By Henry Umahi, [email protected]
On June 10, 2018, a pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), ThankGod Ifeanyi Onyia, his wife, Chinwe, their five children and a neighbour’s daughter perished in a gully along Ugwu Onyeama in Ngwo, Enugu – Onitsha Expressway. Onyia’s Toyota Carina car was hit by the driver of a commercial bus trying to dodge another vehicle in a treacherous terrain. And all eight occupants of the car died instantly.
The pastor was on his way to church service at the RCCG, Holy Ghost parish, Obunofia Ndiulo, Ezeagu Local Government Area, Enugu State when the accident happened, leaving his aged mother heartbroken. He was the only son of the family.
On May 25, 2016, the family of Ifeanyi Nweke at Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State, was thrown into the valley of sorrow. That day, rampaging flood swept away his wife from her hairdressing salon.
The body of 29-year-old Mrs Nweke, who was in the last days of her pregnancy, was found in a gully near Eke Nkpor. She left behind two little children.
In May 2020, no fewer than 10 buildings, including a school and a church, were washed away following a down pour at Obeleagu Street and Trans-Nkisi Aroli axis of Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra State.
Similarly, the palatial country home of the President-General of Alor town union in Anambra State, Chief Uzoma Igbonwa, stands about 50 metres from a massive gully. Without serious remediation efforts, it might not survive the next rainy season. Indeed, erosion has swallowed many houses in the South East.
Gallery of menace
Over the years, the South East has witnessed devastation of astounding proportions as flood and erosion continue to wreak havoc in the zone, leaving many towns and villages prostrate and helpless.
In the South East, erosion has opened the earth, creating what seems like bottomless pits. If you look into the deep gorge, which appear like dry seas, the sheer sizes and depths will frighten the hell out of you. If you stand on the plain and look into the gulfs, your head would spin like there is an invisible force trying to pull you in. There are also signs of freshly consumed earth and trees, signs that the gullies are expanding. And there are equally visible marks in the surroundings, showing portions about to be swallowed.
There are open and gaping earth sores everywhere. Many shrines, landmarks, springs, ancestral burial sites, economic trees, farmlands, homesteads, bridges, hospitals, schools and other infrastructures have been eroded. And the residents of flood and gully-prone areas live in perpetual fear of the unknown as they could lose their homes or lives anytime.
Putting it in perspective, a recent research informed that “in South-Eastern Nigeria, soil and gully erosion and landslides are responsible for the widespread destructions of human, animal and plant lives, domestic, industrial and commercial property, transportation and communication systems, degradation of arable lands, contamination of surface and groundwater supplies, isolation of settlements and migration of communities.
“Some of these gullies (e.g Amucha, Okwudor, Umuagor, Urualla, Isu Njaba etc) have depths varying from 22 to 150m, widths between 0.7 and 2.5km most of them lie along a linear zone of weakness and have become tourist attraction.”
Daily Sun visited some of the erosion sites causing panic in the states.
The condition of the Aba – Ikot Ekpene Highway is pathetically indescribable. It is, without doubt, one of the most wretched and forsaken roads you could see.
The road is in utter ruin. Over the years, it has suffered unimaginable abandonment and neglect. Yet, it is an important road linking the two oil-producing states of Abia and Akwa Ibom.
Daily Sun was at Aba-Ikot Ekpene Highway a few weeks ago and saw a highway to hell.
The road has been gullied, making it a nightmare for commuters. It was gathered that when the road was good, it took about 30 minutes to travel from Aba to Ikot-Ekpene but now it takes nothing less than three hours to accomplish the task. Even if you have a heart of stone, it will melt when you see the ‘highway.’
The Aba-Ikot Ekpene Highway could be described as the place where justice was murdered. You could bury a truck in the middle of the road because it is so deep, deeper than one could imagine. In short, the ‘highway’ belongs to another age and era.
A petrol station owner in the area, Ephraim Uzor, told the reporter that he and his colleagues had virtually been driven out of business. His lamentation: “The road is critical to the economy of both states, particularly Abia, which is a commercial hub, but everything is messed up. The poor state of the road only makes it a paradise for robbers, kidnappers, rapists and urchins, who waylay unsuspecting travellers all the time.”
The Aba-Ikot Ekpene Highway is defined by a recent incident. Mr Onyedikachi Nwaogu was allegedly killed in his compound at Umuokpo community in Obingwa Local
Government Area of Abia State by one Inspector Robinson Otobong Abel, an official of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC). According to a report, “the NSCDC official attached to the Akwa Ibom State command was accompanying some
white men to Akwa Ibom State when he shot Nwaogu as the Hilux van in which they were travelling tried to pass through his (Nwaogu’s) compound due to the dilapidated state of the Aba- Ikot Ekpene Highway in the area.
“The deceased was said to have insisted that the Hilux van should follow the Aba- Ikot
Ekpene Highway as his father’s compound was not the highway. Residents of the community told journalists that after shouting at the deceased to make way, the NSCDC official pulled out his gun and shot Nwaogu on his legs and stomach.”
Youths of the community protested over the killing of their kinsman due to the neglect of
the Aba-Ikot Ekpene Highway by the Federal Government.
But the Aba-Ikot Ekpene Highway is not the only facility in Abia State that is
ecologically-challenged. In fact, there are hundreds of erosion sites in the state.
For instance, a ravine is threatening the Federal Housing Estate at Ogbor Hill, Aba and its environs. Daily Sun was at the estate few weeks ago and discovered that the problem was caused by construction error or incompetence. Or both.
The problem is that the drainage system collecting water from the estate and channeled into Aba River, otherwise known as Waterside, was constructed with galvanized pipe.
The pipe did not get to the river but stopped at Ugwuato Ehere in Obingwa Local Government Area of the state. So, over the years, as the pipe began to rot, it began to cut, creating hollow under the ground. Then the ground began to sink, leading to massive destruction in the area.
