• August 4, 2020

‘All We Are Saying…., Give Us Good Roads’, South-East Community Tells Governor

BY CHIMA NWAFO

Since the development objective of the World Bank-sponsored Erosion and Watershed Management Project for Nigeria is to reduce vulnerability to soil erosion in targeted sub-watersheds, the progress should be measurable and open to the public. But this is not the case for now as supported by available facts presented in a recent critic of the six-year-old project. Performance evaluation and review are critical given that sponsors have provision for additional funding, as operational circumstances may dictate. This is made clear in the abstract on the World Bank site on NEWMAP.

“This project requires additional financing to scale up successful gully restoration and watershed management activities and add new activities that have emerged from implementation experience, global commitments, and country initiatives. It also requires changes in the results framework and the triggering of safeguard policies as a result of the Additional Finance (AF). The project will be extended by one year, and the closing date of the project is extended to June 30, 2021.”

In effect, for the original experimental states where the project took off in 2012/13, six years of work and implementation experience is worth reviewing. Abia is one of such states. IN an advertorial in a northern newspaper of Jan 16, 2019, Engr Izuchukwu Onwughara, Coordinator of NEWMAP in Abia State disclosed that Abia has drawn up to $25 million.  For a meaningful execution of projects, the state government must add its counterpart funding to this reasonable sum. Nothing was said about the state’s contribution in figures.

Onwughara’s words: “Abia State was one of the first pilot states where the operation of NEWMAP started in the South-east, following the intervention of the President (Goodluck Jonathan) on the need for the zone to be saved from erosion menace. In 2012, the project started in Abia, but was not effective until 2014 when contractors were engaged by the state governor, then (governor) Theodore Orji; but the real action started in 2015.” According to him, NEWMAP has recorded a huge success in Abia State. The first projects on gully erosion were in Nsulu,  Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area, Amuzukwu in Umuahia North Council Area, Amuda Achara in Isuochi in Umunneochi Local Government Area, Methodist Church, Uzuakoli in Bende Local Government Area and Eluama Uke in Ohafia Local Government Area. Let’s assume that these ones must have been completed by now. But as mentioned earlier, the reporter was not taken to any of the sites for on-the-spot assessment.

 Given that there are over 300 NEWMAP-identified gully erosion site in the state, it is important to say that barely after one year of this performance report, something disturbing happened not far from Umuahia North. It’s beyond dispute that land degradation is the elementary stage of gully erosion, while dilapidation and neglect of roads without any drainage, is the nursery of flash floods which is a stepping stone to gullies in the erosion-prone zone. In realization of this, NEWMAP was born, fathered by World Bank.

 A recent news item by Channels Television on Wednesday October 8, 2020, comes handy in assessing the attitude of the Abia government towards environmental issues. In the report, the people of Ikwuano Local Government Area of the state went on protest with placards enumerating the various forms of environmental degradation in the council area which shares neighbourhood with the state capital, Umuahia, via Umudike, seat of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture. In unison, they were chanting: “All we are saying, give us good roads.” Their message was directed to the state governor Dr Okezie Ikpeazu.

The spokesman was unequivocal and articulate in his presentation. He said that 30 erosion sites have been identified in the area; and that they are not recent. He added that as a result of dilapidated roads, people die yearly on their roads as vehicles often tumble while drivers struggle to navigate their way out of gullies and craters. Conceding that erosion remediation is an expensive project, the spokesman called on the Presidency to come to their rescue by releasing funds from the Ecological Fund “as erosion is an expensive capital/fund intensive project.” He recalled that three weeks to the day of protest, that a vehicle bumped along the road and all the occupants died. That is a federal road. Despite the appeal to the Presidency, the question arises: Is World Bank/NEWMAP and Abia State Ministry of Infrastructure aware of this menace in the agrarian society?

