Two years after Osinbajo’s visit, Ondo coastal communities still battling Ocean Surge
• Coastal Communities Task NDDC On Failed Embankment Project
The second meeting of the National Council on Niger Delta (NCND) in September 2017, which took place in Ondo State, and was attended by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, was supposed to bring reprieve to the riverine communities of the state.
The NCND meeting, which had as its theme: “Fast-tracking Development and Peace in the Niger Region” was, among other things, meant to reawaken the hope of residents of these disaster-prone areas on how to solve the perennial flooding problems ravaging Ilaje and Ese-Odo councils, and restoring the Ayetoro Embankment project to curb recurrent sea surges in the state.
But, two years on, these riverine communities are still being battered by recurring sea surges and incursions, just as they are on the verge of being washed away. This is still happening despite renewed promises made by the Federal Government to end the scourge several months before the last general election.
However, like they have done in the past, especially in the last two years, the people of Ilaje and Ese-Odo local councils are still waiting for “government’s prompt intervention,” which Osinbajo promised.
Every rainy season, especially between April and September, the surges and incursions often threaten to wipe out inhabitants of the entire coastline communities, with many of them concluding that the non-execution of contracts awarded by the Federal Government to stem the tide, has made matters worse for them.
Now, 24 months after Osinbajo visited Igbokoda, headquarters of Ilaje Local Council, the sea surge has submerged over 500 metres of Ayetoro Community, destroying over 30 houses and rendering over 400 residents homeless.
The residents also maintain that even the presence of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in the state, has not in any way alleviated the sufferings of the coastal communities, which are located mainly in the South Senatorial District.
Apart that most coastal communities in the state face the risk of total submersion as the waves and sea surges grow more turbulent, the Federal Government has also failed in ensuring the execution of the Ayetoro embankment contract, which it has awarded twice.
Ayetoro Community, an island in Ilaje Local Council was founded as a theocratic state in 1947. Made up of over 10, 000 residents, it is the gateway that opens other coastal communities in the mandate area to the high sea and the Atlantic Ocean, just as it also serves 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.
However, it is not the only community that is battling against ocean surge. Others in the same situation are Idi-Ogba, Erunna, Obenla, Ibila, Ipaare, Mahin, Ugbonla, Zion Pepe, Awoye, Etikan, Araromi, Atijere, Gbegunren and Igbokoda, the headquarters of Ilaje council. In Ese-Odo council, affected communities are Igbobini, Arogbo, Agadagba, Ojuala, Inikorogha, Kurukurugbini, Ukparama, Ajapa, among others.
Before now, it was only communities located along the coastal line in the South Senatorial District that was pounded by the incursions and surges. But this year’s rain caused a lot of havoc in the upland region of the state, which is the central and north senatorial districts, especially in Idanre and Ogbese, located in Idanre and Akure North councils.
A visit to the area by The Guardian revealed that the people and their means of livelihood are in jeopardy as social and economic activities are completely paralysed. In addition to this, oil spillage, which they also suffered in the recent past has stopped them from carrying out their trade as fishermen.
One of the victims, Isaiah Memuletiwon, lamented that government at all levels have refused respond to their yearnings, despite the unrelenting efforts they have made to seek prompt intervention.
“This is how we face the sea incursion every year, without any hope of rescue in sight. The state government, sometimes, gives us relief materials that do not, in any way, measure up to what we have lost at any point in time. When the Federal Government was here two years ago, we were promised heaven and earth, especially restarting the embankment project, which had been suspended, but we have not seen any of the promises that were made.
“We lose property worth millions of naira here every year, especially during the rainy season. All we laboured for during the dry season are oftentimes washed into the sea during ocean surge. Apart from destroying our property, some of us are pursued away from our houses for some time,” Mumuletinwo said.
Another resident of the community, Mr. Emmanuel Aralu, who also deplored the collateral damage done by the incursion, added that many residents of Ayetoro have either been rendered homeless, displaced or stranded due to the ocean surge that has taken place this year.
Aralu, who noted that the sea surges are a common phenomenon in the area, added that the last surge occurred in the middle of the night when inhabitants of the island were fast asleep, catching the people unawares. More than 30 houses were submerged and no fewer than 400 people displaced, with property worth millions of naira destroyed.
“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 ocean. Houses were also washed away by the ocean, which ended up appropriating more than 500 metres of land to itself.”
According to him, the Federal Government awarded the Ayetoro embankment project worth billions of naira through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), but that project has been dogged by alleged embezzlement by the contractor.
“The sea embankment contract was awarded over 12 years ago, yet nothing has been done to avert this ever-present danger and continuous distraction. The Ondo State Government should please save Ayetoro Community,” he pleaded, while accusing some members of the community of conniving with the contractors to forestall the shoreline protection contract.
