Nigerians seek help as ecological challenges destroy homes, livelihoods

 
Sat Jun 20th, 2020 - Abuja (FCT)
 

As Nigerians marked the World Environment Day 2020, which held with the theme ‘Time for Nature’ on June 5, many communities in the country were counting their losses to ecological problems like erosion, deforestation and desertification that have remained unsolved for decades. Many have lost their sources of livelihoods to these environmental problems and have turned to other trades to eke out a living. Others have been forced out of their ancestral homes and are now living in strange lands, having nothing to do with such places again than to rue their losses whenever their minds recall what life used to be there. They endlessly blame the government for their woes. And they are right! The magnitude of the problem was beyond what community efforts could address.

It was, therefore, cheery to such communities when the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, penultimate Wednesday, decried the alleged diversion of resources from the Ecological Fund Office (EFO) for other purposes, charging his colleagues to transform the establishment through legislation to be more responsive.

Lawan, who spoke while the upper legislative chamber considered a bill seeking to establish the Erosion Control and Prevention Commission, with a special focus on the Southeast, sponsored by Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP, Anambra South), harped on the urgency of the matter.

The Ecological Fund was established in 1981 through the Federation Account Act (1981) and has passed through three stages of modifications in 1984, 1992 and 2002. It is an intervention facility established to address serious ecological problems across the country.

The fund’s sources of revenue are statutory allocation (which is one per cent of Federal Government’s share of allocation of Federation Account) and Excess Crude allocation. The statutory beneficiaries of the fund are the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) and any state in the federation facing ecological problems.

Nonetheless, allegations abound that ecological funds have become slush money in recent years in many states even as the Federal Government has been repeatedly accused of diverting the funds to other uses while communities affected by ecological problems wallow in pains.

In June 2018, a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, convicted and sentenced former Governor of Plateau State, Joshua Dariye to 14 years imprisonment for diverting public funds to the tune of N1.126 billion. Dariye, who was governor of Plateau State from 1999 to 2007 and the Senator representing Plateau Central at the time of his conviction, was found guilty on 15 out of the 23-count criminal charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had preferred against him.

The court said it was satisfied that the defendant, being a public officer that had full dominion and control of ecological funds the Federal Government released to Plateau State in 2001 converted and diverted same for his personal use.

Last December, the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) released a report where it indicted the Federal Government for diverting ecological funds. The report, which looked into the financial operations of revenue-generating and beneficiary agencies from 2012 to 2016, revealed how the Federal Government under former President Goodluck Jonathan, and now led by President Muhammadu Buhari, diverted about N93.7 billion meant for the Derivation and Ecology fund.

According to NEITI, the Federal Government had taken the funds as loans to fund budget deficits and advance to states and local governments to meet shortfalls in their revenue. NEITI added that many of such loans ended up being bad debts and so rendered the designated use of the funds impossible.

It listed the questionable disbursements by the Ecological Fund Office on behalf of the Federal Government to include the sum of N2.5 billion released to the Nigerian Army for relocating and complete development of a new Barrack for the 176 Guards Battalion; the sum of N1.47 billion released to Gombe, Nassarawa and Yobe state governments as support to losses and damages of public property and place of worship during the 2011 post-election violence; the sum of N121.39 million released for procurement of materials to combat Ebola Virus outbreak at State Medical Centre, Abuja; N223.50 million released to support displaced traditional rulers in the North; the sum of N786.5 million released to the Presidential Intervention Panel on IDPs in the North East and N5 billion released to the Nigerian Foundation for the support of victims of terrorism, approved by Mr. President as part of Federal Government pledge.

It is this practice of diverting ecological funds that Lawan wants the National Assembly to block through legislation. He wants the ecological office to become an institution and effective in the discharge of its responsibilities.

“We must ensure that government attends to these ecological problems because people are affected as they lose their lands, property and villages,” Lawan stated.

Sponsor of the Erosion Control and Prevention Commission Bill, Ubah, made a similar submission. His words: “Almost every part of this country is characterised by one environmental problem or the other. But the menace of erosion is unarguably the severest in terms of devastation and destruction. For instance, the 2012 flooding in Ibadan, Oyo State; the coastal erosion in Lagos, Bayelsa and Rivers States and almost all parts of Anambra State. It is also very important to note that gully erosion is almost taking over the entire landmass of the Southeast and South-south,” he said.

