Traditional ruler, youths, mothers and children cry for government intervention
FROM ALOYSIUS ATTAH, Onitsha
It was Edo state born lover boy musician now pastor, Felix Liberty who sang in one of his evergreen albums titled “One Life to Live” that in this life, some are mourning , while some are celebrating. The same message in the song was earlier emphasized in the immortal songs of the late highlife maestro, Celestine Ukwu who sang in the track “Ije Enu” ndi nakwa nakwa, ma ndi nakwa anuli, na anuli.
The lyrics of the two songs best summarizes the life situation and predicament of the people of Nkerefi community, Nkanu East Local Government Area, Enugu State. In this community, life bears no other meaning other than pain, anguish, cries of marginalization, poverty and government neglect.
Located between the boundary of Nara community of Enugu State and Uburu community in Ebonyi state, Nkerefi community has the worst road in the history of Enugu state while its accompanying descriptions includes dilapidated schools, streams where animals and human beings struggle to drink water amidst heaps of human and cow excreta . Absence of hospitals or health centers to the extent that pregnant women and children are most times conveyed on wheel barrows while looking for medical attention.
According to oral legends, Nkerefi people migrated from Abakaliki and naturalized in its present location. With 21 villages, the town has produced four autonomous communities namely, Imoha, Enuovuvu, Ohuani Amofu and Isienu Amofu . Sources say the community is the second largest in population after Akpugo in the entire Oji River province before the Nkanu division.
A visit to the community recently by Oriental News reporter exposed the sufferings of the people from time immemorial while help seems to be far from coming.
In Nkerefi community, life looks like the stone age era that as soon as one traverses the beautiful roads of Obe, Amuri, Agbani , Ugbawka and Nara communities, legacies of the Chimaroke Nnamani administration who hails from Agbani, on entering Nkerefi, the weather and environment changes into a different thing.
Traveling into the community on a bike this dry season without wearing an overall dress is an invitation for trouble as one will be drenched in dust that may result in visiting the doctor or risk the consequences. The bulk of the villagers live in small mud like huts where they go to the farm and prepare their cassava garri or extraction of palm oil in a local way, their two major preoccupations.
Electricity is a rare commodity as few electric poles in the community are just there for fancy decoration while the school children study in structures whose walls have broken down with no desk and tables.
While rainy season is regarded as time of blessing for planting different crops, the people of Nkerefi presently prays for perpetual dry season, not because they don’t need the rain for its essence but because once it rains, they are cut off from the rest of the world as their roads becomes impassable. During the rainy season, journey from Nkerefi to Enugu that ordinarily takes about 25 minutes can last for 8 hours since one will need to take cross country route by taking Ebonyi state before connecting Enugu again.
To drive home its state of neglect, even the GSM network service providers also abandoned the community that one needs to climb trees in search of signals to make calls through MTN, GLO or other networks. Churches are not left out as many of the worship centers are built with raffia palm leaves, wooden planks and sack bags that some doubting Thomases will ask whether God really inhabits such places.
Traversing different villages by the reporter was an eye opener and tear evoking. At Ihuenyom village, Enuovuvu community, Nkerefi, Rosaline Chukwu and Onu Bridget who were engrossed in processing garri and palm oil intermittently cried out thus “afufu erika na obodo a” (There is too much suffering in this community), we suffer to plant and process all these but we cannot sell it because our customers no more come because the roads are horrible. When shall our living standards improve? “they asked.
At Avuna River, the reporter also met young ladies trooping in with their buckets and containers to fetch water while some young men were also washing clothes and bathing in the same stream which they rely on for drinking water. Asked on the health implications of drinking the same water where all sorts of impurities are mixed, one of the young men stuttered “It is when you have several options that you pick your choice but when you don’t see any option, the available therefore becomes desirable. We cannot help the situation but I think we have divine immunity or else death would have wiped all of us if the water is deadly” he said.
Our economy has collapsed says a community leader
Hon. Joel Nwegbo, an Abuja based business man and Secretary, Ihuakpu General Assembly and National Assistant secretary, Ohuana Amofu Development Union, one of the autonomous communities in Nkerefi while appraising the general situation in Nkerefi lamented that Government has abandoned them
“The general situation in Nkerefi for so long is that there is no government presence. This road you see now was constructed during the time of Shehu Shagari / Jim Nwobodo regime. During the regime of Chimaroke Nnamani, they came for political reasons and did partial grading of the road. That is the little portion one could see between Nkerefi and Nara boundary. Then, they were preparing for local government election in Enugu State and they gave us all sorts of promises, but immediately the results were declared, that became the end of the whole promises and this is where we are since then.
