Friday , March 24 2023

South-East Still Sinking With Over 2,800 Gully Erosion Sites, Eight Years After World Bank-Funded NEWMAP

By Chima Nwafo

The day power brokers realise that the Nigeria project is still a work-in-progress; the country would start a steady move towards genuine socio-economic and political development. But their attitudinal disposition gives ample evidence that they are less concerned about national development as to their individual gains.

Last week, at Abeokuta, former President Olusegun Obasanjo reiterated the call for restructuring, warning that the country will remain insecure, unstable, stagnated at best, or disintegrate at worst; if nothing is done. “My personal conviction is that with the experience we have had operating the current Constitution (1999), where we have seen some important aspects of the Constitution being breached willfully and wantonly, with crying need from different quarters for reform of the basic structure of Nigeria’s federating units, there is need for the repositioning of our country for the purpose of equity, good governance and fast socio-economic development, etc.”

We agree totally with Obasanjo’s reasoning. In a restructured Nigeria, states and local governments would, among other issues, be held accountable for the ecology, biodiversity and every aspect of the environment; while the Federal Government provides the statutory framework as obtained in America from where Nigeria copied the operating Constitution.

Why must states depend on the Federal Government to protect their environment from every form of abuse and despoliation as currently obtains? To appreciate the seriousness of gully erosion and flood, consider the plight of pregnant women and nursing mothers from such areas. In a recent media report – ‘Gully erosion sacks Enugu Community’ – the president-general of Obinofia Ndiuno in Ezeagu Local Government of Enugu State, Mr. Livinus Umeh, asked the government to assist the community as gully erosion is sacking residents from their ancestral homes. “When it rains, the flood will go into people’s houses. Our people are now sleeping with their two eyes wide open in the midnight because of erosion. It is a very bad situation. I want to beg the government to come and assist us do the road.”

Such is the common appeal when disasters occur, but it is different from personal experiences such as that of a pregnant woman in the community, Mrs Nnenna Udegbunam, who deplored the effects of gully erosion thus: “It is not possible for us pregnant women to go to the hospital because ‘okada’ cannot come to carry us from our houses. When you trek outside to wait for okada, before you see one, it will be too late for you. Even when you get to the hospital, you will not meet the doctor again, so it is difficult for us here.” What will be the fate of emergency cases and women under labour?

A couple of years back, gully erosion sacked residents of Odongbu-Amogbeke and Akponge-Amoju in Ezimo, Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State, while seven other communities were being threatened by the menace. Deputy Chairman of the LGA, Mr. Natty Eze, while conducting members of the Enugu State Assembly Committee on Environment round the devastation site, said the victims (farmers) were scattered in neighbouring villages, as internally displaced persons.

In a 2016 EnviroNigeria article, Gbolahan Yusuf, who described self as Lagos-based youthful environmentalist, wrote an article entitled ‘Gully erosion: Before the entire East sinks.’ He posited: “In a country where environmental hazards are often treated with the approach of curing rather than preventing, it comes as no surprise that the dangers of erosion, as is manifesting in the South-eastern part for the country, is being treated thus far, with lip-service even after many have had to abandon their homes, and many high-traffic roads, federal highways included, are metamorphosing into baseless (gully) bridges. For how long will we play blind?” Yet, billions of naira for Ecological Fund is lying idle in the till of Ministry of Environment.

The BusinessDay of November 6, 2016 reported Abia State Government as saying it has identified about 1, 200 erosion sites, which constitute major ecological disaster in the state. “In view of the huge capital outlay required to tackle the ecological problem, the state government keyed into the joint World Bank and Federal Government’s erosion control programme, the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project.”
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who stated this while hosting officials of NEWMAP in Umuahia, pledged that Abia under his watch would not joke with payment of counterpart funds since it could not address the erosion menace in the state alone. The governor appealed to the team to take a critical look at the Ndiegoro, Aba, which suffers perennial flooding and was now a disaster area. Four years on, work is yet to start at Ndiegoro. The World Igbo Environmental Foundation on its part says there are over 2,800 active erosion sites in the South-East. Odili Ojukwu, chairman of the foundation, in an interview with journalists at Awka, Anambra State, decried: “Erosion is threatening to sack many communities from their ancestral lands.”

Recall that NEWMAP was the result of President Goodluck Jonathan’s appeal to the World Bank in 2012, for support in fighting the overwhelming menace of gully erosion in the South-east. For balance, land degradation in the North was added to its portfolio. But the project did not take off in 2012. After a shaky take-off and careful evaluation, the World Bank stated:   

“The development objective of Erosion and Watershed Management Project for Nigeria is to reduce vulnerability to soil erosion in targeted sub-watersheds. 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.”

After eight years of the World Bank/NEWMAP on June 30th, Nigerians deserve to see a showcasing of “reduction of vulnerability, successful gully restoration and watershed management” in the region. The next one year is extra-time. Such will be an instance of accountability and transparency, given that World Bank, which is the United Nations watchdog on global economies, is directly involved in the project. Its officials overseeing the project owe Nigerians and the global community some explanation on how transparent its partner, NEWMAP, has been in the execution of the multi-billion dollar project.

In fact, it should be a state-by-state analysis published in major dailies, especially newspapers popular in the region, the Nigerian Television Authority and Channels Television, which enjoy undisputable nation-wide coverage. The current selection of unpopular erosion sites from various parts of the country being displayed as testimonies on the NEWMAP site is a fake federal character taunt that smacks of Pentecostal razzmatazz.   

For example, that of Mr. Okube Sunday of Owanta, Delta State, is understandable. But credit goes to his governor, because, in January, the Delta State Government signed a N2.4 billion contract with Levante Construction Limited, for the Owanta gully erosion project in Ika North-East Local Government Area. There was a specified timeline for completion as per project specification. A government official said the administration of Dr Ifeanyi Okowa chose to partner with the World Bank, through the State NEWMAP, to tackle erosion challenges in the state. Given his commitment, the project was completed on schedule. But not so with Urunnebo, Enugwu-Ukwu in Njikoka LGA of Anambra State: The erosion site commissioned early 2019 is still far from completion.

Mrs. Dorothy Jacobs, Umuogele, Abia State, (no LGA indicated) said: “The compensation fund was beneficial to me, and I used part of it to take care of my husband’s medical bills and also enrolled my child to school. I also received a cook-stove, it helped me to cook seamlessly especially at night.” Is this erosion project execution testimony? Cook-stove, not even as cooker! Yes! By this, World Bank/NEWMAP is promoting environmental pollution, especially as this was not an isolated case.

Mr. Joseph Ezeigwe, Community Association chairman, Ebia River, Ebonyi State testifies: “No casualty, washing away of crops and houses since NEWMAP came! We also thank NEWMAP for compensation and COOKSTOVES,” in 21st century Nigeria. 
In past editions, the Orbit had drawn attention to the unsatisfactory performance of NEWMAP in the core areas for which it was set up. Sometime last year, the agency told the public of gully erosion sites that can swallow a 5-storey building. Agulu and Nanka erosion sites like Ndiegoro, Aba, are household names. The Okigwe-Isiukwuato segment of Enugu – Port Harcourt expressway, which has become a den of criminals, is still begging for attention.

Before COVID-19 lockdown, how often did the leadership of the agency visit the South-east to monitor projects? And how committed are state governors in providing counterpart funds? For the brief period Amina Mohammed served as Minister of the Environment, she was on record as visiting various parts of the Niger Delta facing environmental menace.

As chair of the eighth Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Works, Senator Barnabas Gemade led the team to some erosion sites in the South-East for first-hand appraisal. Has the current Senate done same, at least, to assess World Bank/NEWMAP performance?
By June 30, 2021, the humongous sum of money raised for the nine-year project must be justified – with or without achieving the set objective. That is the norm and delight of public office in Nigeria.

*Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express/Environmental Analyst, can be reached on: [email protected]; +2348029334754.

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