Editor's note: One of the great problems to development in Nigeria and some African countries is corruption. And one of the cardinal points of President Muhammadu Buhari is fight against corruption. But despite the federal government's efforts to wipe out corruption in the country, the scourge still persists.
In this investigation by Legit.ng regional reporter in Ondo state, Damilare Moriyeke, it was revealed how many communities in the state were submerged by sea surge and rendered people homeless despite that the federal government had awarded the Ayetoro embankment to contractors twice.
Another rainy season, though not without a difference, has come with its deadly blows and threatening waves to the coastal people of Ondo state, who are often times at the mercies of recurrent sea surges and incursions.
Two weeks ago, the surge, for the umpteenth time, wreaked another havoc that threatened to wipe off the entire coastline inhabitants due to failed contracts awarded to pseudo contractors by the federal government.
Though there is the presence of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the state, and the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo concluded a tour to the nine Niger Delta states and declared open the second meeting of the National Council on Niger Delta (NCND) last year September.
Ten months after Osinbajo visited Ondo and Igbokoda, the headquarters of Ilaje local government area of the state, the sea surge still submerged over 500 metres of Ayetoro community, destroying over 25 houses and rendered over 200 residents homeless.
The convergence of the nine states had aroused much expectation from the summit, especially when the former special adviser to the president on Niger Delta Affairs, Major General Paul Boroh (Rtd), who visited Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu in his office, reiterated that it would proffer lasting solutions to security problems in the region.
Despite the numerous programmes by the commission since its establishment in 2000 by the ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration, many of the member states, where the main stable of the nation’s economy, oil, come from, are still under harrowing experiences of abandonment and ecological disasters.
Waiting seventeen years for development and peace, most coastal communities in Ondo state are still threatened of total submersion and annihilation as the waves and sea surges grow more turbulent though the federal government had awarded the Ayetoro embankment contract twice to no avail.
This flooding disaster is not limited to Ayetoro community. Facing similar terrible experiences are communities like Idi-Ogba, Erunna, Obenla, Ibila, Ipaare, Mahin, Ugbonla, Zion Pepe, Awoye, Etikan, Araromi, Atijere, Gbegunren and Igbokoda, the headquarters of Ilaje council; while in Ese-odo councils are: Igbobini, Arogbo, Agadagba, Ojuala, Inikorogha, kurukurugbini, Ukparama, Ajapa, just to mention few.
With the twin NCND meeting in the south west, themed: “Fast tracking the development and peace in the Niger region,” how far has it solved the prevalent problem flooding problems in Ilaje and Ese-odo councils, leveraging on the revitalization of the failed Ayetoro project to curb recurrent sea surges in the state.
Ayetoro community, an island in Ilaje council and founded as a theocratic state in 1947, is the gateway that opens other coastal communities in the mandate areas to the high sea and Atlantic Ocean, serving as a marine forte for other communities in the riverine areas. This makes it the vantage spot to control and keep the sea at bay.
Legit.ng, in one of its assessment visits to the areas recently, found out that due to heavy downpour of rain, the residents and their livelihood are disasters waiting to happen as they watch hopelessly and haplessly whenever the sea forces its way effortlessly, brimming up to cover their thresholds.
The surge, which often gets to its peak and lasts several hours in the ninth month, leaves the serene communities wetter and darker as the social and economic activities of the people are paralysed; with oil spillage splashed around, making their preoccupation: fishing, much more difficult.
Like the historical El Nino that unleashed aquatic rage, which resulted into wanton destruction in Kenya in the year 1997, some of the residents who spoke to Legit.ng, lamented that many residents of Ayetoro are homeless, displaced and stranded due to the recurrent ocean surge, and again, the penultimate Saturday.
A resident of Ayetoro community, Emmanuel Aralu, who said the sea surges is a common phenomenon in the area, disclosed that the last surge occurred in the middle of night, catching the people unawares.
Aralu, narrating the ordeals of the community, revealed that more than 25 houses were submerged and no fewer than 200 people were displaced, destroying properties that worth millions of naira.
