Gully erosion: S’South, S’East communities in danger

Cracks in the soil, often seem harmless. Yet, the seasonal rains which further weaken the fissures trigger erosion and cause landslides that swallow homes, sever roads and divide communities. However, the Federal Government’s ecological funds meant to tackle the problem have not yielded the desired result, as the disbursements are often corruptly managed. So, how would this issue be tackled? This is what this report by Head, Special Investigations, Isioma Madike, focuses on

Ukwu-Nzu is a sleepy and agrarian town in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State of Nigeria. The people are presently troubled by the menacing gully erosion that has been threatening them for decades. The community has vacated most part of the town used for both residential and farmlands due to this life-threatening gully that divides the town into two. Motorists and commuters hold their breath each time they meander past the spot that has consumed many lives. Yet, no solution at sight. “This has been our lot for many years now. We have resigned to fate as government seemed unconcerned about our plight in this part of the state,” an indigene of the town, who pleaded anonymity, told Sunday Mirror. Other towns like Obonkpa, Onicha Uku and Ugbodu that share boundary with Ukwu-Nzu have equally abandoned their homes and left the erosion sites to live elsewhere while their houses sit precariously on the edge of the occasional landslides that threaten their lives.

Incidentally, Ukwu-Nzu and its neighbours are not alone in this agony. Victims of erosion gullies at Oko in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State are also counting their losses since this year’s rainy season began in June. One of the victims, Martin Ezeofor, whose house stands less than two metres away from an erosion site, said he had been forced to abandon his twostory building, a boys’ quarter and the entire compound worth N150 million to move his family to a safer place. Although, the building, according to Ezeofor, is yet to cave into the gully completely, he was compelled to vacate the residence because “it is only a tree that hears that it will be cut down that stands still in a place.”

Indeed, Anambra has been adjudged to be the most erosion- prone and devastated landscape in Nigeria. Although other states in the South-East geopolitical zone have some dose of the environmental ogre, none compares to the intimidating number and sizes of the erosion and gully sites in Anambra State. According to statistics, about 1, 000 erosion sites with varying degrees and dimensions are found in most town and villages in Anambra. But, the Ekwulobia erosion has, ironically become famous and legendary in its devastating effects on the agricultural and other socio-economic lives of the people. Nanka, Agulu, Oko and many other contiguous towns, which groan under the enormous and increasing danger of this phenomenon, are also in this mould. Over the years, particularly since the end of the Nigerian civil war, erosion monster has progressively been a burden in Igbo land. Some geologists attribute this development to war activities such as indiscriminate digging of trenches by soldiers, as well as detonation of explosives and bombs in the areas where the war actually raged.

‘About 1000 erosion sites in Anambra alone’

The phenomenon, which has created a deep gully and wide crater in Oko, the home town of former Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, is threatening to sweep away the homes of about 826 families while the basin has been expanding with an alarming rate. Investigations show that the remedial channel constructed over 29 years ago by the Shehu Shagari administration is almost washed away by erosion. According to the state Ministry for the Environment, over 30 per cent of land in Anambra has been lost to gully erosion, while over 40 per cent of the total land areas and homes are being threatened by the menace. Some of the affected communities said they had spent about N2.5 billion over the years amidst several efforts to either check or control the menace since 2006. In some affected communities, residents have taken measures such as re-channeling, construction of dams, catchments pits, wells and agro forestry, most of which had been unsuccessful.

Ichie Barnabas Nwafor, claims to have already lost property worth N120 million, while Bomboy Onyeagba and Cyprian Ezeokeke put their own losses at N90 million and N70 million respectively. Joseph Ibeakamma, Hilary Ezeofor and Nneka Ezeokeke also claimed to have lost between N55 million, N35 million and N20 million each. There are other victims, who could not be reached to comment on their estimated losses because they had completely vacated the areas to save their lives.

Aside the individual homes, some established governmental and non-governmental institutions in the state, such as the Federal Polytechnic, Oko, St. Patrick’s Farms, Osomala in Ogbaru Local Government Area, among others, are equally threatened. Authorities at the Oko Polytechnic are at the moment jittery over the fast encroaching gully erosion at its campus extension site where infrastructure are being erected. The Rector of the institution, Prof. Godwin Onu, who spoke on the development, lamented that the gully had already claimed the fence at the extension site worth millions of naira. He said if care is not taken, the on-going structures worth N7 billion would cave in.

