From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Between Saturday July 31 and August 1, 2021, Obogoro in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State had yet another visit from an unwanted guest. The guest- coastal erosion, swept through the community leaving in its wake, tears, heartache and trepidation.
Obogoro is one of the closet communities to Yenagoa, the state capital. It is not new to coastal erosion and the associated landslide that destroyed houses and properties annually. The community before the latest tragedy has been crying for help but their concerns, fears and pleas for help from the federal and state governments have been largely ignored.
In April 2021, when erosion destroyed some properties, Governor Douye Diri visited the community. He was told how the St John Primary School football field was destroyed. He promised to take immediate action, but nothing is forthcoming five months after.
The latest disaster, which consumed seven buildings has put the people on the edge for all they see are ominous signs of extinction. And unable to comprehend what would become of them and their buildings, those who have houses close to the riverbank have started dismantling the buildings in preparation for relocation.
Ada Gwegwe, one of the conveners of the Save Obogoro group lamented that the people have lost faith of any help coming to them due to failed promises. He believed the lack of rain for a while has been the saving grace for the community:
“We are lucky that for some time, rain has not fallen. If not, we would be talking about something else. Once rain falls, the land would be soft and makes it easier for houses and lands to cave in. If this can happen when there is no rain, when there is rain worse things would happen. It would be disastrous for the community.
We wrote to the House of Representatives through the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila. He wrote back through our representative, Steve Azaiki. I am not pleased with what happened when we appeared before the House.
“Under the rain in Abuja, we went there and made the presentation. We were told to go because they were going on recess and that we should come back on October 7. So, between now and October 7, what would be the fate of the people?
“I am disappointed in the state government. On April 24, after some lands were washed away, the governor visited the community. After seeing what the people were going through, he gave an order for the immediate canalization of the river to divert the water from the community to give a temporary relief.
“Since then all what we have heard was that the contract has been awarded. But till now nothing has been done. The people of the community are fed up. They are no longer interested in talking to the media because the government has not acted. They are now prepared to relocate to live at the Government House gate until government answers them.”
David Igwele has also been in the fore forefront of the advocacy to save Obogoro: “If nothing is done on the long run, even the Goodluck Jonathan Bridge across the Ekole River linking Southern Ijaw Local Government would be at risk.
“Already, there are serious cracks at the base of the bridge, at the Obogoro end. Again, let it be known that we shall embark on a serious protest if action is delayed by the government.”
Gladys Thursday Ayamalem said: “This was where my grandfather’s house was. I didn’t know when he built it. I grew up to see the building. But last’s flood, just one second; the house went into the river. The marks of the house are still here.
“When the rains and flood of this year start, other houses would go. I need your support; we have cried to government about this issue and we are tired. It is as if we are not part of Bayelsa. We are begging government help Obogoro community. Erosion is about making us go into extinction.
“Government, we are crying, Obogoro people are crying for help. I am on my knees. Bayelsa Government, please come and help Obogoro community, we are getting depleted. Obogoro is going into extinction. I am begging as an Obogoro woman.”
The secretary of the community, Pulu Yogoi, attested: “We have written to the state government, the Ministry of Environment. In April 2021, the governor came and gave directives to the Commissioner for Environment to immediately swing into action. But as we speak, nothing has been done.
“We want government to, please, as a matter of urgency, step in and award contract for action to begin on the reopening of the original water course of the river. If that is done it will weaken the current and divert it.
“Besides that, we wrote to the Office of the Ecological Fund. And they gave us some requirements. We have met those requirements; some perimeter measurement, bill of quantity; we have done all of that. But till today all our efforts seem to have come to naught.
“We also wrote the Federal Government, the Niger Delta Ministry and Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). Two weeks ago we were at the House of Representatives, following our petition. And, our matter was presented at plenary. Having heard us, we have been asked to return to the House Representatives on October 7, 2021. We are pleading with the Federal Government to come to our aid in terms of shore protection to save Obogoro community from further erosion.”
Programme Officer, Environment Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN), Mr Alagoa Morris, said: “Government should take practical steps to convince the people of Obogoro and other stakeholders that the government actually meant well and will do the needful; and urgently too.”
Deputy Governor, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, said: “Apart from the natural forces behind the disaster, the problem (erosion) can also be blamed on the collective negligence and compromise of both the people and government regulatory bodies, like the Ministry of Environment.
“We failed to take necessary steps to stop the sand dredging. I can tell you, though without scientific evidence, that what is happening to Obogoro now may not be unconnected with sand dredging activities that have been taking place there on the Ekole River.
“As you dredge, you are extracting the sand underneath, thereby causing the land to be porous and sliding. I don’t think anybody carried an EIA before that dredging took place.”
He told a delegation led by the paramount ruler of Obogoro community, King Monday Theophilus Igodo, that government awarded the canalization project. He appealed to the people to be patient with the government.