“We can even stand here and talk to you now because this is dry season. If it was during the rainy season, there is nowhere to stand. This place is cut off during the rainy season that it’s either the bike people stops you at Ojowa Bridge and you trek down to the community or you come in through Ebonyi state
“We are predominantly farmers. We produce garri in large quantities and people come from different parts of Nigeria to buy our garri because of its quality. But today, the economy has collapsed because there are no access roads anymore. Before, when the road is manageable, there used to be influx of more than 60 vehicles coming into the community on Eke market days to buy garri, palm oil and other products but the situation now is that our people will harvest cassava, stay in the fire to process the garri but they won’t see any buyer in the market making all their efforts to be in vain.
“We also produce the best palm oil, go to the place where they fry the oil and when you perceive the aroma, you will understand what I’m saying. Our people that are farmers are losing hope. We don’t have water, it is the same stream that the Fulani herdsmen feed their cattle and defecate inside that we also drink. Even if you pursue the herdsmen, when you leave, they will go and pollute the water and our people have no option than to go there and fetch drinking water. They gave us hand pumped borehole in the past but today, none is functional” he lamented.
An Okada rider, Chiadikaobi Onovo said the price for cyclist matters a lot in Nkerefi because during the rainy season, they find it very hard to convey people around because of the condition of the roads. A journey that takes N100 during the dry season attract about N500 during the rainy season because of the bad roads. “ Our bike are all damaged and we spend heavily to repair it most times that left for us, we refuse to even convey people not that we don’t need the money but the terrain is very difficult” he said.
Our problem is that of failed promises says another town union leader
The Town Union President, Isienu Amofu community, Chief Joseph Mkpume who prevailed on some youths of the community that wanted to embark on violent protest over their situation told Oriental News that the people suffer because of failed promises.
“At least you have seen that we don’t have roads. People are finding it difficult to come to Nkerefi while we the Nkerefi people are stuck because we also find it difficult to travel out. We don’t know whether we are still in Enugu State because the government doesn’t remember us. We want the incoming government to remember Nkerefi .
We don’t have any guarantee that they will remember us but we are still telling them now that election is around the corner to come to our aid because we are citizens of Enugu State. Isienu Amofu , my own community, doesn’t even have a health center while there is no water too. We know that they have said that whether we cast our votes or not, they will still win but we must be very careful this time” he said.
Samuel Nwamba, a retired Assistant Superintendent of Police, from Ihuakpu village, Ohuani Amofu community, Nkerefi and President General, Ihuakpu General Assembly also painted the same story of neglect and underdevelopment.
“Since the government of Jim Nwobodo in the old Anambra State, no Nkerefi person has been appointed to position of leadership in Enugu state and that is why we are asking whether we are part of the state or if we don’t belong, they should tell us where we belong so that we can go there” he said.
The traditional ruler of Isienu Amofu community, Igwe Peter Onuoha while taking a holistic summary of the people’s plight in the community made a passionate appeal to government at all levels to come and change their story.
“ There was a time some stakeholders met and agreed that they won’t take part in voting during elections but we the traditional rulers after considering the implications said that the idea is not the best because we still have to keep faith in the system hoping that one day, things may change for good.
“All the modern amenities of life are our needs here. We belong to government since after the war and I’m not the one to enumerate all the promises government has made to us in the past, but I’m more interested in the practical things they have done for us. We are only appealing to the government because our population only counts before the election. After the elections, we are abandoned and we remain in bondage.
Populations like this where you cannot make or receive telephone call is not a healthy situation. We are completely cut off. There was a time our bridge broke down, I made repeated calls to the local government chairman, they will tell me it is the state, I will call the state and they will mention Federal government. It was like that until FERMA finally fixed the bridge which was constructed by military engineers in 1971.
I’m only begging Nigerian government to come and rescue us from bondage. We are cut off in government appointments too. We are begging individuals and corporate organizations to come and take our land for industrialization to know whether that will bring government attention”
Chairman, Nkanu East Local Government Area, Pastor Sam Iyiogwe when contacted at Secretariat at Amagunze said the state government is aware of the plight of the people from the area and has also awarded some contracts for development projects. He expressed hope that the incoming administration will make a remarkable difference.