Onu, who spoke through the institution’s Public Relations Officer, Obini Onuchukwu, listed four lecture theatres with 4,500 capacity each, ultra-modern virtual library, Chinese language center, Dr. Alex Ekwueme Art gallery, engineering center, science laboratory, and entrepreneurship center as some of the on-going projects in the institution. He, therefore, appealed to the authorities concerned to come to the institution’s rescue before erosion washes away the structures already embarked upon.

Chuba Oranusi, a former member of the state House of Assembly from Idemili South constituency as well as ex-deputy chairman of Idemili South Local Government Area, also said that the menace is currently ravaging parts of Oba community. “The Isu Umuezedim erosion site had already claimed buildings, thereby forcing people to stop further developments in the area,” he lamented. Oranusi also mentioned the other gully behind the Oba International market, which he said was caused by excavation of sands in the area. “During my tenure as the deputy chairman of the local government, I made frantic efforts to draw the attention of the federal authorities to the gully by packaging the video clips to Abuja. But that did not persuade the authorities to act. Till date, we are still expecting intervention from Abuja,” he added.

The immediate past President-General of Uga Improvement Union, Chief Emmanuel Onyeharam, said that the two major erosion sites at Umueze and Umuoru Uga are getting worse by the day, particularly since this year’s rains. Onyeharam lamented that Governor Peter Obi started work on the Umueze Uga site some time ago and abandoned the project half way, while the Umuoru Uga site has not even been mentioned by the state government. For the South-East zonal chairman of the Campaign for Democracy, Dede Uzor A. Uzor, “billions of naira has been allocated to South-East states on yearly basis for erosion control, yet, nothing to show for it as the menace has continued to submerge the entire region.”

He therefore, called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offenses Commission to commence discreet investigations into the matter, with a view to ascertaining how the Federal Government’s ecological funds were spent. Another prominent Igbo leader and Ogirishi Igbo, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, has stated that about 90 per cent of the erosion problems in Anambra State were caused as a result of human error. “I stand to be challenged that these problems were not created out of human errors. Is it the refuse they are dumping on the drainages, or the trees they are felling indiscriminately without planting others to replace them, or the excavation of sands. Are these not human errors?” he queried.

Just like in Anambra, most roads in Imo State have also been cut off and abandoned by the residents of the state. Some of the erosion sites visited are quite horrifying. Families have been sacked from their ancestral homes while farmlands and means of livelihood have equally been destroyed.

Lamenting the damage this natural phenomenon had caused the people of the state, a resident of Nekede, Chima Chukwuma, recalled how in 2010, the Senate President, David Mark, visited some of the erosion sites in the state and assured the government and people of the state of the preparedness of the Senate to contribute to finding a lasting solution to the problem. “He had assured us that erosion control would receive priority attention in the 2010 budget. But, up till this moment, nothing tangible has come out of that promise. Sometimes, it baffles me what the tiers of government are doing with the current ecological fund in the federation account, which is meant to contain erosion and similar ecological problems across the country,” he lamented.

He disclosed that many of the erosion control measures put in place by the Imo State government show that hydrological variables, which constitute major factors in soil erosion, were not considered in the design. “This resulted in deep gullies instead of checking it,” he said. The story is the same in most parts of Imo towns and villages, making it difficult for the people to attend to their daily needs, especially when it rains. Most houses in the areas affected are at the verge of submerging into the gullies. Eugene Anoweh, a farmer said, ”we now live in fear because when it is about to rain, you dare not go out because that can be the last time you may be seeing your house.”

The nearby Universal Comprehensive College, Umuezeriokam, a co-educational school is in that league. The proprietor of the school, Jeff Ozuruigbo, disclosed that his school’s population has reduced from 800 to a little over 100 students as many of his students have all withdrawn to neighbouring communities. The gullies caused by erosion within the school premises are more than six kilometres stretch, cutting across the five villages that make up the autonomous community where the institution is located. Worse still, it has made the only bridge across the Oatmiri, which connects the various villages, impassable. The Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) Oil Mill, which is the only industry in the area, has been abandoned as the only road that leads to it has been washed away. Chairman of the Umuezeriokam, Leo Nwaumoka, confirmed to Sunday Mirror that erosion had affected more than 600 houses in the surrounding communities.

