Who Will Save Gombe From Erosion?

From Mohammed Ali

They have since given up hope for any respite from the authorities, in spite of their endless years of cries for succour. Of course, past administrations in the state had done what they could to address the situation with the available resources at their disposal, to no avail. It was one problem too many to defeat because of the gargantuan nature of the devastation. 

Thus, left with nochoice, the erstwhile regimes had to run to the Federal Government forintervention, which in turn promised to address the problem in collaboration withits Ecological Fund Office and the World Bank “very soon”. But the assurance ofsuccor coming the people’s way “very soon” which they had heard severally inthe past seems too far, even as at now, their homes, their lands are stillunder the mercy of the notorious gully erosion which for years has been theirlot. And unchallenged, the erosion continues its devastation across thepeople’s natural habitation, in a manner reminiscent of an earthquake. Indeed,the devastation is a frightful sight to behold, as the pictures show.

The people of Bogo –Tabra, Hayin Kwarin Misau and Anguwan Misra, all in Akko Local Government Areaof Gombe State, will always have a story to tell. A story of anguish, agony andsorrow, even as at today, they have become permanent prey – or so it seems – toa natural but avoidable disaster, which for years has defied any logicalcontrol. And the erosion, as if aware that it has no adversary to counter itsencroachment, continues to “enjoy” a field day (and there are many fields),spreading its tentacles to all nook and cranny of the people’s fields of pastoralactivity as well as their abode, ravaging everything on its path – like theangel of destruction that it is bound to be.

And now, the haplesspeople have no lands to farm and no homes to call their own. All destroyed bythe merciless erosion that knows no boundary. Today, the people merely pass byand gaze in anger and sorrow, the heaps of debris that were once their homes.

The affected areas,mostly suburban, occupy vast acres of scattered landmarks and their propinquityto the flowing river, makes the inhabitants of such areas vulnerable tolingering serious erosion hazards more than those on the high lands, since mostof the areas are within valleys,

Many of the people around these danger zones have been forced to either sell their houses in a hurry to look for alternative elsewhere, or simply abandone them (houses) to their fate where there are no buyers. But who will even buy a house in a graveyard? People shun the areas like they are a plague.

As at the time ofgoing to press, many have lost homes and lands running into several millions ofNaira, while some, according to the village head of one of the worst affectedareas (Sabon Garin Bogo), Alhaji Suleman Adamu, have died of “heart attack”.

Erosion menace in some parts of Gombe more especially Akko Local Government area of the state where it is most pronounced, has been an age-long phenomenon. And over the years, series of evaluations had been conducted on erosion-prone areas and results revealed impending devastation on various, marked-out spots around the state.

The sole aim of thestudy according to official sources, was to detect erosion zones and checkmateits encroachment on human habitat, including the protection of other suspectederosion prone areas, through high degree embankments and other ecologicalexperiments. But did the study make any positive impact? How did theauthorities respond to the findings of the study? And why are the people stillcrying?

It all began in the early 70s when feasibility studies were carried out in some areas of the state that showed signs of the impending menace, by some government’s ecological experts who were said to have marked out some scattered, wetly landmarks across some local governments as erosion-prone and quickly reported their findings to the authorities then.

Unfortunately, nothing appreciable was done until the matter got out of hand and or to the point of too tasking to redeem both in funds and logistics, the experts’ findings and reports might have suffered similar fate – perhaps tuck in somewhere among other unattended reports in government’s archives and thus forgotten.

And today, somedecades on, the situation has reached an alarming dimension, even as theerosion continues its threats on humanity, causing horrendous havoc with amenacing snail speed of – according to erosion experts – “eight inches perannum”.

But the people, even though hapless, are not done in crying out loud about their predicament. And so, in yet another attempt to draw the attention of the authorities, some prominent elders of the affected areas, wrote what might be regarded as SOS letter on 31st January 2018 to the then Minister of State, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Surveyor Suleman Hassan Zarma (The Wazirin of Jara ), who happens to be from Gombe State and whose area is also affected by the erosion menace.

Then, the aggrievedpeople had hoped that been “one of our own” the former Minister was in positionto pursue their case in Abuja. In their letter, they lamented that, as a resultof devastation of houses and road infrastructure, including arable lands by erosion,“more than two thousand households have either been completely destroyed, orthe inhabitants forced to relocate to safer areas”.

They added that “many means of livelihood for a larger number of members of the community (in the affected areas), have been lost and property worth millions of Naira perished. In fact, this menace of gully erosion is one of the most serious ecological challenges facing Gombe State today, especially the state capital”. Well, it was not clear whether the former minister made any attempt to address the problem or not.

