Rescue our community from extinction —Ogeloyinbo
Oba Micah Olaseni Ajijo is the Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro and His Spiritual Majesty of Holy Apostles Church, Ayetoro Worldwide. In this interview with DAVID AKINADEWO, he narrated the experience of his subjects over the years as the Atlantic Ocean threatens their existence, the 9 billion naira shoreline protection contracts that have been left undone and the need for the federal government to approach the Global Ecological Fund to salvage the community.
HOW was this place named Ayetoro when your fathers got here?
It was just a virgin place with tall grass and mangrove forest. So when they got here, they cleared the environment to make it habitable and started to live. With time, they were able to build houses and construct the community based on their belief and vision of how a society should be. When they got here, the Head of the Church was also the Head of the Ayetoro Community.
Is that the practice till date?
Yes, that is the practice that still exists till date at Ayetoro, as a theocratic society. You can see that the first leader, Oba E.O. Peter Ojagbohunmi, the Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro Community was also the Spiritual Head of Holy Apostles Church, so that is the structure. You can liken our structure with that of the Anglican Church, where the King or the Queen of England is the Head of the Church, but he is only the King of the United Kingdom.
The ocean surely was here when the earlier generation got here. Was it as close and threatening as this?
When our parents got here, the ocean was about three kilometers away from the community. As a young boy, I could remember we were trekking over three kilometers to get to the sea shore. But now we are facing new challenges which came when the oil exploration started in this community. As you are aware that oil exploration requires a withdrawal of a lot of masses, even this is water and the land rests on water or on oil, when you withdraw the oil, the land definitely would continue to sink. So, when the oil companies started their exploration around this area, a lot of ecological things like mangrove forests that were wind brakes and were very important for the ecosystem to withstand a lot of what they are withstanding today, when you have acid rain with the mangrove forest, they all disappeared. All the things to protect even the shore from being threatened by waves and other things have disappeared. The gas flaring and other activities combined contributed to the change in the ecosystem here and that has seriously affected our community. Eventually, we are faced with the situation where we started to lose some substantial part of our landmass to the ocean. In fact, we name this situation as “The Sea eats the Land at Home”. Today, the sea has taken almost a third of the city and substantial infrastructures have been lost to the ocean. We used to have roads along the coastline and infrastructures built by community; all these have been lost to the ocean. A lot of houses have been lost and if I am to estimate the assets that have been lost by the community to the sea, it will be in the neighbourhood of N150b and above. And this situation has really eroded the capital base in which a lot of our people can work and go to the sea. It has really affected our livelihood, leading to a lot of members of the community now being scattered all over the Ilaje Communities, even up to Igbokoda, because they have lost their houses and assets to the sea. This is the greatest challenge we are facing today.
What was the population of Ayetoro community?
Our population in the 1991 Census was 14,000 and in 2006, it was 26,000, but I can tell you that a substantial part of the population is away now due to the loss they have suffered. So, if we have a growth rate of about four percent per annum, you can estimate what our population should be for now if not for the challenge we are facing that made almost half of the population to lose substantial part of their properties to the sea. And with this situation, investment in Ayetoro is a problem to people, because without coastal defense, any asset built now will ultimately be lost to the sea. The challenge of our community in the present circumstance is how do we go into the future without adequate coastal protection?
What efforts have you made as a community to address this situation?
The community has approached government consistently for assistance and adequate protection. As you are aware that shore protection is a very costly project that a small community like Ayetoro cannot venture into, fortunately our agitations got the attention and response of the Nigerian government in year 2004. The community had approached the Ondo state government, the Federal government and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), which led to the proposed Ayetoro Shore Protection Project awarded that year. The former Chairman of Ilaje Local Government, Mr Adetola Alabere who served as Secretary of the Coastal Protection Committee of the government, incidentally is here, he and the Principal Secretary of Ayetoro Community will be able to provide details of the project. But I can tell you that in 2004 after we cried to the government at all levels that we were losing our assets and lands to the sea and that a lot of our assets and properties have gone, government awarded the project through its interventionist agency, the NDDC at the sum of N2.4billion to Gallet Nigeria Limited.
What happened to the project?
Gallet Nigeria Limited was mobilized, but we didn’t see them on site. Facts available to us indicated that the company was mobilized to the tune of N650million, but due to non performance and our protests to the commission that nothing was happening on site, the contract was terminated after two years and re-awarded later by the NDDC. The new company that got the contract for the shoreline protection again from the NDDC was Dredging Atlantic at the cost of N6.5billion in the year 2009. This is year 2019, 10 years after the second contract was awarded and nothing on site. When these contracts were awarded, we’ve not lost much assets and houses to the sea, the danger was just approaching and the community was happy that government has an interventionist agency that could deal with our problem and that government had taken the right decision to have sea defense system for Ayetoro shore protection aimed at protecting the heritage of Ayetoro community, but we were wrong. These monies, N2.4billion and N6.5billion, totaling about N9billion, yet we cannot see anything on site and our community is now going right before our sight. If government intervention had been implemented, we would not be in this mess.
Did you take further steps after these projects were left undone?
We have gone to Abuja many times, raised our voices at everywhere, gone to NDDC, to the National Assembly and even presented letters detailing it as abandoned project that needs urgent attention from the government. Now, no investor is willing to come to Ayetoro where the sea can take the investment away at any time, even Ayetoro indigenes can’t invest here as things are presently since all their investment will be capital loss to the sea. We have gone everywhere; even we’ve made our presentation to the committee just set up by the National Assembly. We can even share a copy with you on the concern of Ayetoro community to ensure that the interventionist agency is held accountable and to show course, because we have nothing on site up till now. They must be able to tell us where the almost N9billion contract sums have gone when our entire heritage is totally going; and if no action is taken in terms of implementing this important project, God forbid it, Ayetoro community automatically becomes history.
This is why your coming is so important, to draw international attention to our plight. If the interventionist agency cannot act, there is the Global Ecological Fund that can support government to protect Ayetoro even as a historical monument, so government can appeal to the body in charge of this fund and resources from there are not even loans, because some of it are just grants, so it won’t amount to a burden on the government of Nigeria. The monies are contributed to solve serious ecological problems like the one we are facing. The Federal Government should help us appeal to the Global Ecological Fund to help with Ayetoro shoreline protection, besides giving sanity to the NDDC, to know what has happened to the monies budgeted twice for the Ayetoro Shoreline Protection project which never saw the light of the day.