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South East: Between Environmental and Political Infestations

Photo: Some governors from the Southeast zone

Photo: Some governors from the Southeast zone

Going through the print media contents about South East of Nigeria this passing week brings tears, sorrows and trepidation to my person because of the twin manifestations of environmental and political infestations that bedevil that beautiful political zone that can proudly be identified as some of the best in terms of advanced and talented man power and other human resources. 

That a place so blessed with abundance of talented people and rich mineral resources has been allowed to continue to wallow in these despicable infestations is mind boggling. How come that the South East allowed the likes of Rochas Okorocha with his warped understanding of political leadership to emerge as one of the key political leaders of that zone? This is a topic for another write up.      

But much more seriously, the reason why much of South East of Nigeria is in bad infrastructural shape is due largely to bad leadership and a debilitating kind of lethargy and I-don’t -care attitudes amongst the civil populace who of late have woken up from slumber and are on the streets protesting and demanding immediate redress. 

If only the bulk of our people are always ready to respond spontaneously and stage impactful protests against the looting by governors of our collective resources then the state of facilities in our part of the Nigerian nation wouldn’t be in this messy stage that they are. How comes that paupers will emerge as governors in South East but become sudden billionaires upon exit from office and we think it’s the new normal? 

How come that Rochas Okorocha built a multibillion worth of Presidential palace for himself in Owerri allegedly with resources belonging to all of us and the people of Imo State haven’t gone there in droves to occupy the premises and take it back to become our collective assets?  Can Rochas justify this unpardonable affluence with empirical data? Sadly, President Muhammadu Buhari was amongst the first callers to this mansion built by his political friend whilst presiding over a bankruptcy called Imo Rescue mission. 

South East doesn’t have one standard road network compared to what the Federal government and state governments have put in place in the South West and Northern Nigeria.  This is partly due to systemic marginalisation of the South East of Nigeria at the highest level, the failure of the South East elite to speak out and demand redress and remain resolute until results are achieved and lastly the predatory and primitive tendencies of most South East governors to steal the resources of their people. 

Imagine that Governor Ikedi Ohakim of Imo State as he then was, is facing criminal charges for buying a N300 million worth of mansion in the upscale area of Asokoro Abuja and wait for this revelation-he reportedly paid cash for this evil purchase which clearly he can’t justify having not known for any business ingenuity prior to becoming the Imo State governor for four years before been swept away by the voters who most unfortunately foisted an evil choice of Rochas Okorocha on the state and we are where we are now with most workers not been paid their living wages for a year and the old pensioners are not paid for many years now under the epic misrule of the current governor.   

In Anambra State, the immediate past Governor Mr Peter Obi imposed his man Friday Mr Willie Obiano as his successor and bequeathed N75 billion cash savings for the people but what are we reading about that this same governor of Anambra has not only lavished these monstrous and humongous savings but has gone ahead to borrow N10 billion from some rogue bankers to build fly over to nowhere? A man who is not prudent in bigger cash how can he be economical and wise in spending N10 billion borrowed money which would be paid with unpardonable interest? 

This South East political infestation is sickening but not interminable because with the resurgence of people’s street power it is possible to see a new set of patriotic Nigerian leaders emerging as governors in South East states. Let the people of South East invest at home and be homeward in their thinking so loafers aren’t allowed to destroy our collective resources and land.

 On the environmental infestation let me repeat here a story by one of our journalists who covered a World Bank’s funded report of erosion in the South East of Nigeria.  

He wrote thus: “More than twenty villages in Imo State are likely to be wiped out by erosion menace, in about three Local Government Areas in the state”. 

Quoting those who know, the reporter asserted that the above apocalyptic prediction was made in view of emerging grave expansion of environmental crises in Imo State specifically with the imminent threats of erosion discovered recently in a joint inspection conducted round the ongoing construction works, in the major erosion site in the state  by the World Bank, Nigeria Erosion Management Project, NEWMAP, Federal Agricultural Organization, FAO.

Leading the team to the various erosion sites was the Project coordinator of NEWMAP in the state, Engr. Victor Anueyiagu. Some of the gully erosion sites visited include the Ihioma gully erosion in Orlu   Local Government Area, Umueshi gully erosion in Ideato South Local Government Area and Urualla gully erosion in Ideato North Local Government. 

According to the Imo based journalist the Ihioma gully erosion, cut across more than four villages viz  Iyi Uzo, Ogberuru, Obizi, Udoma, the erosion had in  recent times cut off communities from engaging in their inter-communal activities, especially as it affects their daily local market businesses and cultural activities.

 Engr. Shuibu Adodo of Zarcus construction limited working to patch up those erosion sites,  said that the 4 kilometer erosion site traversed across five communities in the area added that so far, the volume of work done was 62 percent.