The Anambra senator was not making false claims as the following reports indicate:

‘Government Should Treat 900 Active Erosion Sites In Anambra As National Emergency’
From Uzoma Nzeagwu and Osiberoha Osibe, Awka

Anambra State majorly faces an ecological challenge in the area of erosion, with no fewer than 900 sites according to the state government.

The active erosion sites in the state include Agulu Lake, Agumgbala-Mbaukwu, Ohia-Ozu Ifite-Ogwari, Abiakam quarters, Umuoru and Isiomachere villages in Uga, Enugwu-Abari Nsugbe, Enuagu – Enugwu-Ukwu, Nkissi Aroli – Onitsha, Amaeze Agulueri, Igboezunu Aguleri, Nwakpodolu Etate Awka, Umu Onicha-Ebenebe, Shell Camp Achalla, and Aquinas and Mirate Hotel location Awka.

Investigations by The Guardian showed that the devastation would likely worsen before the end of this year’s rainy season. Some erosion sites at Uga in Aguata Local Government Area of the state were gory sights when The Guardian visited the area, as gully erosion had swallowed no fewer than 10 buildings. This was in addition to the destruction of roads and economic crops in Abiakam quarters, Umuoru and Isiomachere villages in the area.

In September 2019, gully erosion washed off houses and other property worth millions of naira in Abiakam, including the grave of the late Gabriel Abiakam who was buried in 1974 and that of his son, the late Ignatius Abiakam, who was buried on May 2, 2019. St. Michael’s Church, a market and a road leading to Obizi Water Scheme, Uga have also been affected.

The traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Steve Chidi Ezewugo, the Obi of Uga and Francis Agba, a community leader in Umueze-Uga, both confirmed that the community had written to the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) for help to no avail. As the rains increase in intensity, the residents were concerned that more damages could occur.

Chinedu Abiakam, a lawyer, lamented that parts of his community had been washed off by the menace while the remaining parts remain under threat.

“The erosion has claimed 10 houses and counting and destroyed economic trees and crops. Many parents and children have been rendered helpless and homeless even as their means of livelihood have been permanently destroyed.

“In Uga, we have been totally cut off and displaced, with nowhere to go. We are appealing to government at all levels to protect what is left of our ancestral homes and assist in relocating us to a safer place. The total amount so far lost runs into billions and the threat is still mounting,” Abiakam said.

He continued: “We had written to the NEWMAP to inform them about our plight and possible way to intervene, but we were told to reach out to the government. We have also gone to our governor, Chief Willie Obiano to save us from this ugly development. All efforts to get the governor to intervene have proved abortive. Our member in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon. Ik Umeh has also raised the matter on the floor of the house as a matter of urgent importance, but till date, nothing has been done. Our House of Representatives member, Chuma Umeoji, is working to bring the matter to the floor of the House and draw the attention of the Federal Government.”

In Umudim village in Ekwulummiri town, Nnewi South Council Area of the state, there is palpable fear among the residents following the massive gully erosion encroaching into farmlands and homesteads in the community.

A visit to the area shows that the gully erosion was fast advancing towards residential buildings since this year’s rains set in, and has also cut off two neighboring villages of Umudim in Ekwulummiri and Umudim in Amichi Town both in Nnewi Council Area.

Some of the villagers expressed worry over their safety. They blamed the development on what they called flash floods from Igboukwu, Ikenga, Oraeri and parts of Amichi into their area.

The Vice-Chairman of Umudim Village and member of Ekwulummiri Traditional Council cabinet, Chief Godfrey Okoye, said though there had been visits by some government officials to the sites, no efforts had been made to reclaim the land.

“It was a huge challenge which no group of individuals or community could salvage. The last time we had a visit by either state or federal governments was in 2018 but nothing was done. As you can see, it is getting worse. We need help, urgent help from the government to help control the erosion and reclaim the land,” Okoye noted.

On his part, the President General of Ekwulummiri, Chief Clement Ezeifedikwa, lamented that the erosion has washed off the road, which linked Ekwulummiri to Orsumenyi through Amichi.

Ezeifedikwa recalled that there are about four of such gully sites of equal magnitude threatening to wash the entire town away, adding that NEWMAP visited the sites about three years ago. “We thought the day of salvation was near but as we speak, we have not heard from them,” he added.

