Investigation

Erosion: The gully is now close to my bedroom –Blind old man

… South-East now a tourist centre where nature is unkind to us –An environmentalist

The South-East region, especially Anambra State, has been convulsing under the menace of erosion, the worst anyone could find in the country for a long time now. MADUFORO OKECHUKWU, who took a tour of some towns and villages most hit by the crisis, reports that climate change is aggravating the nuisance that has displaced people, wrecked buildings, roads and farmlands

Pa Paulinus Ejikeme Oguebewu, aged 77 years, sat on his arm chair enjoying a plate of yam pottage when our reporter sauntered into his home. He could not stand up to exchange pleasantries due to his poor state of health, which has lingered for years. This retired construction worker said because he is about to lose the only building he inherited from his late father.

“It might cave into the large gully that has been ravaging Achina Town in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State for quite some time now,” he said. Currently, the old man has no kinsmen or neighbours to exchange morning or evening greetings because five buildings close to his have been destroyed by the erosion with eight others abandoned by their owners as they are now hanging on the cliff of the gorge.

He said: “What do you expect me to do at this point? We have no place to run to; all that we do is to hope on God for his mercies. As you can see, this house is the only building that people are still living in, and the rest of the buildings have been abandoned by our brothers and sisters.

This is our fate and every morning and night we say prayers to avert this house from collapsing into the gully. Whenever it rains at night, we pray to God to help us to avert the looming calamity. Even at that, the mornings after rain, you hear pathetic stories of some body’s compound divided into two by the gully.”

Oguebewu recalled that the erosion that created the gorge started like a small flood channel in the 1950s and 1960s and the community made spirited efforts at checking it before they got overwhelmed. Oguebewu’s wife, Grace, could not hide her frustration and anger when this reporter encountered her in their home.

“What do you want and who are you looking for? That is the way government people come here every time and make all manners of promises with nothing to show for. This one you people are here, it would end up the same way, people still ask us if we are still living in our houses,” she said. Her husband recalled that during the second term campaign of Governor Willie Obiano, he started work on the gully but regretted that after the election, the contractors abandoned the work and disappeared from the site.

“They came here to work on the erosion and they used a trunk of palm trees to do the foundation base to check it and after two rains, everything collapsed, and they ran away,” he said. Mrs Nnacho Dorcas and her family appear to be lucky for now because the gully is somewhat far away from their home.

But the major earth road that links the rest of her village to other villages have been cut off completely. A concrete bridge with flood channel constructed about 15 years ago to reduce the flood is the only link to the other villages. Unfortunately, the channel has collapsed and has been directing flood to the valley thereby deepening their predicament. She said: “This other flank of the erosion started from Akawa Odida Village to Enugwu-Umuonyia community five years ago and our bridge collapsed into the gully about the same time that bridge was constructed by Peter Obi’s administration to check the erosion.

The gully is also as a result of the flood from Ebele Achina and Ekeh Achina and as I speak with you a total of 10 houses are hanging at the mercy of the erosion.” According to her, erosion from this part of Achina started in 1930, and the then District Officer predicted it would occur.

This prompted them to start planting trees as they did everything to prevent it. But when they left, successive governments did nothing to continue in that direction, so the situation got out of hand. At Umunike Achina, Mathias Ezeogu, a Keke operator, took our reporter to an abandoned road project, which, according to him, has been the cause of an active erosion site in the area.

“This is the third erosion site in Achina and this one is man-made. The road project stopped long ago and the drainage construction stopped mid-way and the recent rains dealt a devastating blow on this part of the community. “My Keke and even vehicles can’t get through this road. The project is Oneh Ogboji via St Charles Road, down to St Peter’s University, Oneh.

Today you can only access the school through Aguluezechukwu and at least 20 buildings have been affected even as there has been a mass exodus of villagers to other communities that are safe from erosion,” he said. However, the erosion at Achina community is considered a child’s play compared to what is happening to Umuchu, where people kept lamenting and have since resigned to fate. They now pray that the gullies don’t swallow their villages.

The duo of Elias Ezeanoketu and Nnolim Augustine of Amanasa and Osete villages in Umuchu community painted a gory picture of the ravaging erosion. Ezeanoketu said: “The erosion has not been that active until a certain road construction embarked upon by the last administration.

The drains were constructed linking them to a big canal that emptied into the river and it was built to support the other erosion that was stopped and rechanneled by the regime of Chris Ngige. “That erosion affected our hospital and some other public buildings until Ngige came and worked on it; he even constructed a high way across, which ended the gully at the time. But, when Shiana Construction Company based in Enugu embarked on a new road construction, it built the drains from the main road to the hinterlands but they could not continue and I do not know why they stopped.” Today, the Ezeokpubi family houses are inside the gully, while the other buildings wobble, waiting to disintegrate any moment from now.