Two follow-up developments after the report seem to place more questions at the door steps of the Abia State Government. First, in a recent chat with Channels Television columnist, the Minister of State, Environment, Ms Sharon Ikeazor, was equivocal that Nigeria has enormous environmental problem, but that the situation is not hopeless. And that the Ecological Fund under her ministry is also intact, but reports of urgent issues must be directed to her office, with credible evidence.

 In the News Express of January 16, the Delta State Government gave a good example of taking the initial step to resolve one of its few erosion sites.

“As part of effort at controlling the menace of erosion, the Delta State Government has signed a N2.4 billion contract with Levante Construction Limited for the Owanta Gully Erosion Project in Ika North-East Local Government Area. The Secretary to the Delta State Government, Mr Chiedu Ebie, witnessed the signing of the contract between the Delta State Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management project (NEWMAP) and Levante Construction Limited. Ebie said the project is expected to last for eighteen months. Mr Ebie said the administration of Senator Ifeanyi Okowa saw the need to partner with the World Bank through the Delta State NEWMAP.” That is a proactive step of a concerned and performing state executive.

Unlike Delta, Abia is littered with erosion sites and last December two earth tremors were reported in the state. Only the second one that rocked villages near the state capital, Umuahia attracted attention.  

That seeming nonchalance is noticeable in the complaint of the Ikwuano communities, as their spokesman pleaded with the governor to come to their aid as state roads, primary and secondary schools are equally in terrible state of disrepair. Again, this brings us to an earlier protest also on October 8, 2019, by Aba women, on the same issue of infrastructural neglect.

Daily Trust’s Umuahia correspondent Linus Effiong, captured the saddening scenario:

“Some women on Tuesday (October 8, 2019) protested over the deplorable state of roads in Aba, calling on Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, to repair and construct the roads. The women, numbering more than 200, besieged the streets of Aba with banners and placards which have inscriptions such as The Return of Aba Women Riot (Part 2), 1929-2019.

They lamented lack of good roads in Aba, non-payment of salaries, poor power supply, and unemployment, among others, and called on the governor to, as a matter of urgency, expedite action to address these issues. Speaking to newsmen, a trader at Ahia Ohuru, who gave her name as Gift Uchendu, said being a trader in Aba has now turned to a curse as it is difficult for them to go to the rural areas to buy products like foodstuff for sale; stating that despite being promised earlier, they are disappointed that Governor Ikpeazu is yet to give Aba the attention it requires. Also, Lady Amarachi Emelogu, among others, who spoke with newsmen, said it was regrettable that Aba cannot boast of a single motorable road, saying Omuma Road, Port Harcourt Road, Osisioma Road, etc., are now death traps.”
Incidentally, yours truly was at Aba in December. And coming from Ekeakpara end of Osisioma, one can confirm the words of Mrs Emelogu. The abandoned Osisioma fly-over made a mess of that end of the  rehabilitated Aba-Owerri Road. But the old road which runs from Osisioma junction to Ugba junction in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government Area – about 35 kilometres – is in a terrible state neglect. It is an act of irresponsibility for the state government to expect the Federal Government to continue maintaining the old road after construction of the Enugu- Port Harcourt expressway.

Mr. Nwafo

Failure of the state government to take responsibility for the former federal road is a dereliction of duty, especially in a state where feeder roads and inter-state major roads linking Omuma council area of Rivers State and Osisioma communities are worse than pre-war states when they were maintained by the regional government. Not surprisingly, Rivers State ends of the roads have been dutifully rebuilt and well-tarred. Omuma is a major food-producing community in Rivers that markets their products at the Ekeakpara market near Aba. The difference between the two boundaries of Abia and Rivers can best be described as Ancient and Modern. Most unfortunately, neither Governor Ikpeazu nor politicians from the area in question, including the second-term Member of the House of Representatives, one at Abia House of Assembly, and Peoples Democratic Party chieftains are perturbed.

It is important to remind His Excellency and his co-travellers that dilapidated roads without drainage is an invitation to gully erosion.

*Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express and Environmental Analyst, can be reached on: chi_dafo@yahoo.com; +2348029334754.

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