At a time when other states are reclaiming land from the sea, Anambra is losing its landmass to erosion, reports David-Chyddy Eleke
The biblical valley of the shadows of death is used to depict a condition of fear and harm, but in Anambra, there exist physical valleys of the shadows of death scattered around the state. There are huge erosion gullies that are threatening the existence of people in their communities. In all, there are over 960 active erosion sites in Anambra State, and these have in most communities swallowed up houses, making residents lose their places of abode.
A recent visit by THISDAY to two of the communities currently being ravaged by erosion; Oko and Nanka in Orumba North Local Government of Anambra State showed that residents are still fleeing their houses for fear that they may cave in any moment. In Nanka, an indigene of the community and an elder, Mr. Okorie Nwawo told THISDAY that the gullies in Isiakpuenu Village of Ifite Nanka are older than him, even though he is over 70 years of age. He added that the gullies were not as big as they are today when he was a growing boy. He however recalled that from the time he was a boy, he and his parents had to abandon their residence for fear that it may cave into the gullies, and relocated to another land, where they built their house.
Nwawo who praised the federal government for the job it is doing at the gullies, using Rhino Maritime and Construction Company, said better work would have been done, and timely too, if the company did not stop work on the site for some years as a result of non-mobilisation of the contractor by the federal government.
The Nanka erosion site had been awarded in 2011 by then President Goodluck Jonathan-led federal government to Rhino Maritme and Construction Company at the cost of N1.1billion, with a mandate to control the erosion. The contract was in three phases and involved the construction of drainage channel of 2.2kilometres for flood water to find a channel to go through, a 2.2 kilometre road to ease access for villagers to their residents, and also to control the erosion through laying of gabions in the gully.
Though the job was stalled for years as a result of political interests, leading to non-release of funds, but when THISDAY visited the site, it was discovered that the jobs had been completed and awaiting a fresh phase which is the filling of the valley and protection of embankments. Akin Owoyele, manager for Rhino Construction Company, in an interview with THISDAY said the job has been completed, save for a small length of roads, which the company will commence once the rains cease. He said the fresh phase of the job which involves the protection of embankments would be a fresh contract, which is not inclusive in the first three phases of the job, and which he hopes the federal government would award soon.
“Government I think is working on it, and I think it is important to say that this second phase is what will protect the work we have already done. If the second phase is not done on time, it will affect the foundation on both sides. We are now planting grasses on the project sites to protect what we have already done, even though that is not part of the job we were given by the government,” said Owoyele.
On the Oko end of the project, residents are still lamenting about the menace of erosion in their area, and fresh houses have also been listed on the danger list of those expected to cave into the gully any moment, just as many more houses have been lost. During a visit to the area, an indigene, and a resident of the affected area, Elder Caleb Ezeokeke said, “I have never seen a thing like this all my life. Daily, we live in fear of losing our residences, even though we have left our fate in the hands of God. As you look at this my house, I have counted it out as a belonging of mine because it can go in any day. We no longer sleep here. You are lucky to meet me because I just came to pick up something. We are calling on government to come to our aid because this is beyond us.”
Another resident, Mrs. Adaeze Okeke also said that her children now sleep in friends and relatives’ houses because of fear that their family house may cave in any day. She also implored the federal government to consider the Oko gully for award. She said she has distributed her children among friends and relatives, and she only goes out every morning to check on them.
The palace of the traditional ruler of Oko Community, Igwe Laz Ekwueme, younger brother of former Vice President of Nigeria, Dr. Alex Ekwueme also has his house on danger list. But another resident, Mr. Alex Aku said the job done at the Nanka end of the project is the reason for the stability currently experienced in Oko. He urged the federal government to intensify efforts to ensure that the next phase of the job was awarded, so as to put the minds of those residing in both communities at rest.
Owoyele in an interview stressed the need for the awarding of the next phase of the contract, pointing at a sour experience the company had in the early days of the execution of the Nanka contract as a result of delay in remission of funds. The job by Rhino Construction had faced crisis as a result of the breakage of a drainage known as Ronasco drainage built during the colonial days by Ronasco Company, which served as a channel for flood water, into the gully. The breaking down of the drainage had facilitated the washing away of the first job done by Rhino and also moved about 486,000 cubic of sand into the gully. This had caused the federal government additional fund, which was not less than a billion naira in itself. The timely award of the next phase of the contract THISDAY gathered will help government save the job already done, to forestall the experience of the broken down Ronasco drainage, especially now that a new lease of life is coming to the residents of the area.
