For the people of Umuogbo Obiofia, Nnewichi in Nnewi North local government area of Anambra State, life has become a nightmare as a cross section of residents have become refugees, fleeing the community as ravaging flood from gully erosion continues to submerge houses there by the day.
One of the latest victims of the flood invasion is a retired Deputy Superintendent of Police, Mr. Christopher Enem, who reportedly took ill when it became obvious that he may lose his house to the erosion. Days later, Enem died and weeks after his burial, the flood apparently made good its threat and consumed Enem’s house, grave and all.
In a similar incident, villagers forced a woman out of her house when she was reluctant to leave and moments after she was evacuated, the house fell into the gully. As at the last count, the flood in the community has submerged well over 25 houses and more are still going down, killing some 15 persons. A number of the victims lost their lives as the flood swept away their houses while they slept at night.
One of the victims, Hyacinth Orji, had his house submerged early this week while another resident, Joseph Atueyi has abandoned his mansion for fear of being swallowed by the rampaging flood.
Some others who have fled their houses and currently residing with their families elsewhere in another part of the community also include Felix Enemchukwu, Christopher Elodinmuo, Ifedigbo Augustine, Paul Ifedigbo, Ernest Enemchukwu, Vincent Okafor, Joseph Okeke, Innocent Atueyi, Jonathan Okonkwo, Johnson Igwilo, Simon Igwilo and Nnamdi Okonkwo.
When newsmen visited the community, residents lamented that apart from the houses, they have also lost hundreds of economic trees to the flood, washing away their means of livelihood.
A woman, Mrs. Angela Okonkwo said before the erosion menace, she used to make substantial amount of money from products of the economic trees, regretting that she woke up one day to discover that her family’s farm land which used to be on a flat land had a deep gully at its center.
According to her, after days of heavy rainfall, the entire area was completely washed away and the houses and trees there destroyed.
Another resident, Chief Bob Obi Okonkwo, whose house is very close to the erosion site, told newsmen that he has spent over N20 million trying to fortify his residence but fears that he may lose the battle.
According to him, “on several occasions in the past, we made representations to government and they gave us trees to plant in the affected areas. But no sooner did we do this than these trees were washed away and created more damage for the community.
“When Dr. Ngige was governor, he visited here with members of his cabinet and promised to tackle the menace, but he did not stay long to actualize it.
“In 2013, the member representing Nnewi North//Nnewi South/Ekwusigo federal constituency, Mr. Chris Azubogu, visited here and we gave him a document concerning the erosion menace, but nothing was done throughout the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
“We hope that with Azubogu returning to the House of Representatives, he will follow up the matter more vigorously.” Residents recall that their problem started way back in 1983 from what they called a small pit which later developed into a big hole “and before we could do anything, the menace had spread like a wild fire.”
Within months, the gully stretched to a long distance and advanced menacingly towards the residential areas. That was when they realized that the handshake had passed the elbow and they began to raise alarm.
They were later to discover that the source of the erosion was the flood coming from neighbouring towns of Alo, Adazi Ani, Nnobi, Otolo Nnewi, Ojoto, Awka Etiti, among other areas, which empty into the Agu stream popularly called Mmili Agu that flows through Obiofia community.
The traditional ruler of Nnewichi, His Highness, Obi George A. Onyeka, said on the part of the community, everything humanly possible had been done to control the menace from spreading further. He said for instance, that every week, town criers call people out to work on all the erosion sites during which receptive pits are dug and tress planted while those whose houses are badly threatened are advised on measures to take.
The traditional ruler said that, “so far, the community has spent over N150 million on its own to fight this devastation but it was just like pouring water into the ocean. The most painful aspect of it is that we use hundreds of bags of cement to build concrete structures only for them to be washed away soon after.”
Reports indicate that the state government was forced to abandon a road project from Nnewichi to Nnobi when the gully erosion cut off the road in the middle of the construction work. The portion of the road, already constructed during the administration of Dame Virgy Etiaba, currently leads to nowhere as the road has since been blocked with concrete slabs.
In a Save Our Soul message to the member representing the area at the National Assembly, the Anambra State Commissioner for Environment and her Local Government counterpart, the Umuogbo Obiofia Community Development in Nnewichi, Nnewi, the community said that, “our case is well known to this government but this time around, a new erosion gully caused by a combined flood from Ichida, Awka Etiti, Nnokwa and Nnobi, has created another monstrous gully which is advancing into the nucleus of the community.
“This new gully has joined the existing one and has created a refugee problem for the state government and our people and that is why it has to be checked. “Most of our farm lands, residential buildings and compounds are being washed away and many people, including Cyril Ojukwu, Mrs. Obiagboso and a member of Obiofia Vigilante Group, have lost their lives to this flood in recent time,” the letter said.
For Emma Orji, the fact that lives of Nigerians have been lost and more threatened should make their case not only a state concern but also that of the Federal Government. Orji is an Nnewi business man based in Lagos but whose home in Nnewi and those of many others are no longer at ease. He shuttles between Lagos and Nnewi in search of solution that he feels should come from the state government and national coffers.
“It is an emergency situation,” he says in a quaking voice. “The State government and the Federal Government should help. Erosion is destroying homes and killing our people. We are calling on governor Willy Obiano and President Buhari to come to our rescue. It is clear our problem is beyond what community effort can solve. We need state and national assistance. People are dying and their action can stop this menace.”