Metro

May 11, 2024

Okuama-Ewu returnee villagers collapse, fall sick on sighting destroyed homes

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Photo of Okuama community residents living in the forest.

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By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, and Akpokona Omafuaire

Many residents, especially mothers of Okuama-Ewu community, Ughelli South Local Government Area, Delta State, collapsed on sighting their shattered homes when they returned on Wednesday after the Nigerian Army pulled out of the embattled riverine settlement.

Vanguard visited the community yesterday and learned that the blood pressure of some residents shot up when they saw the level of devastation and it took hours to revive them. Many returnee villagers looked confused as they bemoaned their plight.

I lost consciousness – Mrs. Adam, 65-yr mother

Sixty-five- year old Maria Adam who fled Okuama-Ewu on March 15 and returned May 8, said, “On arrival when I saw the level of destruction, I fainted and was revived because I suffered hypertension.

”I lost eight basins loaded with wrappers, all burned, and my 20 crates of minerals (soft drinks) destroyed, including the building. I am confused about starting all over again and I call on the government to come to our aid.

”There is a great difference between the community and the bush where we took cover because in my village, I have hope that I will live again. It will take until evening to count what I lost.

”At night, we sleep at the empty jetty and the Anglican Church, the only building remaining.

”Feeding is difficult; we call on the government to come to our aid, as we have started fishing, but no pot, no ingredients to cook.”

Looters who stormed the community from neighboring communities after soldiers exited, she said.

“Yes, some looters came and our youth caught some of them. They retrieved rods and other things from them at the jetty. They looted our cassava engine, which is what led to the fracas.

“We have not heard anything from the state government’s Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) committee since we came.”

I fell ill when I saw the devastation — Mrs. Joseph, farmer

Mrs. Vero Joseph, a 68-year-old farmer, who also fled Okuama-Ewu on March 15 and returned May 8, said, “On arrival at the community and seeing the devastation, I fell terribly sick; nothing is left here.

”They destroyed everything, including our houses, utensils and clothes. To start life afresh is the only way, which is going to be difficult.

“However, coming back to my home is better than going back to the bush. This is our hometown and we are pleased to be back home.

”What I lost, I cannot enumerate. In the night, we sleep in the Anglican Church. We have started setting net; we caught some fish, which we roasted to eat because there is nothing to cook.

”There is no garri, rice or beans. We eat the roasted fish. I prefer being here in this condition than going to the IDP camp, you cannot compare your home place to where they will keep you as a baby and feed you. I love my community.

”Looters came to steal immediately the army left; some were caught by the angry youths. We have not heard anything from the IDP committee until now.”

I collapsed at the jetty – Ekiroro

Fifty-two-year-old farmer Florence Ekiroro stated: “I collapsed at the jetty because we have become homeless.

“I lost many things from the destruction. I lost my cassava grinding marching; I lost all household items, including television and everything belonging to my children.

“Now, I do not know how to start all over again. However, going to IDP camp in Ewu is not an option to me; I will stay here and continue to strive again. You cannot compare here and the bush. In the bush, mosquitoes and ants fed on us at night and would not let us sleep. Our children have no water or food to eat.

“At night, we sleep in the Anglican Church floor. Some looters came from Akugbene and others from Okoloba looted whatever they saw in the destroyed buildings, they caught and beat some of them.

“The state IDP has not reached us; the things they damaged are spread across the community.”

How I passed out and recovered — Paul

Fifty-eight-year-old trader/farmer, Victoria Paul informed Vanguard, “On arrival and seeing the gravity of damages, I fainted but was revived.

”I dealt on provisions and loaded my store before the incident, I sold Ogogoro (local gin) and had up to ten 50-liter bottles; all were destroyed, including our house and money.

“Everything belonging to my late mum were destroyed. She died just before the crisis, and her corpse is in the morgue. All her things and my money were lost. Starting all over will be hectic, but it is better than staying in the bush.

”We sleep in the Anglican Church. I have not seen my husband and the children because he left with them.