The Umeasiegbu, Ofobunike families and a total of 38 other buildings have so far been affected while the road linking the Umuchu-Umunze, which is about 2km, has been cut off.” “My house is on the fringe of the valley and the flood causing this problem is from Achina towards Ben Luke Umuojogwo to Osete villages here in Umuchu Town. What you see today was formerly a main road used by everybody before the erosion came and flushed out all the earth works on that road.

If you go to Andrew Ezekaka’s house, the Pharmacist, you would discover that this man has spent over N13 million, and if not for his efforts his building would have long gone down this gully,” he said. The anger of Achina and Umuchu communities in Aguata Local Government Area was summed up by Barr. Paul Ononuju Onuachalla, who recently came back from the United Kingdom. He said: “It was not like this before I travelled and I wonder if we have government at the local, state and Federal levels.

We have state House of Assembly and National Assembly members and nobody is talking about the erosion sites. “The situation is an eyesore to say the least and I choose to carry out this study on Achina-Umuchu erosion. I see no government presence or anything on ground to checkmate the ravaging effect of our gully erosion.

The entire Aguata South is almost gone and when the gully joins Ezeokoro Village, the entire area would be finished. “Going down to Umuchu, it is a clear case of abandonment of projects, several houses have gone down and many more are on the verge of caving in. Road constructions are carried out without the Environmental Impact Assessment and this is as a result of the Mkpologwu- Umuchu-Achina road construction.

The Aguata Local Government is known for palm oil production as well as growing of economic trees but the gullies have affected the business adversely. We now have families, who are internally displaced at the moment, and if not for the noble roles played by Ngige and Obi in the past we would have been doomed by now,” Onuachalla said. When contacted, the Anambra State Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Obi Nwankwo said: “The Achina and Umuchu erosion challenges bother the state government.

The state has mapped out the erosion sites in Anambra State and several of them are receiving attention at the moment. Most recently, Governor Willie Obiano compassionately intervened in the Nlusi Aroli erosion problem at Onitsha and I am glad to inform you that the people of the area are singing praises in honour of the governor. “You must have heard the governor announced during an inspection visit that the site alone will cost the state over N4 billion. As the state continues to intervene in other erosion sites, it is important to note that erosion projects are capital intensive; and state governments are not usually in a position to handle them alone. This is why the Federal Government and development partners through New Map continue to help the states.

“The situation has also been worsened by prevailing economic conditions globally due to COVID- 19 and other factors. We are asking our people to align with the government to stop building along flood channels as these contribute to menace in our communities.

They should plant economic trees and also help in decongesting blocked drainages in their immediate environments.” The Anambra State government in its reaction, did not, however, state in categorical terms when work would commence at the respective erosion sites in Achina and Umuchu communities.

It also failed to explain why abandoned road projects that are said to be causing the menace of gully would be looked into. However, the people of Achina and Umuchu have insisted that government should carry out a tour of the erosion sites in those areas to obtain first-hand information of the extent of damage before they are buried in the belly of the gully.

82-year-old Janet Okunwa told Saturday Telegraph that she was always awake waiting for the worse to happen. “I ran to her bedroom and asked mama to join us in the other building but she refused. She told me that God is at work and that when morning comes we shall all discover that what we feared that would happen will not happen. Mama had so much faith in God as a good Christian and that also strengthened my faith in God.

So, I had to leave her and joined the rest of the family at the other building. Morning came and when I went to see her she was singing praise songs to God Almighty,” said 36-year-old tenant, Ada Okeke, in Okunwa’s compound. Pa Benjamin, Okunwa’s husband is blind. He was in front of his building, humming a hymn when our reporter visited. After ascertaining the mission of the August visitor, Benjamin said: “Sometimes I feel that the gully is now close to my bedroom and before I got blind I knew the depth of the erosion.

Each time I hear a loud sound, my heart skips, because I cannot see or say the level of devastation being caused by this menace.” The pathetic state of the old man, indeed, captures the psychological trauma being faced by the people of Okebuonye Village every year.

Okunwa narrated the history of the 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 I was born and I saw it as a flood channel. We used to play inside there as little children and gradually it started expanding and deepening.

“The flood came from Nanka, eroding parts of the village in Orumba North Local Government Area, passing through Igbo-Ukwu in Aguata Local Government Area. It connects with the gully in Nimo Town in the Njikoka Local Government area, and flows through the little Obi-Aja stream to Idemili River.

“These two council areas of Idemili North and South are leaving on the fringe of the gully and several intervention projects have been executed in the past but none achieved the desired result. From Nnewi North to Nnewi South, across Aguata, Orumba North and Orumba South council areas, it has also been a tale of woes, frustration and anguish for the people,” he said, with frustration written all over him. Former House of Assembly member from Nnewichi Village in Nnewi North Local Government Area, Barr Ben Chuks Nwosu, wept openly at the hallowed chambers of the Assembly when 32 buildings were buried inside the gully in 2004. “Soon nothing would be known as Nnewichi village,” he said, adding, “Our people are now refugees in their own land and we are no longer afraid of death but afraid of life.” Anambra South Chairman of APGA, Titus Anigbogu, is from Ekwulobia Town in Aguata LGA, which is host to the Umuchiana gully erosion. He has spent a fortune as a son of the soil and a council chairman.

