The challenge of flooding is familiar with many states and communities across the country, irrespective of region and location. However, the case of flooding and gully erosion ravaging many communities in Anambra State has become of national and international concern. Overwhelmed, the state government has cried out to the Federal Government to come to its aid as the problem requires federal intervention. OKEY MADUFORO takes a look at the challenge and what needs to be done to ameliorate the situation
Odumeje as scape goat
Prophet Chukwuemeka Ohanemere Odumeje a.k.a Lion of Africa could not envisage what happened on that fateful day, neither did his congregation saw it coming. The prophet of Ndaboski, known for battling all manners of attacks both physical and spiritual on him, his church and his faithful found himself napping on that day. It was not an episcopal battle among Christian denominations, but a battle between him and the political powers who had marked his church for demolition. The general public however ran away with the usual belief that a man and prophet cast in the mode of Odumeje would certainly not allow his church to be demolished and what more, his social clout and revered connections would certainly come into play. But it came to pass that The Lion of Africa, Odumeje, the prophet of Ndaboski, was so helpless and incapable of saving or protecting his church building both spiritually and physically and he was even manhandled in the process and today what use to be a near religious pilgrimage centre of a sort have been reduced to a recluse of itself courtesy of the regime of Gov Charles Soludo of Anambra State. His church known as God’s Intervention Ministry, located around Creek and Bida road in Fegge, Onitsha South Local Government Area has its environment cut in the picture of a slum which has for decades been a channel and plane for flood and all kind of sewage. The area also has to its inglorious credit the infamous Bida pigs owned by no one and used as a derogatory term for dirty inhabitants of Onitsha town. It was learnt that even during the dry season the entire area including the buildings there in are always flooded while the rainy season flood leaves on its trail epidemic of countless illnesses. It is not only in Onitsha that incidents of flooding and gully erosion have taken their toll on inhabitants of Anambra State.
Problem across the land
The water ways of Anambra State, spanning from Ayamelum Council Area passing through Anambra East and West council areas to Onitsha North and South council areas and emptying into Osamala in Ogbaru Local Government Area to Andoni in Rivers State have been a gory tale of perennial flooding that yearly wash away buildings, family cemeteries, farm lands and ranches. Every year it has always been a tale of sorrows and horrors occasioned by the fury of nature on mankind and his existence. While the flood sweeps away the farmlands, the residence of Okpoko in Ogbaru Local Government area; the place is sentenced to a worse case of hopelessness as their homes are rendered desolate and many relocate to a make shift Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in one primary or post primary school until the flood is goes and academic, commercial and agricultural activities are suspended automatically during the period. Sunday morning at the home state of Ozo Mathew Akeze in Inoma town of Anambra West Local Government Area has a routine of attending to domestic matters while children prepare for church service. But on this particular Sunday, the routine was not to be, as a more challenging domestic issue woke the family up, as house hold items float on the surging flood and members of the household oblivious of the danger that lock behind in the dead of the night after they went to bed that Saturday night. The Omabala River had over flown its banks and about 25 buildings have already been submerged by the flood, leaving women and children at the mercy of Mother Nature. According to the Akezes; “ It happens every year and we always get prepared for it, but this year, we thought that the flood will not be much, because we did not experience much rain fall. “It took us unawares when it started early that August and we could not have access to our homes except through canoe and most of our property was swept away by the flood. “I had to take my family to my mother’s home in Nteje Oyi Local Government Area.” Mrs Ngozika Nwoye was indeed lucky to have her husband alive, all thanks to neighbours who stopped the husband from committing suicide. Her husband was found at his farm land with a rope apparently attempting to take away his life due to the devastation of the flood which washed away 15 plots of rice farm and another six plots of yam and cassava farm. He had obtained a loan from the bank with interest to pay back after two years of cultivation and with the menace of the flood he could not pay back the loan and for fear of being compelled to pay back or lose his collateral he chose to end it all. Mr Umunna Emenaka had completed the roofing of his six bedroom apartment built with his pension and gratuity and was to commence the plastering of some of the rooms before tragedy struck. Only few inches of the building can be seen from the roof top because the flood had become the only tenant in the building, while Emenaka watched helplessly with nothing to do about it. This indeed captures the fate of families in the over 70 communities of Anambra East and Anambra West Local Government Areas. The inhabitants of the Omabala River plane are predominantly farmers, fishermen and women with little trading to earn a living. The pictorial of these communities raises moral questions about the presence of government in the area as most of the towns can’t boast of electric power supply with several shanty buildings situated in the midst of verse expanse of farm lands and rice farms. The road to Umueze Anam has become a recluse of itself due to the flood and that is the only major road to Nzam community, the headquarters of Anambra West Local Government Area and it is also a link to the Igala speaking people of Anambra to Kogi State. Towns such as Mmiata Anam, Umudora Anam, Umuigwu Anam can no longer be accessed and countless families are already trapped with no hope of getting assistance from anywhere. The people of Ukwalla community in Anambra West Local Government Area are even worse off because they are located at the confluence of the River Niger and Omabala River and most roads and bush paths can