Going to Ajali River in Enugu State is not a tea party. The road is wretched and forsaken.
But the pathetic state of the road is the least of the problems of communities in Udi and Ezeagu local government areas bordering Ajali River. Residents have alleged that some companies operating in the area are making life unbearable for them by discharging effluent water wastes from their operations into the river, which is their main source of water supply for domestic and other uses.
To arrest the alleged ecological damage created by the activities of the companies, the communities have petitioned the managing director of Enugu State Water Corporation, saying: “Our communities have suffered various degrees and environmental health-related ailments, destruction of our ecosystem and aggravating our rural poverty through massive damaging of our farmlands and aquatic life. Our communities no longer source water from Ajali River due to high level of pollution, and we have been spending heavily on alternative source of water supply from private water supply tankers.
“We have exhausted our endurance and we want to seek your professional advice on how to handle the situation and to know whether your corporation is not adversely affected by this ugly development.”
Similarly, the communiuties petioned the managing director of Enugu State Waste Management Authurity (ESWAMA). They said, “Our socio-economic lives have been dislocated and most of our communities are now a shadow of themselves.
“Our farmlands have been ravaged by erosion due to collapsed aeration pond of the companies’ effluent water and burst underground pipes that channel these effluent from these three factories down to Ajali River. Our people whose main occupation is farming have been thrown out of business.
“The odour level of this effluent waste water since the bursting of the conveyance pipes has compromised the serene air quality of most of our affected communities. This has also scared away terrestrial species of animals and birds that are peculiar to our communities. Some households are constantly inundated by obnoxious odour emitted by thius effluent water passing through our communities.
“The river is rapidly becoming shallow and we fear that the goddess of the river, out of anger, is trying to relocate out of our various communitieds. We cannot exhaustively state what we have been suffering since this incident started.”
The communities also petitioned the Enugu State House of Assembly over the destruction of their ecosystem. Dated November 14, 2016, it was signed by represenatives of the affected communities, including Hon. Malachy Eze, Ozochi Patrick, Ozoibekwe Emmanuel and Ejiofor Igwe.
In a petition to the brewery manager, Nigerian Breweries, Enugu, dated July 15, 2019, and signed by the permanent secretary of the ministry of environment and mineral resources, Mrs. G.C. Amadi, in respect of excessive pollution of Ajali River and destruction of eco-system by effluent waste water, the ministry stated: “We refer to a letter dated January 12, 2017, on the above subject matter and addressed to our ministry by the Association of Communities in Udi and Ezeagu local government areas bordering Ajali River.
“Also, a copy of similar letter written by the same group, dated June 24, 2019, to the managing director, Enugu Water Corporation, on the same issue was sent by the managing director of the water corporation to our ministry, being the custodian of the environment of Enugu State, for necessary action.
“You would also recall that the same managing director, Enugu State Water Corporation, in a letter addressed to you and copied to us dated February 13, 2019, was complaining with unveiled frustration the serious adverse consequences your effluent discharge from your burst pipe into Ajali River was causing the corporation in the discharge of its mandate to supply potable water to Enugu urban dwellers. The corporation also was not happy that, despite your realisation of the strategic importance of Ajali in the Greater Enugu water supply scheme, your company still allowed your effluent waste water to be flowing into the river thus polluting it and making it difficult for the corporation to meet its water target in the state.
“The association of communities in Udi and Ezeagu local government areas’ complaints on the issue were similar but more extensive. The communiuties in the said letter complained about other issues that your continued effluent discharge into the Ajali River, which from ancestral days had been their major source of potable water supply, have created the following problems/consequences for them:
“Pollution of Ajali River, their major source of drinking water and other domestic uses as well as Enugu State Water Corporation’s major supply source to Enugu urban dwellers.
“Destruction/disruption of their socio-economic and cultural lives, since they have abandoned the use of the river because of adverse health implications due to your effluent pollution into the river. They further claimed that, as a result of this, they now resort to private water supply tankers for their daily water supply at astronomical costs, thus aggravating their poverty index and making their lives unbearable.
