By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South
Although, God, in the union of man and woman, admonished that no man (read nobody, force or power), should put asunder what He has joined; the unending flood ravaging the country appears not to be obeying the binding biblical injunction, as it has put asunder the South-South geo-political zone.
Nigeria was carved into six geo-political zones of which South-South is one, some years ago, by former Head of State, the late General Sani Abacha. Since ‘every government that be, is ordained by God’, Nigerians accepted the partitioning and six states, namely Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Cross-Rivers, make up the oil-rich region.
Ever since, the people of the six states have been doing everything to live together as one and their governors had even formed a union, known as BRACED, an acronym for Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom, Cross-River, Edo and Delta states to cement their unity and co-operation along regional line.
However, by ‘un-divine’ intervention, the region has been partitioned into three following the splitting of the East-West Road, the only major expressway linking the six states, by flood.
As at Wednesday, October 24, when Sunday Vanguard went on tour of the road, Delta and Edo states are on one side, having been cut off from Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Cross River states, while Bayelsa is standing on its own like an Island.
The state could not be accessed from the neighboring Rivers and Delta states. In fact, only Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Cross Rivers states were left together on the third side of the divide.
From Evwreni in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State, where Sunday Vanguard saw the first “Jordan River” created on the East-West Road to Rivers State, hundreds of vehicles that were trapped by flood, were seen either packed or submerged.
Of course, there is no more transportation by road, as vehicles going from Edo or Delta to Bayelsa, Rivers and other parts of the South-South have to pass through three other states of the South-East region, namely Anambra, Abia and Imo to get to their destinations.
Nobody knows when the flood, which is still flowing on the road would recede, but it is obvious that a lasting destruction has been left on the road. From what we saw, even if a miracle happens and the flood dries up next month, no vehicle can immediately pass on it.
Given the several years the Federal Government has been trying to repair the East-West Road without success, you can imagine how many decades it will now take to landfill the emergency rivers that have come up.
Jordan River on East-West Road
Sunday Vanguard crossed the “River Jordan” created on the East-West Road at Evwreni community by flood on foot with our crew pulling off their shoes, socks and rolling up their trousers above knee level; and with their reporter’s notebook, biro and other writing materials placed above their heads, as if in surrender to the gods of nature, the crew marched with other frustrated citizens to the other side of the road.
One could feel the shove of the flood on one’s legs as one walked past the river. However, having refused the teenagers, who demanded N100 fee for an executive canoe ride the pleasure they wanted at the first point of intrusion on the abandoned road, I swore not to give the enemy a foothold by not missing my step in the crossover.
The entire crew succeeded in crossing the Jordan River notwithstanding the weapons that were fashioned against them. Nevertheless, that was only the beginning, as there was no vehicle to continue the journey. Of course, the car that we used for the trip, which later had a gear problem, broke down on the return trip, was parked at the last bus stop, near the new Evwreni River, along the East-West road.
Throughout, the journey, I kept muttering prayers to God that the flood should not increase and sweep away the car where it was parked. Nothing happened to it, except that it did not take us back to Warri, where we started the journey.
We climbed on motorcycles after crossing to a point at Ohoror community on the East-West Road, also in Ughelli North Local Government Area, where we could take a boat to Aven in Patani local government, perhaps, the most affected area in the state.
Two hours in hand-pulled canoe
The crew had the misfortune of making the journey in a hand-pulled canoe. We waded through farmlands, cassava and plantain plantations in the bush that were swamped by flood. The journey took nearly two hours.
However, there were people who took advantage of the apologetic situation to exploit fellow human beings. Both the boat drivers and motorcyclists have formed different unions to regulate fees payable by passengers. From Evwreni to Ohoror, we paid N1,500 each for Okada ride and N500 for the nerve-racking canoe ride.
For places where monkey bridges were constructed by some youths to cross a river on the road, the charge is N100 per person. Some of them were smoking Indian hemp and clutching woods and cutlasses. They asked you to drop your money or you go back from where you are coming.
Crossing the Red Sea
While there was commerce at the Evwreni end, the situation at Ohoror was as if the people were waiting for the road to collapse to open new companies on the East-West Road. From those selling roasted plantain, meat, biscuits, hot drinks to sachet water, it was as if they do not even want water to stop flowing on the road.
