By Vincent Ujumadu, Anayo Okoli, Chidi Nkwopara, Francis Igata, Chimaobi Nwaiwu & Chinenyeh Ozor
WITH just two rains so far this year, many parts of the South East zone are already under the threat of devastating gully erosion, which has become a common feature in many communities in the zone. In past years, it was common to see many families abandon their homes whenever it rained because their homes lie within gully erosion sites that are up to 100 feet deep in some cases.
In many communities, the floods are constantly creating gully erosion sites in areas that hitherto did not have such problems and sometimes pulling down people’s houses and those residing close to the sites no longer sleep with their eyes closed. The worrisome aspect is that the large number of erosion sites seen in many communities started as small holes and later developed into a crisis situation. Apart from houses, completed roads are also being threatened such that it is common to see many roads cut into two by erosion.
The most popular erosion sites in Anambra State are located at the Nanka-Agulu-Oko axis, Nkisi near Onitsha, Ojoto, Alor, Umuchiana in Ekwulobia, Ozubulu, Oraifite, Uli and Awka, among many other areas.
Sometimes the erosion is man-made. For instance, residents in Awka woke up after recent heavy rains to find out that most of the roads were filled with debris from blocked drains and culverts even as it was noticeable in some areas that cracks were developing at the edges of the roads. If allowed to continue, the small cracks could develop into big gully erosion sites.
Also, due to road construction in some parts of the state during the last dry season, residents of such areas noticed after the recent rain that many houses were flooded due to lack of a proper drainage system. If proper channels were not created for the flood, they could develop into gully erosion sites.
Anambra State, which is the most erosion devastated state in the country with over 1000 sites, has had many farm lands washed away, thereby denying the people one of the main sources of their livelihood.
Although other states in the South-East geopolitical zone of the country have many erosion sites that also cause devastation, none compare to Anambra State in terms of numbers and size.
Though the federal and state governments have been making efforts to contain the erosion menace, the rate at which new ones develop surpasses the rate of control, necessitating the call by governors in the affected states for the intervention of international agencies to fight the menace.
South East Voice, SEV, investigations showed that the devastating gully erosion at Oko in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, threatened to destroy the family house of the former Vice President, Chief Alex Ekwueme and over 22 other families in the community.
Already, the people of the area are said to be afraid that the erosion from this year’s rainy season may complete the devastation of the community having consumed over 22 houses earlier.
The Oko devastating gully erosion that cuts into the town from Ifite Nanka and Amako Nanka communities in Aguata Local Government Area, is better seen than imagined.
The present situation in Oko forced the Umuada Oko, (daughters of Oko), married within and outside the community to embark on peaceful demonstration against the alleged nonchalant attitude of the Federal Government towards addressing the erosion problem in the community and other neighbouring areas.
Speaking with SEV in Oko, President General of the community, Hon. Cyprian Nwanmuo, expressed disappointment that both the federal and Anambra State governments have not done anything to address the erosion menace. Nwanmuo said that the community made efforts to secure government’s intervention through the state Ministry of Environment without achieving results.
“We have Erosion Control Committee in Oko. We have made representations to the Anambra State government, the Federal Ministry of Environment; the Ecological Unit, House of Representatives and even the World Bank asking for intervention and assistance to save our town from being wiped out by gully erosion but help is not forthcoming” he said.
A similar problem is being faced by residents of Ibolo Layout in Obosi, Idemili North Local Government Area of the state.
According to the community, they lost six persons including four women and two children last year to the devastating erosion that swept the area, destroying houses, farmlands and other household properties worth millions of Naira.
The Ibolo residents equally protested peacefully to the state government for action to be taken having survived last year erosion, saying something needs to be done urgently on their roads from where the erosion find its way into the community.
Chief Anthony Ekechukwu told SEV that residents of the community were not happy nothing had been done to address the erosion problems and the roads it had consumed in the community.
Other residents in the area namely Chief John Okoye, Ndidi Uzoma and Chinasa Onuoha, also corroborated Chief Ekechukwu’s claims saying that they were jittery over what erosion would do to them this year and appealed for government’s intervention to save them from the impending danger that may come with this year’s erosion, which had given them some signs already.
Other communities where erosion had caused destruction include Umuogboo Obiofia Nnewi Ichi and at 100 Foot Uruagu Nnewi road in Nnewi North Local Government Area.
In Enugu State, the menace f erosion on the environment has devastated farmlands, lvestock, washed-off roads, displaced individuals and communities.
Zik’s residence under threat
Since the end of the war in 1970, erosion from the Catering Rest House Road in Nsukka metropolis had killed no fewer han two persons each year. The erosion runs through the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, Main Gate – the moribund Fire Service – Zik’s Flats to Alor Uno and in the process, destroys houses and other valuables.
It was gathered that flood from various parts of Nsukka had swept both motorists and pedestrians alike and taken them to Onuiyi down to Alor- Uno community where their dead bodies were discovered several days after the flood might have subsided.
