Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
Customs House, the headquarters of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in Onitsha, Anambra State, is under threat. Gully erosion has cut off the main gate, preventing easy movement to and from the building.
The Customs House, Onitsha, houses both offices and barracks for officers and men of the service, which has been under serious threat following heavy flooding that passes through the place through a broken drainage channel to the River Niger.
Right now, the main entrance to the place has been completely cut off, as no vehicle can access the place through the gate. The only option is the rear gate, which the officers and men as well as visitors now use to access both the offices and barracks.
Giving the background to the incident, a customs officer who gave his name as Adamu said that the problem started little and degenerated to a huge level due to neglect from both federal and state governments.
He attributed the problem to the channelization of water into the place, which overflows the area during the rainy season. That, he said, started creating a gully until it eventually pulled off the fence and became uncontrollable.
“This gully erosion and flooding was like this when I was transferred to this place about four years ago, but it was not as bad as this. When we came to this place, we were accessing the road until last year that the entrance gate was completely cut-off and no vehicle can come in or go out.
“The only saviour now is that we have a back gate, which is narrow, that we have been using all this while to access the place. The back gate is already weak and trucks and lorries don’t pass through the place, making our job difficult when we impound goods in a lorry because the long vehicle cannot enter through the rear gate.
“The cause of the gully is the heavy floods that come from Upper Iweka and converge on our office without proper drainage system out of our office to empty the water into the River Niger. During the rainy season, nobody stays on the ground floor of our office, because flood covers the place. Our men and their families don’t come near this area because everywhere would be flooded.
“To tell you how this place looks like during the rainy season, especially during that heavy rain that caused the flood which carried children away, some people came here looking for the people that drowned in the flood because this place was covered with flood water. Some people were coming here to check whether the body of their loved ones who were carried by the flood were brought to this place,” he stated.
Adamu noted that the command had written to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State for help, adding that the governor had sent a delegation to the place. He said the team include some engineers who had assessed the situation with the intention of rechanneling the drainage system. He noted though that since that time nothing had been done.
He said the Comptroller-General of Customs was aware of the flood menace in Onitsha. He informed that when the Public Relations Officer (PRO) of Customs, Mr Joseph Attah visited the place during his tour of states to sensitise on the ‘Operation Swift Response’ border closure, the Customs spokesman also made a passionate appeal to the state government to assist in saving the place from total collapse.
“We can say that the entrance gate is cut off and we use the rear gate for entrance and exit. We are doing our best to put the local fencing to ensure that we secure this place. We are appealing to the state government where the office is situated to come to our aid. Although it is a federal government agency, it is domiciled in Anambra. They should not allow the flood to completely pull down the structures,” Adamu pleaded.
Another junior officer, Mrs Juliet Obosa, who lamented the menace of the flood that caused the gully, said she was trapped in the office during the rainy season on the particular day that floodwater covered the premises and the office block where she was working.
She narrated: “I was in the office when the rain started and stopped, but after some minutes this place was covered with floodwater. I was on the ground floor, but when I saw the flood coming like a roaring lion, I had to run upstairs. The floodwater from Upper Iweka emptied into our office and covered the ground floor of our office and pulled the fence. I had to stay in the office till evening when the flood subsided before I found my way out of the office.
“We need urgent attention in this place. If not, the office may collapse during the next rainy season because the gully is gradually coming towards the office block. If this menace is not tackled now before the next rainy season, it will be disastrous. We can’t access the main gate again; we have to go round to Okpoko to enter the barrack through the back gate. It also affects our work, because nobody would like to come where there is danger.
“Our children don’t come out during the rainy season or play around the premises. They may be carried by the flood or fall inside the gully. So we are living and working here in fear and government should help to channel the water properly to the gutter and fill the gully and make our entrance motorable,” Mrs Obosa appealed.