From Geoffrey Anyanwu, Awka
Apprehension could best explain the situation in Oko community in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State where fresh landslides occasioned by deadly gully erosion have become a weekly occurrence.
The community, which is the country home of former vice president, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, has suffered tremendously as it had lost so much in human lives, houses and farmlands to the ravaging erosion.
It became worse when some years ago it cut into two the Ekwulobia-Oko federal road, which then attracted the attention of the Federal Government and the award of a contract for construction work to tame the menace.
But recently, the gully has intensified and landslide has become the order of the day, putting the natives on their toes just as they now sleep with their both eyes opened, uncertain about what would happen to the land with the increasing rains.
The recent landslides, according to the natives, are happening because the construction company which was working and doing palliative work has left due to a new arrangement the state government entered into with the World Bank.
One of the natives said: “They completed the project since June last year, and also did extra work, hoping that the Federal Government will approve the commencement of the second phase of the job, but from what we gathered, the Anambra State government has concluded arrangement with the World Bank to take over the project.”
A former House of Representatives member and erstwhile aide to Dr, Ekwueme, Chief Handel Okoli, said the community was at a crossroad.
“The truth about the Oko-Nanka erosion site is that it is the biggest erosion in the entire Africa, this is by the World Bank assessment not by my own assessment and we have been on it for several years. Contract was awarded for the control of Nanka side, but they did not award any contract for the Oko side and, therefore, when the contractor finished the Nanka side, the Oko side failed and, therefore, spoilt everything they did on the Nanka side, which now made it necessary that the government should expedite action to award contract just for the control and not for the comprehensive work. We are talking about remedial work because it is big gully erosion.
“Government has been dillydallying over this matter, I’m sorry to use that word, going back and forth. Senate Committee has been there, House of Representatives Committee has been there, Ministry of Environment, Ecological Fund, name it, they’ve all gone there, they see the site, everybody goes back and then nothing is done.
“Then, World Bank said they wanted to do the site, we said okay, if you want to do this site what are the remedial measures? And then for some reasons Anambra State government wrote a letter to the Federal Government to hands off the site for World Bank, now the procurement process for World Bank takes nothing less than two years. The community has been asking what is going to happen in those two years. Are we going to lose our community? But nobody wants to address that and in the meantime, we are losing our community to erosion on daily bases.
“Like I said before, World Bank was invited to take over the site and unfortunately the Anambra State government now agreed with the World Bank that everybody should hands off the site. Again, unfortunately there is no measure in place to continue to check the erosion in the meantime because for the World Bank to work on the project will take nothing less than two years, to start and complete. And we are saying that there is a contractor on the ground why not allow it continue to do palliative work until World Bank comes.
“The situation on ground now is not a question of fear anymore because we can see it, what we were afraid of is already in progress because it’s not just one landslide that we have had in the last one week, we have had several landslides and it is continuing so far as it is still raining, it’s continued. So, in summary, we are just hopeless.”
On what can be done in the instant situation, Chief Okoli said: “Government can on the basis of emergency ask the contractor there to do some work just to make sure that water don’t enter into the critical areas. Because what is causing this thing is flood water, when flood enters there, in the meantime, they can redirect the water. That will be remedial while World Bank is going ahead with procurement process.
“What we are saying is yes, why World Bank is doing its thing, are we going to fold our hands and lose the entire community? In fact, from the epic centre of this gully erosion, the federal road connecting Nanka and Oko is just less than 100 meters and the gully is almost 250 meters deep. So, we are not talking of ordinary erosion site, we are talking about big landslide, like a 50-storey building in terms of height, there is nowhere you can go near.”