‘A’Ibom prison fears jail break over erosion menace’

A similar devastating effect of erosions and flood is noticed in the Orlu axis, Orsu, Njaba, Isu while Ideato North and South are all affected. In Okigwe zone, Isiala Mbano, Ehime and Obowo are the critical areas of erosion problem. Speaking on the issue, the Special Adviser to the governor on Media, Ebere Uzoukwa, said though, the control of erosion menace is basically Federal Government responsibility, the state government in order to effectively tackle the problem undertook the Engineering Designs of five erosion sites in the state. “These projects have been approved by the World Bank. With this, the state has met all the World Bank requirements for the take-off of the erosion control project. I am glad to inform you that this exercise shall commence soon,” Uzoukwa said.

There are serious gully erosions in almost all the 17 local government areas of Enugu State threatening the residents also. For instance, at the Odongbugbu erosion site in Ezimo, Udenu local government area, the people of the community have vacated the area both as residential area and as farmlands. It is the same around Ugwegbe along Obollo Afor-Ikem road where the contractor reconstructing the road abandoned the gully-portion. Motorists and commuters alike have equally been avoiding the road since it turned into a death trap.

Hilltop residents of Ngwo in Enugu North local government area are also finding life uninteresting as a result of erosions. At Agbadala Achi in Oji River local government, the people have abandoned and left the erosion sites to live elsewhere, same as residents of Ehuhe area on the link road connecting Udi to Achi. At Abor in Udi LGA, the house of a state government official is at the verge of being swallowed by the gully. Other dangerous areas include Ehandiagu-Ikem road where erosion has dug a tunnel in which two adjacent vehicles cannot pass through. The Ibeagwa-Aka Police station and Girls College in the area are also under threat.

The Enugu State House of Assembly committee chairman on Environment, Don Uzoagbado, told our correspondent that his committee has visited 15 out of the 17 local government areas affected by erosion. “What made us go round is that people hardly regard Enugu State as erosionprone area whereas people here sleep with one eyes open because of the problem. It is affecting the ecological fund that accrues to the state,” he disclosed.

Uzoagbodo stated that the House is compiling the erosion sites in the state with a view to making a public presentation of it. He suggested that the ecological fund disbursements to the states should not remain a yearly ritual but monthly issue even as he made case that the councils should be included in the ecological fund disbursement so that they could equally make contributions in managing the erosion menposedace. He identified improper channelling of waterways as one of the causes of erosion and advised residents and construction companies to always give way for water to pass through its natural channels to avoid flooding and erosion. “The water needs to be in check. Some people build along the waterway; these are part causes of erosion. If Enugu State has more funds, it will utilize it in controlling the erosion by planting more trees, constructing more drainages and refilling the lost areas to regain the lands and much more,” said Uzoagbado.

Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State has not been spared of this environmental problem as well. The city is presently at the mercy of dangerous gully erosion, which is threatening to sink the metropolis if urgent measures are not taken to check it. A few miles away from Hilltop Mansion, the state’s Government House is the Uyo prison built by the colonial masters. The entire area where the prison is located has been eaten up by ravine. Already, the perimeter fence has collapsed. It is the same predicament in the adjourning streets.

Officials of the prison, who have continuously raised the alarm over the danger menposed by the gully erosion, feared it could lead to jail break and solicits the intervention of both the state and federal governments. The controller of prisons in Akwa Ibom State, Millicent Ngozi, said she is optimistic that the state government would come to the aid of the beleaguered facility. But the Akwa Ibom State government stated that the devastation caused by erosion in the state is beyond what it can cope with.

The Commissioner for Environment and Natural Resources, Enobong Uwah, said “having seen the pathetic, sorrowful and devastating condition of the erosion around the medium security prison here in Uyo, I have to report to the governor. So, I believe that when I report back to him, he will authorise me to take immediate action to at least ameliorate the situation.” He appealed for the intervention of the Federal Government to provide more assistance through the ecological funds to enable the government tackle the erosion problems in the state. A drive through the Uyo village road, which linked the state Government House from the Calabar-Itu Highway, is another dangerous ravine, which had sacked an entire village and is now inching towards a popular old school, Corneli Cornelia College (CCC), Uyo.

Some of the staff, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it is a matter of time before the dangerous gullies overrun the school. “We are sitting on a keg of gun powder here,” said a security staff, who said that landslide have continued to advance mercilessly towards the school built in the early 1970’s. Another resident of the community, Iniobong Okon, told Sunday Mirror that gradual but steady gully erosions eating up the city is a major environmental crisis occasioned by climate change. “This is brought about by pollution of the atmosphere and gas emissions from industries and homes,” he added.

