Recurrent Ocean Surge Threatens Aiyetoro Community

New palace overtaken by the ocean 													PHOTO: OLUWASEUN AKINGBOYE

New palace overtaken by the ocean PHOTO: OLUWASEUN AKINGBOYE

RESIDENTS of Aiyetoro community (founded January 12, 1947) in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State have cried to government and the international community to save them from the threat of ocean surge.

A recent incident (September 1, 2015) threatened to wash away the community and neighbouring villages, like Idi-Ogba. For the period it lasted, they watched helplessly as the water forced its way up their thresholds.

The surge, which lasted six and a half hours, left the serene community sad, as social and economic activities were paralysed. The situation was worsened by oil spillage, which made fishing, their main preoccupation, difficult. The inhabitants are now mourning the effects of the disaster, as the water destroyed their houses, majority of which were built on stilts. Many people were also displaced and stranded. 

Three weeks ago, at the Aiyetoro Happy City Jetty, youths of the community welcomed the state government’s team, led by Commissioner for Environment, Sola Ebiseni, with placards, demanding urgent intervention. Some of the placards read: Aiyetoro says no to sea incursion! Ondo State Government save our land of birth from sea incursion!

It was learnt that over three kilometres of the land had been dredged by the incursion, with property worth millions of naira destroyed, and several lives lost. 

Those who spoke to The Guardian alleged that a sea embankment contract had been awarded over five years ago, yet nothing has been done to avert the danger, calling on government to save them from impeding doom.

Ebiseni, who is an indigene of the riverine area, commiserated with the victims. He, however, reminded them of the financial predicaments of the state at the moment. He assured that the state government would mount pressure on the Federal Government to expedite action on the natural disaster before it wipes off an entire generation. 

Flanked by the team from Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Ondo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OSOPADEC) and State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), he pledged a speedy response from the state government.

When OSOPADEC chairman, Johnson Ogunyemi, visited the community, he made arrangements for the relocation of students of Happy City College, one of the affected schools, to a temporary site. 

One of the affected residents, Ikuyelori Isaac, said the people have been exposed to the surge since the days of their forefathers and revealed that there were traditional measures employed in the past to placate Malokun, the goddess of the ocean. 

Some of the indigenes attributed the disaster to factors underlying their spiritual worldview. They believed the goddess controls the ocean tides, and always hit the community whenever she was angry. 

Ikuyelori noted that a prophet had warned of imminent danger, but due to a kingship crisis, which led to closure of the only church in the community (Holy Apostles Church) in the past six months, the people have not been able to perform the necessary rituals. 

It was gathered that the prophet, Oluwambe Ojagbohunmi, who is a descendant of the founding father, had spiritual abilities that could keep the ocean at bay, but has long fled the community following alleged attempts on his life. 

The President of Movement for the Survival of the Underprivileged (MOSUP), an NGO in the area, Aralu Emmanuel, regretted the pains the disaster is inflicting and indifference by some of his kinsmen alleged to have connived with contractors to thwart the shoreline protection contract.

Aralu, who is also an indigene of the community, narrated the people’s ordeal in the hands of the contractors: Gallet Nigeria Limited and Dredging Atlantic, alleging they wasted public funds and diverted contracts awarded twice by Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).   

Alabeyin Bosede, who identified herself as a granddaughter to one of the founders, alleged that many of the people in the area, especially the elite, were complicit in the affair. She revealed that whenever the community decides to protest, they would be persuaded to sheathe their swords, so that the alleged crimes perpetrated by the contractors and their accomplices would not be exposed. 

NDDC first awarded the contract to Gallet Nigeria Limited in 2004 and paid N650 million as mobilisation fee. The contract was terminated after four years of non-performance. It was re-awarded to Dredging Atlantic for N6.5 billion with a payment of N2.5 billion as mobilisation.

Though, the company attributed its failure to inadequate sand supply for the embankment, Aralu pointed out that the people sourced ample sand in neighbouring communities like Ori-Oke and Ugbonla, where equipment were placed to transport sand to Aiyetoro. Weeds had overtaken these when The Guardian visited two weeks ago.

A representative of the community, Tola Alabere, said they wrote series of petitions to the Federal Government, accusing the company and NDDC of diverting the project fund to personal use at the expense of Aiyetoro people.

Alabere revealed that the community reeled out their grievances before a committee set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2013, headed by former Head of Service of the Federation, Steve Oronsaye.
He noted that they held a press conference in Akure, the state capital to inform the world of the recurring disaster and threat the people were facing.   

Several attempts to reach the commissioner representing the state in NDDC, Benson Amuwa, proved abortive. A call was, however, put through to a man at the Igbokoda office of the commission, who simply identified himself as Asogbon. He noted that he was not in the best position to comment.

The boathouse where staff of Dredging Atlantic lived at the outskirt of the community floated without any sign of life. The people said they had not set their eyes on any of the workers in recent times, while attempt to reach them have been fruitless.

In Indonesia, the Jakarta Post reported on June 18, 2014 that the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) sealed a number of offices at the Disadvantaged Regions Ministry, following the arrest of a regent in relation to alleged bribery attempts concerning a state project handled by the ministry.

According to the report: “The KPK caught Papua’s Biak Numfor Regent Yesaya Sombuk red-handed in a hotel in Jakarta on Monday night accepting S$100,000 (US$79,974) in bribes from a person identified as Teddy Renyut, who allegedly wanted to secure a sea embankment project that had been earmarked for the regency by the ministry.”

Biak, in Indonesia, is one of the country’s most disadvantaged areas, having ecological problems and less severe disaster like Aiyetoro community in Nigeria.

The chairman of Aiyetoro Elders Forum, Pa Okunnuwa Ijakadi and the chairman of Aiyetoro Youth Congress (AYC), Iretolu Ajinde, decried the impunity and high level of corruption rocking the riverine community.

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