He alleged that the two contractors that handled the projects at different times embezzled funds meant for the project, adding that the only thing they got from government agencies, including the NDDC, Ondo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OSOPADEC), and the 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 for the structures to be washed away again by sea incursion shortly after they were rebuilt. Sometimes they bring food to us. We are tired of all these, we get them only when the government is happy enough to listen to us.”
Aralu who demanded urgent support for the victims implored the state government and OSOPADEC to assist the community, saying, “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.
INVESTIGATION revealed that the Ayetoro Embankment contract was first awarded to Gallet Nigeria Limited in 2004, and N650m mobilisation fees were paid for the job, which was expected to be completed in 18 months, but was terminated after four years of non-performance. It was re-awarded to Dredging Atlantic for the sum of N6.5b, with the payment of N2.5b as mobilisation fees.
The community disclosed that they have never set their eyes on the many who allegedly got the Ayetoro shoreline protection contract in 2009, even though some of his workers were once stationed in the community doing some jobs. They have since deserted the place.
On a visit to Dredging Atlantic’s abandoned site, near the sea, deflated tarpaulin bags filled with sand, which were meant to stop the sea surges were strewn around, equipment overgrown with weeds, and partly submerged by the raging waves.
However, one of the representatives of the community, Mr. Tola Alabere disclosed that the community wrote series of petitions and protest letters to the Federal Government, accusing the company, and the NDDC of diverting the project funds for personal use at the expense of the Ayetoro people.
Alabere revealed that the community reeled out their grievances before the committee set up by former President, Goodluck Jonathan in 2013, which was headed by the former Head of Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaye.
“The committee set up by the community to monitor that project, petitioned the committee set up by then-President Jonathan, countering the contractor’s claim that the project had been completed,” he said.
The Supreme Council of Elders, the highest decision making body of Ayetoro Community in a Save Our Soul (SOS) appeal, expressed dismay that the NCND Summit failed to bail them out of their predicament, even when they expected the Federal Government to utilise the Summit to prioritise the embankment project and investigating what went wrong with the contract.
The Principal Secretary of the council, Most Rev. Apostle Ademolu Atimishe, said the community is part of the Niger Delta that has the longest coastline and shoreline in the nation, “but, unfortunately, the government is turning deaf ears to our pleas of reclaiming the land from aggressive erosion and angry sea surge that has been affecting it and its people negatively.”
Atimishe lamented that “lives and property risk vanishing, and if care is not taken, the whole place will be washed off into the sea, and the situation will create more ecological disaster for the whole Ilaje nation.
“Ayetoro Community has a population of about 10, 000 people and if the government does not act promptly to ward off the disastrous situation, the rural people will migrate to urban areas in search of a better life. The embankment project awarded as far back about nine to 10 years ago still has nothing tangible to present as far as reclaiming the land from the sea is concerned. The ocean is encroaching on the land more and more and has already washed off plots of land and houses that cover about three kilometres.
“Many government officials have been coming here just to inspect nothing in particular because as we are writing now, nothing has been done by the qualified company that the NDDC awarded the contract to,” he said.
The Public Relation Officer (PRO) of the community, Mr. Victor Akinluwa, also lamented that government at all levels have neglected the tourist and economic potentials available in the community.
Akinluwa said: “Government has never considered the positive side of this God-given area to exploit in order to attract income for the state and country. Many projects can even be sited here if properly protected from sea surge. A seaport, salt mine, and fishing vessels will all do well here. But the unfortunate thing is that our government is not looking in this direction, but only concentrating on the monthly allocation from the Federal Government. This is not the time for words, but time for activities that will benefit the people and the state in general.”
They urged the Federal Government and the NDDC, in particular, to revisit the Ayetoro shore embankment project and investigate the allegations so that the coastal people can be saved from environmental threats and recurrent ecological disaster.
“We have nowhere else to go. Relocating us to another place is entirely out of the question. The sea is our farm and our major occupation is fishing. So, reclaim our land for us by swinging into prompt action that will save our people from being eroded and will benefit the government.
“If good thinking is channelled towards the natural and mineral resources here, they can all be positively exploited to the benefit of the state. And rather than running to Abuja cap in hand for monthly allocation like beggars, we can improve on our internally generated revenue here,” he said.
Not long ago, 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 last season’s incursion, where it also donated relief materials to the victims and pledged to come up with a solution.
Agboola, a former member of the House of Representatives said. “I remember when I was at the House of Representatives, I led members of the NDDC to this area, and I also traveled to The Netherland to look at the modern technology, which we felt would have been able to solve the problem.
“Certainly you can see this problem has gone beyond the Ondo State government. We will make noise and let the whole world know 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; the project was able to stop the sea incursion and the people can drive freely. Not only this, they are even building houses on top of the sea.
Confirming the looming danger facing the community, the deputy governor said, “like what the community said, they are about three kilometers away from the ocean, a lot of houses have been washed away already, and children cannot go to school. So, we are worried but we are assuring our people that we will not relent in our efforts to stop this disaster.”