A resident, Nkem Uduma said: “The effect was that as the pipe collected rain water over the years from the housing estate, it never went straight into the river but it discharged where the pipe ended with the force with which the water was released. Initially, it created what looked like a crater. Over the years, it developed into a monster gully that has become a serious threat to residents of the Federal Housing Estate itself and those living in the neighbourhood.”
It was gathered that the gully had pulled down two high-tension electric poles transmitting power from Alaoji Power Station to Akwa Ibom and Cross River states.
Meanwhile, residents of the area have written a Save Our Soul to the state government concerning “the menace of erosion caused by an uncompleted water drainage constructed during the tenure of the then President of Nigeria, Alhaji Shehu Shagari in 1979-1983.
“The abandoned drainage project channelled all the water in the Federal Housing Estate and its environs to our residential area, which has developed into a gully, threatening our lives and property.”
According to the panic-stricken residents, if nothing is done as a matter of urgency, they could be swept away by the ever-expanding gully.
Again, if nothing is done fast, the Arochukwu-Ohafia Road will be cut into two. At the Abiriba Junction, the mother of all erosions is on rampage, making a meal of the earth.
Although some form of remedial work had been done there, it did not totally arrest the menace.
A driver, Okpani Obiaruko, who saw Daily Sun taking pictures at the site, said: “Please, help us tell government that their attention is needed here. Erosion is about to tear this road into two.
We don’t know how far it has gone underground. Maybe the road is hollow, and if that is the case, it could collapse anytime. Any time we are passing through this road, we are always in fear. We don’t know what would happen anytime. We are begging government to come and save us.”
Isukwuato is another community in Abia State debilitated by erosion. Daily Sun was there in October 2020 and saw a community in distress. Although some form of remedial work was done in some areas, vast expanse of land remain twisted and deformed.
The Commissioner for Information in Abia State, Chief John Okiyi Kalu, described the erosion menace in the area as a huge challenge.
In a chat, he told Daily Sun: “It is a challenge, especially knowing the impact on key federal roads in the state, like the Ohafia-Umuahia segment of the highway, where you have the Abriba Junction literally cut in two and people are living in fear and unable to access that road as it used to be. I think there is a second point around that road that was impacted; the government of Abia State quickly fixed it. If you go to other areas of the state, you will see the massive effect of erosion requiring some concerted intervention by the Federal Government using the ecological fund because I understand that there is a percentage that the Federal Government can use on its own to make interventions.
“Indeed, Abia is reeling from dilapidated federal infrastructure. We are suffering massively from there. When people say that there is a problem at Aba, they are basically talking about the entry points because if you go to Aba, you will find that Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has fixed a lot of roads inside. But the entry points like Enugu- Port Harcourt Highway, the Obigbo segment of the Aba – Port Harcourt Highway are totally messed up. On the other leg, you go to Aba – Ikot Ekpene Federal Highway, it is totally messed up. So, the main challenge remains the dilapidated federal infrastructure in Abia
State and it’s something we want to appeal to the Federal Government to do something about.
“It is amazing that four years ago, Minister Babatunde Fashiola came to Aba with one contractor that they said was going to do the Aba – Ikot Ekpene Federal Highway. We had our doubt when we saw the type of contractor they brought- people we call Aka Contractor, in local parlance. That is emergency, briefcase contractors. And I remember the governor pointing it out to him that this man won’t be able to do the needful on that road. But the minister said that he was experienced. Four years down the line, nothing has been done. They said they have re-awarded the contract for the road and we are asking, where is the contractor? They said the contractor is at the Akwa Ibom end of the road.
Meanwhile, the major problem is at the Abia end. It was the poor state of that road that led to the NSCDC people trespassing through somebody’s family compound and that led to the death of that young man, which they tried to cover. It is unfortunate and I hope that justice will be done in that matter.
“But we need to narrow it down: It was because of the terrible state of the federal highway and the decision of the escort team of the NSCDC to use that particular road instead of using the Ekwereazu- Ntuegina Road done by Governor Ikpeazu as an alternative.
“The governor did an alternative road from Ekwereazu just like Umuikaa Road into Aba.
The governor has been creating alternatives to the federal roads. You notice that the road towards Osisioma Junction is in a very bad state but the governor created alternative roads. If we get a little support from the Federal Government with the ecological fund, things will be a lot better. The Ikpeazu administration, using NEWMAP, has done about eight erosion mediation projects. One is in Umuagu Isingwu, Umuahia. That is the home of Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Their home was about to go down. A primary school was down, a church down, going into the erosion. And we made an intervention, using NEWMAP and Heartland Construction Company. Not only did we control the erosion, we also did about eight kilometres of road around there. A new city has developed there.
We’ve also made some interventions at Nsulu in Isialangwa North and another one in Isiukwuato area. We’ve also made some interventions at Imenyi.
“Indeed, erosion is a challenge in Abia State. Aba is low lying and as a result it receives one of the heaviest rains in a year. Outside Lagos, the next is Aba in terms of sheer volume of rain. One of the things we’ve been able to do, for which nobody is giving credit to the Ikpeazu administration, is that we have worked very hard in the past five years to create channels for water in Aba.
“We have not stopped rain from falling in Aba, what we have done is that within 30 minutes after every rain fall, the water would have followed the gutters to the water collection point, which is Waterside, Aba. We have deliberately decided that we will not
do any road without gutters and such gutters must connect to a major drain. Even with the challenge of people still throwing refuse into gutters, we’ve observed that what we did in the past four years continues to hold. So, all we need is to encourage our people to clean their gutters. Thirty minutes after the rain in Aba, water will recede because of the work we’ve done along Faulks Road and Osusu Road to manage storm water.
“So, we need help from the Federal Government to solve some of these major erosion challenges while as a state government, we will continue to do our bit.”
An Aba resident, Ifeanyi Onyedika, added: “The damage the erosion scourge has done on the psyche of those who have become hapless refugees in their homelands cannot be quantified.”