“The surge occurred in the middle of the night when many people had retired to bed. We tried to pack some of our property out. But when we noticed that most of the houses had been submerged, we had to evacuate the people from their houses.
“Property worth millions of Naira were destroyed and washed away into the middle of the ocean. Houses were also washed away by the ocean and it has claimed more than 500 metres from its bank."
According to him, the federal government had awarded the Ayetoro embankment project worth billions of naira through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) but to no avail and there were reported cases of embezzlement by the contractor.
“Over 3 kilometres of our land has been dredged away by the sea incursion, properties worth millions of naira were lost and destroyed, lives were lost due to the havoc caused by the sea incursion. Ondo state government should help us.
“The sea embankment contract has been awarded for over twelve years yet nothing has been done to avert this danger and continuous distraction. Ondo State Government should please save Ayetoro Community,” he said.
Giving another insight to the failed contract, Aralu lamented the loss, hardship and pains meted on the people by the disaster and the terrible indifference of some of their kindred who he alleged to have connived with the contractors to forestall the shoreline protection contract.
He recounted their ordeals in the hands of the two contractors, whom he said, embezzled the public fund of the contract by NDDC through the connivance of some of the indigenes and influential indigenes of the area.
Aralu added that the only thing they got by fluke from government agencies like NDDC, Ondo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OSOPADEC) and State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), were palliatives rather than solution.
“How long shall we continue like that? They give us few planks to rebuild our houses, schools and centres; only to be washed away again by sea incursion. They bring food, what happens the following morning when there is another surge? We are tired of all these; and we get them only when are lucky to get the government’s listening ears.”
Aralu, demanding an urgent support for the victims, implored the state government and the authorities of the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC) to assist the community.
“We want to appeal to the state government and other relevant commissions to quickly come to our aid and give necessary assistance before the surge sacks the whole community," he said.
Legit.ng also gathered that the contract was first awarded to Gallet Nigeria Limited in 2004 and paid N650 million mobilisation fees for 18 months completion, but was terminated after four years of non-performance. It was re-awarded to Dredging Atlantic for N6.5 billion with the payment of N2.5 billion as mobilisation fees.
The community disclosed that they had never set their eyes on one Jide Agboola, who allegedly got the Ayetoro shoreline protection contract in 2009, though some of his workers were once stationed in the community doing some jobs, but have since deserted the place.
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During the visit to Dredging Atlantic’s abandoned site, near the sea, there was an array of deflated tarpaulin bags that were filled with sand to stop the sea surges; the equipment were overgrown with weeds and also submerged often by the roaring and raging waves.
However, one of the representatives of the community to the company, Tola Alabere, disclosed that they wrote series of petitions and protest letters to the federal government, accusing the company and NDDC of diverting the project fund for personal use at the expense of the Ayetoro people.
Alabere revealed that the community representatives reeled out their grievances before the committee set up by the former president Goodluck Jonathan in 2013 and headed by the former Head of Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaye.
“The committee set up by the community to monitor that project wrote petition to the committee set up by president then, Jonathan, alleging the contractor because what he told the committee was that the project has been concluded,” the community representative said, noting that they debunked the lies.
The supreme council of elders, which is the highest decision making body of the theocratic community of over 10, 000 residents, in a Save Our Soul (SOS) appeal, urged the federal government to utilize the NCND summit in the state to prioritize the embankment project and save the community from the recurrent sea surge affecting their lives and properties.
The principal secretary of the council, Most Rev. Apostle Ademolu Atimishe, said the community is part of Niger Delta that has the longest coastline and shoreline in the nation, adding that it is also one of the gooses laying the golden eggs that develop the state and country as a whole.
“But it is unfortunate that the government is turning deaf ears to our pleas of reclaiming the land from the troubled waters of aggressive erosion and angry sea surge that has been affecting it and its people negatively.
"Lives and properties are at a maximum risk of vanishing, and if care is not taken the whole place will be washed off into the sea and it will create more ecological disaster for the whole Ilaje nation.
