Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Two Catholic nuns, parishioners as well as residents of Omagba Phase One Layout, Onitsha, Anambra State, staged a peaceful protest recently over pollution and threats to public health allegedly being caused by some landlords in the area.
The landlords were said to be channelling their sewage pipes into the public drains without any evacuation process in place.
Organised by the Justice, Development and Peace Caritas (JDPC), Archdiocese of Onitsha, the civil society arm of the Catholic Church raised the alarm over the health of schoolchildren and parishioners of Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Omagba, who are worst affected by the pollution.
With the reverend sisters leading the procession, the protesters bore placards with various inscriptions. They chanted slogans in support of proper sewage disposal and cleanliness, even as they moved round the adjoining streets in the area.
Some of the inscriptions on the placards read: “Channelling sewage inside the gutter is a sin against humanity,” “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” “Stop environmental pollution,” “Stop air pollution, it spreads diseases,” and many other such messages.
Addressing journalists, associate professor of law, Rev. Sister (Dr.) Ann Obiora, said residents of the area have been exposed to a looming epidemic, especially those resident at Olo Street, where the entire environment was polluted with human faeces.
According to her, channelling human waste into public gutters rather than the normal septic tank or soak-away pit poses great health hazards to residents, while the entire environment is now polluted.
“Everything about JDPC is towards ensuring that things are done in a proper way. We are raising the alarm now because the environment here is polluted and this has extended to our Catholic school where we groom young ones to become better people in the society.
“The nursery, primary and secondary school located here is under threat because the stench is unbearable, while the children in school fall sick after inhaling such odour. All of us are at risk, including the teachers, and this is sinful and against humanity. We are crying out so that action can be taken to correct this anomaly.
“When people die, we most times wonder why such deaths should happen without knowing that environmental pollution is a serious predisposing factor,” she said.
A public health professional, Mrs. Chinwe Okoyeuzu, who assists in the health post located within the church, said the situation has posed great danger to pregnant and nursing mothers attending the health centre in the area. She said patients were already expressing fear that the offensive odour oozing from the gutters might lead to infections.
She said the strange practice of channelling sewage into gutters in the area had affected the fortunes of the health centre, noting that many people now avoid visiting the facility because they are always uncomfortable because of the stench.
Chairman of the JDPC, Holy Spirit Parish, Omagba, Jonas Ogbuke, frowned at the attitude of the Anambra State government officials whom he said had received reports from the JDPC about the health hazards posed by actions of some landlords in the area but failed to take necessary actions.
He also presented copies of the letters sent to the local government health authorities and the landlords’ association over the matter.
“Based on what we see here daily, we are getting tired. They channelled the sewage to the gutter and covered it with slabs. Ordinarily, when you pass there, you may not notice it but the stench will tell you that something is wrong there,” he said.
Recalling the timelines of their struggle with the anomaly, the parish catechist, Innocent Okoye, said the people there have lived and endured the situation for several years. He recalled that the situation was the same even during the time of Rev. Fr. Ikeobi of blessed memory.
He said a landlord in the area who died recently created the anomaly. He noted that the man used the same method of channelling sewage into the gutter in three other buildings that he owned in the area, and others started copying the method. The three buildings, he said, are located at numbers 30, 54 and 55, Olo Street.
A copy of the letter sent to the landlords’ association dated September 20, 2019, stated thus: “Acting on the mandate of our organisation, JDPC, we wish to bring to your notice for urgent action the issue of public health threat at Omagba Layout, Onitsha.
“Based on our observation and further inquiries, the residential buildings situated at No. 10, Abba Street, Omagba, Phase Two, do not have a functional sewage storage facility. They channelled their sewage to the big gutter in front of their building and covered it with slabs.
“Recently, the problem arose again with greater magnitude because four buildings with nine residential flat each, totalling 36 flats, are involved. They channelled their sewage to the gutter thereby causing public health threat within the vicinity, which harbours dense residential population, including secondary and primary schools in the parish, people who attend church and passers-by.
“The fact of great concern is that the gutter is about 10 metres away from the school playground and, more regrettably, it is about 10 metres away from the Omagba 2 Primary Health Centre, making pregnant women, children under five years, patients who attend the centre and staff most vulnerable to sanitary and environmental pollution-related diseases.
“Addressing this issue calls for urgent action, given its threat to public health, particularly in response to the President of Nigeria’s declaration of state of emergency on sanitation, open defecation and water and its threats to public health, which states and local governments were directed to key into.”
When the reporter contacted the president-general of Omagba Phase One, Chief Kwentor Muoneme, on the situation, he feigned ignorance of the problem and also denied receiving any letter from JDPC.
“They should have come to us so that we discuss and find solution to the problem. I’m not aware of any challenge about sewage and environment in the area. I will make enquiries now and possibly take action,” he said.
A member of the landlords association in the area who pleaded anonymity said there was urgent need to review the sewage and refuse disposal system. He said that a situation where the residents have to wait for a designated day of the week before they can dispose their refuse could not work. He said the association was buoyant enough financially to take care of the situation and also enforce strict adherence to best practices in sewage disposal.