Yet, his people have continued to sleep with one eye closed due to the menace that seemed intractable. Anigbogu said: “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 situation we find ourselves.” Speaking in like manner, Prof. Lazarus Ekwueme, the traditional ruler of Okoh community and younger brother to late Dr Alex Ekwueme chose his words when speaking to our reporter.

“This is our ancestral home, the home of our forefathers; the cradle of our existence. But, about 30 metres to these buildings, is the gully that has been ravaging Agulu-Nanka and Okoh, my home town. Be it known to all and sundry that it should not appear as a moonlight tale if tomorrow you hear that the Ekwueme family home is no more or that we now live down this massive gully,” he said. In Agulu and Nanka towns, one does not need to attend a night vigil or a crusade to witness a miracle.

It happened at Agbirigba Village in Nanka when the parish had concluded his Episcopal assignment and was driving home through the village and the earth surface sank deep about 20 feet; 10 metres after he had passed a little village market. According to an eyewitness account, “had it been that the priest stopped to exchange greetings with the people, he and the villagers would have been sent to their untimely graves.” Agulu and Nanka communities share similar landscape and topography and from the Agulu end of the erosion a visitor can visualize clearly the celebrated gully, which is the largest in the South-East. According to a community leader in Etti Village, Damian Okeke Ogene, “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 was no effort to replant the trees and successive rainy seasons took the community by the storm which led to the deep gullies with over 7,000 buildings destroyed in the last 47 years.” Engr. Ikenna Ellis Ezenekwe, an Environmentalist that also runs the 247 Ukpaka on line news is a native of Nanka Town. He took our reporter round the gullies to the point of going down to the foot of the valleys. This is not a Local Government or State Government project, he said.

“It is a project that can be handled by the Federal Government and International donor agencies or the United Nations. Nanka erosion has become a tourist centre with scores of visitors coming to see how nature has been unkind to the people.” Former Anambra State chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalist, who doubles as a town union leader in Agulu Nathaniel Anigbo, told Sunday Telegraph that human activities have been a contributory factor.

He said: “Our people live in a nucleated kind of settlement and in some cases we do not make an effort at channelling the flood water properly. “We used to dig catchment pits to control the flow of water but it is not enough. Now we levy ourselves to checkmate the erosion but it has not been easy.” According to the Minister of State for the Environment, Mrs Sharon Ikeazor, Anambra State has over 900 active erosion sites. She said that the ministry has designed a template for periodic intervention in the state. In her recent tour of some sites in the state, Ikeazor noted that compilations have already been made in a bid to aggressively handle the menace of erosion in the area, which also includes the Achina-Umuchu sites.

But observers are of the view that most of these policies and programmes always end up at government’s book shelves with little or no action to show for it. They are of the belief that the eco-logical funds meant for the states are not enough to tackle the issues inherent in the menace. To this end they have called for an increase in funds appropriated for it and also domicile those funds in the respective state government’s account. Incidentally, the World Bank assistance is alleged to have already been politicized by the personnel and parent ministry of the environment. The Nigerian Erosion and Waste Management Project (NEWMAP) since its inception is said to have been saddled with the responsibility of working on the respective gully sites in the affected states.

The organisation, which started with five erosion sites per five states of the South-East, later added two or more states and today it is more than 21 that are now under NEWMAP with no increase in the funds appropriated by the World Bank. At the NEWMAP office in Awka, the Director of communications, Emeka Achebe, told our reporter that the organisation is not meant to stay perpetually. “Yes, we have been working at several erosion sites in Anambra State, and other states of the federation but the aim is also to train the people to learn from NEWMAP and continue from there to take care of subsequent incidents of gully.

By next year, the activities of NEWMAP would be winding up and it is the duty of the respective ministries of the Environment to continue this project. “The World Bank is planning a new project though not specifically on erosion and it has to do with a landscape project. What it means is that each state under the NEWMAP would transform into an agency, which would be doing the job of the body, and if the project is packaged to specification the World Bank can come in and give some form of technical support through training and supervision. Already, the Anambra State House of Assembly recently passed a bill into law, establishing the state erosion and Climate Change Agency,” he said. The governor has also noted that emission and GHG reduction will take prominence in the evolving state climate policy, which will support reversal of devastation.

“It will equally encourage investments in renewable energy and climate adaptation plans while contributing to Nigeria’s obligations under the Paris Agreement. “Increased gender participation, protection of vulnerable people and livelihood restoration is a vital component of this policy. We have extended an invitation to the Federal Government, Development Institutions and Private Sector to partner with Anambra State in this important issue of our time,” Obiano said.

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