By: Akanimo Sampson
Anambra State, the commercial nerve centre of South East Nigeria, is ecologically not safe as the rains begin to pour this year. Prospects are loss of lives and valuable properties are looming large because of the menace of gully erosion in the state.
Already, Onitsha, the commercial hub of the East and the Niger Delta is under serious threat. Local sources say gully erosion has been ravaging the commercial city since last year. But, the menace seems to be assuming an alarming proportion this this year.
Anambra Works Commissioner, Marcel Ifejiofor, however says there are more than 1,000 active erosion sites scattered across the state which are developing into major ecological disaster, as raining season sets in.
According to Ifejiofor, the Federal High Court complex in Awka, the state capital, is one of the valuable facilities under serious threats by gully erosion in the state.
So far, this disaster of nature in Onitsha is said to be responsible for rendering over 1,000 persons homeless and the loss of around 20 houses. Farmlands which some of the people depend on for survival, have been he destroyed.
The massive erosion site at Obeleagu Street and Nkisi-Aroli Street in the city is raising tension among the inhabitants of the community and requires immediate government action to contain the surging havoc from becoming a tragedy.
Two churches, a school, shops and residential buildings have been destroyed. Residents are praying God to be merciful to them as rain has set in.
There are palpable fears in the commercial city that more buildings that are under pressure by the natural occurrence may cave in any time.
Some troubled residents say the threat of the looming disaster is beyond the capacity of the state government. They therefore, want the intervention of the Federal Government with its federal might.
The situation is being made worse by a drainage channel that connects Nkisi River, but currently ruined by the devastating gully erosion.
The devastation reportedly began last September after a heavy downpour. A-three-storey building that was constructed close to the advancing gully at Nkisi-Aroli Street, collapsed under the weight of the surging erosion.
Few days after, the ferocious erosion sacked more buildings in the area, and forced tenants to flee for their dear lives. Badly shaken, the local people have resorted to the indigenous management system while expecting the intervention of the government.
While expressing their fears, Chike Ekweogwu, the President-General of Onitsha Improvement Union (OIU), appealed for a swift government intervention to save the ancient city from the ravaging erosion, he also pointed out that the community has communicated the happenings to the authorities, and awaiting their response.
The Minister of State for Environment, Sharon Ikeazor, and officials of the state government, according to him, have visited the site with promises to help solve the situation. But, no action is taking place yet.
“We are appealing to them to back their talks with actions after their visits because our people are suffering. If you go there now, people are evacuating their belongings and vacating their age long homes. We are lucky no life has been lost,’’ says Ekweogwu.
Continuing, he said the erosion started last year, “that was the first time it happened, subsequently, other buildings in the area followed. I felt bad because most of the house owners are retirees from active service to their fatherland and the aged people who cannot afford building new ones now. The destroyed buildings are structures with the state of the art edifices.’’
A 65-year-old tenant, Joe Nweke, popularly called “Papa Ejima” who lived in the area for 35 years and in one of the new affected building, said he had lost every hope on the next line of action. “What I saw and experienced here is frightening, where do I go from here. No home again. We are many and who we turn to now. We are begging for government assistance because we don’t know who to run to except the government,” he says.
A 78-year-old retiree with five children, Lawrence Edozie, who recently completed a bungalow building near the gully with his retirement benefits, is busy biting his fingers and lamenting the tragedy that has befallen him.
“What I am seeing today here is like a film in a cinema. I don’t know how else to describe it, where will I run to? What started last year like a child’s play has turned into a monster today.
“You can see that our neighbours here have packed and moved, look over there the two-storey building you are seeing everything have been removed and evacuated by the owner. My joy to build and enjoy a good abode after retirement has been cut short,” he said.
A landlord and supervising engineer, Ezennia Anyaorah, says “we are trying to reinforce the drainage because when it rained, the drainage channel got broken and it is causing these damages you are seeing here.
“When it started, we cried to government and no response since last year. The rain some days ago further caused what you are seeing now. We have been doing the much we can, but that was a scratch on the surface. This is just to hold the drainage not to break again and we still waiting for government immediate attention.”
In the meantime, the state government has inaugurated an Erosion Design Review Committee to tackle the problem, since findings by Awka have shown that most of the gully erosion sites were caused by wrong channeling of water.
Ifejiofor, the works commissioner is regretting that some people in the state intentionally built on water channels, which has resulted in blockage of water flow. “I got a report that the Sakamori drain linking water to Idemili River around Onitsha was blocked,” he said.
The state government, according to the commissioner, is worried about the rate at which some people ignored advice on ways to check the menace of erosion, adding that wrong channeling of water causes damage on roads, and causing government to spend huge money for the recovery of such roads.