During the rainy season last year, Kato Obidozor, a father of four and native of
Umunambu, Alor, in Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State headed down to the village from his Onitsha residence, as his people are wont to do at weekends.
But he decided to make a first call at neighbouring Oraukwu. At the Idemili (Ezigbo) River between Abatete and Oraukwu, he found that water had overflown the bridge. He guessed where the bridge was and steered his car that way. He was wrong. His car went into the floodwaters and he drowned. He didn’t live to witness the marriage of his first daughter, which took place a few months ago.
The circumstances that led to Kato’s death had been long in coming. The bridge that has been overtaken by silt used to be a diving board for tough boys.
Emeka Ezeonu, professor of Environmental Biochemistry at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, and native of Alor, recalls his days at Oraukwu Grammar School in the 1970s when he and other boys would dive into the river headlong, using the bridge as a diving board. The gap between the bridge and the water must have been about 10 feet; the silt problem wasn’t there and the water was deep, at least 10 feet deep at the bridge.
Oraukwu and Alor are immediate neighbours, with massive gully erosion, which Ezeonu rates as second in size only to the Nanka gully erosion in Anambra, and perhaps all of Nigeria, acting as a natural border for them.
Oraukwu’s Ezigbo (Idemili) River and Alor’s Ezigbo River are the same water, and their bridges are just some two kilometres apart. Ezeonu and his colleagues used to swim from the Oraukwu Bridge to the Alor
Bridge and back, in the 1970s. Both sides are covered by silt now. They are on the same storm plains.
Conducting Daily Sun around gully erosion sites in Alor, Ezeonu, who is also the President of the Alor Development Initiative, remarked that the silting at the Ezigbo River is a recent manifestation of the erosion problem in the community and the overflow of the bridge is less than 10 years old.
Seen with a bird’s-eye view, the gullies look like obscene gashes on the torso of the savannah. The Okunwa gully erosion looks like a wild display of a gigantic pudenda on the vast plains.
Alor has about 20 erosion sites, with six very active gullies. Some of the very active erosion sites in Alor include Alor-Oraukwu gully erosion site, Olile Okide gully site, Okeke Ojiudu gully site, Gilbert Okide gully site, Oraofia gully site and Okunwa gully site, among others.
A visit to the gully sites in Alor showed that a great percentage of the community is under the siege of the menace, which is currently affecting households, farmlands, business centres, schools, hospitals and even taking lives.
While conducting Daily Sun round the gully sites in Alor, Prof. Ezeonu said the Alor-Oraukwu gully erosion site is virtually the second biggest besides the Nanka gully.
According to him, the gully between Alor and Oraukwu would comfortably take a standard stadium, and can sink a five-storey building.
“This gully traverses the whole of Alor-Oraukwu boundary. It creates a natural boundary between Alor, in Idemili South Local Government Area of the state and Oraukwu, in Idemili North LGA of the state. It was very active in the past but in the 1980s, during the
NPN administration, a local construction company was given a contract to work on it.
They were able to do wonderful work there by installing storm breakers.”
Ezeonu blamed the problem of erosion in the community on human activities and the topography, as well as soil structure and texture.
He said: “There is Kaolin and white sand at the Alor-Oraukwu erosion site. As people started making incursions, by locally mining the resources, and due to increased anthropogenic activities, the strength of the storm breaker became undermined, and it collapsed.
“Also, because there were no regulations, people were channeling water from their compounds without caring where they were emptied. Sometimes, people did water channel without dropping it very well. So, all these caused denudation and triggered the erosion problem. At the Oraukwu end, what used to be a senior football field in Oraukwu Grammar School has virtually disappeared because erosion has eaten it up.”
He said there were efforts by villagers to control erosion in the town but that such gully erosion was not what a community could handle alone.
Ezeonu added: “There have been concerted efforts to control these gully sites, through planting of cashews and bamboos, which gave stabilising effects to some of the gullies, but due to increased human activities, and as population kept growing, with increased demand on lands, management of storm water became a problem, thereby helping such erosions to become more active.
“Another problem that accentuates the erosion menace is that many people interlock their compounds, thereby, stopping water from penetrating the ground so that any little rain that falls gathers flood.
“Alor is also disadvantaged by the type of topography it has. The soil is very soft, and the community has limited land space, so every available space is being used up, thereby putting pressure on the available space and the management of floodwater.”
He explained that the community has been making efforts to control the gullies through by-laws, which demands that every household must construct a catchment pit, where
storm water from every compound would empty. The advantage of such pits, he said, is that when flood empties into it, the force with which it drops would reduce, therefore causing less damage.
But Cornelius Nwajide, retired professor of Geology and former Assistant Director in the
Geological Surveys Department of the Federal Government, has a more holistic understanding of the problem. He had studied erosions for his Masters Degree project and maintains an interest in the subject as a consulting geologist.
Concerning the Alor-Oraukwu gully erosion, Nwajide blames lack of maintenance for the relapse. He said that though the local construction company did a great job at the site, it
was wrong leaving the site without maintenance for over 30 years.
To him, it was a fight between man and nature, with man standing still. “The storm waters continuously attacked the drainage for decades and finally it gave way from the points of least resistance in 2015 and 2016. The storm channel caved in and a lot of silt
was carried down to the Idemili River, blocking the natural flow from Oraukwu to Alor, creating an artificial lake of about 100 meters in diameter on the Oraukwu side,” he explained.
Whatever the causes are, Ezeonu’s prime concern is finding solutions to the problem. He called on NEWMAP, World Bank, relevant government institutions and funding agencies to come for assistance.
“We are calling their attention to the erosion menace in Alor community. We are worried because when communities being threatened by erosion in Anambra and Nigeria are
being enumerated, Alor is, oftentimes, not in the picture. Besides Nanka community in Orumba North LGA, there is no other town in Anambra that is as threatened by erosion as Alor. When you look at the enormity of the erosion problem in Alor, you will agree
with me that it is not something a community can handle by itself. This is why we are calling the attention of NEWMAP. Let them help us attract funding agencies. Let the
Federal Government, at least, get it properly documented that Alor is under serious threat,” he pleaded.