Also speaking, Mrs Victoria Ezeifedikwa, who is in her 80s, said the erosion menace started about 1970 but expressed regrets that no assistance had come their way since then.

“The vicious encroachment was being mitigated by the efforts of the people including myself. We planted trees and other cash crops, but the arable land we had cultivated over the years has been washed away by the persistent flood,” Mrs Ezeifedikwa said.

Speaking with The Guardian, the Permanent Secretary in the state Ministry of Environment, Dr. Emmanuel Okafor, said NEWMAP was intervening in about 20 erosion sites.

Okafor said there were many erosion sites begging for intervention, noting that the state government had limited resources and was looking up to the Federal Government for assistance.

“If you go through Anambra State, you will find out that the landmass is shrinking because of erosion. Anambra State is bleeding erosion-wise and the Federal Government should declare an emergency in the state. Anambra State should be declared an erosion disaster state,” he said.

According to him, the state was mapping active and emerging erosion sites so as to know the amount of money required to tackle them. He said that the state government was doing his best to ensure that the devastating effect of erosion was wiped out in the state, stressing that the state needed robust financial support to achieve that.

Illegal Miners Compound Plateau’s Ecological Problems
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

Plateau State is one of the states in Nigeria that have suffered the ecological problems of desertification and erosion. Experts say that tin mining, which took place many decades ago across all the local governments in the northern and central zones of the state, caused these problems.

Presently, tin mining ponds have become death traps to residents in the affected areas. When The Guardian visited some communities in Jos South, Barkin Ladi, Riyom and Bokkos, it was discovered that no work had been done to reclaim the environment by the government in recent years. The last attempt to reclaim the affected areas was made over 20 years ago by the defunct National Land Development Agency (NALDA) in the late 80s and early 90s.

Also, the Riyom erosion control project was awarded during the military regime but was later abandoned. Meanwhile, the erosion has almost cut off the Jos-Abuja federal highway.

The family of Pam Dan Gwom in Du District of the state told The Guardian that they were still in pains over the death of three members of the family in one of the mining ponds.

Contacted on why the ecological challenges in the state have remained unattended to, the state Commissioner for Environment, Usman Yakubu Idi, said the project was being executed in five phases.

Idi explained that phase one of the project called New Map stretches from Plateau Club to the Bingham University Teaching Hospital, adding that is was a World Bank project.

He said the engineering design of the project and the other four phases had been completed but were awaiting final reports.

Idi, however, said the ecological problems of the state were being compounded by the activities of illegal miners and property developers who build on waterways.

He added that the ministry, in a bid to mitigate erosion challenges in the state, was collaborating with the Ministry of Agriculture to sensitise farmers on erosion control measures, admitting that the activities of illegal miners were compounding the problem.

On his part, the Commissioner for Mineral Development, Jude Dakur, said the ecological problems of the state were being tackled.

500 Gully Erosion Sites Threaten Imo Communities
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

In Imo State, most villages in the 27 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of the state are seriously being threatened by gully erosion sites numbering about 500 in total.

The causes range from illegal mining to sand dredging activities, sub-standard construction work and natural causes.

As a result of the growing environmental degradation, the Imo State government has banned all forms of mining within Owerri municipality.

Of major concerns to the state are the gully erosion sites at Urualla in Ideato North LGA, which is being handled by Arab Contractors and the one at Akwakuma area in Owerri North LGA. Many residents who own landed property in the areas have been crying out to both the federal and state governments for help.

Also of concern is the erosion problem that has cut off the Inland Road from Owerri capital city to neighbouring Nekede in Owerri West LGA. The road was constructed during the Rochas Okorocha administration, making experts to attribute the erosion challenge there to sub-standard construction.

Gully erosion is also threatening to cut off the Owerri-Aba road but findings showed the state government was intensifying efforts to tackle the problem.

A resident in Urualla, John Igwe, said they were afraid that their ancestral homes might be lost if nothing was done urgently to address the situation.

His words: “The gully erosion here is huge. We are afraid of it. Work has been suspended. We gathered that they owe them. We are appealing to government to save us because we do not know where to go and live in our houses cave in.”

Another resident in Akwakuma area, Emma Ogu, said: “We are appealing to both the state and federal governments to come to our aid and fix the erosion pervading Akwakuma, near Owerri. We saved money, bought land and built on it in order to own our homes, but erosion is threatening our houses. We are crying for help. Anytime it rains, the problem increases. We find it difficult to access our homes. We don’t sleep with our eyes closed now. The flooding and accompanying erosion there is huge.”

