Okey Sampson, Aba
To say that Abia State is under the debilitating menace of soil erosion is no longer news. Over the years, several buildings have been submerged while many others are on the verge of being washed away, even as communities become islands over night, having been cut off from the rest of the state by ferocious and rampaging soil erosion.
From Umunneochi and Okigwe in the north, to Ukwa in the south, and from Arochukwu in the east to Isiala Ngwa in the west, it is the same painful story of soil erosion pitilessly pounding communities, leaving tears, sorrow and fear in its wake.
Indeed, Abia State is under siege of rampaging gullies. Statistics show that the state, with a landmass of 6,320 square kilometres, has more than 30,000 active erosion sites. Research indicated that, in 2003 alone, the state lost over 1,120 tons/acres of soil to erosion and the movement chart shows steady progress as the years roll by.
Many of the gullies started as small holes but were allowed to acquire fearsome features, turning into bottomless pits. In the process, the gullies, like the Blue Whale, have effortlessly swallowed structures, including buildings, along their paths.
In 2018, no fewer than 10 houses were swallowed in one fell swoop, while many people were rendered homeless by erosion in three villages, Umuekwaa, Umuokwasa and Mgbarakuma, in the Umunwanwa clan of Umuahia South Local Government Area of the state. Some of the affected structures included a one-storey building, ancestral homes and farmlands. As usual, natives of the affected communities called on the state and federal governments to “do something” urgently to salvage the situation.
A distraught community leader from one of the villages devastated by the menace, Chief Sam Ejiole, said: “We have also lost our streams; we can’t drink good water anymore because the erosion has swept the streams away. Our sources of water are no longer there and we go to faraway communities to get water.
“Our roads are very bad; people die in emergency situations because it is difficult to find a vehicle to convey sick people to the hospital in the town.”
Anyone terrified at the sight of the gullies in the Umunwanwa should wait until he visits Isuikwuato in Isuikwuato Local Government Area for more ‘terrifying terror.’ The gully, which has cut the Isuikwuato/Uturu highway into two, at a point became a ‘tourist site’ as people from far and near visited the place to behold how natural disaster could devastate a serene and beautiful landscape and turn it into an eye-popping bottomless pit. These ‘tourists’ do not include the plethora of government officials (both state and federal) who take turns to visit and make all manner of pledges but eventually end up doing nothing. However, while some remedial works were going on at the first site, another gully developed that has totally cut the road in two.
A commercial driver, Chidiebere Eke, said, with the gullies, accessing Abia State University, Uturu from the Isuikwuato axis is now like going to the land of the dead.
“I have been plying this road for the past 20 years and we have not had it so bad. When the first erosion site started, we were managing to find our way to Uhuru but, with the second gully on the road, going to Uturu is hellish,” he said.
In a matter of months, the entire Abia North Senatorial District may be cut off from the rest of the state if nothing reasonable is done to checkmate the advancing gully erosion before the first Abiriba junction on the Umuahia/Ohafia highway.
The gully is not only posing a serious problem to Abiriba community, but also to commuters plying the highway.
Aba, the commercial hub of the state, is not speared from the monster. What could effectively be compared to erosion devastation of the Pepple’s road axis of the city in terms of ecological wreck was the Ndiegoro flood disaster, which ravaged a quotient of the slushy Ama Mong axis of the Enyimba city in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
After about 10 years, the Ndiegoro flood disaster was controlled, precisely in 1990, but another environmental catastrophe evolved in the Ogbor Hill area of the city, which has become known as the twin erosion sites on Aguwa Street and Akpu/Pepple’s Road all within the precinct of the Orji Uzor Kalu Bridge, with the latter being more devastating.
It was really hard as residents watched helplessly for 20 years, during which the 100-foot gully erosion menace became their unfriendly daily companion, devastating farmlands and washing away buildings. It was fearful to be visited with such natural disaster, as the people did not know the next house that would be swept away by the ravaging waters.
A resident said: “The erosion at both Aguwa Street and Akpu/Pepple’s Road started in 1990 and we made several efforts to alert bodies concerned. Some form of help came, which was a bit late for the erosion to be controlled.
“Nothing was heard over the period from any quarter until 2010, after 20 years of fear and uncertainty, that some people came from the Ecological Fund Office, alongside some officials from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, under the Presidency.
