Abari is one of the communities on the bank of the River Niger in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State.
Morgan Agidi, 84, stood at the eroded shore of Abari creek, gesturing as he spoke about the havoc flooding has wreaked on the living and the dead in his community.
“Most of our (late) fathers, their bones are now in the river. When they die, we bury them but erosion carries them away into the river,” the octogenarian said.
Abari is one of the communities on the bank of the River Niger in Patani Local Government Area of Delta State. The town is on the verge of becoming a historical reference with the yearly flood gradually washing it into the river.
According to a research paper by Adaku Echendu, the erosion is caused by the Niger Delta coastal flood, which has left no fewer than three million persons displaced.
It is estimated that the town loses about five to six houses and farmlands to the flood annually.
This leaves many in the town and other coastal areas with only the option of relocation from the area or taking temporary accommodation with the few whose structures are yet to be impacted.
A study has shown the havoc that the Niger Delta coastal flood causes annually. Climate change vulnerability is a major issue of urgent policy attention among poor coastal regions.
The Nigerian Environmental Study /Action Team (NEST) reported that sea-level rise and repeated ocean surges will not only worsen the problems of coastal erosion but will increase the problem of floods, the intrusion of seawater into freshwater sources and the ecosystems. These will affect agriculture, fisheries, and general livelihoods.
A prediction in 2007 by the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says rising global temperatures will contribute to an upsurge in several floods, drought, glacier melt, and sea-level rise.
In developing countries, the pressure is expected to intensify especially on land and water resources, disrupt agricultural production and threaten food security.
The treasurer of Abari town, Peremobowei Dakromoh, said erosion is an age-long problem, which he grew up to understand as a norm.
‘Normally, human beings die before houses. But in this community, houses die before human beings,” he said.
Still, in his late twenties, Mr Peremobowei said his family members had been victims of the disaster. Stretching his hands in the direction of the waterside and snapping his fingers, Mr Dakromoh said the house his late father built was swept off by erosion.
He said the government has turned a blind eye to the plight of the residents.
“Abari community is the first ward of Patani local government but ‘we no know if we be part of this Nigeria,” he lamented in pidgin English.
Difficulties with farming, business
Mr Peremobowei said the main occupations of the residents are farming and fishing, but farmers and fishermen have problems taking their products to markets outside the community because there are no motorable roads.
According to him, farmers now take their goods to the nearest market through wooden or engine boats, which he said adds between N7,000 and N10,000 to their transportation cost.
“This could be half the value of the whole farm product, resulting in little or no gain,” he added.
Izon-Ebi Gobagha is the secretary of the town’s association. He said moving crops from the farm to the nearest village for sale is even harder when the flood comes.
“Sometimes the floods scare many farmers because sometimes our boats sink,” she said.
The community’s youth association chairman, Ogbotobo Godday, said farming activities have drastically reduced in the community.
‘This community used to produce about 3,600 tonnes of yam every year, but there is nothing to write home about the figure anymore. It is frustrating.”
A young farmer, Ogboteh George, said the flood has dealt badly with farmers in Abari.
“It (flood) has affected us so badly; so much that youth outside the community can be seen owning houses, owning okada, owning cars but we in this community have nothing.
“Even at our farms, when we plant our crops, they get flooded within a year, killing our crops. We are so sad about this, to be very honest,” Mr Ogboteh said.
Hospitals, others affected
It is not only the economic endeavours that are suffering, other parts of peoples lives are also affected in the community.
There is no functional health centre or hospiral in the community and ill residents have to seek help from neighbouring communities.
“We are begging the government to come and help us because we are suffering. Imagine people who are sick, before we call a boat from the nearest community, the person would have died. In short, I want to believe we are not part of the local government in Delta State. They forget us in every aspect of development,” Mrs Gobagha said.
Similarly, Mr Peremobowei said, the educational sector in the town has also been affected.
He said teachers often reject posting to the community, “because there are no motorable roads and most of them are afraid to travel by water.”
NDDC intervention and failed government efforts
The National President of Abari Union, Peter Pibowei, said the community had made a series of appeals since 2012 to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and other government agencies for the construction of shorelines and motorable roads. He said the appeals were all ignored.
Also, a former Chairman of Patani Local Government Area, Perez Omoun, said he had written articles, letters, and recommendations to the state and federal governments on the problems of Abari.
NDDC, which was set up to address infrastructure deficit and other developmental challenges of the region, has made little impact in the region.
According to the commission’s website, in 20 years, the NDDC has awarded over 9,445 projects in the Niger Delta region. It awarded a few projects in Abari too, as shown in the table below.
PROJECTYEAR AWARDEDPROJECT CONTRACTORPROJECT STATUS
Construction of Home Economics, Fine Art & ICT laboratory at Abari Patani LGA, Delta state May 07, 2013ACTIONWORKS LTDNot started
Construction of Cottage Hospital in Abari, Patani L.G.A, Delta state May 31, 2012SHADY BRIGGS NIG. LTDOngoing
Construction of Abari Road, in Patani L.G.A, Delta State May 28, 2012KEMEZ CONSTRUCTION NIG.LTDOngoing
Installation of 1NO. 300KVA, 33/0.415KV Transformer at Abari community, Delta stateSep. 06, 2010LAURINCO NIGERIA LIMITED Ongoing.
However, this reporter tracked the ongoing projects in the community and saw no evidence of recent progress.
The community’s chairman, Abraham Zitubboh, told PREMIUM TIMES that the shorelines project was proposed but not executed.
“In 2018, a contractor from the NDDC came, taking feasibility studies, designs or whatever and left. Till today, nothing has been done,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES later found out that the feasibility study was assigned to Yemi Fasuyi, a consultant working for the commission.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, Mr Fasuyi confirmed that in 2018, the NDDC sent him to conduct a feasibility study of the area to include ‘the length, sea depth and pilling of shorelines.’
He revealed that the report of the study with its cost has been on his desk since 2018 because “we are still debating it.”
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Mr Fasuyi said he was not sure if the shoreline contract had been awarded. But he added: “Even if they want to start construction, another feasibility study needs to be taken because every year, the shore keeps collapsing and the sea depth keeps deepening.”
Residents of Abari lament the attitude of the government to their plight.
“Since I came to this town 40 years ago, we have been pleading with the government to help the town,” Mr Agidi said.
“They promised us heaven on earth, that they were going to help us and that we should show them where they were going to put their materials. When they came, they arranged all their materials and left. Till today, we have not seen them again,” Mr Agidi said.
Oladapo Soneye, the spokesperson of the Nigeria Conservation Foundation, said there is a need to evacuate the area before any action is taken.
“The first thing to even rescue the situation is evacuation,” he said. “Taking residents to a safer place because there is no way they may get help immediately and even if it is immediately, it will still take a while before any result.”
In addition, Mr Soneye recommended that infrastructure like “groynes which interrupt water flow, strong solid shorelines and canals” be built to manage the situation.
Mr Soneye further warned on the future of communities in coastal areas experiencing floods.
“If actions can be taken by the government and corporations on time, we can save the situation but if nothing is done, these communities in coastal areas will disappear into the water with people being displaced. In like 20-30 years from now, you won’t hear anything about these communities,” he warned.
Support for this report was provided by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) through funding support from Ford Foundation.