From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Aggrieved, placard–carrying indigenes of Anyama Ogbia, Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, were at the waterside recently to welcome members of the Environmental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and journalists visiting the community to assess the impact of coastal erosion. The placards had such inscriptions as: “Anyama Ogbia Erosion, over 500 houses have been eroded away, NDDC come to our aid”, “Anyama Ogbia, Our Ancestral Home”, “Is Anyama Ogbia not part of Niger Delta?” and “Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs come to our aid.”
Erosion has been a menace to several coastal communities in the Bayelsa State. Anyama Ogbia founded in 1655 is one of the communities suffering from the devastating effects of coastal erosion, which daily threatens the very existence of the community. Head of Ade’s Compound in the community, Chief Ase Humphrey, said: “In fact, Anyama coastal erosion is as old as Anyama itself.
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“Right from when I was born, till now, almost about one kilometer has been eroded. Apart from our land and houses, there are other facilities, which the government established in this community, that have been lost to erosion. They include the Courtyard, which was established around 1935.
“Also, St. James Anglican Church, established in 1910, has also been taken away by erosion. Even the primary school, there were two structures, one has been washed away. The oil mill, established in 1955, is also on the verge of being destroyed by erosion. The rice mill established in 1977 or thereabouts has also been eroded.
“The general post office established in 1935 has been washed away. Police stations and other government institutions established here have all been washed away. As for the jetties, you can see for yourselves, they are all now in the river, three of them. As for houses lost to erosion, they are uncountable.
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“This side we are living on is a new site; the old, original Anyama has been eroded away long ago. I started experiencing this erosion when I started to know something as a child. Like my father’s house, it has long gone into the river. And we have been crying out for a long time, though I believe there is time for everything. So, it is in the hands of God to bail us out.”
He added that the community has reached out to relevant authorities and government agencies, to no avail. He appealed to government to come to their aid.
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Secretary of the community, Aleibharola Potency Owei, said: “The coastal erosion has exposed us to hardship, untold hardship. People are suffering. Over 500 houses have been eroded away. Some people cannot not come to the community because of this coastal erosion; they have decided to stay in Yenagoa and build their houses there.
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“We are calling on government and all stakeholders to come to our aid; we are suffering. Are we not part of the Niger Delta? Are we not part of Bayelsa State? Or, are we not part of this country that we should keep on suffering like this? The erosion is killing us and we are begging for help.”
Seventy-one-year-old Mercy Seibofa lamented: “It is a major problem and source of concern to us in this community. Our people have tried, they even met with former President Goodluck Jonathan, yet, nothing has come out of our efforts.”
Alice Adibo, a teacher who lost her house to the erosion, recalled that the plight of the community was brought before Jonathan but nothing concrete was done during his administration. She appealed to the state and federal governments to save Anyama Ogbia from being wiped out.
The Ogbia Brotherhood Youth Council (OBYC) has tasked government to urgently put in efforts towards the immediate provision of relief materials, as well as mediation and remediation measures to cushion the effects of the environmental menace. Its national president, Johnny Jonathan, said: “Valuable cultural and environmental features of the community and kingdom would go into extinction, if urgent and proactive steps are not taken to protect the environment. Regrettably, while we have interventionist agencies like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Ecological Fund to help in shoreline protection projects as seen in the affected communities, our lands have continued to witness such devastating and monumental losses.
“We call on the Federal Government of Nigeria, the Bayelsa State government, through the Ministry of Environment, the NDDC, the Niger Delta Ministry, the Ecological Fund, National Emergency Management Agency, State Emergency Management Agency and other relevant bodies to effect mitigation and remediation measures to cushion the far-reaching effects of erosion.”
ERA/FoEN added its voice: “The Federal Government interventionist agencies, especially the NDDC and Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, should take practical steps to effectively tackle the threat by embarking on shoreline protection in affected communities
“The Bayelsa State government should establish a flood and erosion commission or agency to frontally deal with the twin environmental and ecological challenges facing our people. Such a body should be empowered by law to effectively collaborate with the Federal Government interventionist agencies and international development partners.”