Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Normal life and economic activities have been disrupted in a section of Akwakuma in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State, following a recent landslide in the area.
The environmental devastation has quarantined some residents in their houses due to the big gorge that was created there, particularly at the Trinity Street axis of Okohia Akwakuma.
When Daily Sun visited the area twice recently, the entire Okohia Akwakuma village seemed ready to be swept away in a large magnitude of landslide, unless urgent steps are not taken to avert the looming disaster.
At the last count, no fewer than 25 households were trapped in the 12 buildings so far affected.
It was gathered that the devastation, which started in 2007 with some soil wearing off as erosion, became worse on Sunday, September 6, 2020, following a downpour the previous day. The heavy rainwater ushered in the landslide that cut off the entrance to the buildings on the street. Most of those trapped in the buildings, according to one resident, Mr. Emma Ogu, a lecturer at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Owerri, were public servants.
The development kept the victims indoors and they have not been able to go to work since the incident, especially women and the aged ones among them.
People were afraid of taking the risk of scaling the cliff with a ladder-like metal which Ogu used in going in and out of his own building.
Ogu said he had to place some iron rods with which he climbed down from his building into the 20-foot gully caused by the landslide and would hold on to the debris of the earth to access the surface.
Although no life was lost, the teacher expressed fear that it might not take long before the whole thing becomes a disaster.
Ogu stated that: “A state of emergency should be declared in this area. September is the peak of rainfall, and the rains have not fully started. Already, we are being cut off from our neighbours.
“This place was not like this when I came. Although I heard it used to be flooded, it wasn’t like this until 2017 when the situation became worse under the administration of Governor Rochas Okorocha, after he introduced his urban renewal programme.
“He destroyed some drainage structures built by his predecessor, Ikedi Ohakim, especially at Akwakuma Roundabout. All the water meant to go through that drainage now empties into Okohia, which is the cause of the landslide.”
He also attributed the cause of the landslide to the ongoing sand mining at Nworie River, which is a few metres away from the scene.
The reporter learnt that Bishop Timothy Aaron of Trinity Christian Church, located in the disaster area, was the first tenant to move into the street with his church.
The cleric, whose narrative corroborated the earlier explanation of Ogu, said at first when he started his ministry there was no problem till midway into Okorocha’s second tenure as governor, when they started experiencing flooding.
“Everything was okay with us then, and nobody thought we would be in this kind of situation now. I remember when Okorocha started changing the face of the drainage at Akwakuma. He built his own tunnel that was not channelling water to Nworie River. Instead, he moved towards our direction. That was when things became bad for us,” Aaron alleged.
He said when the situation worsened, they resorted to self-help, until they could no longer manage it and they wrote to Governor Okorocha then, who he said did nothing to stop the erosion till his administration elapsed.
Their plea for the restoration of their road, he said, continued when Chief Emeka Ihedioha assumed office. Like Okorocha, he visited the area but his tenure, which was cut short by the Supreme Court, did not allow him fix the problem.
The cleric regretted losing some members of his church as a result of the environmental challenge. “Some of our members have stopped coming to church. It has gone beyond our efforts, so we call on the government to, please, come to our aid and save us from this looming danger.”
Also, chairman of the Okohia Neighbourhood Association, Chuks Michael Okafor, told the correspondent that the residents had resorted to self-help since government failed to listen to their plight. Okafor claimed that the entire neighbourhood had spent over N5 million to rehabilitate roads and curb the environmental devastation, all to no avail.
“We have resorted to self-help since the government abandoned us. I can’t count the number of times each tenant contributed N100,000 to do some work on the road. Mr. Ogu has spent over N850,000, I can’t say mine. Yet you can see the place is still caving in,” he lamented.
He also informed the correspondent that they had, on May 25 this year, written a letter to the Commissioner for Environment, Iyke Njoku, informing him of the situation in Okohia. He added that their letter was acknowledged on June 4 by the office of the commissioner before they sent a delegation to him on July 2. But he regretted that there had not been any positive impact since then.
Our correspondent spoke to the Imo State Commissioner for Works, Ralph Nwosu, who explained that it was not within his jurisdiction. But he promised that the matter would be treated with utmost urgency, and he would partner with the environment commissioner to tackle the situation.
Meanwhile, officials of the Owerri Capital Development Agency (OCDA) have visited the site on the directive of Governor Hope Uzodimma, to ascertain the extent of damage.
General manager of the agency, Innocent Ikpemezie, after his assessment, promised to relay his findings to the governor, who he said had pledged to bring the situation under control in no distant time.
He said that his agency, in the meantime, would provide an access road for all the trapped victims in the buildings.
A landlady in one of the most affected buildings, Mrs. Harriet Nnorum, said the residents started noticing the flood that caused the landslide eight years ago.
Nnorum, who does not live in the trapped building, stated that the flood had damaged a building on the street, adding that the first building affected was the one closest to the Nworie River.
According to her, the landlord of the house abandoned it, though he had continued to contribute financially to the rehabilitation of the road, hoping that it would be corrected someday.
She pleaded with the state government to urgently come to the rescue of the trapped victims, whom she said were mostly women, children and the aged.
For now, the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics (ASUP), Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, chapter, has rescued one of its members, Mr. Ogu, who was trapped with his family in the Akwakuma landslide.
ASUP chairman, Ejike Ibecheozo, accompanied by Anayo Uhiara, came on a solidarity visit to their colleague’s residence. He said the move became imperative to save the lives of one of their own and his family from the looming disaster posed by the landslide.
He explained that one of the members, Gbenga Michael, had temporarily volunteered a three-bedroom apartment for Ogu and his family, pending when they properly settle down.
The elated lecturer was full of praise for his colleagues, even as he urged the state government to come to the rescue of those still trapped at the site of the landslide.
Head, Mass Communication Department, Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Sheba Gabson, has also led other members of the department on a solidarity visit.
Our correspondent, who was at the scene, saw that the a recent two-day downpour had increased the magnitude of the erosion.
With the development, many more buildings were affected just as the number of trapped families had increased from 20 to 25 in just two days, while the buildings affected have increased from seven to 12.