The riverine communities in the western part of Anambra State are calling on the federal and state government to urgently dredge the River Niger to save the people of the area from perennial flooding, dearth of good, passable roads and irregular supply of electricity.
The communities made this call recently during a reception organised for Sir Patrick Obalim Udoba, who represents the area in the Anambra State House of Assembly.
Some of the communities in the area are Mmiata Anam, Umuoba-Abegbu Anam, Umuenwelum Anam, Oroma-Etiti Anam, Umueze Anam, Umudora Anam, Umuikwu Anam, Iyiora Anam, Owelle, Ukwalla, Igbokaenyi, Inoma, Nzam and Igbedor. Residents of the communities agreed that perennial flooding, lack of electricity as well as lack of passable roads, potable water, storage facilities and market for farm produce were the some of the challenges facing them.
Chief Emmanuel Nnachor, former chairman, old Anambra Local Government Area, acknowledged that getting government to do projects takes a lot of effort and lobbying. He said: “The new House of Assembly member must understand the intrigues of attracting government attention. He is a legislator with the primary responsibility to make laws, but we still look up to him to attract developmental projects.”
The elderly statesman noted that Anambra West was a lowland area, and many parts of the area were easily submerged by water, yearly.
“Those of us that are from the area have no other place to go. Our forefathers lived through this flooding disaster all their lives. Unfortunately, things have changed dramatically such that it is becoming very difficult for our people to cope with this crisis,” he said.
Nnachor noted that, unlike in the olden days when thatched houses could easily be rebuilt, people now spend a fortune in renovating their modern houses.
“That is why there is always a cry for relief materials or financial assistance after flooding,” he said.
Prof. Augustine Eboatu, former deputy vice chancellor, (administration), Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, said the problem was not insurmountable.
He said: “Building a cordial working relationship with Governor Willie Obiano will ensure that Obiano delivers on his electoral promises,” Eboatu said, stressing that there was an urgent need for early completion of the road projects in the area.
He said: “I equally expect the federal government to continue and complete the Anam-Nzam-Kogi federal highway project and find a permanent solution to the perennial flooding. It will help to open up many communities in the area as well as make the journey from Onitsha to Abuja shorter.”
Still lamenting the challenges, Hon. Augustine Nwabu, president-general, Owelle Community, said there were many remote communities in Anambra West completely cut off from neighbouring communities and in need of being connected by road and power.
“To get to such communities, you would drive through farmlands, thick bushes and muddy roads; because the communities are completely cut off by the river and are only accessible by boat,” he said.
He added that the villagers had to build a makeshift bridge for vehicles to pass: “It was such a big risk to pass through a bridge made from sandbags and planks. Though the youths usually help vehicles pass through, it could be a suicidal trip as vehicles usually get stuck and have to be pulled out.”
In his view, Dr. Chinedu Ekwealor, a senatorial candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) for Anambra North and academic development officer, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, said the absence of infrastructural development in Anambra West was legendary. He declared that Anambra West had the unenviable record of the only local government area in Nigeria that was not connected to the national grid.
“Our children have never said, ‘up NEPA!’” Ekwealor said. “Our parents and grandparents died without knowing NEPA. We are still in the same mode. It has been utter darkness, in addition to flood that destroys our communities’ farming inputs yearly, thereby inflating the suffering of the people.”
He said, in spite of the people’s agony, they have remained peaceful and law-abiding: “You may still see my people forcing a smile from the periphery of their deep-seated sorrows. We have been abandoned for so long and the horrible social condition of my people is waning our fears and, if you care to know, the core of our soul is pained.”
Ekwealor cited the Oroma-Onono, Umueze Anam and Mmiata roads and bridge projects being undertaken by the state government as having been idle for a long time with no work going on there.
Chief Anekwe Okonkwo, a top official of the government, concurred with the other speakers. His words: “We have serious development setbacks. These were caused by the topography of our area and many years of neglect. But we want the new legislator to focus on the ones that can readily help speed up development. We know he understands our challenges; that was why we voted him. The people of Anambra West need access roads, electricity, clean water, good hospitals and schools,” he said.
While responding to the demands of the people, the lawmaker, Hon. Udoba, applauded the efforts of Governor Willie Obiano and stressed that dredging of River Niger would go a long way in ameliorating the flooding challenges faced by the residents. He restated that the challenges were numerous but he would focus on education, healthcare and infrastructural development.
Said Udoba: “The truth is that, until now, politicians normally see Anambra West as a place that they can only use to win election, and then abandon the people as soon as they are elected into office. I want to use my mandate to bring government to the doorstep of the people. I am for the people of Anambra West as a whole, though I contested on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). I have no doubt that the task is not going to be easy. But I am committed to make a big difference in the area.
“My strategy towards actualising the things put down in my electoral manifesto is very simple. I will take advantage of our cordial relationship with Governor Willie Obiano to ensure that we get desired attention to our developmental challenges.
“Basically, what the government at the state and federal levels need to do is to provide farmers incentives be able to produce more at less cost. So, as the lawmaker representing them, I intend to work with the state government and other relevant bodies to ensure that farmers in the area benefit from various agricultural programmes and projects.
“Then, on a personal level, I have made funds available to some women for cultivation of vegetables in the area. We are equally looking forward to reaching out to more farmers to ensure they organise themselves into farmers’ cooperatives, so that they can easily get necessary benefits from government.
“Anambra West is disadvantaged in terms of education, and helping people to continue their studies is one area I will equally like to improve upon by granting bursary to students in Anambra West. I consider that very important because I will love to expand the bursary scheme to ensure that many bright but indigent students from the area benefit to further their studies so we can have more educated people that would contribute to the development of the area in future. The scholarship programme will also capture indigent students from primary to secondary, up to the tertiary levels.
“We will work with the state government to improve access and quality education at primary and secondary levels in the area.”