Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Residents of Alibioba community in Agbor, Ika South Local Government Area of Delta State, are living in fear as a result of a yawning gully erosion that has widened over the years. For residents, the next rainy season will be disastrous, unless urgent steps are taken to remedy the situation.
The gully, which is about 30 feet deep, is running parallel to the deplorable access road, filled with ditches of various sizes, to the community. As such, the densely-populated community is on the verge of being severed from the rest of the town.
A number of lives have been lost to ravaging flood sweeping through the menacing gully in the past, with the most recent tragedy being the loss of two teenage brothers who were swept away last year at the peak of the rains.
At the moment, residents are apprehensive that more than 20 houses may cave in during the next round of rains, if the erosion not addressed during this dry season window. Residents dread the long stretch of gully like a plague.
Chairman of the community, Mr. Chukwuyem Odia told Daily Sun that their hearts are in their mouths as they wake up every day to the reality of the yawning gully, adding that it has become a death trap for residents.
Odia said the gully had claimed lives in the past, and called on the state government to come to the aid of the community, noting that the magnitude of work needed to fix the gaping hole was more what the community could shoulder.
“We are currently living in fear over this gully erosion. On our own as landlords/landladies, we have been working to see how we can check the erosion, but the magnitude of damage already done on the road occasioned by the volume of water, has indeed overpowered our capacity.
“We have made several appeals to some of our political leaders; what we have been getting is promises, because this thing has been here for over five years, giving us sleepless nights and cause for concern.
“We are appealing to the state government to come to our aid. They came and promised to do something about it but up till now we have not seen them. We are still appealing to them,” he said.
Odia stated that palliatives put in place every year through community self-help were usually washed off as soon as the rains start.
“The community has been raising money to do self-help. We used concrete the other time but it was washed away by flood. You can see the magnitude of the gully. We can no longer do anything. Most of the buildings are already threatened. Some structures have already collapsed,” he said.
Daily Sun observed that the menacing gully erosion is already taking its toll on socio-economic activities in the area. Sources informed our correspondent that there is a mass exodus of residents from the area before the rains set in.
It was further gathered that enrollment into the two public schools in the area has depleted. The schools – Universal Basic Education (UBE) Primary School and Agbor Technical College – have also witnessed mass exodus of pupils and students for fear of the unknown.
A resident in the area, Tony Ekhator opined that the low enrollment into the technical college could be a dent on the state government’s frantic efforts to revamp technical education across the state.
“You know that the state government had been making frantic effort to ensure that technical education is revamped. I will tell that what is happening here will determine to a large extent the success of that effort because a good number of parents have withdrawn their children from he public school because of this erosion menace,” Ekhator posited.
One of the last last two victims of the devastating flood, 15-year Testimony was a student of Agbor Technical College while his 11-year younger brother, Godwin, was a pupil of the UBE school.
That experience has sent wrong signals to parents and guardians who are now withdrawing their children and wards from the schools in order not to suffer the same fate.
But those who stay out in school have just a lifeline that they are clinging unto.
The circumstances that led to the sweeping away of Testimony and Godwin, it was learnt, was that Godwin fell into an adjoining ditch, which was full of water.
While Godwin was in the pool of water, his elder brother, Testimony, attempted to save his drowning younger sibling with an outstretched arm, but he too slipped into the raging flood, which swept them into the deeper gully.
Following that twin tragedy, the community made wooden bridges over the gully to serve as platform for residents to access the deplorable UBE road for their economic endeavours.
Although using any wooden bridge is still risky, pupils of the UBE school have since been using them without any qualms. The bridges link their houses to the road from where they access the school every day.
But the community leaders want a permanent solution so that residents can live in peace without entertaining fears.
Speaking alongside the chairman of the community, the secretary, Clement Ihiale, also appealed to the relevant authorities to come to their aid. He said they have been engaging the media but lamented that government at all levels was yet to bring succour.
According to him, “the area has representatives in government at various levels but their impact has not been felt as far as Alibioba community is concerned.
“On our own, we cannot access the ecological funds and other interventions. That is why we have our representatives, they should be speaking for us in order to attract government sympathy so that this challenge will be addressed.”
He said during the 2019 electioneering, the state governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa promised that addressing the gully erosion would be a priority project if he was re-elected. He lamented, however, that after seven months of taking office, nothing has been heard from the governor who is also a native of Ika, though from Ika North East.
Apart from Okowa, Agbor can boast of several of its sons in the present administration, at the state and federal levels. There is the member representing Ika South in the House of Assembly, Festus Okoh.
Even the present Secretary to the State Government, Chiedu Ebie, who was Commissioner for Basic and Secondary Education between 2015 and 2019, is from Agbor.
At the federal level is the member representing Ika Federal Constituency, Victor Nwokolo, who hails from Igbodo town in neighbouring Ika North East Local Government Area. Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, though he hails from Ibusa in Oshimili North Local Government Area, also has a role as he represents the entire Delta North senatorial district.
Besides, a member of the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission, the very vocal Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, hails from Agbor. He was a member of the House of Representatives during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
Perhaps, the people of Alibioba may have to wait longer for succour to come to their way. Daily Sun learnt that addressing the gully erosion was not in the agenda of government for now.
This followed the signing of contract agreement between the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) and Levant Construction Limited for the Owanta erosion site in neighbouring Ika North East Local Government.
Besides, NEWMAP, a World Bank-assisted programme aimed at addressing ecological challenges, did not list the Alibioba erosion site among other five sites it would be intervening on.
Commissioner for Environment, Chris Onogba ,listed the sites where NEWMAP will be working to include erosion-ravaged communities of Ubulu-Uku, Okwu-Nzu, Obomkpa, Jesse, adding that the contract for Owanta, which has been signed, would be completed in 18 months.
Onogba said the engineering designs for the four other sites have been secured, and appealed to other erosion-ravaged communities in the state to be patient with government.
On his part, Secretary to the State Government, Chiedu Ebie, who hails from the area, said government was very familiar with the Alibioba erosion site, adding, however, that the devastation in the already identified five sites was more severe than that of Alibioba.