George Onyejiuwa, Owerri
There is an environmental time bomb in Imo state with the propensity of causing devastation of unimaginable proportion if not quickly checked. That has to do with the activities of sand miners which Daily Sun gathered was exclusively franchised to a nephew of the immediate past governor, Senator Rochas Okorocha.
Two weeks ago, Governor Emeka Ihedioha ordered the immediate stop of sand mining activities at the bank of the Nworie River along the Nekede axis which had created an environmental emergency within the Owerri metropolis. Sand mining has contributed to the ever expanding gully erosion now threatening the Owerri section of the Owerri/Aba expressway.
The collapse of a section of the fourth inland road which leads to Nekede was also attributed to the activities of sand miners in the area. At the moment, several buildings within the vicinity are under threat due to the widening gully erosion.
This economic activity conjures mixed feelings in Imo people as it would always bring to mind the Nworie River which the then Government of Ikedi Ohakim tried to dredge. Ohakim’s era also put a stop to indiscriminate sand mining in the adjoining areas of Nworie River.
Despite the fact that sand mining has remained a veritable source of revenue generation to the state government, Daily Sun gathered that Ohakim placed restrictions on it because of the negative impact on the environment.
However, our correspondent learnt that the activities of sand miners had intensified in the eight years of the Okorocha-led administration. Under the former governor, the restrictions were lifted and the sole right of sand mining from Nworie River starting from Akwakuma to where it joins the Otamiri River was allegedly ceded to Mr. Obinna Obinali, the first son of Okorocha’s elder sister, Mrs. Geraldine Obinali.
Some artisans who carry out businesses behind the sand mining site have lamented that the land was fast eroding as a result of the mining activities which according to them, have increased the gully erosion especially during the rainy season.
Ifeanyi Adiele had his mechanic workshop along the Owerri/Aba road within Emmanuel College area.
He said: “The gully erosion is fast eating up the whole of this area. My mechanic workshop has been here for over twenty years now but as the sand mining at the Nworie River intensified over the years so is the gully erosion and I have had to move severally to avoid my workshop from caving in. You can see for yourself the danger we now face. I think that it was a good decision by Governor Emeka Ihedioha to stop all the mining activities for now,” he said.
Also, Amadi Nlemadim, an auto parts dealer around the area noted that if nothing was done that the entire area will collapse because of the expanding gully erosion. He said: “Every year the erosion is eating up the land here. We were not standing here last year because we have moved further that to the Owerri/Aba road which was not the case previously. I don’t think it is a good idea for any government to approve the mining of sand within the capital territory because the activities of the miners will definitely affect the surroundings of the area”.
Similarly, a soil scientist, Gordian Umekwe said that excessive in stream sand mining is a threat to bridges, river banks and nearby structures.
According to him, “Excessive in stream sand mining is a potential threat to bridges, river banks and nearby structures and that is what had caused the collapse of the bridge over Nworie at the fourth inland road that leads to Nekede. So, excessive in stream mining which is what has been going on at Nworie from the Akwakuma area through to the Emmanuel College area may lead to erosion because sand mining causes degradation of rivers, lowers the stream bottoms and that’s the problem we are experiencing right now in Akwakuma through to the Emmanuel college area.”
The expert therefore, counselled the new government in the state to pay more attention to the environment, in this instance, rather than the revenue that could be generated from sand mining in the area.
“I think the current government should think more in terms of saving the environment rather than in making money especially within the state capital,” Umekwe advised.
He further advised that the state government should, as a matter of urgency, carry out environmental impact assessment before approving sand mining site, stressing that the sand and gravel miners have wrought heavy environmental havoc in the state especially in Okigwe and Njaba councils.