Chairman of Umuhu Ide village, Mr. Chijioke Akubue, who also spoke on the enormity of erosion in Alor community, called on the Federal Government and international
organisations and agencies like the World Bank, to come to the help of the community.
According to him, if nothing is done in the sites within two years, nothing would be left of the community.
Indeed, the Alor gully erosion is second to the Nanka erosion sites. At Udo Ngwu gully erosion site, it takes nerves to look inside. Seen from behind the Nanka stadium, it could
accommodate two stadia of the same size.
Emmanuel Nwogu, a 73-year-old native of Ubahu village, Nanka, said that the erosion problem of the town has been on for ages. His father met it, from one generation to another. The only thing is that it’s steadily getting worse and the sites are multiplying.
Nwogu said: “We opened our eyes as children and saw the gullies. So did our fathers, though on a smaller scale, as the menace has been escalating over the years.”
Again, he blamed poor soil management for the rampaging erosion, noting that government had never done anything to solve the problem despite sending one study team after another since the 1950s when he was a child.
Nwogu disclosed that Nanka indigenes had tried over the years to reclaim their land, particularly in the central portion of the town. But all efforts got swept off with a single rain. The only thing that has recorded some success is a drainage that was built from Udo
Ngwu to Awgbu town, which has helped to slow down the rate of erosion in that axis.
But he noted that there are places where underground spring water issue from the ground, eroding the sides of the gully and causing landslides.
For instance, more than 50 families were evacuated in Nanka town, in Anambra State in1988 when a major landslide occurred.
Mr Okwudili Ojukwu-Enendu, a former newspaper editor, recalled the days of his childhood accessing the purest spring water from a spot in the Nanka gullies called Nwobunagu. The quality of the water was top grade, but getting down the sides of the gully to access it was an eternal nightmare. It was a real life equivalent of fetching embers of fire from the land of the spirits to do some cooking.
Last May, the attention of Governor Willie Obiano was drawn to the Trans-Nkisi Aroli erosion site in Onitsha North Local Government Area and he almost wept seeing the magnitude of the devastation and the traumatic experience of the residents. Measuring
over 35 metres deep, the menace cleared everything in sight, leaving the community in ruins. About 40 structures were consumed by the monster, including a church and
school. Many of the residents have been compelled to relocate to other places.
Some of the most mentioned gully sites in Anambra are scattered in communities such as Nanka, in Orumba North Local Government Area of the state, which is believed to have
the most active gully site in the country.
Other gully sites are in Oko, Ekwulobia, Aguata, Aguata, Orumba, Nnewi, Ukpor, Ideani, Nnobi, Obosi, Oba, Oraukwu, Awka, Onitsha, Njikoka, Enugu Ukwu and Ihialla, among others.
According to Obiano, the landmass of the state is shrinking steadily, arguing that it is now the smallest state in terms of usable landmass in the country. He also said that the steady decline in land is leading to loss of means of livelihood and threat to human existence itself.
Ordinarily, Amanchor Cave should be a tourist destination. The cave, which is about four kilometres long, is found in Afikpo South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State.
The reporter was at the cave recently and was fascinated by a breathtaking view from the hilltop, revealing nature at its best. Inside the cave, you see wonders: different compartments like rooms, parlour, seats and table-shaped rocks.
But going to the cave is a tough job; it’s a hostile terrain. The road, from the foot of the cave, is steep and dangerous. It is broken, ravaged by erosion. Only the fit and rugged can access it. If you misstep, the result could be disastrous.
But Amanchor is not the only ecologically challenged part of the state. There are more than a handful of others. Edda is one of them.
A report in this newspaper in 2012 succinctly captured it: “While the case (of erosion) in Edda might not have been invented into singsong like those of Nanka, Ekwulobia, Nnewi or Isuikwuato, the clan of 11 communities has more than a modest share of the menace.
“The entire land surface is dotted and perforated with erosion sites. On the average, each of the 11 communities has more than two terrible erosion sites. A visit to Edda, a land that is naturally blessed with wondrous topography of high peaks and flatlands would convince you that in the entire nation, it has one of the worst cases of environmental degradation, no thanks to gully erosion.
“The nature of the land makes it prone to heavy water run-off after every rainfall. And in this part of the nation, rainfalls come in heavy torrents. So the lush green canopy of foliage that once sustained peaceful landscapes and rich agricultural fields are turned to a hue of scarified and lacerated surfaces. There is an open and gaping earth sore in every direction you turn.
“Mazi Okoro Agwu told Daily Sun that if the 24 erosion sites dotting the entire Edda land surface were consolidated in one spot, one third of the entire land surface would be gone.
“As the skies shed tears in rainfall, so the Edda man complements with his tears in weeping and sobs. When rain clouds gather, the hearts of the people sink and if possible they would pray that there would be no more rains.
“During a visit to Edda, Daily Sun inspected so many of the sites that are located within residential quarters and farmlands. But the worst of them is just within the local government secretariat at Nguzu. When slim erosion rivulets started tearing through the loose earth at the valleys between Nguzu and Ekoli, just at the back of the local government premises, some 20 years ago, the council saw it as just a minor issue that deserved no attention.
“But with time, the strips of gullies that held little volumes of run-off widened like cancerous growths into a ravine that steadily caved in under every higher volume of erosion. Today, even the state after inspecting the sites admitted that her annual budget channelled at the site won’t make any impact. The force got stronger with time and the menace enlarged until it got a grip of the premises. Like in an ambush, the gully took over the entire space and in turns it swallowed the structures in the LG office one after the other.
“Because the council officials can’t contend with this terrorist, what they did was to simply pick their leftover belongings and shift base to a safer haven within the same town. For about two years now, erosion has sacked the Edda LG council, banished them into exile and it operates from such refuge camp.”
Eight years after, not much has changed as cavernous erosion and flood are still tearing the earth in many areas and tormenting inhabitants.