However, checks by Tell Magazine show that former Governor of the state, Danjuma Goje, now a senator had written series of letters to the Ecological Fund Office (Presidency), Federal Ministry of Environment and other relevant agencies between 2003 and 2006, drawing their attention to the erosion problem in the state. It was not until November 2013 that the Ecological Fund Office responded, by awarding a contract for the construction works of Bogo – Tabra gully erosion to one TABARAKAH CONSOLIDATED LIMITED, a road construction firm. Whether this could have been influenced by the former minister is not certain anyway

But that was just a part of the project because the work downstream did not get to Doma Bridge, another more hazardous, erosion – devastated area. Not satisfied, the people, therefore, wrote their last letter of January 2018 to the then minister of state, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing lamenting that “over the years, various contracts amounting to huge sums of money have been sunk into the project (to tackle the erosion menace) without appreciable success”.

More findingsindicated that the next Chief Executive of the state after Goje, GovernorIbrahim Dankwambo, had also during his tenure, written similar letters ofappeal to the same relevant bodies shouldered with the responsibilities ofcontrolling erosion in the area. More especially the extension/expansion of theproject to Doma Bridge in order “to save the whole area permanently”, as statedin the letter of the Bogo Communities to the Governor, seeking hisintervention. But up to the time Dankwambo left office in 2019, the extensionwas not carried out.

And now as if abandonedto their fate, the people are once again and for the umpteenth time, voicingout their lingering dilemma to the new Governor of the state, Mohammed InuwaYahaya, the Federal government and all other relevant agencies, to as a matterof urgency, come to their aid and save them from endless agony before the nextrainy season, a period when gully erosion is more devastating.

In an interview withthe village head of Sabon – Garin Bogo, Alhaji Suleman Adamu, it was gatheredthat hundreds of his people – mostly peasant farmers – had fled the area in thelast few years to find shelter elsewhere.

“Many of the people inmy community have been forced to relocate to other safer abodes to escape theadvancing erosion. You can see as you have visited the various spots devastatedby the erosion, no one in his right sense can live in these dangerous zones.Homes have been destroyed. Vast acres of lands destroyed, and the erosioncontinues to wreck havoc in the area. Very soon, if nothing is done urgently tocheck this menace, there will be no land for erecting any structure let alonefarming”, the village head narrated pathetically.

He then pleads withthe Inuwa Yahaya administration, to do all at its disposal to fight thedangerous trend that has deprived thousands of their means of livelihood, andis still devastating, because as he puts it, erosion has no boundaries and isno respecter of anyone.

Also commenting on the problem, the chairman of Anguwan Misira Cooperative Society, Malam Abubakar Sadiq, who has been living in the area for about 17years, says, a lot of people had been forced to vacate the area due to the lingering erosion menace, adding that, as at this October (2019), many others are making alternative arrangements for new abodes elsewhere.

He said, his Association (Misira Co-operative Society), while on a sympathy visit to some affected households recently, discovered the magnitude of devastation caused by the erosion, pointing out that “apart from the many that were forced to vacate their homes in the last few years several others are planning to relocate to other safer parts of the state this October”.

Sadiq said, both theGoje and Dankwambo administrations, tried their best to check the menace oferosion in some affected areas of the state. He said, at Anguwan Misira viaHayin Kwarin Misau for instance, ex-Governor Dankwambo ordered the constructionof a box culvert which to some extent, had helped in blocking the surgingerosion from advancing towards some households.

However, he observed, passage of rainwater was diverted to people’s abodes some meters away from the box culvert, thereby exposing them to erosion threats adding, “right now, the houses within distance  of the culvert, are under erosion threats”.

He called on people especially those residing by the riverside, to avoid dumping refuse and other unwanted matters inside the river and drainages, so as not to block waterways, else they would be creating room for more erosion hazards. “Yes, in their calculation to block advancing erosion, they keep dumping refuse and every unwanted junk inside the river, inside canals, inside gutters and everywhere, not knowing that they are creating room for serious erosion”, he said.

Sadiq then pleads with the Inuwa Yahaya administration and the Ecological Fund Office to as a matter of urgency, come to their rescue by checkmating the advancing erosion, so as to save them from continued loss of property, and sorrow.

Speaking with Tell in his office along Tunfure Road, Off the city centre of Gombe recently, the Environment Officer, Gombe State Project Management Unit (SPMU), Dr. Shittu Whanda, said, there were officially five identified erosion areas in the state, with four within Gombe the state capital and one in kumo, the headquarters of Akko Local Government Area. Coincidently, more findings revealed that majority of the erosion areas in Gombe are scattered within Akko Local Government.

