My People Don’t Believe They’re Part of Nigeria
Can you give an insight into the danger now posed by erosion in Nanka?
Erosion in Nanka started in the early 1900s. The colonial masters always think ahead of us. As early as 1914, the then colonial district officer in Onitsha, one Mr. Okunna, travelled from Onitsha to Nanka to establish an erosion camp and initiate the planting of trees including cashew. He cordoned-off the entire area being threatened by erosion with barb wires, built thatched houses for the workers and provided security to make sure nobody got into the place.
The erosion site has become vast today because nobody took care of it when the colonial masters left after independence. The devastation moved in speed and continued until 1983 when the administration of Shehu Shagari and Dr Alex Ekwueme did a little tangible thing. Dr. Alex Ekwueme helped to initiate the construction of Lonasco Drainage because he knew the terrain and the danger erosion posed to his house and the house of the traditional ruler of Oko who happens to be his brother, this helped in no small measure to reduce the speed and the rate of devastation.
Though there were five phases for the erosion control project, work was going on in one phase when the military struck and nothing was done again until this year. The intervention by President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration is the third time something is being done on the site after the colonial and Shagari administrations. I understand that they recently awarded about N1.1 billion worth of contract to one Reynolds Construction, a British company, to start work on one of the sites in Nanka. You can understand that Anambra has more than 500 erosion sites as was reported by the commissioner for environment, while Nanka alone has 18 major erosion sites not to talk of the small ones.
On June 19, 2008 a landslide struck again at Isiakpa-Enu and Amako axis. Since then, we have been yelling and crying. The job was actually awarded in 2011, three years after the big landslide that cut off the entire village; four years later, the contractors were on site. They have taken off, but the extent of job given to them is nothing to write home about. If they stop at only one phase, before they finish with it, the attack from other areas will equally sweep off other areas so it will be as good as nothing has been done unless they continue with other phases.
With the project now going on, somehow the community is looking at it that maybe the government is trying to be serious for the first time because they have seen many visitors. Virtually many of the heads of state have been there. Some flew in helicopter while some by road. Few years back, the chairmen Senate and House of Representatives committees on environment of the sixth National Assembly were there. Also, the World Bank has visited there. But last month, the chairman, House committee on environment, Mrs. Uche Ekwunife and her team visited a week later, the minister for environment was there seeing the contractors on site. This is the first time top government officials have come to the site to see something being done. Others, who visited, did so for sightseeing.
I believe it is the pressure Governor Peter Obi mounted on the presidency because he was the first to call for help after the landslide of 2008 which almost killed a Catholic priest. The governor, who took it up personally, promised in his first speech during his visit that his visit was not political and that efforts to checkmate the erosion would be actualised.
We are witnessing that something has started happening but not something that will give us hope that the problem is checked once and for all.
Based on what you have said, you seem unsatisfied with the work at the site because it could pose a negative effect. How?
Yes, if other phases are not followed up. We have 18 major erosion sites with many worse than the one they are tackling now. Even the one they awarded, from my layman understanding of the contract, immediately the work started, the whole erosion started advancing toward Oko. Every day or week, we see more than 70 metres caving in toward Oko because of the vibration of the machine. What if it comes towards Nanka, because from the portion, it is just a scratch? So this will be a continuous problem that will take years.
We know that the cost of controlling erosion is enormous. Like I heard that the ongoing project is about N1.1 billion but I believe that if the project is being done gradually and if it is being reflected in the annual budget, within the next 10 to 15 years, they might be getting close to a solution. I recall the governor saying during the flag off of the project that the state government is still discussing with World Bank. The World Bank estimated more than two years to prepare feasibility study, drawings and every other thing. When they visited, they said that we should not expect anything immediate.
What is happening now in my understanding is a palliative measure. I believe that if the World Bank gets fully involved, from experience and from what they said they did in China and other places, I believe they can make the erosion sites become a tourist centre and be made fertile for rice production. They can easily recoup their money.
Can you estimate the number of casualties since the existence of erosion in Nanka?
You know in Igboland, it is an abomination to talk about the number of deaths. But since we are in a modern world, I will say that Nanka has lost more than 1000 lives and 2000 families have relocated. The erosion problem has a lot of psychological effect on the people. It makes some of them not to come home for the festive season. The succour we are only getting is through the efforts of a son of the community, Chief Pauly I Emenike, who has been building a stadium and sponsoring sports activities for more than 25 years to make the people come home. He recently floated a cup worth more than N5 million that attracts the young ones home. However, the stadium is near an erosion site that is bigger than the one that is being worked on. Emenike’s philanthropic gesture also constructed an access road to the stadium.
The town union did not leave the philanthropist all alone; rather it tries to encourage the people by motivational process through new yam festival, providing the jobless youths with the tricycle popularly called Keke NAPEP. In fact, considering the trauma my people are passing through, they are yet to be convinced that they are part and parcel of Nigeria. The neglect is too much. No Nanka displaced person has ever been given assistance by government through building a small house for a shelter. Outside God’s intervention, we still don’t have hope unless this government will turn the tide.