only be navigated with canoe. A youth in the area who gave his name as Christian Nwanna told this reporter gory details of how he escaped the attack of a python that was also fleeing from the flood. “I was transporting some of our property to a safe neighborhood when I saw one huge movement in the flood. I had to stop for a while, but the reptile had seen me and it came after me, only that it was swimming against the tide so it could not get to me. “Once there is flood, all manner of wild animals would surface and we are left with nothing to defend and protect our children. Most of the buildings are mud houses and when they are soaked by the flood they will collapse,” he said. Otuocha main market, the most popular market in Anambra East, West, Oyi and Ayamelum council areas is at the receiving end of the flood as shops and adjoining buildings are all gone with the flood. Christiana Nwabunwanne, a tailor and trader at the market, is doing business at the fringes of the flood which is at the door step of her shop. “The flood just entered here this morning and I am not sure if I will be in my shop tomorrow and I have started packing my things to avert the flood from wrecking my business. “We always experience flooding, but since 2012 the flood has become worse and we are told that they opened the damn and that is the cause of the flood. “Go round the market, there is no space anymore and it has affected our business all over and we have lost a lot of money as a result of this. Ngozi Okoye is a farmer and she was found in her canoe trying to get to her farm land. Her anger went wild when this reporter approached her. “What do you want? You government people every time flood comes you all will start coming and making promises that you cannot keep. Please leave us to our fate because we are used to it since we were born. “Just look at my yams, my cassava. I have lost everything and even the ones I harvested are not even due for harvesting and we are going to manage it that way.” 70-year-old Pa Emmanuel Ughamadu sat at the bank of the river watching the evacuation of farm produce from the river. “As you can see this is a main road leading to Umori town in Anam, but the road has been cut off by flood and we cannot reach out to our brothers and sisters in other towns. “All my life we have always had flood, but in the last six to seven years it has been different and every time the Federal Government would come here and make promises and we get nothing at the end.”
House of Reps member cries out for help
The member representing Anambra East and West Federal Constituency, Chief Chinedu Obidigwe had earlier reported the fate of members of his constituency to the body. He said: “We need permanent IDP camps in my constituency and we need relief materials for women and children and also medical attention for pregnant and old people. I have visited the agency several times and we are yet to receive anything from Federal Government. “The National Inland Water Ways (NIWA), has to come to our rescue because we are in a very precarious situation now and it is worsening in those places. “On my own I have taken the challenge of replacing all the teaching aides and instructional materials in all the primary and secondary schools in Anambra East and West local government area. “I have been able to assist the farmers and fishermen with financial assistance to replenish what they have lost to the flood and if only the Omabala river can be dredged, the level of flood would be reduced.”
Anambra erosion tsunami
It all looked like the episodes in the horror movies when in the middle of a traditional wedding reception about eight trees started moving, while the celebrants and their guests were oblivious of the impending danger. Soon a loud noise broke through the cultural highlife tunes that rented the air at the wedding reception and about six plots of land fell into a distant gully and all and sundry scampered for safety. The occasion however continued, but without the ecstasy and pageantry that had been in the air before the incident. That was the incident of gully erosion in Abagana town in Njikoka Local Government Area of Anambra State. As at the time of this report, Anambra State is known nationwide as the worse victim of gully erosion in the country, totally 1,264 active sites in the area, leaving on its trail countless economic trees, houses and farmlands decimated by the tremor. Gully erosion in Anambra State runs the area like a wiring, making the state vulnerable to possible extinction. From the Amachalla gully at Amaenyi Awka South, cutting through the judiciary Headquarters, to the back of Umuokpu village Awka, showing its massive presence at Nimo, Abagana, Enugwu-Ukwu all in Njikoka Council area with a spur at Alor, Ideani, Ukeh, Umuoji, Abatete, Obosi, Oba, Awka-Etiti and Nnobi in Idemili North and South Council areas. Since 2004, residents of Umuchiana village in Ekwulobia town Aguata Local Government Area have been living on the fringe of a breath taking gully erosion which has played host to about five ministers of environment and that of works as well as the governor of Anambra State, Prof Charles Soludo when he was Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Soludo had described the gully as a replication of tsunami in the area and through his office funds were released as intervention funds pending the provision of ecological funds by the then Federal Government and the sum of N1 billion was approved though it was not used only for Umuchiana erosion alone. According to the then Anambra South APGA Senatorial District chairman, Chief Titus Anigbogu, a son of the community; “We have been raising funds through free will donations and levies to checkmate the gully and at some point the people of Umuchiana had to be relocated to a primary school which was our own IDP camp. “Though the erosion seemed to have reduced its activity, we are always apprehensive when the rainy season comes.” Isuofia, the home town of Gov Soludo is not left out by the menace of gully erosion, as most buildings in the area are also being affected by the ravaging gully and construction works in that community are executed with care. The gully further linked up at Agulu town in Anaocha Local Government area and had its confluence at Nanka town in Orumba North. Also there are gullies in Umuchu, Achina Agbudu, Ndiowu and Ndikerionwu communities of Aguata and Orumba South local government areas. In these two towns, one does not need to attend a night vigil or a crusade to witness a