From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Apprehension has gripped residents of Omagba Phase II and Enekwasumpu layouts in Onitsha and Nkpor areas of Anambra State.
Faced with devastating gully erosion ravaging the areas, residents sleep with one eye open. They live in fear, not knowing who would be the next victim.
Residents of the area told Daily Sun that 30 persons have perished in the gullies in the last 10 years, while buildings and properties running into billions of naira have also been swallowed by the gullies.
The coming rainy season means bad news for them. There are fears that more people may lose their lives when the rains come this year, unless government acts fast to avert tragedy.
Desperate for a solution, residents of the area recently embarked on a peaceful demonstration to vent their frustration over government’s alleged abandonment of erosion control projects in the area.
The demonstrators carried placards with various inscriptions, lamenting their predicament and the looming doom, if nothing is done as a matter of urgency.
Speaking to journalists at the erosion site, the in-coming president-general of Enekwasumpu Landlords/Tenants Association, Egemba Sunday Ndubuisi, lamented that many schoolchildren have been swept away and drowned in the gullies during the rainy season. He explained that the protest was to attract government’s attention and make it to come to their rescue before more havoc is done.
He said: “Our ordeal has lasted for over 10 years and still counting. Little schoolchildren have been swept away by the gully and we keep on recording more casualties. Many of the victims are yet to recover from the psychological trauma. We are appealing both to the federal and state governments to come to our aid. We think that Governor Willie Obiano many not be aware of our present situation and that is why we are also appealing to media organisations to help us and expose our plight to the world.”
A resident, Chidi Ndibe, disclosed that the contract was awarded to a company since 2017 for the control of the erosion but the contractor allegedly pulled down all the trees planted by the residents as a palliative measure and abandoned the project since November 2020, thus causing more havoc.
He also claimed that the contractor used inferior materials in constructing some portions of the gully control project.
He said: “The contractor pulled away all the remedial works we put in and exposed us to unimaginable danger. We don’t know whether we shall survive this year’s rainy season. Since November last year, we have not seen any of the workers on site and we don’t have any other place to go from here. We don’t know the reason they abandoned the project, while we have been kept in the dark about any further development on the project.”
Hon. Ikechukwu Oguiyi, a resident and member of Grievances and Site Committee of the layout, explained that they have done a lot to compel the contractor to complete the job, to no avail, he added that, at a stage, residents started suspecting that the committee had been compromised, when the committee members have been contributing their resources and logistics individually and collectively to expedite the completion of the project.
Oguiyi recalled that the World Bank-assisted erosion control project was awarded in 2017 and in 2018, the contractor commenced work from the upper John Nwadiogbu Street end of Enekwasumpu but abandoned the project, leaving the area in a more battered form.
He said: “It was supposed to be a two-year contract. Residents of this community are not happy presently because of the situation we are facing. We no longer sleep with our two eyes closed. The situation is worse for those of us in the committee. We fear for our safety too because the residents are accusing us of going to Awka to collect money from the agency and the contractor.
“We’ve kept on telling the residents to have patience that they will continue the project but nothing is forthcoming. So, we are even here too to clear our names of any complicity or compromise in the assignment given to us. We have done all within our power to ensure that this project is completed but it has not worked out.”
Chief Christopher Okadigwe, a landlord in the area, recalled that his own four-storey building, livestock and properties worth millions of naira had been swallowed by the gully, just as one of the landlords whose one-storey building was about caving in, died from heart failure.
“All we are crying out here is for government to come to our rescue. This started as a little gully and government came in that time and said they wanted to close it completely. Unfortunately, they have worsened the situation. There were buildings and fenced walls standing before now in this area but today they have been swallowed by the gully and you can’t find any of them anymore.
“They kept on giving us completion dates from one year to two years. They also said it would be done by June this year but, looking at the reality, you would know that respite is not coming soon, while more devastation awaits us as the rains come this year. Let the world hear our cries before we all are gone.
“We want to know those handling the project so that we will dialogue with them because it will be most disastrous if this gully remains like this till the arrival of this year’s rainy season,” he said.
An environmentalist, Samuel Ikechukwu, told Daily Sun that Anambra State had many terrible erosion sites but regretted that the number kept increasing because of the attitude of residents and corruption in the erosion control sector.
“People block drainages with all manner of solid wastes. Some also build on water channels and when those in charge of such control come around for supervision and action, they allegedly collect money and allow such buildings to stand.
“Anambra soil is also erodible in nature, while management of ecological fund is another story on the kind of corruption going on there. It will only take a committed administration that is ready to step on toes and make heads roll before sanity returns in that sector,” he said.
Efforts to get in touch with officials of the construction firm, at the time of this report, proved abortive. But an official of Nigerian Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP), the supervising project consultants, who spoke under anonymity, traced the stoppage of work to paucity of funds, adding that, once government released funds, the project would continue in earnest.
A resident engineer and consultant to the contractor, Kenneth Nnadi, when contacted, also said the contractor handling the project had no obligatiom whatsoever to volunteer any information to the press about the project without the authorization of the clients, Anambra State NEWMAP. He also quipped that paucity of funds was the major reason the project has been delayed.