“Ayetoro community comprises of about 10,000 people by population and if the government does not do a prompt service to ward off the disastrous situation, great exodus of the rural people migrating to the urban areas cannot be contained. Please do something now.
“The embankment project has now been tagged abandoned because the contract has been awarded as far back about seven to eight years ago, but up till this present moment nothing tangible has been done to reclaim the land from the sea, its encroaching on the land more and more on daily basis. The sea has already washed off lands and houses that cover about 3 kilometres.”
The council explained that the problems faced by the companies, which seemed to make the project difficult, “due to the incapabilities of the kangaroo companies and body crested with the project,” revealing they turned several efforts by the community to assist them.
“Many government envoys have been coming here just to inspect nothing in particular because as we are writing now nothing is done by the incapable company the NDDC awarded the contract to."
The residents complained, saying “on our own part, we tried on many occasions to advise them that we have the most angry sea in the whole of Africa, and that our sea by type is the muddy one and not sandy one."
Giving native intelligence on how to effectively stop the sea incursion, they advised "that anything they want to do, they should first of all dredge a marked portion in the sea and use the mud to fill the shores so that when the big destructive wave is coming ashore, it will mellow down its force because of the deepness of the dredged area.
“But unfortunately the company doesn't employ the help of a dredger, instead they brought a useless tube to guide the waves, which did not even take a day for the waves to squeeze and destroy into pieces,” Atimishe said.
The public relations officer of the community, Victor Akinluwa, lamented that government at all levels have neglected the tourist and economic potentials available in the community.
Akinluwa, a prince and son of one of the founding fathers, premised the potentials on its geographical location, historical background, communist peculiarities and the monumental Ayetoro Technical College that had trained many experts in sea-fare in West Africa.
His words: “Government has never considered the positive side of this God-given area to exploit and yield lucrative income for the country. Many projects can even be invested in this area if properly protected from the recurring sea surge; like sea port, salt industry, fishing vessels and in fact an attraction for the world.
“But the unfortunate thing is that our government is not looking in this direction, only concentrating on the monthly allocation from the Federal Government. This is not the time for words; this is the time for action that will benefit the people and the state in general.”
They urged President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, NDDC and the NCND to revisit the Ayetoro shore embankment project and investigate the allegations so that the coastal people can be saved from the notorious environmental threats and recurrent ecological disaster.
“We have nowhere else to go, relocating us to another place is entirely out of it, the sea is our farm and our major occupation is fishing, reclaim our land for us by swinging into prompt action that will save our people from being eroded and will benefit the government.
“If positive thinking is channelled towards the natural and mineral resources in here, they can be positively exploited to yield revenue fruits that will further quench the thirst of economic doldrum in the state, rather than running to Abuja with caps in hand monthly for allocation like a beggar.”
Nevertheless, the state government sent a delegation led by the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, who is also an indigene of the riverine area, to assess the damage caused by the last season incursion, and as usual, donated some relief materials to the victims and pledged solution-in-sight.
Agboola, an erstwhile member of the Federal House of Representative representing the area, empathised with the residents and victims and declared that there is need to deploy modern technology to solve the menace.
According to him, "I remember when I was at the House of Representatives, I personally led members of the NDDC to this community and I also traveled to Netherland to look at the modern technology which we felt it would have been able to solve the problem.
"Certainly you can see this has gone beyond Ondo state government. We will make noise and let the whole world knows that Ayetoro is in danger, Ondo state is in danger and the Federal Government should rescue this oil producing community.
"Probably what they did in Lagos will solve this problem. Look at Eko Atlantic city, this was able to stop this sea incursion and people are able to drive freely and not only this, they are even building houses on top of the sea.
"Like what the community said, they are about three kilometers away now, a lot of houses have been washed away, children cannot go to school. So we are worried but we are assuring our people that we will not relent on our efforts to stop this disaster," he said.
Meanwhile, Legit.ng had previously reported that the director-general, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Yunusa Maihaja, urged state governments and stakeholders to prepare for eminent flooding following signals from the Niger Republic.
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