From Chuks Moses, Awka
Seven months after the remains of the late former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme, was committed to earth in his Ezioko village in Anambra state, his house is today about to be swallowed up as a yawning erosion gully ravaging the village makes its way to his home
Already, five families in the village have lost their homes to the rampaging erosion, following series of torrential rainfall in the area recently. Many fear that when the next round of torrential rains come, many more families may lose their homes.
Consequently, hundreds of tearful citizens went on a march to draw the attention of the federal and state governments to their plight.
The placard-carrying citizens lamented that virtually all peaceful methods earlier adopted to attract attention and assistance from various quarters including the NEWMAP have yielded no fruitful result, hence the street protest.
They blamed the increasing erosion crises in the community and environs on the daily excavation of sand from the nearby Ihengwu village.
They complain that series of meetings, directives and orders of the state government, the Oko People’s Union, HRM Igwe (Prof) Laz Ewueme and Governor Willie Obiano outlawing sand excavation in any part of the community had been brazenly flouted by the operators.
According to the President General of Oko People’s Union(OPU), Mr Cyprian Nwanmuo, the daily round-the-clock excavation and sale of hundreds of tipper loads of sand by the tipper drivers’ association, beach owners, and the excavators as well as other citizens, is alarming.
“We have had several joint meetings, including some with state government officials from the governor’s office, Ministry of Lands, and Environment and the directives from these had been flouted by these excavators almost immediately. As we are here today protesting and agitating, they are there collecting and selling the sand.
“They do not care about the side effect of their actions, as the tipper association told the state Commissioner for Environment to his face that they would not stop, as it was their only means of livelihood and income”, Nwanmuo lamented.
He disclosed that on repeated occasions these sand merchants, especially the tipper lorry drivers, who have been most vocal and recalcitrant, had been arrested and detained by both the police from the state command headquarters, and the zonal headquarters in Umuahia, Abia State. Within 24 hours, he added, they are released to return to business.
These men, he said further, have been fighting the youths of the community for daring to challenge them on the negative impact their activities.
Some of the placards borne by the protesters had inscriptions like:”Erosion menace has sent Oko community packing”; “Working Gov Obiano, thanks for sending NEWMAP to Oko”; “500 trips of sand daily is a mindless havoc”; “Sand excavation is a big menace to Oko community”.
They protestees claimed the ravaging erosion has doubled the number of those who lost their homes, farms and cash crops.
The President General however expressed sadness that none of the formal letters written to Governor Obiano, the state Commissioner for Environment and the NEWMAP had yielded any response adding however that the state government had reportedly paid its counterpart cash contribution of One Billion Naira (N1B) to the NEWMAP project.
He feared that contribution would be a mere waste if the sand excavators were not stopped before putting the money to use.
A victim of the erosion from Ezioko village, Mr Joe Ezechukwu, wondered why the sand excavation has continued unabated even when some of the perpetrators can no longer access their own homes due to its negative effect.
He urged them to explore other means of livelihood, “because Oko people are not known to be sand excavators before now. We are known for education and business enterprise.”
Ernest Nwosu from Ifite village, Oko, another victim of the erosion menace, accused the member representing the area in the state Assembly, Mr Romanus Obi, of not doing enough to curb the menace.
Nwosu anchored his stance on his failure to do or see anything bad in the massive sand excavation.
But Obi in a telephone interview bemoaned the situation.
He said he was never involved in the matter in any way adding that it’s the state government that gives out sand sales licences as a revenue window, hence has the records of who controls same in Ihengwu Oko.