Rain Has Become A Curse Instead Of Blessing, Say Enugu Communities
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

In 2018 when he commissioned remediated erosion sites at the 9th-mile corner in Udi and Ajalli waterworks in Ezeagu, Enugu State Governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, had said the state was prone to gully erosion, stressing that the menace had continued to deplete landscape, damage farmlands and wash away property, among others.

Inaugurating the projects completed by the state government with support from World Bank’s Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP), he said that seven serious gully erosion sites existed in the state.

Although he mentioned only the sites at Onuiyi Haven and Ohom Orba, Nsukka, he added that engineering designs had been completed and approved for site intervention.

But there is no doubt that the efforts of NEWMAP have not been able to contain the ravaging menace of gully erosion in the state. This is as floodwater has continued to ravage homes, offices and farmlands in Udi, Ngwo, Nsukka and other areas anytime it rains heavily.

The State Coordinator of NEWMAP, Mr Vincent Obetta, stated that apart from the completed gully erosion sites, the agency was intervening in several others including Umuavuru, where he said that 70 per cent of the works had been completed.

He stated that the agency was reclaiming and rechanneling water within Ngwo in Enugu North local council in Izata, Amauzam, St. Theresa, Colliery and Agbaja erosion sites, as well as parts of Udi/Ozalla gully erosion sites.

“We are making inroads into Onuiyi Nsukka/Ala-Uno, Anyazurum/Ohom Orba, Immiliki Etiti, Obollo Etiti and Obollo Eke, among others. We don’t have any challenge at the moment as the state government and World Bank has continued to pull together their counterpart funds to ensure that approved projects get attention,” he said.

He was, however, quick to add that NEWMAP had an eight-year life span, which would end by June next year.

To ensure that the problems continue to receive attention when the NEWMAP eventually withdraws, Obetta said there was a bill already before the state House of Assembly for the establishment of Enugu State Erosion and Watershed Management Agency (ESEWMA).

Nonetheless, findings by The Guardian showed that gully erosion ravages other parts of the state like Obinofia Ndiuno in Ezeagu local council. For seven years, the people of the area have suffered untold hardship as a result of the menace, which has cut off some members of the community from their ancestral homeland.

The erosion, it was gathered, was caused by the diversion of floodwater from neighbouring communities of Nachi, Umumba, Obeleagu and Amokwe.

A visit to the community showed that economic and social activities were at the lowest ebb, as residents no longer moved freely to avoid being swept away by flood whenever it rained.

Residential buildings, schools and electrical installations have collapsed into the gully while some members of the community have relocated to safety after the rampaging flood swept off their homes.

The road leading from Nkwo Ezeagu junction to the community, which is still under construction by CGC Construction Company, is almost cut off. This is as the contractor has been moving at snail’s speed, an indication that the project may not be completed soon with the rains now intensifying.

Sources, however, said the construction work has been on since the past eight years.

An eighty-year-old indigene of Okposi Obinofia Ndiuno, Mrs. Victoria Ozoilo, said the flood had made life miserable for members of the community as they lived in great fear and uncertainty, especially during the rainy season. She noted that rain, which ought to be a blessing, has become a source of sorrow to them.

A motorcycle rider in the community, Mr. Toochukwu Obi, said that due to the deplorable state of the road, a journey that cost between N200 and N300 previously now cost N1000.

‘Delta Has Not Benefited From Ecological Fund’
From Sony Neme, Asaba

Delta State Commissioner for Environment, Christian Onogha, has said the state has not benefited from the ecological fund since he assumed office.

Speaking with The Guardian in Asaba, the state capital, he said the diversion of ecological fund was condemnable.

His words: “The issue of how the fund is being managed is something that every critical stakeholder frowns at. I stand to be corrected, because to my knowledge the state has not received a dime from the ecological fund, at least not since I assumed office as the Commissioner for Environment. Again, I feel pained that the Federal Government has not been able to unbundle the process so that states like Delta will benefit from it.

“If you look at Delta State, for example, we are in very difficult terrain, especially the northern part of the state. You will be shocked at the extent of devastation at Ika South, Ika North West, Oshimili North and Aniocha North; we have a lot of ecological challenges. If you have ever gone around seeing the ravaging devastation of gully erosion in the state you will weep. In all of these, the Federal Government does not seem to feel these challenges we face in this part of the state.

