Adibe Emenyonu writes on efforts by the government of Edo State to create a conducive environment for communities ravaged by floods and erosion

Mrs. Janet Agbonze, a resident of Upper Lawani area of Benin City, capital of Edo State, had suffered the impact of flooding for over 20 years. Whenever it rains, she curse the day she was born because rather than it becoming a blessing to her, the rain added sorrows to her and the entire neighborhood because water will always find its way into their houses.

This is primarily because there was no drainage and the little one provided had been blocked. And because the flood coming from Okhoro to Upper Lawani wasn’t properly channeled, this led to the destruction of houses around, leading to most people fleeing and abandoning their houses only to come back during the dry season to salvage whatever is left and preparing to take off again in the next round of rainy season.

This is the same story for most residents of Ewah Road, off Upper Mission road in Ikpoba Okha Local Government Area of Edo State, who had vacated their places of abode due to incessant flooding of the area especially during the rainy season. Mr. Godwin Tom Osunde, a 65-year-old house owner is one of those hard hit by flood. The retiree had almost died because he not only lost his house, but his tenants as well who deserted him when they could no longer bear the effect of flooding in the area which consequently affected his only means of livelihood since he is not in active service any longer.

It is the same tale of woes for people living around the Upper Siluko, Uwelu and Evbotubu areas of the State, which were hitherto devastated by flood.

It was in the light of this that Benin City Storm Water Project was conceived in 2011 to fight the persistent flooding in the city whenever it rains. In the past, residents are usually glittery at the sign of rain in the sky. Their fears are genuine because floods have wreaked havoc in the community forcing hundreds of landlords and tenants to abandon their homes for refuge in another area.

Apart from submerging houses, some of the roads within the flooded area which in the past are smooth and motorable were in their worst state of dilapidation. Even at that, few roads and houses still left remain an eyesore to behold.

Flooding is not the only natural disaster faced by inhabitants of Edo State. The people also suffer from gully erosion one of which is the Queen Ede gully site at Ogbesan Quarters, along Benin-Agbor road, Ikpobapandemonium-Hill, Benin; the Auchi erosion, Auchi, Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State; and the Evbotubu gully in Egor council area of the state which in the past, had swallowed housed and damaged properties worth several millions of Naira.

Faced by these devastations, the Edo State government decided to go to the capital market to obtain N25 billion worth of loan to tackle the flooding through the Storm Water Project. Also in its bid to address the gully erosion menace, Government decided to partner with the World Bank through a facility of N7.8 billion and another N5.7 billion for the Auchi gully in addition to setting aside the sum of N500 million to address the menace. In fact, a St. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic Church in the area had spent over N20 million just to keep its church standing before the rescue mission came their way.

In one of the inspection tours to the devastated areas, Governor Oshiomhole assured the people that his administration has the capacity to address these challenges be it flooding or erosion, promising that the government would do more work on the Storm Water Project, especially this dry season.

He said: “as we are in the dry season now, we want to quickly rush and do some work on this drainage. Because there was no drainage before now, the flood coming from Okhoro through this area wasn’t properly channeled, and it led to the destruction of houses, most persons fled and abandoned their houses and some even died in the past.

“That is why we decided to do the work and the last time we did it up to the bridge and everybody said we had to continue with the job. With the rains, we couldn’t continue and I did say we will continue once the dry season comes and you can see how the drainage is now. The width of that drainage is 8 metres, which is about 26 feet wide and 2.5 meters high, which is about 8 feet high. What this means is that no matter the quantity of flood water that passes through this environ, the inhabitants of this area need not fear anymore. The water will pass through the drainage to the river”.

On the gully erosion devastation, the governor said part of the designs to completely end the flooding in the capital city and its environ was the Benin Storm Water Project. He promised during some of his inspection tours of the project that the government would do more work on the storm water project, especially this dry season.

However today, life is returning to these communities following government several interventions to bring them back to their homes. The good news for them today is that the situation is different. After years of devastation by flooding and gully, those who abandoned their homes are coming back as government did not only reclaim their land, but build new access roads for them.

Little wonder the same Godwin Tom Osunde, a resident of one of the flooded areas, is full of praises for Oshiomhole. According him, “I am a common man and I know where it pains me. I am more than 65 years now but I have never seen a governor like you. My house in April last year was flooded and I had no one to help me. But today, you have done me proud and May God bless you. You have done so much for us, and as you have remembered us, so will God remember you.”

Also to Mrs. Mary Omoruyi who formerly abandoned her home because of the erosion menace at Queen Ede, “this is the first time, money that comes to the state to work for us are not shared among some individuals. If not for his intervention, this place was almost lost to flood and erosion. One particular night, I almost drowned in the flood, I shouted and cried and God rescued me but I lost everything I had, my livestock, my properties all were washed away by the erosion but today, you have reclaimed this place for us and now we are safe and secured. Thank you for your concern and effort and may God be with you.”

The Benin Forum, a socio cultural apex body in Benin, was not left out in showering encomium on Oshiomhole. The group led by Chief David Edebiri, Esogban of Benin, during an inspection of some the projects in the state capital, marveled at the level of reclamation done on the Queen Ede gully erosion site, saying that critics of the government should see the project so that they would know that the money that comes to the state is judiciously spent.

He said, “we have 12 wards in Oredo and I would love them to one day, come and see this. Those critics, lame duck critics at home, let them come and see what is going on here, so that they may know that any money that comes to this state is for development and not wasted or appropriated to individual pockets.

“The work going on here is simply marvellous and I have asked that those lame duck critics in Benin City and elsewhere should be given the opportunity to come and see this work. Only people with large heart can venture into this type of work to salvage many people from imminent flood destruction.

“I am impressed and every good person will be impressed. It means that every penny that comes to this state is used for the benefit of the people and not what we used to have here in this state where few people appropriate public and state money as their own personal money. So I thank the governor for doing what he is doing for the people of Edo State in general and for the residents of Benin City in particular. I am impressed and I think everybody will be impressed.”

Also, the Enogie of Evbuobanosa, Prof. Greg Akenzua said: “a lot of earthwork is being done at Queen Ede erosion site and as you could see, many of the homes there have been restored and the people are quite happy with the governor that he has brought happiness to them, that he has saved their homes and so we really must commend the governor for his courage”.

At the Upper Siluko area of the state, which was hitherto devastated by flood, Prof Akenzua said “we can see that a lot of money has been spent here. Those who knew the difficulty of this terrain will appreciate this. Many people had abandoned their houses because of the flood, now they are all returning and the Teachers House, was notorious for the flood water that used to be here. It was not passable but now, look at the road, quite solid and the drains are wide and the place is dry. So we are very happy and the people in the neighbourhood are all cheering as we appeared, so we are all very happy.”

On his part, one-time Minister of Science and Technology and former Vice Chancellor of the University of Jos, Prof. Emmanuel Emovon had this to say: “Oshiomhole is doing marvellously well and we will also support him in every way. He is a saviour to most areas of Benin. He has done extremely well and anybody who thinks Oshiomhole hasn’t done well, you would have to examine their head. He has done extremely well”.

Although it’s not yet Uhuru, but residents of the affected areas today can beat their chests to say things are getting better for them and their environment.