Ocean surge: We woke up struggling to rescue some of our belongings —Ayetoro residents

The people of Ayetoro town, popularly called the town of the happy people, are not happy at the moment as the town is edging towards extinction following perennial sea incursion which has defied all solutions. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI writes on the effect of the ocean surge on the people and government efforts in ameliorating the suffering of the people.

For the umpteenth time, the people of the coastal community of Ayetoro in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State woke up to scenes of a tragic flooding as a result of ocean surge which ravaged the whole community, destroying property with hundreds of people displaced and left homeless.

It was saddening on Sunday, 15th November, 2020, as many of the residents struggled to pack their property submerged by the surge.

Speaking on the incident, the secretary of Ayetoro Youth Congress, Emmanuel Aralu, explained that the people of the community were caught unaware when the whole community was flooded by water from the ocean surge, saying the incident happened around 2 a.m while residents were still sleeping.

According to him, “The surge occurred in the middle of the night when many people had retired to bed and before we made moves to start packing, most of the houses had been submerged. We had to evacuate the people from their houses. Over 100 houses were submerged. The surge was sudden and affected virtually every house in the community. Beside the houses that were submerged, shops and commercial centers were not spared.”

Aralu attributed the frequent surge to the failure and inability of the state government and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to attend to the challenges of the people. He noted that NDDC and the state government have failed to complete the shoreline protection contract awarded at a cost of N6.5bn to Atlantic Dredgers Limited (DAL).

“This perennial sea surge has become a nightmare to the people of the community and if nothing concrete is done to address the ugly situation the whole community might be wiped out but we may have no other place to call our own homeland in a few years to come. We want to appeal to the state government and other relevant agencies to immediately come to our aid and give necessary assistance before the surge wipes out the whole community having claimed more than half of the community already,” he added.

Also speaking, a concerned stakeholder in the town, Daramola Authority, said that “we have been crying and begging successive governments in the state to come to our rescue but no serious intervention has been put in place to salvage the community from this environmental devastation.

“We are tired of frequent visitations by government officials, only to give us false hope. What we want is rescue mission. For instance, if the government can bring badges or tugboats to dredge the Aiyetoro shorelines, it will help a great deal to reduce the aggression of the waves in hitting and chopping the coastline.

“This will temporarily help to calm the waves while urgent and speedy works on the actual embankment is ongoing. It is unfortunate that the Aiyetoro Shoreline Protection Project has been awarded twice and abandoned.”

Speaking on the excuse of dearth of sand for the sand-filling by the contractors who have left the site,  Daramola said “such complains are erroneous because there are heaps of sand at Araromi offshore and also there are other heaps of sand dunes at a community called Iloro (an inland community close to Igbokoda, the headquarters of Ilaje LGA).”

The traditional ruler of the town, the Ogeloyinbo of Aiyetoro community, Oba Micah Olaseni Ajijo also confirmed that the NDDC Aiyetoro Shore Protection project had been abandoned twice but said it is one of the projects undergoing forensic review.

Oba Ajijo who said that property destroyed by the recent surge included homes, public buildings, health centers and cottage industries, added that he had informed the commissioner for environment in the state.

“The World Bank financed design study and the one by Minister of Environment be subjected to environmental sustainability and climate resilience checks before final decision is made,” he said.

However, a former commissioner representing the state on the board of NDDC, Dr Benson Enikuomehin while speaking on the plight of the people said both the state and Federal Government can come together to handle the ocean surge challenge facing residents of Ayetoro.

He noted that Holland has a similar terrain and it overcame it with minimal cost; he therefore called for the withdrawal of the project from NDDC by the Federal Government, saying Ayetoro should be declared a national disaster zone.

“Lagos State had similar challenges at the bar beach and today it has been rescued when the federal and state governments took over the challenge. But they are not interested because their pecuniary interests are not protected. Within the space of six months, the land can be saved if government shows commitment and willingness,” he said.

Speaking on the ocean surge, the National Assembly member representing Ilaje/ Ese-odo federal constituency, Kolade Akinjo called the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari and the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu to the plight of the people of the community “with a view to directing all relevant agencies to intervene before the sea gulps the community. To forestall this disaster, a shoreline protection wall designed with a geo-tube technology must imperatively be constructed and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Ecological Fund Office (EFO), the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC) and ministries of power, works and housing should immediately dispatch a team of experts to Ayetoro community to study, evaluate and develop immediate emergency remediation plan until the danger is completely averted.

“We cannot afford to play politics as leaders and concerned stakeholders with the lives of our people. We must wake up to the challenges facing us as a people and make an honest break of it or we get swamped by this recurring rise in sea level caused by global warming and oil exploration as happening right now in Ayetoro community.”

The state Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Funso Esan said that the state government has been trying to tackle the perennial sea incursion but said the solution was beyond the state government, describing the surge which had displaced residents in Ayetoro community as disturbing

“The cost of the project is huge, the state government and the NDDC cannot handle it. The World Bank has also approved funds but it is still not enough. The Federal Ministry of Environment is handling it but you know the bureaucracy, we need to follow due process,” he said.

Esan, however, expressed deepest concern and sympathy to those who were affected by the surge.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, assured the people that plans were underway by the commission to approach the natural disaster with a more drastic measure.

“It’s quite saddening that our people have had to suffer in the past years of an occurrence that could have been better managed. As stakeholders in the development of the Niger Delta region, we will not fold our arms while things remain the way they have always been. This is a time a drastic approach must be put in place to manage this ugly incident.

“In the coming days, I will engage the management of NDDC on what can urgently be done to salvage the situation,” Tunji-Ojo said

 

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