•Village head pleads with Gov Ayade to salvage Mkpot community
•Rev Ekuwem, Catholic Archbishop initiates grading of 24-km access road
By Ikechukwu Uche
MKPOT — RESIDENTS of Mkpot, a Nigerian border community with Cameroon in Akamkpa Local Government Area, Cross River State, especially youths, have deserted the village because of the excruciating conditions of living in the rustic locality, citing lack of access road, potable water, electricity, health care facilities and other social amenities as reasons.
For centuries, the people have lived a primitive life because of painful living conditions, with many prematurely losing their lives due to non-availability of health institutions and the long distance between the available ones in the state and the rustic community; roughly three and half hours drive from Calabar, the state capital.
The community in its miserable history had relocated to two other habitats in the state since it was founded, but the people returned to the current location because of their familial attachment to their homeland. Residents of the village which is about six kilometres from Cameroon, drink water from surrounding streams and rivers, which desiccate every dry season. Villagers claimed that Mkpot ceased being in the development radar of the state government, a long time ago, and that several efforts to construct the 24-kilometre access road to the community were botched.
Catholic archbishop turns liberator: There seemed to be hope lately, however, as the Catholic Archbishop of Calabar, Most Rev Joseph Ekuwem, in collaboration with the community, have embarked on the grading of the access road.
NDV undertook a three and half hour drive from Calabar, the state capital, to the community, located in the valley of Oban Hill and Cameroon mountain and discovered that eight kilometers of the road had just been graded, sparking a festival of sorts in the community. But, from what we saw on ground, there was still much to be done to make the road motorable, as the project is capital intensive.
NDV met some youths of the village, who said they visited the community for the first time in the last 16 years because there was no road to pass through before the intervention of Archbishop Ekuwem. In fact, several efforts in the past to construct the access road failed until the clergy man broke the jinx.
Village head appeals to Gov Ayade: Mkpot Village Head, Ntufam Ndifon Odu, who confirmed our findings that the villagers had relocated from their current location to two other places in the past, but still returned, appealed to the governor of the state, Prof. Ben Ayade, to come the aid of the community.
He said, “with the opening of the access road, which has cost us almost everything, a lot will change. We have been able to do about eight kilometres with no assistance or help from government, the only one who has been behind us is Archbishop of Calabar Catholic Archdiocese, Most Rev Joseph Ekuwem, he has been our back bone. We have lived in our current location for about 400 years, since the 18th century although we moved twice but later came back to our current location. There is no road, no electricity, no water, and we do not even have healthcare centres.
“It will surprise you to know that during dry seasons like this, our people bathe twice or at most three times in a week because of lack of water. Most of our streams have dried up, we have to trek up to eight kilometres to get water. The most agonizing is that we still carry our aged or sick ones on a locally made stretcher when they fall sick, you can imagine the pain.”
Our people are perishing—Odu
Speaking with NDV during the visit, chairman, Mkpot Development Association, Mr. Emmanuel Odu, said: “We are appealing to the state governor, Prof. Ben Ayade, to come to our rescue now that the Archbishop has broken the jinx. Many of our people are dying, our young people have almost all migrated. The ones remaining do not like to come home at all, some of the young people you are seeing are coming home for the first time in 16 years, some 12 years. Our fathers, mothers are dying, to take a motor cycle on the tarred road which was what we had to do, from Ntebachot Junction to Mkpot, is N2000, how many people can afford that.”
Marginalization started since 1933— Mgbangson
Chairman of Mkpot Community Road Project, MCRP, Dr. Lawrence Mgbangson, who also spoke to NDV, said that the marginalization and isolation of the community started since 1933, when the Oban Hills Forest was gazetted as a forest reserve, followed by the enactment of Decree 36 of 1991 that created the Cross River National Park.
“It should be noted that in all these actions by government, Mkpot community was never consulted. In spite of the provisions of Decree 36 of 1991 and Decree 46 of 1999, we have not benefitted anything. The process of building this road through community effort started in 1988 even before the creation of the national park.”
Mgbangson asserted: “We were asked to halt the construction of the road and we were also asked to relocate to a new location without proper arrangement, we were banned by the authorities of the national park to stop planting economic trees, farming fishing and hunting of wild life.”
Speaking further he said communication between Mkpot and other communities as well as the outside world were done by trekking, adding: “Sick persons, pregnant people undergoing complicated delivery are carried in stretchers to nearest clinics, distances of about 30km, other essential commodities were carried by head and young people have deserted the community.”