He also attributed the menace to poor handling of wastes products, deforestation and reckless bush burning in the state. Few miles away from the CC College, is the University of Uyo. The Town Campus of the University situated at Ikpa road is currently facing far more devastating ecological problems occasioned by gully erosion. The advancing ravine from three different angles measuring over 200 meters deep has already eaten up the first Uyo Township Stadium and made dangerous incursion into the town campus of the University.

The Vice Chancellor of the institution, Mrs. Comfort Ekpo, said “we are at the cliff of the ravine, and as you can see, the entire main campus is at risk including the college clinic that students use daily. We are appealing to the Federal and state governments, as well as public spirited individuals to come to our aid. I know there is what we call ecological fund; I know there is the Ministry of Environment, all these can do something,” she said.

An environmental expert, Kennedy Ebong, listed factors that combine to cause severe gully erosion to include poor land use practices, especially the development of sunken footpaths along valley and hill slopes. He said, “many other associated ecological problems are directly traceable to gulling. The soil removed from cultivated lands on the upper valley set up a chain of damaging reactions down valley, which are far reaching in their effects. The resulting accumulations of sediments on the lower levels and bottom lands also impair drainages, thus causing serious shortage of water in rural areas with gulled terrain.”

Commission to tackle erosion problem needed –Obi

Residents of Auchi in the Etsako West Local Government Area of Edo State have also appealed to the state and Federal Governments to address the menace of erosion threatening the community. The Chairman of the Local Government Council, Hassan Kadiri, said in Auchi that the area should be declared a disaster zone. Kadiri said that the erosion was affecting socio-economic and development activities in the area and promised to do the little he could to curtail the devastating effect in the area.

The Otaru of Auchi, Alhaji Aliru Momoh, has consistently pleaded that the area should be declared a disaster zone, owing to the magnitude of the erosion. Similarly, residents of the area had been raising the alarm that the erosion was threatening the existence of Auchi. They described the menace as frightening, having extended in width and depth and covering almost the entire southern axis of the community. They claimed that it has so far affected more than 50 houses and killed about 20 people in recent time. A community leader, Alhaji Gaz Momoh, described the situation as pathetic, horrible and unbearable, lamenting that the problem appeared not to be receiving the attention of the authorities. “Nobody is listening to us. Everybody is quiet about it. It looks like they don’t hear in Nigeria what is happening in Auchi. It appears they regard us as outcasts as if we are not Nigerians for whatever reason, we do not know,” he lamented. Incidents of erosion threats have been an age-long problem plaguing many coastal communities in Bayelsa State too.

Several buildings have been lost to coastal erosion as the communities are helpless in dealing with the traumatic situation. The state government’s efforts in checking the problem has been very nonchalant as victims of this ecological problem are often abandoned to their fate. Cost of properties lost to erosion in several communities in the state appears to be unquantifiable.

Among communities that have suffered serious erosion threats are Abobiri and Ayakoro in Ogbia local government; Peremabiri, Ondewari, Okpotuwari and Koluama in Southern Ijaw local government; Agbere, Anibeze, Ikpidiama and Agbuetor in Sagbama local government; Twon Brass in Brass local government, Famgbe in Yenagoa local government and Okoloba community located in Kolokuma/ Opokuma local government of the state is not left out in this lingering erosion threat. A victim and Public Relations Officer of Anibeze Patriotic Front, Samuel Ese, lamented that the history of erosion in his community, Anibeze dated back to about 30 years ago. Ese regretted that his family houses and over 250 other buildings and farmlands in the community have been lost to erosion. The primary school of the community is not even left out as it has submerged in the disaster.

“Over the past years we lost quite a lot of houses. My estimation is about 250 houses. We have lost farmlands that we cannot quantify. Realizing that the community is a fishing and farming area, we are finding it extremely difficult to cope. It has affected lives in general because many of those people who lost their houses to the erosion found it difficult to rebuild them as a result of the poverty in the community. When Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was the governor of the state, the then Commissioner for Bayelsa West district, Austin Lugbenwei, visited the community to assess the erosion damage. The Federal Government through the ministry of transport also visited the community. We appealed to defunct OMPADEC, the old Rivers State government, Sagbama council, and the current Bayelsa State government. I don’t know why government is so slow at understanding our problem,” he said.

