Osun: Rescuing a Community on the Brink

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The Womonle Community in Ile-Ife North of Osun State, recently heaved a sigh of relief after the Rural Access and Mobility Project constructed a bridge and road network over the Shasha River, that has for years claimed lives and rendered the community practically inaccessible. Rebecca Ejifoma, who visited the community, reports

The Womonle Community in Ile-Ife North of Osun State have a love/hate relationship with the Shasha River. Love because it’s their major source of water for drinking, cooking and washing; and hate because of the innumerable lives it has claimed.

For a community of 75,000 dwellers, year in and out, they record death once the river overflows as it is wont to do every May to October. During this period- farmers, school children, traders are often victims. In fact, it had become a yearly affair in the community to mourn repeatedly in the face of such helpless situation.

Effect
The Shasha River, which is a water source for the community also forbodes doom in the sense that it cuts off the commiunity from the outside world once the water level rises. From sacking the only available school of teachers to drowning, wastage of farm produce, cutting off the community to other parts of the state, the list is endless.

An indigene, who has lived in the community for 40-years, Mr. Samson Makinde, said despite the number of deaths recorded in the river, they still drink from it, adding that it is the same water they also use in cooking and washing, yet they don’t fall ill.

According to Makinde, who served the nation as a soldier and retired meritoriously back to his village to begin the work of an evangelist, their yearly ordeal leaves much to be desired. He said: “I have been here for 40 years now. This is the major route for a large number of us here. This river always overflow as early as May until October. Whenever May comes, we get afraid because there would be overflow here.

“All we do is manage and leave the rest to fate since there seemed to be no way out. To cross the river each time, we used a small canoe. We also cross with our hearts in our mouth because it’s by luck to cross it alive. If you are unfortunate, you drown and if you sail through luckily, you rejoice.”

Previous Records of Death
According to community people, who are mostly peasant farmers and retirees, the farmers would sometimes go to farm and would be swept away by the river, which had submerged their farmlands. Giving instances, Makinde said: “There was a man from Dasheshe in Cross River State. He lived in the community and he used to cross over successfully, but one day, he drowned.

“Another case that stands out was that of a young boy, who used to help us load our goods in the canoe so that we can cross over and offload our produce. One day, the same river he has worked on repeatedly, swept him away.

“The most prominent however, was the drowning of an entire family of five – father, mother and their three children. The man was called Baba Dare after his first son. That fateful day, they tried to cross but didn’t make it. They all drowned. Those are some of the deaths I can recall, but make no mistake, we have recorded so many deaths in the river.”

Doom for Pregnant, Nursing Mothers

Prior to new lease of life the bridge by RAMP brought, pregnant women and nursing mothers were hit the hardest. This is because accessing healthcare and antenatal services takes them about four hours drive once they cross the river.

Despite the World Health Organisation’s recommendation on the many benefits of antenatal care, pregnant women in Womonle do not experience such given the distance to the nearest maternity centre.

Again Makinde provided an insight. He said: “This is a very serious matter. I was a witness to one. One of our women was in labour, she was carried from here through Irate road and because the road was bad, the woman got tired on the way and she died with the pregnancy.

“In another case, it was simply a miracle. At Toro road, she could not continue due to the bad roads and they were forced to drop her on the road. God miraculously delivered her. It was a serious problem here before this road was constructed. It was hard.

“For the reasonable men in the community, if their wife is pregnant, they find a way and move her out of the community two months before her due date. If not, it becomes hard to get to the nearest hospital, which is four hours from here.”

Meanwhile, a mother of four children from Oyere farm settlement, Mrs. Akintade Fadekemi, narrated how the canoe almost capsized on her way to hospital for immunisation. “One day, when I took the canoe to cross the river, it almost capsized. All was calm until we got to the middle of the river and the canoe began to sway. It was God that saved us, if not, we could have drowned”, she narrated.

Another mother, Mrs. Adenike Olaposi, from the same farm settlement, said most times, nursing mothers would trek about five kilometres from Womonle to the maternity centre to get their babies checked because no nurse or doctor would come over for medical outreach.

Schools Without Teachers

Another major challenge exacerbated by the river was the threat it posed to potential teachers. In the Womole Community, there are virtually no schools. The reason of course isn’t far-fetched: no teacher would want to be posted to the village because of its inaccessibility.

One of the community chiefs, Abioye Oso, who re-echoed that there were no schools said: “The schools we had were not well-staffed with teachers. Most teachers would not even come here because there was no way for them to come in. Occasionally, they used to come on Wednesdays. But they stopped.

“Our kids will brave all and get to school but they will come back early because there will be no teacher in the school. As a result of that, majority of us keep our children at home.”

Rural Access and Mobility Project
All the above listed were the challenges the Womole community faced until the Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP) visited and fulfilled their utmost dream; good roads and a bridge . With the construction of a bridge over the Shasha River and good roads to lead them out of the community, the cycle of death caused by drowning, was broken.

Coordinator of RAMP programme, Mr. Aderele Oriolowo, said once you give people good roads, the next thing is to get good health facilities, light and the others. He said they rolled up their sleeves and rehabilitated a total of 214 kilometres of road after they discovered Womonle after a consultation and sensitisation workshop.

He said: “We invited all the community leaders of all our rural areas and the local government chairmen and other political officers submitted the list of their roads that needed rehabilitation and reconstruction. They have almost 2000 kilometres in about 700 roads.

“We also discovered that over 30 years ago, the Federal Government had started at an abutment level for Womonle bridge. It cost us about five local governments, whose farm produce were wasting, cut off from one another and from having access to other local government areas in the nearby market.

“Having discovered this, we made it a priority by using the state government’s intervention to start the rehabilitation of the bridge. We carved out about N200million to complete the bridge, then spent another N17million to give the bridge a touch. The state government has taken a giant share of the project. Our goal is to leave the access road better than they met them.

“There are abandoned health facilities all around those areas. What I can tell you is that there is a major improvement on maternal health and decline in maternal mortality and morbidity. We have really impacted on them as they are now able to move to the nearest maternity.”

New Phase

After the completion of the bridge and road, life indeed began for the community as they began to buy cars and some bicycles. On the effect of the newly constructed bridge on the educational pursuits of children of the community, Chief Oso said: “Now, our children cross the river to Orile-Ogun, had their school and return home on bike that drops them here. In fact, we are close to our children and our children are close to us. we are cert happy,” Oso enthused.

Makinde also added, “our farm produce that was wasting before, started to thrive. We have the same price with the people at the city. You can’t cheat us anymore as before. We can easily go to town and get information. When RAMP came, it initially looked like a joke. Many people didn’t know it would work but before we knew it, the projects were completed.”

For residents of Womonle, old things have passed away. Oso revealed that healthwise, they are now better than before. “Before you could walk to the stream and get very tired. But now, the vehicles come to our houses and pick us. Our health has improved. Our economic status has changed for the better now.

“Beyond that, with the accessibility of the road, we now have our own area council at Oyere. If this bridge was not built, I doubt the government would bring a council here. We are happy. And we look forward to other things happening”.