As Oko and Nanka communities are preparing to heave a sigh of relief, other communities in Anambra are not as lucky. Of the 960 active erosion sites in the state, which are scattered around the 179 communities, only a few of them are currently receiving attention. Recently, as part of efforts to stop erosion encroachment in Anambra State and other erosion-prone states in the country, the World Bank Group approved eight erosion sites in Anambra State for construction and remedial measures for the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP). This was even as it also reviewed the bidding documents for four of the sites. The World Bank Environmental Specialist and its Task Team Leader in Nigeria, Dr. Amos Abu after inspecting ongoing construction work at some other erosion projects being undertaken in the state stated that “This is a joint World Bank, FAO, and Federal Government of Nigeria implementation and technical support mission; the states that are implementing the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP). This is a project that started with seven states but as of today, it has been oversubscribed such that we have 19 states and we had to dialogue with the federal government to kind of put moratorium until the next midterm review. By then we will be able to take stock and determine whether we will be able to add one additional state.
“When NEWMAP was conceived, in particular during the preparation, Anambra State was the lead state; it was setting the pace but along the line something happened. It appeared to have lost that lead role but we are very happy to report that the momentum is back. As at the last count, we promised the governor that the design of the priority site as identified by the state remains a priority for us in terms of our reviewing. And with this we have given it accelerated review process. And we are happy to report that as at today eight priority sites designs have been approved for Anambra State. Not just that, we are also happy to report that the bidding document for each site has also been given review by the World Bank and as of today, four of these sites, their bidding documents are ready for implementation. So we are very happy for the significant progress we have recorded in Anambra with the support, the zeal and the interest of the governor and the entire members of his cabinet.”
Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano has repeatedly lamented about the menace of erosion in the state, saying that Anambra has been reduced to the smallest state in the country, following the loss of a huge landmass to gullies. Dr. Nkem Okeke, the deputy governor who stood in for the governor, during the visit by World Bank team pointed out that the state government will provide every needed support to ensure that the team succeeds in their good mission in the state. “I can’t understate the effects of erosion in our state. Anambra State used to be the second smallest state in the federation but as at today, I think we are the smallest because of the effects of erosion. A state that was about 4,800 square kilometres is being ravaged by gullies and valleys. The presence of NEWMAP in Anambra has been helpful. So many farmlands have been washed away, residential houses pulled down and so many others. We can’t sit back and watch erosion destroy our environment,” Okeke said.
In Oko, at a different erosion site, close to the Federal Polytechnic, new buildings erected by the rector of the institution, Prof. Godwin Onu are currently threatened by gully erosion too. The gully erosion measuring about 10 metres at the extension site of the institution is threatening structures worth N8 billion. The public relations officer of the institution, Mr. Obini Onuchukwu told THISDAY that the erosion is an extension of the known Agulu/Nanka erosion. He said villages around the area including Amaokpala is emptying into the gully, and has claimed over a hectare of land already.
He said it has become imperative for individuals, corporate bodies, state and the federal governments to come together to salvage the structures. “That extension site is where the institution has the concentration of its building, especially the virtual library which is the biggest in the South-east zone of the country, worth billions of Naira. Other structures located at the extension site under threat include 1,500 capacity lecture theatre, Engineering Building, Science Laboratory Technology Building, Entrepreneurship Development Centre, Skills Acquisition Centre, 1,500 capacity lecture Theatre, Dr. Alex Ekwueme Resource Centre, Chinese Language and Cultural Centre, Continuing Education Programme Building among others.
Onuchukwu told THISDAY that, “We had written to the Ministry of Environment on the matter with graphic explanations and also designed drawing of the proposed ecological control but yet to receive help. The Rector started over 23 gigantic structures since 2010 and since then had completed over 13 of them while others are in different levels of completion. It will be heart breaking, very disheartening if all these sacrifices are allowed to be swept off by erosion. There is absolute need for all and sundry to come to the aid of the institution to salvage the situation.
“So far, the institution has invested money from its Internally Generated Revenue in battling with natural disaster. The institution has also spent huge amount of money within the gully axis to check its continuous depression that had collapsed the perimetre fencing some years back. What we are appealing for is for the federal government to come to our aid. Everyone knows how capital intensive it is to control erosion, so it’s not something the polytechnic can do on its own,” he said.
The Anambra State Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Romanus Ejikeme while speaking with THISDAY in his office said ecological problems like erosion are too capital intensive for state governments to manage, and that there was need to call on the federal government and other international organisations to wade in. He thanked the World Bank for consistently coming to the aid of the state in terms of construction of erosion sites, saying that it is believed that before the end of the year, the World Bank would intervene in about 12 erosion sites in the state.
He added that the state government has perfected arrangements to turn sites like the very well known Nanka gully into tourists sites that will yield revenue to the state. He also lamented that the federal government has delayed in the reimbursement of the over N50 billion the state has spent on federal roads in the state, including the taming of an erosion gully that threatened the Enugu/Onitsha Expressway at Nkpor, which was fixed by the state government to ease passage. These funds, if reimbursed the commissioner said would help the state to fix roads and few erosion sites that the fund can carry.