“They started work on the site, but like a child left to suffer perpetually on the couch, after six months, the contractor abandoned the job and vamoosed, allowing the situation to become worse. However, the first phase was eventually completed.”
Another resident, who gave his name as Kalu, said the first phase of the project took a long time to complete and they are waiting for the commencement of the second phase, which is the tarring of the roads and provision of embankments at the required spots so that the huge amount spent in reclaiming the land in the area will not be a colossal waste.
A member of the committee the residents set up to oversee the problem of the gully, who gave his name as Peter, said they had made another representation to the Ecological Fund Office intimating them of the need to complete the project but the response they got was that they (Ecological Fund Office) had applied to the Presidency for money and it was only when the money was received that something else could be done on the sites.
Peter said: “While we appreciate the Federal Government for what they have done, we will also appeal to them to mandate the contractor to return to site and complete the project otherwise we will go back to square one.”
Yes, to square one they appear to be going back. The gully is building up again, since nothing has been done further and there is fear among residents that they may be going back to the years of the locusts when the people in the area were living at the mercy of the vicious erosion.
Residents are appealing to their representatives in the National Assembly to press it upon the Federal Government to intervene and save the day for them.
They would like the Federal Government to apply the same measure it adopted in controlling the Ndiegoro flood disaster, to do a clinical job at the erosion sites.
Equally on the list of communities threatened by erosion in Abia State is Amaugwu, Umuhu-Ezechi. For those who do not know, Umuhu Ezechi is a clan in Bende Local Government Area of Abia Sate. It is bounded to the north by Ozuitem, Abiriba in the south, Igbere in the east and in the west by Ameke Abam. Umuhu Ezechi is an agrarian clan, which boasts of a large river basin made fertile all year round by the Igwu River, a river basin second only to Ebonyi River basin.
An on-the-spot observation from a recent visit shows the clan sits on top a plateau with breath-taking panoramic beauty, producing fascinating scenery that could only be compared with Obudu Ranch Resort in Cross River State. However, the sad story is that one of the villages, Amaugwu, is threatened by landslide erosion.
Iheanyi Ndubuisi, a native of the community, told the reporter that the landslide, which has destroyed houses in the area, started about three years ago.
Iheanyi said: “We were alerted by our relations at home about its effect and we all came back home thinking it was what we could tackle as a people, but we cannot handle it, as it is far beyond our financial capacity and capability.
“As we speak now, the landslide has completely destroyed a house and others are at the risk of being destroyed, if nothing urgent is done.”
Egwu Igu, another indigene, said: “Before the landslide began about three years ago, the village experienced a gully erosion that washed away farmlands and threatened to destroy buildings, but for the prompt intervention of our people. Now, the problem we are facing is the landslide that has completely destroyed buildings and is set to destroy more.”
Iheanyi and Igu are in one accord in demanding for assistance from both the Federal Government and Abia State government to check the landslide and save the village from going under.
“We appeal to the federal and Abia State governments to do something urgently to intervene and control the landslide, as the financial involvement is beyond what the village could handle,” Ndubuisi said.
The avalanche of erosion sites scattered all over the state are not giving Governor Okezie Ikpeazu any joy. During the inauguration of a reclaimed erosion site in Umuahia last year, and upon the discovery of over 30,000 gullies and other erosion sites in the state, he appealed to the Federal Government to support in tackling the menace. It was the governor’s view that, no matter how rich, no state government in the country would be able to tackle over 30,000 erosion sites, not with the magnitude of the ones in Abia. He pledged that the state government would not fail to handle the ones it could.
Senate Chief Whip and former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, whose Abia North Senatorial District bears the bulk of the 30,000 identified erosion sites in Abia State, is not relenting despite being in office for less than 100 days.
On July 10, Kalu did a memo to the Federal Government through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, intimating the Federal Government of the erosion menace in the zone. He followed this up with a reminder on August 14, titled, “Re: Further to the request for urgent intervention in the erosion-prone areas of my senatorial district.”
The Federal Government has responded to Senator Kalu’s letters, assuring him his requests have been captured in the Ecological Fund Office data bank for further action. The anticipated Federal Government intervention would definitely give succour to a state that has been badly battered by ferocious, land-guzzling gullies.