From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Epie Creek is as old as the communities around it. It binds the people of Epie/Atissa, the indigenous people of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital together. It runs from Igbogene to Yenagoa main town.
At its days of glory, Epie Creek, which empties into the Ekole River provides source of water and fishing activities for Igbogene, Yenegwe, Akenfa, Agudama, Edepie, Etegwe, Okutukutu, Opolo, Biogbolo, Kpansia,Okaka, Ekeki, Amarata, Onopa, Ovom and Yenagoa.
But the glory has departed from the creek. Water hyacinth has taken over and has disfigured the natural watercourse. At a time, Epie Creek was touted to be a veritable tourist attraction for Yenagoa. However, that dream has evaporated, making life difficult for residents.
They can no longer do what they know how to do the best. Most farmers that have their farms across the Epie Creek now find it difficult to access. This is due to the water hyacinth that makes movement difficult.
Madam Amarakine Wongs lamented: “You can see that plantain is growing in the middle of the Creek due to the thickness of water hyacinth. The situation is pathetic. I have crops to take care of and harvest in the farm just as other fellow community folks.
“But, if you don’t have people to assist by way of accompanying you and battle your way through the water hyacinth, you can’t make it through. This is our predicament and pain. We need help to clear the water hyacinth on the Creek. This has become a yearly suffering. I can no longer go to the farm alone. I am threatened by hunger as a result of this. So, please you people should help us.’’
Sixty-three-year-old Mrs Joy Tamama, is a retired civil servant turned farmer. She recalled that as a 10-year-old girl, she used to pull canoe with her elder sister from Yenegwe to Igbogene to Mbiama without any difficulty. When she got married, water from the creek was used to wash her child’s napkins without stains.
However this is no longer possible because water hyacinth has polluted the water: “Before we used to drink the water from the Creek now without rain, we depend on borehole water.
“I used to paddle to hospital waterside before going up to where my farm is. But now, there is no way. I can’t go through the Creek with my canoe for a while now. I have to pay and go by tricycle to Ovom. Then I have to pay again to be ferried across the Creek by canoe.
“From there I will move to my farm and do whatever I have to do and return through same way, spending money on transport. I can longer pull to and fro with my canoe. I have canoe, but there is no thoroughfare for me to use the Creek. I am begging government. Where they have the bridge crossing the Creek is very important as far as this matter is concerned.”
Obele Kenezibe Wilfred from Onopa said: “We believe that this Creek is a source of livelihood to thousands of people; natives and people that are just living in this area. So many people use the Creek as source of livelihood through fishing. If you look around the community waterfront you will see a lot of fishing nets to corroborate what I am saying.
“When a people’s means of livelihood is taken away, it can result to insecurity. They say an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. When people are hungry, you know what they can do. And when you look, the Creek has been blocked. If not for the fact that the community has been able to hold back the water hyacinth you would come here and think this whole place is a forest. It is a sad thing.”
He said he reached out to the Ministry of Niger Delta, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Yenagoa Local Government all to no avail: “Despite the fact that Onopa community is the host to the Government House, we are facing this kind of menace. It is very wrong and the youths are not happy at all.
“Though the youths and women of the community have gone out to protest, yet the government has done nothing about it. It is a wrong thing that the government is doing and we are very unsatisfied with it. If tomorrow the youth resort to any action like blocking the road, we should not be blamed.
“We cannot watch our women die, our youths go hungry and escalation of insecurity. It is a serious challenge our people are facing. “We are appealing to government to come to our aid and rescue the people of Onopa.”
Chairman, Onopa Community Development (OCD), Egba Zenime, said: “It is so annoying that the community has made so much efforts, even hiring people to clear the water hyacinth. The community has suffered a lot owing to this water hyacinth. There is no other access road to our farms, fishponds and to engage in fishing activities except through the creek.
“We cannot take the laws into our hands and so, we are begging. If need be we are going to embark on protest to see that government and the world see what we are passing through.”
Willington Jeremiah, 67, blamed the late Diepreye Alamieyeseigha administration’s failure to conduct Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Government House Bridge: “Onopa has been a centre of fish even up till today. The whole of Yenagoa would come here all Epie would come here to buy fish. Fishing activities were going on very well here. But now every person is looking at other ways to make ends meet.”
Morris Tamama, paramount ruler of Onopa said: “We, the Onopa community, are sharing a fence with the Bayelsa State Government House. But you can see what we are passing through no portable water, no light. We are equally an oil producing community.
“The state government has not even built a school for this community. Our fathers started with mud buildings. Later, Shell built block school buildings for our children. Last year somebody died in the Epie Creek because he was returning home and there was no communication. He got stuck in the water hyacinth and due to mosquito he fell into the water.
“By the time he was discovered and rushed to the hospital, it was late, he died. This led our people to protest, blocking the road. Government responded and promised to look into the matter and address it. Up till now we have not heard anything.”
Programme Officer, Environmental Rights Actions (ERA), Mr Alagoa Morris, said: “The situation of the Epie Creek is pathetic. Something needs to be done to revive and make more useful, this important national body of water that serves also as a major drainage in the state capital.
“Both in terms of aesthetic and livelihood support, there is need to take a critical look at this creek and make it lively. Not only should the relevant agencies of state and Federal Government interventionist agencies do the needful, residents should play roles expected of civilized people. Channelling sewage lines directly from homes and offices into this creek should be criminalised just as those turning the creek into refuse dump.”