From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Obogoro community in Yenagoa Local Government Area of Bayelsa State is at “war.” Forces of nature are fighting a fierce battle with Obogoro.
The “war” has already claimed causalities and it is threatening to take more unless urgent steps are taken by federal and state governments to address the issue of erosion.
Mr Somkime Igwelle, former youth president and assistant secretary-general, Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Central Zone, said: “The only primary school in Obogoro, St John Primary School, has been washed away. The Youth Corpers’ Lodge has been washed away. We used to have a big field it has also been washed again. The secondary school at the boundary between Famgbe and Obogoro is also gone.”
Mr Sam Dogitimi, a writer and blogger with Mangrovepen noted: “The ecological situation in Obogoro is pathetic. Not fewer than 60 buildings including the only primary school and the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) lodge eroded in the last one-year. The school football pitch, cultural playground and other historic structures are being swallowed by the Ikoli River, which is a tributary of the River Nun”
Investigations revealed that Obogoro is not the only community under threat from erosion. In a town hall meeting organised early this year Minister of State for Petroleum and a former governor, Chief Timipre Sylva, said:
“If you go to Odi, you think that is the beginning and end of erosion that community is going down fast. You go to Agbere, Odoni, you see that Odi erosion problem is even small. Then you to Famgbe and Obogoro, you would see serious erosion problems, you go to Ayama there was a church I attended by the next time I visited the church was inside the river.
“Then go to the headquarters of erosion in Sangana then Brass. These are capital-intensive projects. As the governor would agree with me, if the government wants to tackle erosion alone, it would not have money for any other thing.
“This problem is a lot, you need to have strategy around solving the erosion problem in Bayelsa. It must be collaboration between the Federal Government, state government and oil companies.”
The case of Obogoro is, however, peculiar. With its proximity to Yenagoa, the state capital, the expectation was that there would have been collaboration to solve the erosion menace in the community.
A resident of the community, Mr Ada Gwegwe, a football coach turned environmentalist, described the situation in Obogoro as sad: “The rains are already here and nothing has been done yet. We have been able to draw the attention of the Ecological Fund Office (EFO), which is under the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF). They sent experts to inspect the affected areas, and it is yet to yield any results.”
Hopes were raised when in February, when Commissioner for Health, Dr Pabara Nweton Igwelle, a son of the soil, brought Governor Douye Diri to the community to ascertain first hand assessment. He told the people: “We have the Ecological Fund managed by the Federal Government and a lot of these challenges at the state level we cannot handle alone.
“I call on the Federal Government to also support the state government by releasing funds from the Ecological Fund and from the Natural Resources accounts to assist the state government in trying to handle most of these challenges.
“I commiserate with the Obogoro people and share their pain. But there is hope because I just directed the Ministry of Works to immediately swing into action by opening up the natural canal. When that is done, we will also dredge to sand-fill this eroded area.
“The only thing you can see that indicates there was a primary school here is that pillar. I have also directed the Commissioner for Education to preserve it. Let it be known that there was a primary school here and the river has eaten our land.
“There are several other communities affected by erosion and you are aware that it is the first time in a budget of the state government that we have a sub-head for erosion control.
“We are poised to implement laws passed by our House of Assembly concerning dredging. We must have an Environmental Impact Assessment report. People cannot just embark on dredging for commercial purposes with what we have experienced across the land.”
It has been over two months that Diri made the pronouncement and nothing has been done about the situation. Again, Gwegwe said: “The situation of erosion in Obogoro is dangerously alarming. Diri himself has been to the community led by our son, the Commissioner for Health. They visited the erosion-affected areas.
“The community pointed out to what can be a temporary solution by the excavating and open the natural canal to channel the water current and safe guard the community. Presently the water is coming up and very soon our challenges we would have is unimaginable with us losing houses and properties.
“Since the governor has visited the community, it would be fair and nice, for the governor to show action. He should not just end with the visit and promise. Till now, nothing has been done since his visit. We are watching and seeing that it is the routine promise and fail.
“Previous administrations promised to help us, but nothing happened. We want to believe that the present administration will do something urgently.
“What we want now is action, either a temporary or permanent solution to help avert the suffering and plight of the people of my community.”
Igwelle, however, said: “We believe like a miracle governor he should do the miracle. As Executive Secretary to former Governor Henry Seriake Dickson, he recommended the electrification of Obogoro to the Ministry of Power on a letter I wrote as assistant secretary general of IYC. This is why we believe as governor he would come to the aid of the community.”