Already, the Onuiyi Haven residence of the first Nigerian President, late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, has been cut-off at the Onuiyi end of the federal road which traversed through Ovoko to Obollo Afor in Udenu, as motorists have in the last five years diverted to other routes, just as Zik’s residence is now standing at the mercy of the floods.
Wife of the late Azikiwe, Prof (Mrs) Uche Azikiwe, a retiree of the UNN, who still resides at the Onuiyi Haven residence could not be reached to speak on the woes of the family following the closure of the only entry and exit point to the residence as she was said to have travelled out of town.
However, South East Voice gathered that the condition of the road worsened about several years ago when the contractors engaged by the Federal Government to handle the road, destroyed the gutters without replacing same, thus worsening the gully erosion at Onuiyi Haven and its environs.
The contract for control of the erosion around the UNN and Onuiyi, Nsukka was awarded by Federal Government to Messrs Eco Builders, Abuja. Sources said that the contractors had moved out of site following alleged disagreement with their employers, with the erosion posing a more serious threat to the residents of the areas affected.
At Enugu- Ezike in Igboeze North, erosion has destroyed farmlands in Ugbaike, Amachalla, Igogoro, Imufu, Aguibeje, Umuida, Olido and Onicha communities among others.
At Eha Ndiagu, an oil bearing community in Nsukka Local Government Area, residents are groaning over lack of access road to the community due to erosion since the end of the Nigeria- Biafran civil war about 45 years ago.
For anybody in the community to get to the Nsukka Local Government headquarters, such a person must pass three other local governments including Isi Uzo, Udenu and Igboeze South through Ikem, in Isi Uzo via Obollo Afor in Udenu before reaching his destination through Ovoko in Igboeze South.
Investigations by South East Voice showed that apart from the high cost of such journeys, a lot of man-hours are lost as the journey which ordinarily would not take more than an hour usually takes a whole day. After many decades of agony, the people have since resigned their fate to God and adapted to primitive living conditions.
In 2015, hundreds of houses were submerged by floods at Aku community in Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area, Okutu, Iggah communities while the most busy Ogurugu, Orba and Echera roads in Nsukka were the worst in the locality, due to lack of drainage systems.
The present governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi upon assuming office promised to turn the university town into a mega city and invited the Arab Contractors, RCC and the Builders Construction Company among others to handle major roads in the area.
Both contractors have since commenced work with every amount of seriousness, but the fear now was whether the contractors would be able to control the flood at Ogurugu, Orba Echera, Ugwuoye roads among others.
The disaster is threatening natives of Obinofia Ndiuno community in Ezeagu Local Government Area of Enugu State. The people raised alarm through the President General of the Town Union, Chukwudi Ezinwa, over the erosion problem, calling for quick intervention by the government.
The community noted that any further delay could see the community cut off by erosion.
At the Ogege end of Nkpologu road from Nsukka, the activities of sand excavators have primed the community for ecological disaster if government and other relevant authorities fail to stem the tide.
The hilly sand deposit that traverses through to Aku, in Igbo-Etiti Local Government is caving-in and if allowed, will cut off the community from Akpugo, Aku among others. It will subject residents to excruciating travel hours through Nsukka for a journey of less than 20minutes.
Also, the erosion menace at Ugwu Onyama near the Enugu-9th Mile Federal Road is threatening to cut-off motorists plying the road. The bad portions on the road have accounted for the increasing auto crashes in the areas.
It’s same story in Abia
ABIA State is one of the states in the South East geo-political zone being devastated by erosion menace.
At least eight out of the 17 local government areas of the state are under severe erosion threat.
The affected council areas include Arochukwu, Bende, Isiukwuato, Ikwuano, Ohafia, Umunneochi, Umuahia North and Umuahia South with over 800 active erosion sites which pose great danger to the communities.
But worst hit is Isiukwuato where virtually all parts, including the state- owned — Abia State University, ABSU, Uturu is erosion prone.
Specifically, communities mostly affected in the state are Oguduasaa and Ahaba in Isikwato, Oboro in Ikwuano, Amuzukwu in Umuahia North, Ubakala in Umuahia South, Igbere in Bende, Umuobasi Mbala, Umuaku, and Umudim Ngodo villages of Isuochi in Umunneochi among others. Many families are currently being threatened by the menace.
Institutions like schools, health centres, churches and roads that pass these communities are also under threat.
As the rainy season approaches, many families are now apprehensive of the dangers ahead. And for motorists and other road users in these areas, if they have their way, they would prefer that rainy season never comes due to the nightmares they usually go through.
Last year, at least 10 houses were swept away by ravaging erosion menace at Ndi Uduma Awoke community in Ohafia Local Government Area of the state, prompting the community to send a Save Our Souls, SOS, message to both the federal and state governments to rescue them from the menace then.
