Ndiegoro-Aba erosion was one of the earliest recorded in the 1970s, based on my recollections and not according to any national database (if any existed then). The sight was intimidating, but watching the flash flood in its destructive torrent, hours after rainfall, was quite menacing and fearful. Streets and houses were instantly swept away in its roaring fury. The human and financial loss could only be imagined. Ndiegoro automatically became a local tourism attraction, for both residents and people from neighbouring communities who heard the news, including visitors to the commercial cosmopolis.
Again, the ugliness of flood and gully erosion reappeared in 2005 when yours truly travelled to Enugwu-Nanka in Anambra State, to interview the 115-year-old mother of the late transporter/businessman, Chief C.N. Okoli, scheduled to be honoured by the Anglican Church. Some of the sites were more repulsive and more widespread than the Ndiegoro disaster. Perhaps, gully erosion, like war, is better read in the media than experienced.
Given its increasing menace and government’s lackluster approach to issues, it is necessary to seek expert explanation and causes of gully erosion. An environmental publication explains: “A gully develops in three distinct stages, namely: waterfall erosion; channel erosion along the gully bed; and landslide erosion on gully banks. Correct gully control measures must be determined according to these development stages. Over the years, unchecked soil erosion can lead to the formation of deeper and deeper gullies. If it is a small gully, vegetation can be planted in strips across the gully to slow the velocity of water, trap silt, and prevent further erosion.”
According to the Journal of Geosciences and Geomatics of Nigeria, “some of the identified natural causes include tectonism and uplift, climatic factors, geotechnical properties of soil. Anthropogenic causes include farming and uncontrolled grazing practices, deforestation, and mining activities. Observations have also shown that gully erosion, in Nigeria, is more predominant in the sedimentary terrains and, perhaps, in the basement/sediment contact areas. This accounts for why its occurrence is more skewed to the South-East, where most of the gullies take advantage of the loosely consolidated and sometimes friable rocks.”
Against the foregoing backdrop of information from a Nigerian journal corroborating the above quoted publication, it is worth interrogating the recent interview where the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) said it has “reclaimed over 70 active gully erosion sites and 2,500 hectares of degraded land across the country, in less than six years.” Mr. Salisu Dahiru, national project coordinator of NEWMAP, who disclosed this to the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on August 13, 2019, added: “The hectres of land were reclaimed through afforestation projects in the northern part, while civil work construction and bioremediation measures were carried out on the active gully sites in South-East.”
This sounds impressive. But to some critical minds, it is like a bikini: it exposes much but what is concealed is even more. Given that, in Nigeria, public projects are measured in naira terms and not value and morality of the contract, one may also examine how much NEWMAP expended to achieve the feat vis-à-vis what is yet to be done.
The report quoted Dahiru as saying: “The projects were achieved through the $500 million given by the World Bank as an advance to cover phase one of the projects. NEWMAP got additional grant of $3.96 million from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and $4.63 million from the Special Climate Change Fund to support the projects. The Federal Government also contributed $150 million equivalent as part of its counterpart contribution for staff salaries, trainings and office accommodation, among others.”
That is not all. Beneficiary states usually pay counterpart funds before any project is executed in their domain, irrespective of urgency or threat to livelihood. “Affected states also contributed a matching grant of about 10 to 12 per cent of the total cost of the civil works,” Dahiru added.
Confirming available data, he noted: “A study earlier conducted on gullies in Nigeria revealed that over 3,000 active gullies were scattered in different parts of South-East alone. Some of the gullies in the South-East were as deep as 100 feet that could contain more than five-storey building, and government’s attempt to recover some of these sites were not successful. Looking at the results recorded by NEWMAP in all of these severe gully sites, the issue is not the number of sites we reclaimed, but the critical gullies we were able to handle and reclaim.”
Dahiru said that trees and grasses were planted in all these sites that were reclaimed. That is no news, as it should have been done earlier, in some cases. “For each of the watershed where we have our project sites, we do catchment management plan, which includes tree planting, water harvesting, integrated livelihood activities in a manner that is in conformity with green revolution, making the environment sustainable.”
He stated that: “The idea is not for us to deal with all the gullies, but to demonstrate how they can be sustainably done, using the best technique and methodology that will give value for money and cost-effectiveness.” Given the amount of money at the disposal of the agency – about $658.6 million – and the fact that the five South-East states belong to what he described as the “initial mover states,” it beats the imagination why active gullies “with some as deep as 100 feet that could contain more than five-storey building” in the zone could not be recovered. As usual, he did not tell NAN the location of such 100-feet gullies, efforts made by the Federal Government (he did not specifically say NEWMAP), the nature of the efforts, material, technical, etc, and over what period of time. What exactly were the major constraints? Dahiru also failed to specify whether they were financial, logistic or political. It is disturbing that he could not name exact spots, LGAs, or state(s) where these 100-feet gullies that defied solution were located. So, discussion ends, as they sink deeper!
And given the success claimed in the interview, one would have expected a media tour – comprising a team of environment reporters and related civil society groups – to see such achievements where the feats were performed that gulped billions of naira, though unable to proffer any solution for the hellish gullies that could swallow five-storey buildings in their wombs.
Besides, prevention is always better than cure. Obidimma and Olorunfemi, in their 2011 work, maintain it is of great importance. “Thus, prevention of the processes or mechanisms that result into, or advance to, gully erosion should be of paramount importance to all the stakeholders in environmental management in the country. Control measures to stem gully erosion that are incipient are most effective when erosion is still at an early stage.”
One hopes NEWMAP agrees, and that the agency also believes in enlightenment campaign on the dangers posed by gully erosion and human activities that promote them. This is very important given the public’s uncaring attitude to environmental issues, including media reports and analyses.
•Nwafo, veteran copy editor/environmental analyst, could be reached on [email protected], +2348029334754