Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Residents of Nkisi Aroli, Obeleagu and other adjoining streets in the area within Inland Town, Onitsha in Anambra state, are facing the worst crisis and challenge of their lives presently.
Devastating erosion cutting across houses hit the area like a cyclone, swept buildings into the Nkisi River and swallowed up some others, leaving trails of sorrow and tears all over.
In fact, some residents are now internally displaced with some squatting with friends having lost their buildings and property while others whose buildings are located close-by go to bed with bated breath and apprehension of what may happen next.
When this reporter visited the area, it was a pitiable sight to behold. Places that hitherto occupied houses had gone under with a very wide gully enough to swallow any heavy-duty machine.
Rubble of swallowed buildings could be seen with a private school already cut into half by the erosion. Some buildings had also caved in while two other buildings still standing but with visible cracks all over had been cannibalized and the occupants fled for their lives. One of the cannibalised buildings also contained a grave with monument on top, which half of it was already gone with the erosion.
It was like opening the book of lamentations as the visibly traumatised residents poured out their frustrations since the condition of the area assumed a dangerous nosedive on September 11, this year, when the first two-storey building in the area collapsed.
Noting that four other buildings in the area have also collapsed in the last two weeks, they raised the alarm calling on government to come to their aid before more calamities befell them.
Arthur Mazelli who was the first to speak noted that he was hospitalised in Enugu when the first incident happened. He said he was shocked when he came home after discharge but could not recognise his homestead anymore.
He disclosed that they have been frantically searching for help since then, beginning with some concerned residents writing save-our-soul letters to Governor Willie Obiano, the Ecological Fund Office of the Presidency, Abuja; the House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Linda Ikpeazu, representing Onitsha Federal Constituency in the National Assembly:
“We are crying to be heard and have also taken our pleas to the relevant bodies. The very wide gutter running from Awka Road through various streets before emptying into the Nkisi River got breached from the end and the water cascading from the gutter found its way to the under of the first building that went down.
“Consequently, the water coming down started opening the ground in high volumes and in two weeks we can all see the level of devastation it has caused. We have consulted many stakeholders but no tangible action has been taken to arrest this situation. The fifth house is about to go down and God forbid such because of the casualty figure if such happens. For every single time it rains, the effect gets worse and we are crying because if something serious is not done urgently, we may not survive what happens next.”
He called on the state government to show commitment to their safety, noting that since the situation degenerated, all they have been doing as remedial action was self-help. He also pleaded with the Obi of Onitsha to intervene on their behalf so that government at all levels can respond and save them from an ugly situation with still more impeding dangers.
Rev. Chinedu Ogugua, the priest in charge of St. Philips Anglican Church, Nkisi Aroli, Onitsha, whose church is also under threat in the area said some members of the church have been displaced even as they thanked God that no life had been lost so far.
He said they have not recovered from the psychological trauma of watching the first building go down on last month after their morning prayer in the church that fateful day. The cleric said he personally called the Commissioner for Works when the incident happened before they now collectively wrote letters to the relevant authorities even as he expressed the optimism that help would come their way.
Another victim, Evang. Benson Emodi, who pointed out that he is the owner of the next building whose part had gone under the erosion, did not mince words in expressing his disgust over the attitude of government, so far to their plight.
But he still resigned to fate believing that government could come to their aid because they cannot do it on their own: “We are still depending on government and asking for help because up till now, no concrete measures have been taken. They have been coming here. Last Saturday, the Commissioners for Environment and Agriculture were here. Three days ago, the member representing us in the House of Assembly and the Executive Secretary of SEMA were here and to my greatest disappointment, SEMA gave us three pieces of two-by-two mattresses, mosquito net and blanket.
“Some of the victims already displaced are sleeping in an open school and that was all that SEMA could do and if you see the way they will package the report, one would think that they have taken care of our problems with millions of naira. Some of the owners of the swallowed houses are retirees with no more means of tangible income again.
“If government fails to tackle this problem now, it is going to wipe the whole of Nkisi Aroli, Osuma down to Awka Road where the gutter is connected even to Onitsha Army barracks. This is a very painful moment for us.”
Another resident, Chuka Nwankwo, added that only the timely intervention of the government can stop the downward and progressive slide of the area which was already throwing up more displaced persons and losses in great numbers.