the interestingly solid alluvium. The sun was high up doling out its heat but the sea breeze calmed the heat effect. Several boats rode at a distance on the sea in search of a catch.

Attending to the call of the boats that we heard, we met some of the fisher folks arriving from a seemingly futile mission but with a smile of hope for a better catch tomorrow.

Me: Hello Brother, Good morning, how body?  Fisherman: Good morning, body dey. Me: How did the waka go today? Fisherman: As you see, na this one we catch today. Me: When you go this fishing today? Fisherman: Na around 7 am today. Me: That means you spend, 3hours be that? Fisherman: Yes o. 3hours but the catch no big, we thank God sha. Me: Na every day you dey fish? Fisherman: No o, I don learn industrial welding – I am an engineer. But as work no dey this period I enter sea go find pocket money, at least money to fit buy one or two things. To even catch this scanty basket full of “craafish”- crayfish…we travel far! Me: You no dey fear? No life Jacket on this wooden boat for this high wave them… Fisherman: ahahaha…if you want to do this work, you go need to “thruway” fear o. Just go with the mind say nothing go do you, go with the mind to return with a catch.

Another Fisherman: speaking to a friend on this walk, Sister – you see, we use to have a bigger fish catch with different species within these coastal lines which sometimes may amount to a minimum of four to five baskets a day, but today the story is different as you can see, we could barely get half a basket.

What can be the cause of this? What would be the cure?

A study attempt to detect shoreline and land-use change with a view to determining the trend and nature of the change in Ibeno, Akwa Ibom State, over a period of 22 years (1986 to 2008) using 3 time periods. This indicated that there were more eroding activities on the shoreline.[i]

This is not coming as a surprise as Ibeno is a part of the Niger Delta coastline, which is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These communities and their people are exposed to sea-level rise, changes in weather conditions, and extreme weather events. Their main source of livelihood – fishing has been greatly impacted by these climatic changes coupled with pollution – oil spills and gas flaring, which is endemic in many oil-producing communities in the Niger Delta. Changes in water depth, frequency, and intensity of temperature and fluctuation in timing of rainfall, disappearing of species; structural damage from storms and overflowing banks, have contributed to an increase in work to get a catch, more fishing time (as the folks have to travel deep into the ocean) scanty fish catch amongst others.[ii]

Lack of good and safe fishing boat, fishing in a distant location and high cost of fishing equipment also this that they mentioned being hindrances to their business.

As a way to build resilience, many of these folks like the one we spoke to earlier are changing their occupation, others are diversifying their means of livelihood to include hunting, farming, and trading or migrating to the city for an office job.

We know that doing this will lead to us losing a culture, a way of life, an heritage, and a people. Indigenization of a people especially in native lands like Ibeno is tied to their land, their waters, their food, and their customs and traditions. If we stay on this trajectory, we will lose a people. We must hereby do all we can to build the resilience of these coastal communities to ensure we do not lose a culture that defines us and gives us our uniqueness. There is a need to put the basic infrastructures in place to protect the environment, health, and means of livelihood of the people of Ibeno and the Niger Delta communities.

Ibeno is located in the south of Nigeria and is a Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State. Ibeno town lies on the eastern side of the Kwa Ibo River about 3 kilometers (1.9 mi) from the river mouth and is one of the largest fishing settlements on the Nigerian coast. Ibeno lies in the Mangrove Forest Belt of the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, bounded to the west by Eastern Obolo Local Government Area, to the north by OnnaEsit Eket, and Eket, and to the south by the Atlantic Ocean. It is one of the 31 local government areas in Akwa Ibom State. Ibeno occupies the largest Atlantic coastline, more than 129 km, in Akwa Ibom State. Ibeno Beach, the longest in West Africa The prime occupation of the people is fishing. However, farming and petty trading enjoy appreciative notice.

She is home to about 75,380 people.[iii]

This is a contribution by Babawale Obayanju, @babawaleobayanju

[i] https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=76583 [ii] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340294122_Climate_change_and_coping_strategies_of_Ibeno_and_Onna_coastal_fishing_communities_in_Niger_Delta_Nigeria  [iii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibeno