While some communities rejoice at each raining season of the year, the people of Obogoro, a community in Bayelsa State, are crying that flood is gradually turning their domain into nothingness. OSA OKHOMINA, Yenagoa, reports
For the people of the Obogoro community that live along Epie Creek, North-east of Yenagoa, Bayelsa, the annual rainfall is a natural occurrence that brings them disaster rather than joy.
Obogoro, community located just across the Ekole River in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, despite its closeness ((five minutes’ drive) to the Bayelsa State Government House, have suffered years of coastal erosion without the state and federal responses.
Though series of studies embarked upon by local and international environmentalists indicated that the Obogoro community, among many others, are flood-prone areas, the state and federal government have continually abandoned them to their fate. Now, the people are close to being extinct.
The traditional heads and indigenes of the Obogoro community have cried out to the state and federal governments over the flood effect on them, which is gradually washing away the community, adding that the washing away of an NYSC lodge, school building and houses is an indication that they are being pushed to the brink of extinction.
LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered that despite a series of correspondence, the Obogoro people are left to die in the coastal disasters by successive state administrations.
The community primary school, which served as a ground where children from within and outside the community acquire basic education, had also been abandoned because essential parts of the facility, to include headmaster’s quarter, football field, and several classrooms have been washed into the Ekoli River by the erosion.
St Paul Primary School, located in Famgbe, a neighbouring community, that would have served as an alternative for pupils, had long been washed into the river, which now causes children from Obogoro to travel far for schooling.
Reports also have it that farmlands with crops worth hundreds of thousands of Naira have been lost to the erosion, having an adverse effect on the economic livelihood of the Obogoro community, and that in spite of several letters written to the government over the challenges they face, respite is yet to come their way.
Speaking with journalists, the paramount ruler of the community, HRH Monday Igodo, said: “right now our primary school is seriously affected. We have lost the Corpers’ Lodge to erosion. The river banks are eroding very fast. The Corpers’ Lodge that was very far from the bank of the river is now affected, forcing us to abandon it.
“Well, some of these environmental problems are natural, while some are man-made. Our own is a natural occurrence and not man-made. It has been there and we have written to many people including the federal government, to come and help us out of this situation; but nothing has been done. We are like a people who live in water but are forced to, daily, bath with our saliva.
“Another troubling issue we have is that we can see electricity from across the bridge where the Government House is located, but we have not had it in two years. Just imagine, Akaba and Famgbe communities have light, but we that are trapped in the middle of these two communities have not seen light for two years.
“This goes to explain the level of abandonment we suffer in the hands of the government. As a community, we have tried our best to help ourselves by repairing the transformer, but it has failed to work. You know that anywhere there is light, businesses thrive. And where businesses thrive, there is peace.
“So as a community, we are worried about the prolonged blackout and erosion problems. We are worried that our youths who engage themselves in trades like welding, hairdressing, sewing, electronic and electrical works, are now idle. It is a serious problem for us, because there is a saying that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. We don’t want our youth’s idle minds to turn into the devil’s workshop. So, as a matter of urgency, we need government assistance.”
Also, the secretary of the community’s council of chiefs, Chief Unenadu Igwele, said: “the erosion has been our problem for over two decades. And it came gradually, starting from the Famgbe end, a neighbouring community. It has eaten deep into Famgbe and driven that community into the swamps.
“And that is what is going to happen to us if nothing is done about the erosion. Unfortunately in our own case, in the face of this development, we don’t even have where to shift to; everywhere is occupied now.”
Recounting her experience of the disaster, the women leader of Obogoro community, Chief Patience Amagbopere said: “When I was newly married into this community, walking from the waterside to the schoolhouse was a long distance. But now you can see everything here, even the goal post is being shifted again and again towards the school, as other parts of the facility have gone into the river.
“You can see the Corpers’ Lodge here being de-roofed. We want to appeal, as a people, Bayelsa indigene and as a mother; I don’t have any other faith, I am begging, pleading and crying, that the state government, even the federal government, should look into our plight. We are begging! After this time, our children would not be able to attend school here because we are afraid that most of them don’t know how to swim.
“If a child walks down here and falls into the water, the child may drown. We are afraid and that is why we are begging and appealing to the state government to come and restore Obogoro community.
“Aside these, we have also lost a large part of our farmland to the erosion. As you know, our major means of livelihood as a people are farming and fishing. Losing our homes to the erosion is traumatising, talk more losing our means of livelihood. That would mean the extinction of Ogbogoro people.”
Expressing fears that his father’s house may soon give way for the devastating erosion, the secretary of the Obogoro youths, Comrade Inisom Amabopre, said: “The situation I find myself is pathetic. The erosion is affecting us badly. The first house built by my father has been washed into the river by the erosion a few years back. As you can see, the new one my father built to cover our heads is at the edge of the riverbank, and in a matter of months, it would be washed away.
“Our community is pleading to the state and federal government to come to our rescue, because when you return to our community after the flood, you will certainly not find many houses as you’re seeing today; they would have been washed away by erosion, if nothing is done urgently.”
Giving an insight into how the prolonged electricity blackout has affected socio-economic activities in the community, the vice president of the Youths Council, Miss Onotime Nelson, explained that for almost two years now, Obogoro community has been in what could be called a total blackout.
“If you walk from the beginning of the community to the end, you would see that many stores are closed because we have not seen electricity for a long time. As I speak with you, I run a business that depends on electricity to thrive and the fact that we don’t have power supply is affecting my business badly. Obogoro community has been in what could be called a total blackout.
“It is more disheartening to inform you also that this community is suffering from all these, in spite of the fact that the King of Atissa Kingdom, the host of the seat of government in Bayelsa, His Royal Majesty Godwin Igodo, hails from and resides in this town. We have made several efforts writing to the government for their help, but to no avail.”
And according to the youth president, Comrade Yambo-Izibe Goodnews, “Obogoro is just five minutes’ drive from the Government House of Bayelsa State, yet we have written several letters to the State Ministry of Power, informing them of our problems, but they have not even visited our community to confirm if we are telling the truth or we are lying. To permanently solve this problem, we need at least three or two transformers installed in our community.”
Attempts to contact the permanent secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Waripamo Markson, failed as he did not pick his calls.
But a staff of the ministry told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the Successive administrations are aware of the flooding of Obogoro community and have written to the Federal Government for assistance but have not gotten response.
“The disaster is not only affecting the Obogoro community. But the ministry is waiting for the appointment of a substantive commissioner to reactivate effort to assist the people,” the official who pleaded for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the press.