Asambiri community in Kabowei clan, Sagbama Local Government Area of Bayelsa State is not new to natural disasters. Those have been nightmares for the people of the serene community.
One of such is the landslide that occurred recently, drawing attention to the age-long neglect of the community. Dennis Gavey, a community leader said: “This erosion problem was there before I was born, and ever since. Apart from the Ibrahim Bababgida military government, no government has tried to intervene with a view to rescuing us.
“It was during the Babangida’s government that this erosion control
work, which is now wearing off, was done. Maternity homes have been washed into the river; including school buildings and related infrastructure have been eaten up. Residential homes have been washed off too.
“I could recall vividly the house of Dorgu, one of Nigeria’s first prison warders washed into the river. In fact, in those days when such houses were built people would be coming from the surrounding communities just to come and see how beautiful the house was. That house, till today, the picture is right in my sight.
“A farmland was in front of this community, after the farmland there was a very big sandbank; all eaten up by the river. This is the third settlement of this community. Ever since, no government has come to our rescue.”
Aside the public infrastructures like the primary school and maternity homes that have been affected by coastal erosion; it has discouraged people from building houses in the community, stalling development.
“Due to this erosion sons and daughters of Asamabiri are discouraged.
They are scared and that is why most of them have dropped the idea of coming to build houses here,” Garvey added. Not only that, the local economy is in fluid state because of the movement of the markets due to the erosion. Also not left out is the cemetery:
“Our market is the third market we are having; the previous ones have been washed away. What about the cemetery, all washed away by the erosion. No one can trace the grave of his great grandparents any longer.
“The community is in a very great problem. We are begging the Federal Government to come to our aid. Something has to be done so that we can have a sense of belonging to a country.”
The people said they would not be tired of pleading with government to come to their aid. Madam Money Kpodor said: “As you are seeing, if they don’t come in time to do fresh pilling, all this area [pointed inwards, into the community], won’t be safe.
“We don’t know when we will lose this section of the community. We are crying government should help us. Let them help us otherwise we don’t know what will happen. The whole community will be washed away. We are pleading for help, Asamabiri community is crying.”
Madam Helen Adika added: “Government should come to our rescue. We don’t know how Asamabiri would be in the next two years if nothing is done. We are begging they should help us.”
Because of the coastal erosion the people of the community are suffering from “psychological trauma, economic waste and pains,” said former member of the House of Assembly, Ofoni Williams:
“Now we can no longer identify our ancestral graves, erosion has washed them away completely. Other facilities that were in this community, like the Anglican Maternity Home that was here which all the neighbouring communities came to give birth. Those facilities have been eroded away completely.”
He said the primary school he attended was washed away just like two other primary schools that were built later: “It was our outcry some years ago that led the Federal Government to come up with the mitigation project; the embankment on the community shoreline. If care not taken in the next 10 years the community would be wiped out; irrespective of the distance to the interior.
“We are calling on the Federal Government to do something meaningfully and impact fully. We are calling on the state government to use the Ecological Fund judiciously, to address ecological problems in the state; like this very one in question.”
A team of environmentalists from Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN), led by Mr Morris Alagoa went around to assess the situation of things. It called on the Federal Government to give adequate attention to the threatening issue of coastal erosion in the Niger Delta, especially Bayelsa State, which is most deltaic of the delta.
The team stressed that the Ecological Fund should be felt in these communities affected by coastal erosion. It tasked the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta to bridge the huge needs gap in “this very important environmental/ecological matters of coastal erosion and flood.”
The group noted that the era of building six-classroom blocks should be over because “there is every need for these Federal Government interventionist agencies to be felt practically in affected communities.” It advised the state government to establish a Flood and Erosion Commission to focus on issues relating to flood and erosion.
The commission, which it said should be under the supervision of the Ministry of Environment, should have the powers to collaborate effectively with the Federal Government interventionist agencies and other local and international development partners to ensure service delivery in its core mandate areas including the Ecological Fund Management.
It proposed that funds for the commission should be sourced from 13% derivation and, this should be backed by the law establishing the commission.