Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Only a few would easily remember that Okwuala, Amakohia-Ikeduru community in Ikeduru Local Government Area (LGA) of Imo State, once renowned for its agricultural products, is still in existence.
This is as a result of persistent flooding that has left so many parts of the community devastated. Every rainy season brings nightmares to the people, as gully erosion becomes their uninvited guest.
Okwuala prides itself as “home of palm wine,” and this is widely acknowledged by many people from the state. The sobriquet is not unconnected with the fact that the community is one of the locations where the best palm wine could be sourced in the state.
But all these are being eroded by the day. As gathered, many of the indigenes, who are tired of the situation, are leaving in droves to more palatable environments where they can ply their trade with fewer environmental challenges.
Narrating the people’s plight, president-general of the community, Mr. Goddy Ukwu, said his people have been abandoned for long, leaving them to be ravaged by flooding. He lamented that the once-bubbly community has almost become a shadow of itself.
He told Daily Sun that, for them, the fear of gully erosion has become the beginning of wisdom. Whenever it rains, the people become so terrified and begin to view the rain as a curse, he said. Yet, he admitted, the people were in need of the rain because most relied on subsistence farming for their livelihood.
He stated that the community had suffered incalculable losses due to the mayhem that the flood has unleashed on Okwuala. In his words, on many occasions the residents have been trapped indoors by the flood and prevented from going about their daily activities.
He joked that rainmakers would not make a living in his community because everybody looked forward to welcoming another dry season.
According to Ukwu, in the early 1970s, the rain used to be a very big blessing to his people, which enhanced their farming and resulted in bountiful harvests.
All those gains have become a thing of the past, he said. Every day, the indigenes now count their losses. Most of the roads have been ruined by floods. Many of their boundaries with neighbouring communities have been cut off by the gully erosion.
The erosion has separated the residents from one another in the affected villages. They could live for weeks without being able to see their next door neighbours.
Ukwu said that a journey of 10 minutes would now take one about two hours to complete. The people have resorted to taking alternative routes, not minding even if it takes them more hours, in order to get to their destinations.
The community, it was gathered, shares a common boundary with Umuahia and Aba in Abia State as well as Ngor Okpala, Mbaise and Okigwe in Imo State. Yet, accessing the aforementioned towns and villages has almost become an impossible task.
Some institutions in the community are becoming ghosts of themselves. For instance, St. Brenden Catholic Archdiocese has lost half of its congregation to the menace. Indigenes of the community now prefer to worship God at a place where their lives would not be threatened by erosion.
Schools in the community are not left out. Some of them are either abandoned or have just a few pupils attending classes. It was learnt that parents withdrew their wards from the almost submerged schools and relocated them to urban areas or neighbouring communities for safety, not minding the cost and distance.
However, the most pitiable sites in the affected communities are the palace of ther traditional ruler, Eze Innocent Alaribe, the Eze Oha III of Amakohia; the ancient Amakohia Girls’ Secondary School, now known as Amakohia Secondary Schools, and the abattoir, which is a few metres away from the Eke Onumiri stream.
A trip to these sites by our correspondent, led by the national secretary-general of the community, Dr. Ken Chukwu, corroborated Ukwu’s narrative.
Amakohia Secondary School, founded in 1941, has become a total eyesore. The school, which boasts of producing many ministers and scholars in the country, has been abandoned. Reptiles and all kinds of creeping creatures now take the place of students and teachers.
The school, a popular missionary school in times past, with dormitories and other facilities for learning, has been overgrown with weeds. The buildings are caving in daily, with no respite in sight.
It would only take the effort of the state government, according to Chukwu, to return it to normal.
For the abattoir, popularly known as Eke Nnama, this was a popular place for rearing and slaughtering of cows in the 1970s. It is seated on over 50 hectares of land. Its nearness to the Eke Onumiri Stream, with a bridge built in 1971, was an added advantage to the dwellers and the butchers. It also served as a major market then where many indigenes and people from other communities bought and sold produce and goods.
Sadly, the place has become a forsaken relic. The environment has been gulped by the deep erosion and totally overwhelmed with thick bush.
Of all these abandoned projects, the palace of the traditional ruler will easily evoke compassion. The gully erosion has almost completely separated the monarch from his subjects. The royal father only manages to access his home with the help of the locally-built Eke Onumiri Bridge from the other side of the neighbouring community, Owu. Even the road leading to the bridge has been affected by erosion.
Chukwu, who struggled to take the correspondent to the palace of the monarch, said the royal father does not exceed 6pm anywhere he goes because accessing his palace in the dark would almost be impossible.
While chatting with our correspondent, Eze Alaribe said: “You can see how you were able to get to my house. This is what I go through anytime I’m out of the palace. One of my cars has been parked in the garage for a very long time because of the erosion. The other one that I manage to get to my house has to be parked about 500 metres from here. And from there, I trek down to my house.
“I hardly step out of this palace if I don’t need to because of the difficulty in returning. Even my subjects who visit me have reduced because nobody wants to undergo such a process to see an old man like me.”
While explaining what he felt was the reason for the flooding that has affected every member of his community, the monarch said two factors could be adduced as genesis of the menace.
He said that the topography of the community has been a major factor. Because of the nature and landscape of the community, the water, which was supposed to flow to the Eke Onumiri Stream now diverts into the community, thereby creating erosion all over the place.
He also attributed the problem to the abandonment of some road projects constructed during the late Sam Mbakwe administration, especially from Mbaise, Orji, Ama Nwozizi and Amuzi. The monarch emphasised that, since the road projects were abandoned, no successive government has attempted to remedy the situation.
“The road contracts were awarded during the late Sam Mbakwe’s tenure. We saw them bring heavy equipment to the site and we were happy. We thought our problems were over, only for the equipment to be removed a few weeks later. We are really suffering here in this part of the state. After Mbakwe, no government has remembered us.
“We are appealing to the various governments to come to our aid. Our federal lawmaker, Henry Nwawuba, has visited the site but we are yet to see the impact of his visit,” the monarch said.
Ukwu said that some people were still managing to access the community as a result of individual financial contributions and other efforts that some indigenes of Okwuala have sacrificed over the years.
“I really have to commend members of my community for their relentlessness and self-efforts in making sure we still move on these roads. A lot of money and human energy have been expended. These are projects that are supposed to be handled by machines and not man.
“We are imploring the state and the Federal Government to rescue us before we are completely erased from the map of Imo State and Nigeria,” Ukwu pleaded.