The scene at Ohoror as I looked back at people was like the children of Israel in the Bible crossing the Red Sea. Men, women and children carrying loads on their heads and some mothers had their babies strapped to their backs, while others dragged their children by the hand. From Ohoror, we again climbed on motorcycle at N200 each to Aven community in Patani local government area and crossed the Aven river with leg before motor-cyclists took us to the LG headquarters.
There was no way one could access Umeh community, an agrarian town that the Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, is trying to open up with a new road, as the portion of it on the East-West road was impassable. As we went past on boat and saw many trailers, including the commuter buses of a popular private transport company in Delta State, stranded.
Setraco run to fight another day
The first thing you would notice in Patani is a relief centre for more than 3,000 flood victims, set up by anongovernmental organization, Rural Africa Health Initiative, RAHI, coordinated by former national president of Ijaw Youth Council, IYC, Dr. Chris Ekiyor, who, incidentally, is from the community. His house is among those under water in Patani. The community is completely submerged and you cannot cross from the boundary town in Delta State to Bayelsa except by boat.
From the Rivers axis, you cannot also enter Bayelsa except by boat, as the East-West road was over flooded between Mbiama and Ahoada. Initially, Setraco Construction Company tried to carry out emergency response from the Port-Harcourt end by filling the rivers that had emerged on the road with hardcore, but it was soon overwhelmed and left it temporarily for the flood to subside.
Commuters traveling from Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, to cities within and outside the state resorted to Mercedes Benz 911 trucks, popularly known as tipper lorries, as their means of transportation at that time, but when the road was completely cut-off, such bigger vehicles became endangered species also.
The worst hit of the flooded areas on the East-West road in Rivers State is Ahoada junction on the Yenagoa-Port-Harcourt road, which is submerged.
RAHI rescues flood victims, stranded travelers
Dr. Ekiyor told Sunday Vanguard that most donors could not bring relief materials to the victims in the RAHI flood camp because of the awful road.
According to him, “Some travelers on the East-West, who were stranded as a result of the flood, stopped by to pass the night at the brimful RAHI flood victims’ relief camp, which is lit at night, courtesy of a standby generating sets provided by the NGO.
The relief camp is at present the only place thousands of people in Patani and neighbouring communities in Bayelsa State can access medical care, as they have been cut-off from others parts of Delta and Bayelsa State by flood.
Mrs. Florence Appah, affected by the flood disaster, said she was escaping to Benin for medical attention when she was trapped by flood, adding, “For the past 16 days, I have been in the RAHI flood camp and receiving medical attention and food”.
Sunday Vanguard discovered that the general hospital in Patani is also submerged and if not for the dexterity of the mortuary attendants, who had to stack corpses on the roof of the building, they would have been washed away by flood into the same river, which some people are drinking and cooking with.
Ekiyor, who admitted that flood has practically crippled inter-state economic activities in the region, however, said government should send relief materials to flood victims through the waterways.
A source, however, said government officials were afraid to come to Patani because of the fear of sea pirates, but Ekiyor told Sunday Vanguard, “How can they say that they cannot come because of sea pirates when they have the police and soldiers of the Joint Task Force, JTF, on the Niger-Delta, codenamed, Operation Pulio Shield to escort them”.
He said RAHI was just a nongovernmental organization, which intervened as a stop-gap measure to assist government in providing care for the victims, but government agencies, particularly, the National Emergency Relief Agency, were taking so long in coming to the aid of the internally displaced persons in Patani.
As at time of this report, he was expecting the Delta State governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, who celebrated his 58th birthday with flood victims, last week, in other parts of the state, to show up at the RAHI camp, which is clearly the best organized flood camp in the state.
FG should commence repairs
Ekiyor urged the Federal Government to forget about the trans-coastal road from Akwa-Ibom to Lagos and concentrate on making the East-West Road an eight-lane road, as had been done in the United States and other parts of the world.
“I don’t even know what the government is waiting for to commence work. Communication is also difficult now among the six South-South states. People build bridges over water, if RAHI did not come here at the time we rushed in, over 100 deaths would have happened in the communities around here just because there is road to get out this place for medical attention”, he said.