In his comments, Project Officer, Environmental Rights Action, Bayelsa State, Alagoa Morris, said he had visited most of the communities threatened by erosion in the state. The environmentalist noted that tidal waves caused by marine crafts, annual floods and rising sea levels together with strong currents contribute to the problem.

“Only a holistic approach to the issue can check the phenomenon. For instance, some communities such as Amassoma and Ogboinbiri in Southern Ijaw local government are being piled now. Shoreline protection work is ongoing at Ogboinbiri, may be by the Nigeria Agip Oil Company. This is what most of our communities need now. Proper piling, shoreline protection projects and sand-filling the space should be done to regain parts of the communities’ lands lost to erosion,” he suggested.

Efforts to reach the State Commissioner for Environment, Dr. Israel Abila, was not successful, but an official of the ministry, who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that government was working out modalities to check the erosion menace in the communities. But in Cross River State, the Liyel Imoke’s administration in its bid to nip erosion crisis in the bud, had sank in about N 4.5 billion to fight the scourge. The state Commissioner for Works, Legor Idagba, disclosed that the government had been struggling to fight the menace of gully erosions, which almost ate up some major parts of the metropolis to the extent that the aesthetic value of the state was disfigured.

In the 1980’s, the Federal Government set up an ecology fund to help check desert encroachment in the North and soil and coastal erosion in the South. A parliamentary hearing revealed, years later, that the funds were often corruptly mismanaged. Response to the environmental problems in the South-East has sometimes been delayed by disputes between tiers of government also. For instance, the Anambra State government complained that it lacks the funds to tackle gully erosion – estimated to cost about US $400 million to remedy. It said that federal intervention was required.

Sunday Mirror’s investigations revealed that before 2003, about N200 million monthly allocations accrued to each state for ecological funding but between 2004 and 2005, the Federal Government stopped the disbursement and raised a committee to take charge of the funds. This committee now visits states to view critical sites before attending to their needs. As a result of this, the state governments now find it difficult to assess funds from the committee. With this difficulty, Governor Obi is advocating for the establishment of an erosion commission for the South-East to address the ecological problems in the zone. “If there is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to carter for the South-South region and Lake Chad Commission set up to tackle the desert encroachment in the North, why not create a commission on erosion in the South-East,” he argued.

The Permanent Secretary in the state ministry for the Environment, Chidi Ezeoke, said the state government has achieved unprecedented result in flood and erosion control management in the last three years. “The state has done much in the five erosion sites, including the completion work on Orumba phase one and two erosion projects; the Nnewi-Okigwe Highway erosion project, Omaba phase 2, Okpuno Umuoka (Ogboutu) Obosi and Inyaba Umudim Nnewi. Work on other 18 sites is either at advanced stages of completion or have been fully awarded and mobilised. They include Ekwulobia, New Judiciary Complex Awka, Mbanabo Nnewi-ichi, Utuh-Osumaenyi, Umueze-Uga, Umuchu, Ekwulumili, Nsugbe Uno and Ndiagu Ikenga and Mbakwu,” he said.

Despite the amount spent on the Umuchiani- Ekwulobia gully erosion site, members of Umuchiana community claim that work on the site is very slow and urged the government to advice the contractor handling the job to speed up work to avoid collapse or loss of more houses and property to gully erosion in this year’s rainy season. But, the Director of Planning, Research and Statistics of the Ministry for Environment, Dr Dan Ezeanwu, countered the claims when he stated that government had spent so much on erosion control, attributing the slow pace of work to years of neglect at inception stages by past administrations.

The state Commissioner for Finance and Budget, Eze Echesi, also insisted that funds expected from Federal Government to address erosion problems are not forthcoming. He, however, acknowledged that the state received the sum of N800 million but has committed over N900 million on erosion control since 2007. According to Professor Frank Simpson, a Sedimentologist at the University of Windsor Ontario, Canada, the problem grows as interconnecting systems of gullies spread across the land surface. “The resulting run-off from the hillsides often pollutes the water supply, while landslides threaten villages and highway travelers,” he said.

Additional reports from Charles Okeke (Awka), Dennis Agbo (Enugu), Richard Ndoma (Calabar), Chris Njoku (Owerri), Tony Anichebe (UYO) and Emma Gbemudu (Yenagoa).

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