The bridge which connects Osogbo with Oke-Osun axis, passing through the Osun sacred grove, is fast becoming a deathtrap. TUNDE BUSARI, after a visit to the bridge, reports the frustration of residents of the affected communities and ongoing efforts to rehabilitate the structure.
Mr Olaitan Asimiyu is a newly nominated member of Osogbo Local Government Education Authority (OSLGEA); he is young, virile and devoted to his work. He has an enviable track record of putting Osogbo at the top of his priorities. Hence, each passing day comes to him with worries of the collapsing Osogbo/Oke-Osun bridge which connects his town, Osogbo, with other suburbs from where farm products are accessed.
Asimiyu’s worries are equally shared by other indigenes of the Osun State capital, all of whom are daily woken up with lamentations on the looming danger of the bridge’s possibility of caving in.
The said bridge is about 50 metres to the Osun-Osogbo grove inside which the annual crowd-pulling Osun-Osogbo festival is held. Constructed in 1954 by the colonial administration, the bridge has also eased what could have been a transportation problem from the town to the popular Osogbo Farm Settlement, a modern agricultural community sited about two kilometres away to the western axis of the town.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that the farm settlement is one of the 13 set up by the defunct Western Region Government under the premiership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in 1959, following Awolowo’s visits to Israel and Sudan where he led a team to understudy their agricultural scheme. Old age and pressure are said to have combined to result into the dangerous state of the bridge, which is now a tragedy waiting to be happen.
Coming through the axis of the Osun-Osogbo grove, on the way to Oke-Osun where the Fountain University, a medical centre and Muslim Grammar School, Ajenisuwa, Lasinim, Irepodun, and Osara , a step onto the bridge takes one to the deck, which gives a scary feeling of almost disconnecting from the body of the whole bridge. This situation now puts users of the bridge, mostly peasant farmers, market women, motorists, at high risk on a daily basis.
Nigerian Tribune gathered that efforts, including a press conference, had been made some months ago in calling on the government with a view to getting the bridge fixed. Till date, no desired results have been recorded. This much was confirmed by the head of Isale Osun community, Sulaiman Eniafelamo. Isale Osun is the closest community to the bridge. The community head expressed frustration over the state of the facility but saw a ray of hope that his prayers would one day be answered in allaying the current fear being experienced by the people.
The octogenarian lamented the fate awaiting the people of his community if the bridge is abandoned to degenerate further. Owing to this, it was gathered that a group of human rights bodies visited Isale Osun community and expressed their interest in pressuring the government to look the direction of the bridge. However, nothing came out of a protest which the bodies staged in Osogbo.
“It is true that some human rights members came to us to ask about our position on the matter but we are not aware they held any protest. We only saw them as concerned citizens who came to identify with our problem,” Eniafelamo said.
He added alarmingly that the community would experience food shortage and ultimately increase in food prices if the bridge suffers continuous abandonment, declaring that neighbouring communities on the upper side of Oke Osun serve the purpose of a food basket to the people.
According to him, “there is no doubting the fact that our people would face hardship if the relevant authorities don’t come to our aid and fix that bad spot on the bridge. That road is the link between Isale Osun community and Oke-Osun communities where farm produce is brought for sale at our market. That road is very important to us more than what outsiders can understand. And because of this, we made some efforts in the form of holding series of meetings with all the stakeholders. In fact, we met with leaders of communities directly connected with the bridge.”
It was further gathered that a similar meeting was held with some Osogbo chiefs, including the Araba of Osogbo, Chief Ifayemi Elebuibon, the Baale of Gbodofon and Chief Jimoh Ibrahim, all in the search of solutions to the problem. The clog in the wheel of those efforts, however, was the declaration that the bridge had become the property of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) after the United Nations’ agency had named the Osun sacred grove as one of the two World Heritage Sites in Nigeria in 2005.
It was also gathered that the term of the acquisition was that areas surrounding the Osun sacred grove were categorised under the long preserved tropical forest discovered over 400 years ago. In order to demonstrate the new status of the area, efforts were made to open up an alternative route to serve the purpose hitherto enjoyed by Isale-Osun-Oke-Osun dwellers.
However, Asimiyu said the news of the UNESCO’s patronage to Osogbo was received with ovation but expressed reservation on the plan to close the road to the people, describing it as an attempt to expose users of the route to suffering.
“It is true they said they wanted to construct another road but for how long would that take them? Other alternative roads which link Oke-Osun through Garage Ilesa and Gbongan road are not an option to these struggling old men and women. We are not opposing them but they should also consider public convenience. If Gbongan road is easy for the people of Fountain University, it won’t be easy for students and teachers of Muslim Grammar School. We want them to realise this and fix the bridge before it causes havoc,” he said.
Further findings revealed that the state of that road may take some time to be resolved, going by a report by the World Heritage Committee on Osun Sacred Grove, suggesting some hiccups in the realisation of the UNESCO projection on the groove.
According to the report, no remarkable progress had been achieved on conservation, management and protection of the grove since its inscription on the World Heritage list. The report revealed that a brief Conservation Methodology provided is not a satisfactory basis for conservation.
It also expressed worry that, while a sampling exercise of the river water has been undertaken, the water is not regularly sampled and that the negative outcomes have not been translated into any action in trying to improve the water quality. The report urged the state party to ensure warnings are provided to prevent people from any use of river water;
Also considered is “that the lack of real progress over many years is leading to potential threats to the key attributes of Outstanding Universal Value, and also urges the State Party to approve the necessary resources to allow the management team and the relevant local authorities to begin to address the many recommendations that have been made.”
It added, “the State Party to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/ICCROM/ICOMOS Reactive Monitoring mission to the property to address the abovementioned conservation issues in order to assess whether the threats facing the property would, in conformity with Paragraph 179 of the Operational Guidelines, represent or not a case for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger, and also to consider how the overall management of the property can be put on more inclusive and sustainable footing.”
Although the state party was expected to have submitted a report on the state of conservation of the grove and on steps taken to implement the recommendations abovementioned and those of the Reactive Monitoring mission to the World Heritage Centre by February 1, 2020, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 44th session in 2020, our correspondent’s efforts to obtain the report yielded no fruit.
Concerned by what he described as a time bomb, the National Secretary of the Old Students Association of Muslim Grammar School, Oke-Osun, Osogbo, KayodeAdebisi, said his interest was not seriously on the grove and the UNESCO, rather, the fate of students and teachers of his alma mater when using the bridge. He said the ongoing COVID-19 imposed restriction is a blessing in disguise going by the scary condition of the bridge.
“If I must say the truth, I don’t willingly put my car on that bridge unless I don’t have a choice. It is a risk one should not take. I prefer to take the new expressway and spend more time than subjecting myself to that danger. No one can say precisely when it would collapse. I am only praying that the needed prompt attention is given to it for the sake of our students and teachers,” he said.
Eniafelamo also called on well-meaning indigenes of Osogbo to show interest on that bridge and save the town from a looming tragedy. He said as a community leader, he would not want to mourn the death of his people adding that, “at my age, I should not be witnessing any bad incident. That is why I daily think of how to call the attention of relevant authorities to the bridge.”
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