However, last September, Dr Philip Echiegu, state Project Coordinator, NEWMAP, disclosed that intervention had been made at Iyi-Udene flood site, Odunukwe Nkaliki-Hatchery Road flood site, Iyiokwu-International Market flood site and Ebia River flood site.
“We have completed the remedial works at Nguzu Edda where erosion menace had ‘sacked’ the Afikpo South Local Government Area headquarters,” he said.
But it was a mere pat on the back.
The erosion sites in the state include Umubo in Onicha; Nguzu LG headquarter in Afikpo South LGA; Nguzu Edda, Afikpo South LGA; Ohaisu in Afikpo North LGA; former High Court in Afikpo North LGA; Amankwo (Afikpo North LGA); Nguzu-Amiyi Road (Afikpo South LGA); Ekoli Okagwe (Afikpo South LGA); Tech Secondary School, Nguzu,(Afikpo South LGA); Ugwuja (Afikpo South LGA); Egbebu Central School,(Afikpo South LGA); Enuagu, (Onicha LGA) and Okposi Ngbo.
While flood is the portion of such places as Federal Medical Centre (Ebonyi LGA) and Enu Enyim Agbaja (LGA), Oguma Ekoli Edda (Afikpo South LGA) and Egoelu Ekoli and Edda (Afikpo South LGA), others contend with landslides.
On April 4, 2007, a company was awarded contract for erosion and flood control at Abia Town in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State. According to NEITI, the contractor was paid N274, 202, 049.00, while the expected date of completion of the project was December 2007. Official records indicate that the project has been completed.
You would expect the inhabitants to be excited at this development but the outcome was a contrast of the expectation of the people. Now, they are weeping in the valley of tears because of the way the project was executed.
Indeed, the ecological problem had worsened. The earth eater is freely feasting on farmlands, consuming anything on its way.
Investigation revealed that the problem of the inhabitants of Abia Town took a turn for the worse because the erosion control work was not properly terminated.
Daily Sun was in Abia Town on September 26, 2020 and discovered that the problem had surpassed what was seen in 2016. More farmlands had been swallowed even as new gullies are developing and the residents dressed in the robe of lamentation.
An indigene of the town, Batholomew Ani, popularly known as Batho Nwani, who worked on the erosion control project, told Daily Sun that there is a surge of anxiety in the town.
He said: “The erosion at Obinagu Abia in Enugu State has done enormous damage and destruction to our people. There was a time a contractor was given the job for the control of the erosion but the job was not properly done or it was not properly terminated and the result is that it has a more devastating effect. The situation is worse today than when the contract was awarded. We are appealing to government to come to our assistance because our farmlands are being washed away. In fact, if nothing concrete is done in the next one year or so, many homes would be swallowed up in our village by erosion. We are helpless because it is not a project for a community to handle. The destruction is so massive that only the government that can help us. With each passing day, farmlands are depreciating. Even the road to the farmlands is affected so badly that bringing home farm produce is a herculean task. So, you can imagine the consequences, if nothing is urgently done. There will be food shortage, which is not what any community would wish for.”
Another indigene, Sammy Okeke, volunteered that the contractors had come to the site twice but it appeared that the problem overwhelmed them. And they left. Insisting that the people are in more precarious situation now, Okeke explained that they are losing more farmlands at great speed. He added that if nothing was done as a matter of urgency, the entire community could be wiped out soon. “Instead of bringing succour as expected, the contractor brought more hardship to us. This is, certainly, not what we bargained for,” he said, shaking his head in disappointment.
It was gathered that it has become a yearly ritual for the farmers in Abia town to lose farmlands and crops to erosion. When some farmers learnt that there were new faces at the
site, nine of them rushed to the reporter with obvious expectation.
One after the other, the farmers appealed to Daily Sun to help talk to government to come and help them. “We are dying of hunger,” they chorused. They painted a pathetic picture.
In a telephone chat, the traditional ruler of Abia Town, Igwe Kingsley Chime, said his people are suffering because of the devastation of their farmlands.
Chime, who is also an Apostle, was obviously exasperated as he lampooned the contractor. According to him, “the place is worse now than before. An inexperienced and incompetent engineer, a woman, was used for the job. The rain washed away whatever they did. We are all living in danger of being swallowed by erosion.”
The Abia town experience is certainly not an isolated case in Enugu State. The 9th Mile –Enugu Expressway is a death trap. Gully erosion has devastated portions of the road so badly that traveling has become a nightmare.
Deaths are recorded on that road regularly, particularly the Ugwu Onyema general area. Indeed, dozens of lives have perished on that axis even as the erosion menace worsens.
One of the worst incidents in the area was recorded on June 10, 2018 when Pastor ThankGod Ifeanyi Onyia, his wife, five children, and a neighbour’s daughter died in a fatal accident as a result of the gully.
It was also gathered that robbers and kidnappers are running riot in the area because of the craters doting the road.
A few weeks ago, Daily Sun went to Ugwu Onyema and saw a ‘highway’ looking for blood to suck. You need to be a very good driver to navigate through the terribly devastated federal facility. Apart from the vast gully by the side, the ones in the middle of
the road are expanding and if nothing is done as a matter of urgency the road will cut into two.
A driver, Lawrence Ibeneme, who plies the road regularly, told Daily Sun: “As you can see, this road is a nightmare. I pass here all the time, so I know what I’m saying. The road becomes something else if it rains. If a truck falls here, that’s the end of the story. Here, there is no traffic regulation; people drive against traffic because some portions are simply not passable. This often resulted in accident. Another problem is that robbery and kidnapping occur here all the time.
“Hoodlums take advantage of the slow pace of movement to attack commuters. It’s a terrible situation. Every now and then, they bring all manner of people to come and ‘fix’ the place, but they are just jokers.”