The President General of the Community Development Union, Mr. Eme Uche, who spoke lamented that the entire community was living in fear, adding that all efforts to draw the attention of the government to their plight were unsuccessful.
“Already, our school has been cut off and children now find it difficult to go to school. Some areas in the community have been cut off from the rest of the people such that they go to their farms with great difficulties.
“We have reported this menace in writing to both the Ecological Fund Office at the Presidency in Abuja and to the Abia State government but there has not been any action.
“For now 10 families in the community have been sacked by erosion and if nothing is done urgently the entire community will be swept away,” Uche cried out.
Besides houses, federal and state’s roads have been destroyed by the steadily menacing erosion in the affected local government areas of the state.
They include the Arochukwu/Ohafia federal road, Uturu-Akara-Ohafia and Umuahia-Uzuakoli-Isiukwuato roads, among others. The magnitude of some of the gullies created by this monster are so massive and well beyond what the state government or communities could handle.
Some of these communities had through communal effort tried to tackle the menace but the magnitude was beyond them.
“Our people are noted for their self- help efforts but this erosion problem is well beyond self- help and that is why we are crying to the state and federal governments to come to our aid. We pay taxes to the government and should be treated like patriotic citizens; the neglect is beyond imagination,” an indigene of one of the affected communities noted, saying that since 1999 when the erosion problem started several reports to the governments had only yielded empty promises.
The battle against erosion menace has become very difficult due largely to fraudulent manner relevant authorities manage ecological funds meant to tackle such natural problems. Management of ecological funds by state governments across the country had always been shrouded in secrecy, hence it was difficult for the people to track such funds.
The devastation done by erosion in the Umunneochi villages two years ago was so huge that estimated assessment by the state Ministry of Environment put the cost of tackling it then at over N8 billion, an amount, the ministry said was clearly beyond the scope of the state government.
Erosion threaten ancestral homes in Umuanunu Nsu
In Imo State, several families in Umuanunu Nsu, Ehime Mbano Local Government Area, have been sacked from their ancestral homes, courtesy of ravaging erosion that might finally swallow such houses in future.
South East Voice, visited Umuanunu and noticed that most buildings, especially along the Umunuhu-Umuanunu-Ezeoke-Afor Agbaghara and Umuanunu-Nkwo Alike roads were the worst hit.
One of the elders of Umuanunu Community, Mazi Damian Ofoegbu, who spoke to South East Voice, lamented that the victims had been abandoned by the state government.
“The road, which you are seeing today (pointing at the road), was not as bad as it is today. Our plight started when a contractor engaged by the state government came and graded the road. Soon after the firm tampered with the soil, erosion set in.
“We have been trying to check the yawning erosion without success. The rain completely dislodged the culvert erected by the first engineer that worked on the road. Some people thereafter tried to do some work and later disappeared from the scene,” Ofoegbu said.
In a similar development, the leadership of Umuanunu Nsu Welfare Association had in a letter dated July 24, 2014, asked Governor Rochas Okorocha to intervene in the matter to reduce the hardship being faced by the community.
The letter entitled, “Abandoned Umuanunu Nsu road projects and its consequent erosion havoc,” and jointly signed by Chief B. U. Ibe, Mr. Christopher Gbaghara, Sir Amarachi Ijere, Sir Jude Ebere, Chief Ik. Ozoji, Godwin Ibe and Eugene Ofoegbu read in part: “Unlike the other communities, Umuanunu is perched on hill-side and hence erosion prone. These road projects were among the ones started at the inception of this administration. Work on these roads were abandoned at the preliminary stage of laterite filling.
The next stage would have been the construction of gutters to handle the enormous floods that flow through these roads, especially after the gutters and culverts constructed by the people to channel flood water had been removed in the process of the road construction.
“The most frightening aspect is that very deep gullies have been forming by the sides of the roads and have actually caused some people’s walls to collapse int them. Many people cannot drive into their compounds and even find it difficult to walk in.”
The aggrieved villagers appealed to the state government to compel the contracting firms to return to site, stressing that since the collapse of the roads, Umunohu Nsu, Umukara, Ihitte Uboma, Umuizi, Okata and other communities now find it difficult t move their agricultural produce to the famous Oriagu Market.
“It is so bad that cars and motorcycles can no longer pass through them. Wooden and makeshift bridges have now become common sights in the town, owing to the destruction of culverts by the contractors.”
They equally reminded Okorocha that presently, the town is totally inaccessible, adding that families and households cannot access their homes, as “our sons and daughters can no longer come home with their cars bu park them in neighbouring towns.
“Your Excellency, at the rate erosion is ravaging our community, it will become a disaster site in no distant time, if unchecked. All efforts at self help have not yielded any appreciable result, owing to the peculiar nature of our town and the magnitude of the damage. Owelle, please fix our roads, save lives, save our houses and our ancestral land, for we have no other place to go to,” they added.