By Chidi Nkwopara, OWERRI
It is not in doubt that Ihitte Okwe autonomous community in Ngor Okpala Local Government Area of Imo State, is a completely rural settlement. It is also clear that the name of the community does not ring a bell. To say that the community is largely peaceful and a good chunk of the population are peasant farmers, is also a truism.
However, a strange happening has brought the community’s name to the front burner. The rains of September 2018, obviously did the magic. The scary event has thrown up the glaring neglect and possible marginalisation of the area by successive governments in the state.
Going to Ihitte Okwe is akin to a trip to Golgotha. No road leading into or out of the community is paved. To say that the roads are waterlogged, especially during the rainy season, amounts to being miserly with the proper adjective to qualify them.
Responding angrily to the question posed by South-East Voice, on the plight of the indigenes of Ihitte Okwe, one of the civil servants that operates from the community, said: “We have been passing through untold hardship over the years. The sorry thing is that the end of our suffering appears not to be in sight. The tragedy is that the government of the day is not looking our way. There is no likelihood that the administration will be interested in our welfare now that it is gradually winding down.”
Giving a graphic account of the black rain, the traditional ruler of the community, Eze Barnabas Obirieze, said: “The villagers woke up, like in all the previous days, prepared to go about their daily chores. Some were preparing to go to church. Nobody knew what was in the offing. Not too long after daybreak, the sky darkened. The dark, thick cloud was palpable. Nothing about the weather was strange, and that was the general feeling of the people.
“The villagers rightly interpreted the weather to mean that it was going to rain, and possibly, heavily too! Most people opted to stay back in their family homes. It turned out to be a somewhat wise decision.
“Expectedly, the rain started and like musical notes, it rose speedily to a crescendo. The issue was no longer the torrential downpour. What immediately attracted the people’s attention was the colour of the rain. It was completely black!
“The initial thought was that it could have been the dirty roofing sheets. This turned out to be wrong because, on a second thought, it was clear that it was not the first rain of the year. First rain, over the past years, were slightly brownish in colour, and definitely not black.
“This was a different story all together. as even the flood water flowing along the unpaved roads in the community, was also dark”, Obirieze recounted with a level of apprehension.
Continuing his narrative, the soft spoken but ever cheerful royal father said that the experience was strange and fearful.
“Honestly, the experience was, and still remains strange and fearful, even as I speak to you today. I remember that I was in the church on that fateful day, when the rain started. It was a pretty heavy rain. We tarried for a long while, waiting for the rain to subside.
“When it subsided and we were set to leave the church, we noticed that everywhere was black. The flood water was black. All the receptacles in all family homes, were filled with black water. Clothes, especially the white ones, whose owners hung outside before the rain, were automatically decolorised.
“I became naturally alarmed and as the person my people look up to for virtually everything, I took some photographs and equally started making contacts with people that can help narrate our experience to the world.
“I must make it clear that there is no case of oil prospecting or exploration going on anywhere in my community. The only establishment that is some kilometres away from my community, is the Imo Airport. Let me also say that if the black rain was midwifed by the aircraft using the airport, then, the experience should have been total, but this is not the case.
“I have made inquiries from all the neighbouring communities and the result showed that only the eight villages of Ihitte Okwe community experienced the black rain. I appeal to the state and Federal Government agencies responsible for such occurrences, to please come and investigate the matter and allay our fears. For now, we are all living in fear”, Eze Obirieze pleaded.