Again, the open earth has been converted to a dumpsite. While at the site, Daily Sun saw trucks discharging refuse inside the gully, and they pay some fee to some people who said they were working for government. The stench is so thick you can slice through it with a knife. In fact, the acrid odour coming out from the site could hang on your shirt if you stay a few minutes. During the #EndSARS protest, Rev Father Mbaka said bodies of dozens of protesting youths killed by security agents were dumped inside the ditch, and no one contradicted him.
Landscapes distorted by erosion can also be found in several communities in the state.
September 2020 created scenes of lamentation for some of the residents of a section of Akwakuma in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State. It was the month Armageddon visited them in form of erosion with ferocious intensity.
While they slept on the night of September 5, the heavens opened and poured sorrow of immense proportion on the neighbourhood, particularly Trinity Street. When they woke up, many discovered that a massive gorge had been created on the street. So, many residents became quarantined in their houses even when they did not test positive for COVID-19. They could not come out because the entrance to some of the buildings had been washed away, making them prisoners in their own homes.
The public servants in the area could not go to work and the self-employed could not venture out to seek their daily bread. Women and children could not go out to buy things for the family. They all remained indoors, in panic and anxiety. About 12 buildings and 25 households were affected.
But there is always a man among men. Mr Emmanuel Ogu, a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri braved the odds and scaled the fence of his house into the 20-feet gully, using iron rods.
Ogu said: “A state of emergency should be declared in this area. September is the peak of rainfall, and the rains have not fully started. Already we are being cut off from our neighbours.
“This place was not like this when I came. Although I heard it used to be flooded, it wasn’t like this until 2017 when the situation became worse under the administration of
Governor Rochas Okorocha after he introduced his urban renewal programme.
“He destroyed some structures built by his predecessor, Ikedi Ohakim, especially at Akwakuma Roundabout. All the water meant to go through the drainage now empties into Okohia, which is the cause of the landslide.”
Bishop Timothy Aaron of Trinity Christian Church, who was said to be the first person to move into the area, said: “I remember when Okorocha started changing the face of the drainage at Akwakuma. He built his own tunnel that was not channelling water into Nworie River. Instead, it moved towards our direction. That was when things became bad for us.”
When the reporter visited the area on Saturday, September 19, it was devastated and forsaken. Faces of residents looked forlorn as they looked at every visitor with hope.
However, some residents were seen desperately trying to erect barriers and channels in preparations for the next rain.
One of the residents muttered in an anguished voice: “This place has turned a tourists’ attraction for the wrong reasons.”
Around the area is a deep gully running from the main road into the nearby Nworie River. The gully has swallowed part of the market built by the Okorocha administration and threatening buildings within the vicinity. In the presence of the reporter, a portion of land collapsed into the gully. There were also marks on the ground, showing the areas soon to cave in.
A resident of the community, a retiree, who served as a guide, Mr Johnson Ukwuoma, said: “This problem in Akwakuma started in 2017. It started gradually and we thought it was a joke and in 2018, we started getting worried as it began to expand. The Rochas Okorocha government did what it could to contain or control it by putting a gutter but before we knew what was happening, the erosion swallowed the gutter and expanded with great speed. When the new government came in after the exit of Okorocha, we complained to them and some people were sent to come and assess the situation. But in 2020, it became a serious disaster and messed up everything. Some of the buildings in the market have been swept away. One of the buildings has been carried away while another was cut into two: one part has fallen into the gully, the other half is standing precariously.
The government has asked people to evacuate the area, promising to come and attend to the problem during the dry season. As you can see, if nothing is done as a matter of urgency, many houses will go soon. Many households have packed out. It is, indeed, a worrisome situation. To be candid, if there is another downpour, the outcome will be unimaginable. We are in pains that the market built by government as well as individual houses are being destroyed. We are, therefore, calling on both the federal and state governments to come and rescue us because we cannot help ourselves. On our own, we are doing some work to see how we can ameliorate the situation for this period.”
Professor Philip Njemanze, a pro-life advocate and writer, said: “Erosion is a major problem in Imo State. It’s a problem that has never been addressed. And it is a problem that is beyond even the state in terms of capacity to resolve.”
Hon. Nnamdi Cos-Ukwuoma spoke in the same vein. According to him, “the erosion problem in Imo State is a time bomb that may be very devastating when it detonates. The ravaging of the ecologies of our communities in recent times has assumed more dangerous dimensions, and at rates that can only be imagined.”
Offering profound perspectives into the menace, the former lawmaker volunteered: “Despite community efforts and occasional interventions by the state governments, erosion problem still poses a serious threat to the people. The problem seems to be beyond the resources of the state government. For instance, in my teenage days, when we used to go to Orie Ugwu Market, Umuna after school, everybody always ran home each time the clouds were heavy for fear of being carried away by ravaging floods, as was always the case when it rained.”
In Ideato Local Government Area of the state, there are also lamentations of sorrow. Here, the story is the same. It is the story of menacing erosion, destroying roads and cutting off communities. There is gully erosion at Umueshi, which is like a bottomless pit, stretching several kilometres. The erosion has devastated a chunk of the community, leaving the residents helpless.
When the reporter visited Chief Nick Ifeanyi Awaji, the President-General of Umueshi autonomous community, sadness was written all over him. According to him, the community had suffered so much deprivation, even as the erosion threatens homes.
Awaji said: “I’m sure that you are shocked by what you saw. Erosion has finished us. As a matter of fact, a lot of development has eluded us, maybe because we don’t have people in government. However, we had our son, Rochas Okorocha, who was governor for eight years. We expected something good but that eluded us. As far as the issue of erosion is concerned, the community is in a very precarious situation. When Okorocha was in office, the NEWMAP came to rescue us and the contract was awarded.
But somewhere along the line, the former governor didn’t want to pay the counterpart funding in line with the World Bank specification or policy. He wanted the job to be given to him; that’s what the NEWMAP people said. But it is not their policy to give such jobs out. So, in that process, that project was stalled. When I went to their office in Abuja, they told me that they were waiting for a new governor to come. That was during the 2019 election and incidentally Emeka Ihedioha won the governorship election and paid N500million counterpart fund. It was to cover the Uruala axis. They called for tender and the people tendered. They fixed a date for the opening of bidding and I was there. Four host communities were involved and I was the only representative of the host communities. Since then, we have been expecting them to resume the work but up till now nothing has been heard of it.
