Several communities in Abia State live in constant fear of ecological disaster, as erosion continues to wreak havoc, disrupting agricultural, social and economic activities. Emmanuel Ugwu examines the ongoing efforts to bring the menace under control
Ikwuano Local Government is among the food baskets of Abia State and rightly so. It is composed of agrarian communities whose inhabitants toil in their farms to produce various food crops such as yams, cassava, plantains, banana, and palm produce. But much of these farm produce hardly get to the urban areas, including the capital city, Umuahia, which is less than 10 kilometres away. This is because Ikwuano communities are erosion prone with dozens of erosion sites dealing devastating blows to houses, farm lands and rural roads, cutting off communities from one another.
In fact, the communities constantly live in the fear of being swallowed by the menacing gully erosion. The gullies created by the erosion are so massive and frightening to behold. The dizzy depths of the erosion sites pose big risks to people if they attempt crossing the affected roads on foot or motorcycle as four wheel vehicles are completely ruled out on such erosion devastated roads.
Last year the situation got really bad for the communities connected by the Okwe-Obuohia Road which has one of the worst erosion sites. “The road was so bad that there was no way of passing through,” the Prime Minister of Okwe Ukwu autonomous community, Chief Chikezie Awazie said. “The only possible means was for us to use helicopter but it was not affordable,” he added.
As the situation continued to worsen the prime minister recalled that the people of Obuohia had approached their Okwe neighbouring community to join hands with them and fill the gully site. “But I advised them that it was beyond the capacity of the two communities and their effort would end up in futility,” Awazie recalled.
The most viable option to tackle the erosion menace was for the communities to intensify their appeal for federal intervention. Fortunately for them their distress cry was heard by Hon. Sam Onuigbo, the member representing Ikwuano/Umuahia federal constituency in the House of Representatives. The lawmaker, who is also the Chairman of the House Committee on Climate Change, approached the Ecological Fund Office (EFO) for the intervention of the federal government to save the erosion-prone communities in his constituency. The Okwe-Obuohia erosion site was one of the erosion control projects approved for Abia by the EFO. The other one is the Okpurudara Amachara erosion site at Umuahia South Local Government Area.
The two projects, valued at over N700 million, have already been formally handed over to the contractors and work has been going on since June. At separate ceremonies where the erosion control projects were handed over to the contractors the benefitting communities expressed profound joy that the federal government has finally come to their rescue following strident cries and agonies over the erosion menace. The Okpurudara Amachara erosion site was awarded to Alinat Nigeria Limited at a cost of over N400 million, while Bareman Engineering Services got the Okwe-Obuohia erosion site awarded at a cost of over N300 million. Onuigbo, who attracted the projects to his constituency, said that the projects “are very important” to the people given that the frightening gully erosion has been posing great danger to the communities.
He lauded the permanent secretary of EFO, Mrs. Habiba Lawal, who is also the acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), for awarding the contracts which are among the 25 erosion projects approved by the EFO. The federal lawmaker urged Lawal not to relent in her efforts in tackling erosion problems across the nation and commended the EFO for distributing the erosion control projects without partisan bias. “When a problem comes it is not defined in the name of APC or PDP. When a community has a problem it affects everybody,” he said.
Onuigbo disclosed that he synergised with Senator Theodore Orji, who represents Abia Central, to attract the erosion control projects, adding that they have been cooperating and working in tandem to bring democracy dividends for the people they represent at the National Assembly. Onuigbo said that he would not relent in his efforts to put an end to the erosion problem in his constituency. According to him, there are currently 35 active erosion sites in his constituency hence “we are appealing to the federal government for more assistance” as several communities are presently crying for help.
Onuigbo was confronted with such distress call at Ariam Usaka when he went to inspect the erosion site in the area. The President-General of Ekpiri Autonomous Community, Mr. Obioma Igwe told the federal lawmaker about his people’s harrowing experience of the erosion menace, adding that it has negatively affected the economy of the area as people could no longer convey their farm produce to the urban centres to sell.
The massive gully erosion along the ring road linking 15 communities has been eating up the road to the extent that it would eventually cave in before the end of this rainy season as what remains of the road from being cut was less than two metres as at the time Onuigbo inspected the site. He deeply felt the plight of the Ariam Usaka people, lamenting that “this massive erosion is trying to violently cut-off 15 communities.” However, he promised to convey the genuine concerns of the affected communities to the federal government with the hope that federal intervention would eventually be extended to the area.
While there was joyous welcome for the commencement of the erosion control projects, there was equally concerns about the need for the contractors to do quality jobs so that erosion menace would be seen to have been solved. The community leaders who spoke at the flag off of the erosion projects all harped on the need for the contractors to avoid shoddy jobs as it would amount to disservice to the people if they should be exposed to the erosion menace again after completion of the projects.
For instance, the Vice-chairman of Umuahia South Local Government Area, Arc Chris Nwosu, while urging the contractor handling the Okpurudara Amachara erosion control project to do a thorough job, noted that “we’ve seen situations where after the contractor completed a project and went home the situation became worse.” Chief Ernest Nwakanma of Okwe community said that his people expected that the erosion control project in the community should last for upwards of 20 years after completion.
Vice-President of Okwe–Ukwu Development Union, Mr. Peter Ndubuwa, further expressed the desire of the people for a lasting solution to the erosion problem, noting that “by this time last year Okwe was cut off from the rest of Ikwuano communities.” He appealed to the contractor to ensure that quality job was done at Okwe erosion site so that the Okwe-Obuohia Road would be preserved. In response to these sentiments, Onuigbo urged the benefitting communities to take full ownership of the erosion control projects and give the contractors full support to realise the projects within the stipulated contract duration. He said that the urgency of the intervention was aimed at preventing the erosion from cutting off the communities from the rest of the state.
There was firm assurance from Mrs. Ugwunwanyi Ekugo, who represented the EFO, saying that there would be no compromise on job quality. She said that the EFO would constantly monitor the progress of work to ensure that the contractors carry out quality job and called for mutual understanding and cooperation among the respective communities and the contractors handling the projects. She said that communities that benefitted from the intervention projects were lucky as the ecological fund was not easy to assess due to huge number of applications for assistance. In Abia alone, over 1,000 applications were sent to the Ecological Fund Office seeking assistance to solve ecological problems. For this reason, Ekugo said that the benefitting communities of Ikwuano/Umuahia federal constituency should be grateful to their representative for his untiring efforts in drawing the attention of the federal authorities to their plight. According to her, the erosion control projects in Umuahia South and Ikwuano Local Government Areas were among the 25 projects approved by EFO and awarded for execution across the nation.
To clear every doubt concerning the quality of the projects, all the contractors and consultants further gave assurances that the erosion control projects would be of standard quality which would stand the test of time and really bring succour to the agrarian communities. Engineer Emmanuel Emeka, the consultant supervising the Okwe erosion project said that there was no cause for worry as the project would be executed according to specifications. “I know the ecological problems of the South-east,” he said, adding that he with the contractor were very eager to bring relief to the people affected by the erosion problem hence the contractor even had to mobilise to site without waiting for mobilisation fee. Similarly, Engineer Gbenga Ajayi, the consultant who carried out feasibility studies and designed the Okpurudara Amachara erosion control project, said that nothing would be left to chance in executing the project satisfactorily. “We are here to solve problem and we will solve (with) engineering project,” he assured.