But is always the case with our local contractors perpetually devising under the table methods of variations to make more profits, we are reading that the contractors fixing these erosion sites have unleashed trailer load of excuses and reasons for either poor job or are subtly asking for additional payment. 

Enumerating what they pejoratively termed their challenges, Adodo was quoted in the report as stressing that a lot of issues had manifested that were never captured in the original plan of the work such as the need to asphalt the adjoining roads and the increasing flow of erosion in the site which the   engineer said if not addressed were capable of impacting negatively on the work done so far. 

But I :asked why was proper spade work and environmental impacts assessment not conducted before the construction work was awarded? Is this company fit and proper to fix up these erosion sites or is it another troubling dimension of just using lowly rated companies to fix infrastructure in South East whereas multinationals like Julius Berger Company amongst other first rated Nigerian based firms are engaged by Federal Government in fixing any other segments of the Nigerian Society?  

Speaking also, the Resident Consultant Engr Peter Chukwuma told the inspection team that because they lost what he described as “season window” it was very difficult for them to complete the construction on the stipulated date in the original plan of the work. And that due to the dynamic flow of erosion it has increased the depth of the erosion as captured earlier.

At the Umueshi gully erosion site in Ideato South Local Government Area, the construction work handled by Arbico Plc, according to the Engr. Urial Nwaozuzu had to stop for some time because of “bad weather” and appealed to the inspection team, for more time to archive the work completed. He also said due to their challenges the magnitude of work delivered so far, had gone beyond the original plan. 

This is unacceptable if you ask me. Like the Black Italian Footballer would say, why us every other time? Is the best not good enough for us in the South East?  Why engage these funny sounding companies who keep manufacturing excuses for their incompetence and lack of professional ethics? 

Hear what the reporter said the aforementioned contractor said: “our challenges were that in the original plan the depth of the erosion was 5 meters but now   it is 18 meters as against what was initially captured. it also needed more resources to squarely face the present challenges. In order to avoid it spreading to the over 15 villages in the area.” This is pathetic. This smacks of crass incompetence and is simply SWEET NONSENSE that can be told to idiots.

Also, Engr. Peter Chukwuma who is the Resident Consultant, for the Umueshi gully erosion confirmed that the work was in progress, adding that the delay in the approval of the project had also affected the one year duration which was earlier agreed in the original plan, saying that there was need for more time to be given to complete the work. He also pleaded to the inspection team to record the numerous challenges experienced in order to do a better job. 

Then again, this is historically pitiable and unfortunate. 

 The organised credible civil society groups in the South East must be alive to their responsibilities and monitor these projects from inception to completion to stop fake contractors and their political godfathers from messing up with the survival of our land in the South East of Nigeria. 

Erosion’s devastation of the environment of South East is a disturbing phenomenon that by now we expect that all hands must be on deck to ensure that those hired by the Federal government with our own allocations from the ecological fund of the Federal Ministry of environment and the Presidency are the best and most committed professionals who wouldn’t do poor jobs and allow towns and villages to cave in to the overwhelming dangers of erosion.      

As rightly captured in the newspaper report being quoted  When the inspection team was taken to the Urualla gully erosion site, Ideato North Local Government Area, for a view of the danger facing over 10 villages within the erosion site, a villager told Southeast Voice that more than 50 houses and uncounted lives had been submerged by the gully erosion.

A victim, Mr. Everest Emosa   who is also a tenant said that he lost his three bed room bungalow to the gully erosion, including his valuables worth more than 5 million naira and that since then he had been finding it very difficult to cope with the challenges of life, adding that it was a friend who accommodated him since that incident happened.

Another villager Mr. Emma told the media that he had lost more than 15 plots of land in the area including his economic trees, pointing out that the gully erosion had also posed a great challenge to them in the area of agricultural development among others.

This joirnalist gathered that the following villages are threatened by Urualla gully erosion, Eluama, Umueji, Umuezeneke, Ikpa Umuturu, Obinikabi/Okoroikpere, Umuezewudo,Okorobi among others.

Meanwhile, the inspection team led by the Project Coordinator of the Nigeria   Erosion Watershed Management Project, Engr. Victor Anueyiagu said that they would adequately capture all the issues raised in the verification exercise, especially the challenges which they also promised would reflect comprehensively in their reports to their various head offices. 

The Nigerian State must tackle this erosion scourge with all seriousness and commitment but the people of South East must take ownership of these projects and be very vigilant to ensure that we aren’t shortchanged.  Enough of this impunity of political and environmental infestations that are allowed to fester. 

Mrs Amina Mohammed the minister of Environment must be a nationalist and ensure equitable redistribution of ecological fund and that these are well used to fix these erosion sites and other ecological infestations across board.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers association of Nigeria and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com, www.rightsassociationngr.com, www.huriwa.org.

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