“We have been grappling with that problem. Even one man whose house is close to the erosion site came to me crying that his household was being submerged. I pitied him but there was nothing I could do because it is beyond me.
“I’ve been expecting the Hope Uzodimma government to come up with a programme to salvage the situation. I think the erosion is beyond what a local government can do. It is part of the ecological problems and I know provision is made in the budget for such. I don’t know what government is thinking about it. We are yet to have a real saviour in this regard; we need a saviour.
“The erosion menace here is very devastating. You have been to the site and you must have seen the magnitude of the problem. It has cut the road that linked us to other communities. That road is very important because it links to Ntuoke, Orualla, Obodo Ukwu, Dikenafai and Okwelle, among other communities. Even the diversion is very bad. Worse still, when Okorocha wanted to contest for the senate, he awarded an insincere contract and they just messed up things even to the extent of bringing down some of our electric poles. When I called the contractor to replace them, he said that he had not been given money. Through the benevolence of my people, we had to replace the poles to ensure that light was restored. That is the situation. It is very sad that we had someone like Okorocha for eight years as governor and we cannot enjoy anything. There is no government presence in the community and there is a limit to what individuals can do. My honest appeal is that we want a rescue mission but not the type of rescue mission mouthed by the former administration.”
Ironically, going to Ogboko, Okorocha’s home town, is like a journey through the valley of the shadow of death. The road, from Orlu, is broken in some parts due to erosion and flood. Drivers are compelled to drive against traffic because some portions of the road have caved in. A source alleged that the former governor travels home with helicopter because of the embarrassing state of the road.
Indeed, in Orlu LGA, erosion is a monster. Ogberuru is one of the communities most affected. Like a bull in a China shop, erosion has been on rampage, pulling down houses and destroying farmlands, thereby impoverishing the farmers.
When the reporter visited Ogberuru on September 18 and 19, distraught youths came out to show the way to the sites at Obibi Ochasi. And they are massive and expanding.
Villages being ravaged by erosion in Ogberuru include Ubaha, Umuezeala,
Umuenwerem, Umuegbe, Ummunnam, Isiakpu, Eziama, Umunneme, Umuele and Aboh.
A youth leader in Obibi Ochasi, Chijioke Godfrey Dan Okereke, said: “I have been involved in erosion control project since inception in 2011 till date. The snail speed of saving us is having psychological effect on the citizenry because a lot of places are affected to the extent that if nothing is done as a matter of urgency, houses in this area will soon start collapsing into gullies.
“The gullies are so close to many residential houses. We have nine mini agro based project as empowerment to some affected persons under the NEWMAP erosion control in
Orlu and I am the site community association chairman. But for us, if the empowerment can be suspended and let these gullies be checkmated that will give us better joy and remove the fear in the people because of the threat that their houses could be lost
anytime. If they can go back to agriculture as President Muhammadu Buhari has been preaching, they will be fine.
“I have gone round 26 LGAs in Imo State since the inception of the NEWMAP erosion control project and I found that virtually all of them are affected.”
According to Okereke, “engineering lapses caused this particular one at Obibi Ochasi in Orlu because the gutters were not properly channelled.”
Perhaps to underscore the magnitude of the erosion menace in Imo State, Governor Hope Uzodimma, in November 2020, appealed to the United Nations (UN) to intervene to curb the ravaging gully erosion in his state.
Appealing to the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed, Uzodimma explained that his government cannot battle the menace alone due to the decline in revenue, both from the federal and state governments, occasioned by the
devastating effect of COVID-19.
Few days after, Uzodimma disclosed that the Imo State needs N75 billion to tackle erosion menace. Addressing journalists after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, he said: “It’s just a normal courtesy call on the President and then to make some requests. Prominent among the requests I made today is that of erosion menace that has bedevilled the state to the extent that the only road that you go through to the Federal University of Technology and Federal College of Technology in Owerri, the state capital, is almost cut into two.
“It is so critical that the schools are about to resume and if nothing is done urgently, they may not be able to have access to their various schools and the President in his wisdom has promised to immediately get in touch with the ecological office to remedy the situation.
“We have over 360 erosion sites in Imo State, and at the last count, we have done a study of 57 sites, which we consider very critical and immediate.
“Based on our assessment, a lot of money would be required to address the problem, over N75 billion, and you will agree with me that the state government cannot handle that alone.”
On December 15, the member representing Mbaitoli constituency in the state House of Assembly, Okey Onyekanma, raised the alarm over the gully erosion “sweeping my constituents away.”
He said: “Gully erosion has completely cut off the Nkwesi –Ukwuoji, Nwaorieubi-Attah Ikeduru-Imo Ring Road and life miserable for road users and residents of the community.”
Noting that emergency palliative work was carried out in the area in the past, Onyekanma added: “It is worrisome that the menace has not abated, but has assumed a more dangerous dimension, threatening to sweep off the enire community.”
Active erosion sites in Imo include Okigwe, Owerri, Mbaise, Mbano, Ihitteowerre, Obibi Ochasi, Ihioma, Mgbee, Orlu and Umudioka.
How and why
Investigation revealed that while some of the erosion and flood challenges are as a result of natural depressions and topography of the affected communities, others are precipitated by negative ecological habits of the inhabitants. Such harmful human activities, which eventually progress to inflict serious damage to the deep layers of the earth, include indiscriminate sand excavation. This, of course, causes disequilibrium in the soil. For instance, in Imo State, sand mining is going on in such communities as old Nekede, Orlu and Njaba, among others.
Also, urbanisation and illegal activities take their toll on commercial centres like Aba, Onitsha, Nnewi and Umuahia, among others where water channels are blocked with illegal structures and dirt. And, as they say, water will always find its way.
