Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha
The people of Atani in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra state are not pleased with the contractor handling the Second Niger Bridge. Their traditional ruler, Igwe Augustine Azuka Ngoddy said the host communities are yet to feel the impact of the multi-billion projects by way of direct or indirect jobs, supplies and sub-contracts as obtainable in other places such huge projects took place. He also spoke on other issues.
What’s the current state of work on the second Niger Bridge?
You know it’s a project federal government project awarded to Julius Berger Construction Company and work is ongoing. Normally, when the federal government has a big project like that, they use it to empower and improve the host community where the project is going on because of what they have to bear. I know such projects come with different types of environmental impact on the host communities like if you are passing through the River Niger, you will see that our plants, sand and economic trees and a lot of things are affected by the ongoing project. The way the federal government ameliorates this environment degradation and negative impact on the communities is to make it possible for them to participate at least seventy per cent for what have been done here both in skill acquisition, hiring the people to work at the project site and also giving them some of the supplies and some of the sub contracts that they would be capable of doing, they give it to the host communities. But unfortunately, Julius Berger is not doing it; they have hired quite a few of unskilled labour from here but all these other packages that the federal government has for the host communities are yet to come. The host communities which include Onitsha, Ogbaru, Obosi, Odekpe, Okpoko have gotten nothing, even our Community Liaison Officers were not given a space, the people that relate and communicate with the host communities and the company, they don’t even have an office space for them which is surprising because we have gone and interviewed all local governments and communities and states where the company is working and it is not the same. We have gone to Benin, we have gone to Warri and some other places where the company is working and we saw that they have wonderful and cordial relationship with those host communities. Why they are not doing the same thing with us is what I don’t know.
What about the issue of compensation; has the federal government paid compensation to the land owners affected by the project?
Yes, they have paid to those their buildings were removed but the employment and full participation of the host communities is what we are talking about. They have completely denied us what I will call active participation in the areas where they have set aside so that the economic effect and impact of the project will affect our communities, we have not gotten that.
So, what actually do you want now?
Our call is that the federal government should talk to the company and the firm should also talk to their various site mangers to liaise with the traditional rulers whom they had been working with peacefully. They have been working well with us but all of a sudden as we started demanding for more participation for our youths, training of our youths in certain skills and hiring those who are qualified and studied certain areas of the job they are doing; what we saw was staff being hurled in from other parts of the country. There is nothing bad about people from other parts of the country working there if we cannot produce those areas or unskilled labour but now what we are seeing is that all those areas set aside that have been designated for the host communities, we don’t have any, we cannot boast that we have been supplying anything there, we cannot boast that we supply them staff neither our kids are being trained, the most annoying is that even our community liaison officer doesn’t have office in Berger’s yard. Our people are extremely very angry the way we are being treated, we have petitioned to their head office, we have gone to their site and the level of anger in our people is such that may create a very big strike between us and them. As civilized communities, we have been communicating with them so that these things would be resolved without anybody being injured, so that those community things meant for them should be settled. All we are asking for is the host communities be fairly treated so that the economic impact of the project will trickle down to our communities; so that we can have a positive impact about the project that is going on here, even if we can see our land being degraded, our plants, our fish and animals are being damaged at least we have something to beat our chest and say we have gained something from the project. Every day we see erosion, we see our environment being badly degraded and our people are not participating in anything even the security jobs at the yard; our people did not get, people are being hurled from everywhere in the federation apart from Ogbaru people, Onitsha people, Obosi people, Okpoko people who are not participating at all in what is going on there, that is our anger.
How far have you been able to resolve the clash between the herdsmen and farmers in your community?
There was some kind gentleman agreement between the herdsmen and the community in terms of destruction of crops. If the cows come into your farm and eat up your crops like cassava, potato, rice or yam etcetera; there is a template with which they calculate the number of cassava stems that were damaged or potato plants or Okra. The owner or manger of the cow that caused the damage will meet with the cow menace committee of the state who will access the damages; then the owner of the cow will pay compensation to the owner of the farm. And if the community mistakenly kills any cow, there is also a way of paying for it. That is the kind of relationship we have with them. But unfortunately, some of the recent ones they damaged, my people have not been compensated but the committee had come to inspect the farms.
What have you done with the state government ‘choose your project’ N20 million to do in your community?
We benefited and have utilised the first phase of the fund, we’re now in the second phase. The first phase of the project went into building and equipping laboratory for Atani community secondary school and also procurement of a transformer; we wired an area of the community that doesn’t have electricity. Because we were able to accomplish the first phase, then we applied for the second phase, we are building an administrative block for Ogbaru high court for the staff that would be working in the high court in the same compound where we have a civic centre donated to the community some time ago. We converted it into a high court and completely built an administrative block. It is being fenced now. Also, part of the second phase, we are building five units of self-contained one bed room apartment for professionals among the National Youths Service Corps members posted to the community. Our goal was to get professionals especially in medical areas assigned to the community where we can use provision of free accommodation with individualised apartment to attract them to our place. The building is ongoing and has been roofed, so we are moving fast to finish it so that we can qualify for the third phase.
Your community is a flood prone area, what plans do for flood prevention this year?
Some of our scientists and engineers have made several suggestions about reinforcing our water fronts and guiding all the water banks with reinforcement that will help to hold this water from flooding the communities but the government doesn’t have enough money to do the roads how much more the water banks, so in essence nothing has been done in preparation of what will happen this year. The farmers are already farming; you know that for the past three years, our farms have been washed away due to the heavy flooding. Some people said that it might be the overall climate change that may be over heating the atmosphere that is causing the problem. But in terms of being prepared and plans to minimize what may happen again, none has been done. So, I won’t be surprised if the flood will come again this year.
Moving forward, what should the government do about the impending flood?
My suggestion is that they should have comprehensive look at the whole place that is flood prone; areas like Ogbaru, Anam, Aguleri and some other places in the state that live in riverine areas. Let them bring in some scientists and consultants who can help to have a holistic look at the problem. As a professional architect and town planner, I know that the things that go into the river, the refuse and trash we throw into the River Niger contribute to the problem and the worst is the lack of erosion control.