•Roads, homes under threat following renewed activities of sand diggers
From Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Disaster looms in Oba, Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State, where gully erosion is on the verge of sacking residents. The impending calamity has sent signals that, if nothing is done urgently, the massive erosion could also claim the Onitsha-Owerri and Oba-Nnewi roads.
The disaster, which has been threatening the area over the years, is now encroaching on the Onitsha-Owerri expressway, with the prospects of cutting off other link roads within the area. The renewed encroachment, Daily Sun gathered, was caused by sand diggers, who who routinely use heavy-duty, earth-moving equipment to dig laterite and clay for sale to tipper-lorry operators. The activities of the sand excavators, who have been making brisk cash from the site, now pose real danger not only to themselves and road users but residents of the area.
The site, which is along the Onitsha-Owerri expressway and the Oba-Nnewi old road, opposite Tansian University, Oba, is five minutes’ drive from Onitsha. It is from there that the diggers mine laterite, which they sell to builders in Onitsha and elsewhere.
The mining site, which is snowballing into a large-scale environmental challenge, has become a clear source of worry to residents of the area. Even road users now fear that buildings and other facilities in the area might soon be affected, if government does not intervene quickly to arrest the situation.
As it stands, many houses and roads in a new estate close to the proposed Oba International Airport are all at risk of annihilation by the looming disaster. With the beginning of the rains in a few weeks from now, the entire area might give way, if government fails to act fast, first by stopping the teeming army of miners excavating laterite and clay from the site.
When our correspondent visited the area, four heavy-duty, excavation equipment used by the miners were all at work. One was trapped inside the gully, bogged down as the operators were at work, digging laterite, which they sold on a daily basis.
Daily Sun learnt that the area was some time ago acquired by the state government. But some individuals were believed to have appropriated it for their business ends.
One of the operators of the excavating machines, who did not want to be named, said that he was hired by a prominent individual in the area to work for him. He said that, for some time now, he had been working at the site, digging up laterite, which was sold to the tipper drivers who delivered sand at building construction sites.
“One of our machines was trapped when a part of the site simply collapsed. It was God that saved the operator as he narrowly escaped death. The job is dangerous, that is why we are always careful since ‘man must whack and something must kill man,’” he said.
A resident of the community, Chief Onuchukwu Okafor, lamented the danger the activities of the sand miners as they affect everyone. He said, in the past, their onslaught on the land was controlled to some extent but now their renewed efforts have further escalated the degradation of the area.
Okafor said: “We had cried out to the state government through several petitions we wrote to the Ministry of Environment, asking that they halt the activities of the people excavating sand for sale at that spot but we got no response.
“How would everybody including government officials who pass here every day turn a blind eye to this looming danger? Are they waiting until the entire community is destroyed by this impending disaster?
“The issue is that the present erosion is man-made. The problem has been there for sometime but the people excavating laterite from there have added to the problem.
“As you can see, this is now is threatening the roads and residential buildings close-by.
“We are, therefore, calling on Gov. Willie Obiano to intervene and save our lives. I wonder why people, for the sake of money, are contributing to the environmental disaster that can sack the entire community. This is unfair; government should act fast. In fact, it is already becoming late, for a stitch in time saves nine.”
A commercial driver, Mr. Osita Mgbemena, said that the gully had been a source of concern to road users due to the rate at which it was encroaching on the road. He called for government intervention: “As you can see, this erosion is moving closer and closer to the main road. It is also moving towards people’s houses on the other end. Before now it was not like this; it was when those sand diggers began working here that this latest challenge started. We are appealing to the government to stop them in order to check this trend.”
President-General of Oba community, Mr. Ifeatu Uzowulu, described the incident as worrisome. He lamented that it posed real danger to the people.
Uzowulu disclosed that the community had written a warning letter to the miners and tipper owners to stop work and go elsewhere on or before March 31, 2017.
“We have resolved to stop the miners and tipper owners from coming here; we have given them till the end of this month to completely vacate this place. We are still looking at the danger their actions pose to the Oba-Nnewi old road; at some point, the community will take appropriate actions. But for now, we are doing our best to ensure that our environment is protected from disaster,” he said.
The Anambra State Commissioner for Environment, Beautification and Ecology, Dr. Ifeanyi Ejikeme, said that he had not received any petition or complaint from Oba community over the activities of the laterite miners, adding that he was not aware such activities were going on in the area.
He, however, promised to send an evaluation team to the mining site to ascertain the level of the degradation the area had suffered, stressing that appropriate action would be taken after the team had submitted it findings.