How they fare
A 2017 study by the European Centre for Research, Training and Development said that Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo states have the highest number of active erosion sites in Nigeria. Findings indicate that the numbers have increased.
Anambra State, unarguably, is the erosion headquarters of Nigeria, with the state accommodating about 35 per cent of the total gully erosion sites in the South East, and about 28 per cent of the total erosion gullies in the country.
Anambra State alone has an estimated 1,000 active gully erosion sites, out of the about 2,800 gully erosion sites in the South East and about 3,700 erosion sites in Nigeria. Imo has 300 active gullies while Abia, Enugu and Ebonyi states have 500 active sites each.
There are also uncountable ordinary erosion sites in the zone. While some of the sites are old, new ones are emerging all the time. Show me a town free of erosion menace in the
South East and I will show you one that just made the list.
Incidentally, whereas the situation is worsening by the day, not much has been done to address the problem. Although the affected states get assistance from the Nigeria Erosion
and Watershed and Management Project (NEWMAP), a World Bank assisted project aimed at tackling environmental degradation, and the Federal Government, through the
Ecological Funds Office (EFO), the interventions are grossly inadequate or misapplied.
According to the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), “it should be noted that the actual fund transferred to the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government Ecological Fund Account for execution of ecological project from 2007 to 2011 was N56, 910, 600, 873. This fund was established as an intervention facility to address serious ecological problems across the country. However, our audit revealed that disbursements were made to beneficiaries outside the purpose of setting up the fund.”
A report by the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), Abuja (ICIR) added: “Investigations across the country show that the funds released for projects are characterised by mismanagement, diversion of funds, substandard and abandoned
projects fully paid for while the threats of ecological problems continue to wreak havoc, sometimes taking lives.
“In many cases, projects costing billions of naira were certified by government engineers and other officials when, as investigations showed, the projects had either been abandoned or left uncompleted. Yet, money had been paid to the contractor, indicating a possible collusion between greedy and unpatriotic officials and contractors.
“So unmindful was the government of the essence of setting aside funds to deal with ecological problems that the state even borrowed money from the Ecological Funds Office to finance shortfalls in its appropriation. Between 2009 and 2011, the Federal Government withdrew about N94 billion from the N141.5 billon that accrued to the Fund to finance its budget deficit.”
Between 2007 and 2016, a mere N12.7 billion was earmarked for erosion intervention in South East. This sum represents just three percent of the funds accruing to the EFO.
Many communities have made efforts to contain the menace but, in most cases, they have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem.
Consider what a traditional ruler in Imo State, who pleaded anonymity, told Daily Sun: “We have spent so much money trying to control the erosion menace but it is beyond us. We have cried out to different administrations in the state to come to our aid but they only made promises without fulfilling them. On several occasions, we took cows and other gifts to the governors; they took our gifts without doing anything about our condition.”
Ironically, some states are not taking full advantage of intervention schemes at their disposal because they do not want to contribute the counterpart fund for such. Imo State is an example.
A document obtained by the reporter from a NEWMAP consultant in the state in September 2020 said: “The last tranche of the International Development Association
(IDA) credit accrued to Imo NEWMAP is being expected. Imo NEWMAP projected disbursement for the year 2020 is about $47million. Information reaching me reveals that the World Bank has for now concluded the disbursements to states that meet up with the laid-down conditions for year 2020-2021 project implementation, which Imo State still has the last chance to cash into within the remaining days of this week. Having missed out in the earlier grant of $1million in May/June owing to the current stalemate in the state, the state is also at the verge of losing another whopping sum of over $47million at the end of this week. Information reveals that the World Bank is set to declare total misprocurement on Imo NEWMAP, which implies outright closure of this project, which will as well affect World Bank-assisted programmes and projects in the state. Note that in line with Subsidiary Loan Agreement that once funds have been earmarked to participating states and the state is unable to disburse owing to her own shortcomings, such funds shall be deemed EARNED by that and as such shall be fully recovered with the accruing interest: This shall certainly be deducted at source through state allocation at the Federal Ministry of Finance.
“It might as well interest you to know that in addition to the already evaluated erosion sites whose evaluation report is pending review by the World Bank for contract award, the sites below with their estimated cost are also awaiting immediate commencement for the procurement of contractors.”
The document listed the sites pending fresh procurement process that need to be given accelerated attention.
There is also “government magic” in the mix, as the late Afro-beat king, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, would say. Take this: On May 16, 2007, a company was awarded an erosion control measures contract for Ukpor in Anambra State. August 2008 was the expected date of completion and N263, 291, 648.00 was paid. Officially, the work is 100 per cent completed. Interestingly, documents from ECO showed that the same contract was awarded again on the same day (16/5/07) to another firm and the date of completion was also August 2008. In this case, the contractor was paid N269, 429, 164.00. Again, the current status of the contract, according to official documents, is 100 per cent completed. But that is nothing but tale by moonlight.
Daily Sun investigation revealed that many flood channelization and land reclamation contracts in the South East were so shoddy and unprofessionally executed that while trying to solve one problem, a bigger one was created, as the gullies developed and expanded where water from the drainages was discharged.
But while the contractors that handled some of the erosion control projects fell short of the expectation of some affected communities, they left indelible marks. Mr Abraham Adiseyen from Ndiwo Itumbauzo in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State told
Daily Sun: “I was in the village when the construction started. The contractor did the Ndiwo-Itumbauzo Channel 1 and proceeded to Ntalakwu Channel 2, where they worked a little before they left. They constructed a small road and erosion control at Ndiwo Itumbauzo.
“They stayed more than five years in our village. The work they did is nothing to write home about. They did nothing at Amaudo 1 and Amaudo 2.
“The workers impregnated many of our girls. Those girls have been delivered of babies whose fathers cannot be traced. I can show you some of the girls if you want to see them.
But I do not blame the workers; I blame our girls.”
It is possible that in years to come, some South East communities may totally cease to exist.