Whanda said, identification of erosion and other ecological problems, involves a “lot of technicalities”. First, he explains, after the identification of erosion and other erosion-prone areas, the findings would then be sent to the World Bank which in turn, would clarify the report and once satisfied, would then approve compensation which the affected states would pay. Also, it is the World Bank that would approve the necessary safeguard instruments for gully system activities, notably on watershed areas.

The environment officer says, in many cases, erosion is due to poor urbanization and environmental pollution, pointing out that people tend to imbibe the culture of dumping refuse everywhere, including building of structures along waterways which on the long run, might encourage erosion.

He urged authorities concerned to always enforce a policy which must be adhered to  by those willing to build structures before doing so, more especially as Gombe is a valley, pointing out, however, that plans are on to confront the lingering erosion problems in the state. He then advised the people to always keep their environments clean and avoid dumping refuse all over the place, particularly along waterways.

On what efforts the Gombe state government is doing, the director, Ministry of Environment, Alhaji Nasir Bunu,  told the magazine that, the government having identified “five critical areas, is not leaving any stone unturned to tackle the problem head-on’’. And he mentioned the five critical erosion affected areas as Barunde (along the bye-pass), inside Gombe state university, inside the Federal College of Education (technical), others scattered around Bagadaza area, (behind the Gombe international hotel) and one at Kumo town, the headquarters of Akko local government council.

Bunu added that state governmentsdid their best in the past to address the problem. “But you know, controllingerosion is a gigantic project, hence the federal government must be involved,else it is too enormous for the state government to tackle all alone”. Hedisclosed that, recently, the North-East Development Commission (NEDC), visitedsome affected areas to assess the situation and at the end of the day, assuredof its assistance soon. Soon indeed, the people had heard that severally andthey are no longer convinced about any assurance or promises.

To this, Bunu exclaimed saying, “no, no this time around, Gombe erosion menace and all other ecological problems will be addressed, especially considering the promises by NEDC, the World Bank and the Ecological Fund Office in the Presidency to tackle the problem in collaboration with the state government”. However, he attributes some of the erosion menace to self-inflicted environmental pollution, whereby residents would dump refuse anywhere at will, hence cause unnecessary blockage of waterways, which sometimes divert rainwater to erosion-prone zones and consequently to people’s homes.   

The director thenadmonished the people to be wary of the dangers posed by man-made environmentalpollution and warned them to desist. He also advised them to seek officialpermission and guidance from the ministry of environment and other relevant institutionsbefore constructing houses or any structure in any part of the state and await inspectionby officials of these ministries and their consequent approval before embarkingon any housing project.

 “But certainly, the state government will do all it can to tackle the erosion menace in Gombe state very soon. As you can see, Gombe is in a valley which makes it more vulnerable to erosion problem more than those states on the high level.“ He then appealed to the people to be patient and cooperate with the government including concerned ministries, with a view to achieving success in tackling erosion menace in the state.

Gombe Erosion Photo
Gombe Erosion

In a brief telephone chat on the erosion menace in the state, the Senior Special Assistant (Media and Publicity) to the Governor, Ismaila Uba Misilli, said the Gombe state government is not unaware of the problem of erosion in the area, pointing out that “over N500 million has been committed in the fight against the menace across the state”.

Misilli explained that the Inuwa Yahaya administration like others before it, would do all it could to confront the erosion problem in collaboration with other relevant agencies. He, however, said he would give what he called “a comprehensive data” on the erosion problem bedeviling the state any time soon.

The personalities representing the communities affected by erosion who wrote the January 2018 letter to then minister of state, Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Surveyor Sulaiman Hassan Zarma, were Malam Usman   Abubakar, Malam Yahaya Adamu, chairman, and secretary respectively, Alhaji Jani A-Bello former executive chairman, Akko Local Government area; Alhaji Gidado Lawanti, Member representing Akko North in the Gombe State house of assembly; Alhaji Seyoji Abubakar, District head of Tabra, and Malam Umar Ahmed Kwairanga, village head of Bogo.

The rest includeAlhaji Danladi Sale, the village head of Tabra; Alhaji Sulaiman Adamu, thevillage head of Sabon Garin Bogo; then Alhaji Adamu Ari and Alhaij Yusuf Mamman Yola, who are both patrons of thecommunity’s Development Association, (Bogo-Tabra Community DevelopmentAssociation). They and the people they represent are waiting on the authoritiesto tackle the problem for them. Will they smile soon?          

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