miracle conducted by one general overseer of a ministry or a Catholic Holy Ghost Priest. It happened at Agbirigba village in Nanka when the parish priest had concluded his assignment and was driving home through the village and the earth surface sank deep down about twenty feet; ten metres after he had passed a little village market. According to an eyewitness, “had it been that the priest stopped to exchange greetings with the villagers, both the villagers and himself would have been sent to their untimely graves.” Agulu and Nanka communities share similar landscape and topography and from the Agulu end, a visitor can visualize clearly the celebrated Nanka gully erosion which is the largest in the South East. According to Damian Okeke Ogene, a community leader from Etti Village, “The colonial masters that inhabited the community discovered the danger and planted cashew trees and whistling pines to hold the sand from being washed away by flood.” “But during the civil war the soldiers had to uproot the trees while digging trenches and bunkers used as firing range. After the war, there were no efforts to replant the trees and successive rainy seasons took the community by storm which led to the deep gullies with over 7,000 buildings destroyed in the last forty seven years and still counting.” This indeed captures the psychological trauma being faced by the people of Okebuonye village in Alor community, Idemili South Local Government Area every year; no thanks to the gully erosion. Pa Okunwa narrated the history of the gully erosion, describing it as one that started as a little flood channel. “I cannot say how old the erosion is, but I can tell you that since I was born, I saw the gully as a flood channel. We use to play inside there as little children and gradually it started expanding and deepening.”
Two councils on the fringes of the gully
The two council areas of Idemili North and South are leaving on the fringe of the gully erosion and several intervention projects have been executed in the past and achieving below average. Former Anambra South Chairman of APGA, Chief Titus Anigbogu is from Ekwulobia town in Aguata LGA which is playing host to the Umuchiana gully erosion.
“We have resigned to fate and whatever comes, we shall take it as an act of God. On our part as a people we shall continue to do our best at every circumstance we find ourselves.” Prof Lazarus Ekwueme, the Traditional Ruler of Okoh community and younger brother to late Dr. Alex Ekwueme choose his words carefully while speaking to this reporter.
“This is our ancestral home, the home of our forefathers, the cradle of our existence. “But about thirty metres to these building is the gully erosion that has been ravaging Agulu – Nanka and Okoh my home town. “Be it known to all that it should not appear as a moon light tale if tomorrow you hear that the Ekwueme family home stead is no more or that we now live down this massive gully,” he said.
Government’s effort at tackling the menace
The proactive nature of the Gov Charles Soludo administration is showcased in that drive to checkmate the avalanche of gully erosion and flooded area. Commissioner for Environment, Mr Felix Odumegwu who spoke to this reporter explained that this is a problem that the state government cannot tackle alone in view of its huge cost implications.
“Anambra State has the smallest landmass after Lagos State and with the menace of gully erosion and flood, you can agree with me that the land mass is being reduced. We have over one thousand active gully erosion sites in Anambra State and this is not what government can handle alone, because of the cost implication, however, we as a government would do our best, the much we can to check it.
“The issue here is that we must have to look at human activities as one of the genesis of the problems, because people do not consider the effect of what they do on the environment. “Our soil is weak and any little thing we do impact either negativity or positivity on our immediate environment, but the negative aspect of it is more. “It has to do with the construction of buildings and how we discharge our water from the buildings and you know also that the cutting down of trees have not helped matters. “Just recently we launched the tree planting campaign and our resolution is that each house must plant two trees yearly and you can imagine what it would produce in four or five years. “These trees help to hold the soil and when everywhere is green, the cases and incidents of gully erosion would be reduced drastically and that would go a long way to protect our environment.
“Again, those in the road construction sector must also learn to channel flood to it right path and with that we can check the degradation of our environment. “So it is a policy of government that every construction work must first of all undertake an Environmental Impact Assessment before mobilizing to site.”
“So far, the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project NEW MAP have been handling work on thirteen erosion sites out of the over 1,000 active gully erosion sites in the state which is commendable, but much more needed to be done. “At the ministry of environment we also have agencies that are working on the issue of gully erosion and they are also partnering with NEWMAP in that area and we have also put in place the role of the respective affected communities who are also doing their best to monitor the human activity aspect of checking erosion and controlling them.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Just Ceasar Nigerian Ltd, who is an Estate Developer and professional Town Planner, Mr Ceasar Sam’s Obidile said: “The best approach to the issue of Urban Renewal comes in three parts. They are construction, reconstruction and conservation. “In construction you consider infrastructures like road and public utilities and in reconstruction there are infrastructures that are not completely damaged and government can carry out reconstruction of those facilities or infrastructures.
“There are some that need to be conserved and they should have a reconstruction action plan, those whose habitat will be displaced. Government should look for land or low cost houses or through sites and services to resettle them before embarking on the project of Urban Renewal. There should also be a kind of census or enumeration of the affected houses, housing units and households to know those that they are going to resettle so that they do not become stranded and resettle them before demolition.”