By Steve Oko
The people of Amamba Uzuakoli in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State are counting their loss following the menace of erosion that wreaked havoc in the agrarian community last week.
Several buildings were affected with a two-storey building already swallowed by the gully erosion.
Occupants of the affected houses have now been rendered homeless as they were forced to evacuate, and are now squatting with relations in the neighbouring villages and Umuahia capital city.
Although there were no human casualties yet, the village is completely deserted obviously to avoid being swept away by the ravaging erosion.
Abia is one of the states prone to erosion with over 300 active erosion sites according to statistics from the Ministry of Environment.
The erosion menace is more rampant in Abia North and Central where there are dangerous erosion sites, especially in Isuikwuato, Umunneochi, Bende and Umuahia North and South Council areas.
The latest incident, according to locals was triggered by days of incessant rainfall which led to landslides and building collapses that have thrown the affected persons into pains and misery.
Uzuakoli is one of the major agrarian communities in Abia State known for cassava, corn and rice production.
After visiting the deserted village, our Correspondent called on the palace of the paramount ruler of Uzoakoli ancient kingdom, HRM Eze Kanu Ikonte, where the octogenarian monarch and his wife, Ugoeze Lady Onyekwere Ikonte, narrated the ordeals of their subjects.
The monarch said that when the gully erosion started developing a few years ago, the Community raised alarm but no action was taken by the relevant Government agencies.
He lamented that despite several follow-up appeals and even visitation to the site by NEWMAP, the Community was abandoned to its fate until the latest disaster.
” It started gradually but was not controlled and it kept getting worse. Now it has swept away houses.
” Owners and occupants of the affected houses have fled their ancestral homes. It is a horrible experience. Any time it begins to rain we become apprehensive.
” You know we are a major agrarian community in Abia but now my subjects in that village no longer go to farm because erosion has destroyed everything and the roads are impassable and death traps.”
Asked if they had formally notified the relevant Government agencies about the menace of erosion in the community, the Ugoeze said Government had been duly notified.
” We have severally notified Government but no assistance has come. Two years ago, NEWMAP (Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project) came here and just took feasibility study and left”, she lamented.
They also noted that since the latest disaster, Government officials including lawmakers had been coming but the Community was yet to receive any intervention.
The monarch and his wife appealed for urgent Government intervention to save their subjects from further agonies.
They particularly solicited immediate succour for the owner of the collapsed two-storey building, a widow who they said had relocated to Umuahia.
” This woman is a widow, she deserves immediate help. Their entire house is completely gone”, Ugoeze agonised.
The monarch appealed to the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA to send some relief materials to help ameliorate the plights of the victims.
” They need urgent palliatives, especially food, drugs and shelter”, he said.
” The disaster is beyond State Government; we need a quick federal intervention”, his wife added.
Meanwhile, one of the concerned indigenes of Uzuakoli community, Chief Ifeanyi Chinasa, has appealed to fellow illustrious sons and daughters of the Community to rise to the challenge in the interim while waiting for Government intervention.
The Labour Party House of Representatives candidate who donated N2.1 million for the hiring of earth-moving equipment to begin remedial works to reconnect the affected village said he could not afford to be complacent while his kinsmen are in agony.
He said the fund would be deployed by Uzuakoli Ohabuike Association, the Community authority coordinating the work.
Chinasa who said the gesture had nothing to do with his political ambition, urged for more action to avoid escalation.
“We must do our best to reclaim our homeland and make it habitable for the precious people of Uzuakoli.
” This is the only place we can call our home, and if we lose it to erosion, there will be nowhere else to run to. Our people must not be allowed to become fugitives”, he said.
He decried the menace of erosion in Bende LGA and appealed for urgent federal intervention.
The Labour Party candidate promised to make erosion control a major priority if elected to the green chamber.
When contacted, Commissioner for Environment, Chief Sam Nwogu said
that efforts were being intensified to arrest further escalation of the gully.
He said that Government had sent a team of engineers to get a feasibility study of the site for prompt attention, however, regretted that the Community and the Local Government Authority failed to check the erosion at its early stage.
“Government has sent a team of NEWMAP engineers to study the situation at Uzuakoli erosion site and another in Ohafia both of which are very active currently. The idea is to determine appropriate remedial or palliative works that can be done at these sites to check further advancement of the gullies. Their recommendation will come to the Hon Commissioner for Environment for onward transmission to the Governor. This will enable the state deploy resources to arrest further carnage by the gully while appropriate detailed design for the remediation is being prepared by NEWMAP Consultants.
We wish to remind Abians that a design had been concluded for the Dodd’s Methodist Church Uzuakoli finger of the gully and what will be done now is to incorporate this new finger to the design.
“When this gully was still at it’s very insipient stage, Government had advised for a small drain at the gully bed to channel the storm water off the area towards the stream at the outfall. This was a simple thing that could be done by community or LGA. But having failed at that, it has become a monster ravaging the entire community.”
The Commissioner decried the menace of erosion in the state, lamenting that Abia has over 300 active erosion sites.
” There are over 300 active gully erosion sites in Abia state today and many of them are threatening”, Nwogu lamented.