“They equally claimed that the pollution in the river has consequences on their health as their communities have started experiencing strange diseases, which have potential to cause death.
“Ravaged farmland of the communities by the erosion due to the effluent flowing on the land surface of their communities from burst underground effluent conveyance pipes.
“Increased odouur levels in the communities from the stench of the flowing effluent wastewater.
“Depletion of aquatic life in Ajali due to unfavourable condition arising from effluent water discharged into the river.
“You would also recall that we have severally visited your company on this same issue of your effluent discharge into Ajali River and, up till now, no concrete step and action has been taken by your company, 7-Up company and NBC to prevent the continued discharge of your combined effluent into the river.
“From all perspectives, discharge of treated or untreated effluent into water body used as potable water supply source is a serious violation of extant environmental laws, regulations, and even Nigerian Policy on Water Supply and Sanitation, World Health Organisation (WHO), which Nigeria is signatory to, forbids such practice.
“It is of utmost importance and urgency that your company, 7-Up company and NBC arrange for an urgent meeting with the affected communities and Enugu State Water Corporation to fashion out an amicable and lasting solution to this lingering issue with full moderation by our ministry, otherwise we shall have no option but to invoke the relevant laws/regulations and sanction your company.”
Not satisfied with the way the matter was being handled, the communities took their grievances to the Enugu High Court. The plantiff’s claims against the defendants jointly and severally were as follows: “A declaration that the discharge by the defendants of treated and or untreated liquid effluents and or solid wastes emanating from their production processes and operations into the Ajali River and the plaintiff communities’ ecosystem constitutes environmental pollution and nuisance, and the plaintiff communities, having suffered severe and extreme environmental, health, socio-economic, financial, socio-cultural, trado-religious harm and damages common and peculiar to them in consequence of the tortuous activities of the defendants, are entitled to seek redress and protection.
“An order of perpetual injunction restraining the defendants by themselves, their officers, employees, servants, agents, privies, contractors, representatives, successors-in-interest or through any other person/s howsoever styled from polluting the Ajali River and or the ecosystem of the communities represented by the plantiffs in this suit.
“An order of injunction compelling the defendants to: (a) Remedy and clean up the entire polluted environment of the plantiff communities, (b) Dig up and remove all subterranean and surface pipes and other effluent conveyance devices used in the defendants’ effluent discharge network within the communities represented in this suit, (c) Uproot, destroy and remove the aeration pond and its related devices, (d) Up-dig, remedy and treat the soil around the entire ground area housing the effluent treatment plants, aeration pond, and the connecting network of pipes and effluent conveying systems.
“An order of this honourable court compelling the defendants jointly and or severally to pay to the communities represented by the plaintiffs in this suit the following:
“The sum of two billion, thirty-two million, nine hundred and seventy-one thousand naira only (N2,032,971,000.00) as special damages for the losses, costs, expenses and financial burdens incurred by the communities represented herein in consequence of the nuisance caused by the defendants.
(b) Two trillion naira only (N2,000,000,000,000.00) as general damages for the degradation, devaluation, devastation and damage caused to the plaintiffs’ ecosystem by the defendants and the consequent environmental, health, emotional, pschyological anguish, losses, harm, hurt and hazard suffered by the communities represented herein in consequence of the nuisance caused by the defendants.
(c) Ten billion naira only (10,000,000,000.00) as aggravated damages for the long years of hardship, harm, hurt, hazard, losses, costs, expenses, unleashed by the defendants on these communities without regard to their humanity and future.
“Cost of this action in the sum of Twenty Five Million Naira (N25,000,000.00) only.”
One of the community leaders, Hon. Bede Okonkwo, say that they would fight the matter to the end.
Efforts to speak with the corporate affairs manager of one of the companies, Nigeria Brewery Plc, Ama, Mr Isaac Nwabuzor, failed as he did not pick his calls.
However, a source in company who pleaded anonymity said: “We are a law-abiding company. The matter is in court, so we will not comment on it.”