“When I resumed office, I went round to see things for myself and was shocked at the level of gully challenge that is prevalent here, especially at Owa Nta in Ika Notth West, which was first attempted to be tackled over 40 years ago by the military government of then Colonel Samuel Ogbemudia in the old Midwest State. Since then, the level of devastation increased. Between when the idea to intervene was mooted and when the World Bank eventually intervened, it has gone from bad to worse, so much so that the scope of work that was captured by the World Bank, before now, may not be able to address the gully challenge that we have on the ground there. Same also at Obomkpa, Ukunzu; virtually every part of Delta North is ravaged by gully erosion.”

He urged the National Assembly to come up with a legislation that would decentralise the process of accessing the fund and limit the Federal Government’s involvement to supervising how the funds were being deployed.

“I can assure you that the government of the South-south states where we have these gully challenges, knowing it has to do with the existence of their people, will not divert such funds. The state government will support any bill that will make it easy for states to access the fund.”

Onogha said the National Council on Environment comprising of all Commissioners for Environment in the 36 states and the Minister of Environment have deliberated on the ecological challenges confronting the states.

“Now the rains are here; a lot of the people across all the states would suffer. We seem to be speaking with the same voice as we need a process that would make it easier for states to access the funds for the challenge that affects virtually all the states of the federation. There is no dissenting voice when it comes to this issue,” he noted.

The commissioner said the state had been addressing its ecological problems headlong.

“For instance, the state has since embarked on a massive underground stormwater project that has to a large extent tackled the perennial flooding in the state capital. That is part of our intervention in tackling ecological challenges. It is being replicated in Warri and its environs to arrest the erosion menace, with a contract awarded to build an underground drain.

“The state has in collaboration with the World Bank intervened at the Owa Nta decade-old gullies, with over sixty percent of jobs done. Only last Wednesday, we did the bid for the intervention at Obomkpa, Ukunzu and Jesse. The state is also collaborating with the World Bank on that also. These are projects that run into billions of naira. We will not wait endlessly as our people will be the one suffering it.”

On the issue of oil spillages, Onogha said: “There are factors that are responsible for that, which are equipment failures, third party activities where vandals engage in economic sabotage that leads to oil spill and thirdly an accident could occur from oil exploration. But in the area of third parties, we engage our people in advocacy and awareness, especially those who are hosts to oil facilities.

“We do not stand to gain if we vandalise pipelines in an attempt to siphon crude oil that passes through our communities. But when it concerns oil spills from either equipment failures or accidents from oil explorations then the law on Joint Inspection Visit (JIV) takes place. My ministry is a critical part of that team, so we go on inspection and the International oil companies (IOCs) will do everything possible to arrest the situation. Whichever way it comes, the IOCs move in, and if it warrants payments of damages, we do not hesitate to ensure that is taken care of.

“A few months ago there was a spill, which led to the loss of aquatic lives that usually affect the livelihood and economy of our people in the coastal areas. The state government does not close its eyes on the issue of spills as we give it the serious attention it deserves.”

On tackling desertification, he disclosed that plans were on to recruit forest guards to ensure that policies of the government concerning afforestation and tree planting are implemented to the later.

He urged privileged individuals in the state to lead the way by planting trees in their compounds.

He added: “The state government is encouraging everyone to plant a tree. We are about 200 million Nigerians. If 100 million of us plant five trees each that will help in no small measure toward proper afforestation in the country. It is only fair that having our trees back will help to bring back our healthy lives as most airborne diseases would have been eliminated.

“Through public enlightenment, we are carrying our people along and the government is saying, if you are not ready to plant five trees in your lifetime, you have no business cutting down a tree. We are also reaching out to the IOCs and other companies operating in Delta to partner with us either in cash or in-kind and the response rate has been encouraging. The ministry is also having a large nursery where different types of trees are being nursed. We intend to plant in a short while.

“If you look at our forestry laws, it doesn’t allow for cash crops, but arable trees. But over time there have been agitations to reduce the forests and plant cash crops to increase the economic base of the state, as the government is also introducing a policy. And that is, if you are given 10 hectares to plant cash crops, you must dedicate 10 per cent of that space of land for trees. That way, you will be deliberately creating a forest. That is what Edo State is doing and Delta is also keying into that.”

 
 

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source: Guardian