”On return, we have started fishing and that is how we are feeding. We have no gari, salt or other ingredients to cook, including cooking utensils.

”We cook as a family and eat together; we drink from the river. People from other communities came to loot what was left, and the youths chased them away. We have not heard anything from the IDP management committee since we returned.”

I’m distraught — Okoye

Fifty-five-year-old Okuama trader and farmer, Grace Okoye said, “On return, I feel very distressed and because everything I have had been destroyed. What pained me most were my children’s results and my building. I lost my boxes of wrappers and N200,000 cash in the house.

”I only escaped with the wrapper on my waist, which is what I have also returned with. Only God can assist me in start all over but one cannot run away from my community. I cannot stay in another town, I am happy to be back, and I have mastered staying here. I cannot compare here with the forest; it is my home.

”At night, we sleep in the church here, we have started fishing and that is how we are managing now.

“Our youths caught some of the thieves. While we were away; they were busy harvesting our produce and immediately the army left, they came to scavenge. We have yet to hear from the government since returning.”

I feel degraded – Oghenchuko, 30-yr-old civil engineer

A thirty-year-old civil engineer, Ohwatake Ogheneochuko, said, “I had left Okuama on March 13, I went for a contract before the crisis and returned on May 8. Before I left, I had many things behind, including my POS business. On return, everything is gone completely.

”In fact, I feel dehumanized; I left many things but came back to meet nothing. Picking back the pieces of my life is going to be very tough because I do not know where to begin. Living in the forest was terrible and dangerous.

”We lost people to sicknesses and snake bites, but coming here, I feel more comfortable. I lost everything, including my younger brother, who the Army arrested. I saw him in the internet but we have not seen him again.

”He is still yet to be found; he is Difference Ohwatake.

“I lost my certificates and everything, including my voter’s card. I lost my original certificates, including my marriage certificate. My wife and my children are residents in Warri. At night, we sleep in the Anglican Church, which is the only building left in the town.

“We feed on the fruits and coconut, and we fish too. It is true that some looters came in their numbers and we chased them. Therefore, they ran and our youth pursued them. The IDP management has not reached us since we returned.”

They ruined everything — Osevata

Another Okuama resident, Mr. Luke Oseveta, a 56-year-old executive, asserted, “I am not based here; I stay in town, but my younger wife, sister and Mother, stay here. My mother is old; she is the oldest woman in the town. I returned here today and I feel terribly bad because they destroyed my two buildings. including my mother’s building.

”My sister, with the assistance of the Army rescued my mother out before the destruction. Taking care of my mom, my younger wife, and the kids is difficult; I cannot estimate adequately what I have to do.

”You can see the debris of my houses. My mother cannot return here now because there is no place to come. The villagers are suffering because they destroyed everything. It is good that our people rejected the IDP camp because that would amount giving out our ancestral land.

“This is our home, and no place is like home. North, East, South, and West, there is no place like home. Going to the IDP camp would mean the whole world denying us our ancestral home.

”The church is left here despite destroying the schools, including the health centre. They should build the IDP camp here in Okuama; you see the people are happy here now. They should do it here pending when they build the community.

”The government knows what happened here, they know the terrain and what the people have been suffering before the soldiers destroyed it. They should come and build this place; I cannot describe the plight of the people. The government should come and build it for us to stay.

‘How can I write my WAEC?’

A heartbroken Okuama teenager, Solomon Kennedy, a 20-year-old Senior Secondary School, SSS, 3 student, said, “I feel good coming back but the soldiers have destroyed our houses and left us nowhere to stay. I prefer living in my community than the camp because this is my parents’ place.

”I do not know how to start now because they destroyed our school. My mother died since 2012, and life has been difficult. I do not know how to explain this but I am heartbroken because I do not know how I will write my West African Examinations Council, WAEC, right now.

”I have hope that life will get better here because the government will rebuild our school for us. Please the government should pay attention to our plight; we are suffering, and there is nowhere to stay now.”

Vanguard News