•Erosion-ravaged Abia road
By Chima Nwafo
As journalists would say, it’s no news that South-Eastern Nigeria is the worst victim of gully erosion. And with confirmed 171 gully erosion sites, Abia State with a high rainfall ate is surely one of the worst hit catchment areas. Both relevant agencies of government and findings by universities confirm that tragic reality. But given the nature of response from agencies when seismic tragedies occur in the erosion-prone region, one wonders what is being done by the government to check further deterioration of the land in the South-east.
Gully erosion is the removal of soil along drainage lines by surface water run-off, and once started, gullies will continue to move by head-ward erosion or by slumping of the side-walls, unless steps are taken to stabilise the disturbance. Government and its agencies as well as research findings are aware that gully erosion occurs when water is channelled across unprotected land and washes away the soil along the drainage lines. And there is no dispute as to the fact that under natural conditions, run-off is moderated by vegetation which generally holds the soil together, protecting it from excessive overflow and direct rainfall.
Interestingly, the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP), under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME), states on its website: “Our Mission is to address on a multi-dimensional scale the menace of gully erosion in the South-east as well as land degradation in the North. The Project Development Objective (PDO) of NEWMAP is to reduce vulnerability to soil erosion in targeted sub-catchment.” The bold prints are for emphasis. Next, the agency also provides more information about its operation.
“NEWMAP involves many Federal and State Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), local governments, communities, and civil society. Effective implementation requires inter-ministerial and inter-state coordination, collaboration, and information sharing. Each component, sub-component and activity will be implemented through relevant Federal and State MDAs. Most of NEWMAP’s investments will be made at the state level, as states have primary responsibility for land management and land allocations.
“The Federal Ministry of Environment (FME) is the lead implementing agency for NEWMAP. A Federal Project Management Unit (FPMU) headed by a Federal Coordinator hosted by FME is responsible for overall coordination. There is a State Project Management Unit in each participating state, headed by a State Coordinator and hosted by each state’s Ministry of Environment. The participating states must qualify to benefit from NEWMAP investment activities. All participating states will be eligible to participate in institutional capacity-building and technical assistance activities, as these will contribute to meeting qualification criteria to participate in investment activities.”
Given the foregoing elucidation, let’s recall the recent incident in Abia State as captured in the Sunday Sun of October 6: “Earth tremor rocks Abia communities.”
The communities did not hesitate to send out a Save our Souls message to Federal, State, local governments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The royal father, Eze Uche Elekwa, Akukwu 1 of Isiaku-Alayi in Bende Local Government Area of Abia State said residents of the communities that make up Isiaku-Alayi, now live in fear, not knowing what might happen the next moment. He said what members of his community need most now “is for the government to sink boreholes for them, as their streams have been polluted and inaccessible; and for experts to visit the community to ascertain whether they should relocate or not.”
He pleaded with the government to assist the villagers because their cash crops, economic trees and plantations were damaged by the tremor, adding that they also need help to open up a new road to access their farmlands, “because hunger and starvation now stare at their faces.”
They made a direct and urgent appeal to the “National Emergency Management Agency, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Federal Government and the Senator representing Abia North Senatorial Zone/Minority Chief Whip, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu, whose own community is close to the crisis area to come to the rescue of the victims, especially in the area of sinking borehole.”
It is sad to note that as at the time of crafting this analysis, 10 days after the tragedy, none of the above named officers and institutions have responded, despite NEWMAP’s claim that its officials are present in states and local governments.
A study on Socio-Economic Impact of Gullies in Abia State, by the Department of Surveying and Geo-informatics, Faculty of Engineering, University of Lagos, provides more insight. “The issue of gully erosion is of major concern in the south-eastern part of Nigeria. This study adopts Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as a tool to identify and study gully erosion hazards in Abia State. 171 gully erosion sites were coordinated using GPS receivers and overlaid on the soil and geological maps of the study area…. Result shows that gully erosion sites were well dispersed around false bedded sand stone geological formation. The slope characteristic was ascertained to be greater than 15o which encourages gully erosion activities.”
The study noted that the effect of gully erosion in this region is tremendous. “Major impacts of gully erosion include displacement of large population of people.” For example, in Isuikwuato Local Government Area, “entire communities in Amaokwe; Abia State University, Uturu; Ogudasa, Oruruala were completely displaced due to the expansion of gully sites. The Amuzukwu community in Umuahia North suffered the same fate. The road that links Abiribia and Ohafia communities is badly affected. This also affects Ugba-Mbalano road in Isuikwuato.”
The destruction of road infrastructure, according to the study includes Federal Highways in the area, as erosion has virtually destroyed many portions or completely cut off places such as Enugu – Port Harcourt Expressway from the Okigwe zone down to Umuahia – Aba segment. Besides, “gully erosion has brought tears to many homes in Abia State as cracking and destruction of houses, collapsing of buildings into gully sites and washing away of farm lands are common features in the erosion-prone areas.”
Notwithstanding, the Federal Government seems determined to implement its Ruga Settlement nationwide, to create a cattle community for the Fulani herdsmen. Both leaders and youth organisations in the South are vehemently opposed to this policy. Yet, the herdsmen ravage farm lands and schools without hindrance. It’s on record that no herdsman has been prosecuted since 2016, despite the global outcry against their massive destruction of life and property. But, to what extent can unarmed southern youths and farmers resist AK-47-wielding herdsmen who are also backed by state security agents?
Men of conscience are sincerely worried because government agencies are not ignorant of the fact that excessive grazing is one of the factors that exacerbate the demon of gully erosion. An expert on environment once stated: “Excessive clearing, inappropriate land use and compaction of the soil caused by grazing often means the soil is left exposed and unable to absorb excess water. Surface run-off increases and concentrates in drainage lines, allowing gully erosion to develop in susceptible areas.”
Given the foregoing backdrop, it is important to note that some states in the North are receiving extra money from the Federal Allocation for “Land Mass.” If there is a sense of justice in the policy-making machinery of the Federal Government, someone ought to have seen the demand for Ruga settlement in the South-East as unfair, oppressive and provocative. It is a case of giving a dog bad name in order to hang it.
•Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express and Environmental Analyst, can be reached on: chi_dafo @yahoo.com; +2348029334754.