By Dayo Johnson, Regional Editor, South-West
AYETORO literally means world is peaceful. But to the people of Ayetoro, a coastal community in the oil-rich Ilaje Local Council of Ondo State, the reverse has been the case. Succinctly put, life has been cruel to them. What an irony of life.
Currently, the community is facing extinction on account of recurring ocean surge, which has made life unbearable for residents. The Community Primary School, Ayetoro and the only secondary school in the oil-producing community, have been submerged.
History had it that Ayetoro, which was founded in 1947 by some group of Christian religious adherents and fishermen mostly of Ilaje extraction, was once a thriving commercial nerve centre of the old Okitipupa Division of the state.
Findings showed that the sea incursion had washed away over three kilometres of the community. In the past, the devastation was common during the rainy season. But of late, it has become the norm.
Last weekend, the community faced one of the worst surges in recent times. No fewer than 300 people and residents of the coastal community were sacked and more than 30 houses and property were destroyed by the surge from the Atlantic Ocean. This is aside from boats and fishing gears worth millions of naira that were destroyed.
Community recounts ordeal
Speaking with Vanguard, a resident and Head teacher of Community Primary School, Ayetoro, Mrs Ajimuda Stella Kehinde, lamented the situation which she said had made teaching/learning impossible.
According to her, “many of our school buildings had been carried away as a result of sea incursion and this has not allowed teaching/learning process to move as expected. Government should help us do embankment to prevent further incursion.’’
Also narrating their ordeal, another resident, Emmanuel Aralu, said the ocean began to overflow the shoreline in the middle of Saturday night and caught many of the residents unawares.
She continued: “No fewer than 30 houses were affected while no fewer than 300 people were rendered homeless with water submerging most of the houses in the community. The ocean has overtaken about 500 meters of Ayetoro community’s landscape with many houses and land destroyed including the house of the Spiritual Head of the community, Bishop Iwatan Eretan.
“The surge occurred in the middle of the night when many people had retired to bed. We tried to pack some of our property but when we noticed that most of the houses had been submerged, we had to evacuate people from their houses. Property worth millions of naira were destroyed and washed away into the middle of the ocean.’’
Aralu called on the state government to come to the aid of the people of the community, saying the embarkment project by the Niger-Delta Development Commission, NDDC, could not prevent the surge in the area.
Speaking on how the problem started, the Archbishop of Holy Apostles Church, Rembo Eretan, who also doubles as the Baba Ijo (Father) of the religious settlement, said the problem of sea surge started more than 50 years ago and worsened over time.
Rembo attributed the challenge to “the unwholesome activities of oil companies and their subsidiaries prospecting and exploiting crude oil in the area.
“The situation became worse year in year out as more oil companies joined the search for the black gold both onshore and offshore of the community,’’ he said.
Also, the community spokesperson, Prince Bolu Ajijo, said: ”Ayetoro seashore was more than four standard football fields in the 50s. It was there the whole Ilaje used to congregate to mark the Empire’s Day during the colonial era. But all that is now history. The hungry ocean has eaten the whole beautiful beach and is now threatening the very existence of Ayetoro community.’’
Speaking further on the effects of the sea incursion, a community leader, Apostle Henry Ojagbohunmi, said: “It appears the powers-that-be have abandoned us to our fate because the community has made spirited efforts year- in year-out to draw the federal and state governments’ attention to our plight to no avail.”’
Recall that the Federal Government through NDDC over 10 years ago, intervened by awarding the Ayetoro Sea Embarkment Contract worth over N12 billion but not much has been heard of the project.
If the project had been completed, findings showed that it would have saved the community and adjoining towns and villages from the recurring attack from the ocean.
The community spokesperson, Prince Ajijo, said that “the companies collected mobilisation fee of N6 billion but nothing is on ground apart from a house boat and some rustic tools. There is nobody on site.
“Our people are afraid that the Ayetoro Sea Embarkment Project has now been added to the growing list of abandoned NDDC intervention projects.
“To make matters worse, it appears the Federal Government and NDDC are overwhelmed by these challenges because they are not asking questions about this turnkey project in view of the anti-graft posture of the Federal Government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari.’’
Both Apostle Henry and Prince Ajijo appealed to “all kind-hearted people, local and international institutions and organisations, especially the United Nations Environmental Programme, UNEP, federal and state governments through their special intervention agencies – NDDC, OSOPADEC and Ecological Fund Office in the Presidency to come to the aid of Ayetoro to save the community from being washed away by the surging Atlantic Ocean.
Ondo govt sends delegation to community
Meanwhile, a state government delegation has visited the community to assess the level of damage done by the sea incursion.
The Deputy Governor, Hon Agboola Ajayi, who led the delegation, said: “Certainly, you can see that this has gone beyond Ondo State Government. We will make noise and let the whole world know that Ayetoro is in danger, Ondo State is in danger and the Federal Government should rescue this oil producing community.
“Probably what they did in Lagos will solve this problem. Look at Eko Atlantic city, this was able to stop the sea incursion and people are able to drive freely, they are even building houses on top of the sea.”