He recalled that the state government had been doing its best to de-silt drainages in Onitsha to allow floodwater to flow into the River Niger.

Cosmas Omegoh

Some residents of Onitsha in Anambra State have been lamenting the recent drowning of four bankers in the area.

The deceased were swept into the Obodoukwu drainage channel by flash floods.

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Residents have expressed worries that the deep, wide gutters which empty into the River Niger pose grave danger to pedestrians and motorists, especially those using the Onitsha-Enugu expressway. They are appealing for urgent measures to stave off further accidents.

The victims of the flood disaster met their end when the car they were driving in was swept into the Sakomori (drainage) channel, said to be 15 feet deep. The incident happened after heavy rains, which flooded parts of Onitsha. According to a witness, the victims were on their way home from work when they died. The driver had struggled to steer the vehicle to safety before it was overpowered, and the car and its occupants were swept into the mighty gutter that had no protective embankments.

The new Onitsha-Enugu expressway was rehabilitated by the former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, it was gathered. Then, his administration had sought permission from the federal government to work on a section of the road from the Niger Bridgehead through Upper Iweka to the Zik’s Roundabout axis of the dual carriageway. The road, which was like a major artery running through the heart of Anambra State at that time, was in a sorry state.

On completion of the project, Onitsha wore a more beautiful look. The main highways were awesome, and so were the service lanes. There were deep drainage channels that received huge volumes of floodwaters from parts of the city and emptied into the River Niger.

Daily Sun learnt that, over the years, some people have unfortunately perished in the big canals. Some were swept away into the canals while some fell into them as they attempted crossing with the aid of improvised wooden bridges. Others died as their vehicles plunged into the huge gutters.

In the mid-morning of Friday, June 29, a crowd had formed at a section of the canal somewhere opposite a brewing company. That was the spot where the deep ash Mercedes Benz car in which the late bankers were riding in was swept to. A motorised crane was at work, pulling the ill-fated vehicle out of the gutter.

This correspondent was passing through the area, unaware of the disaster that had happened a day before. But about that time, the news of the incident was all over town.

“The incident happened yesterday evening during the downpour,” a woman told the small crowd at a school on Oguta Road. “A little child was among the victims. The deceased had waited for the rains to abate, but when that was not happening, they hit the road and ended just like that,” she said, shuddering.

“I recall that about this time last year, an okada rider lost his life after being swept away by the flood into the same canal,” another woman cut in.

“The rehabilitation of that section of the Onitsha-Enugu Road is one of the best things to happen in Onitsha. At least, that changed the face of Upper Iweka completely. But I’m so afraid of the big gutters. I dare not go near, not to talk of attempting to cross through those improvised wooden bridges. I have a phobia for such spots.

“If only the construction firm had built an embankment to protect vehicles from plunging into the channel, that would have been better,” another woman offered.

As the latter woman rightly observed, the drainage at that section of the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway has no protective barriers. It is easy for a motorist to drive into them and die. Even in the dry season, pedestrians could fall into any of the gutters. Coming out un-assisted could be as difficult as water flowing uphill.

However, a resident of Onitsha, Mrs. Joy Okoli, who lives off Obodoukwu Road in Okpoko, believes that the construction firm that handled the project was right in leaving the channels open.

“Leaving it open is better. It allows floodwater to flow fast into the River Niger the moment it rains.

“Anyone who falls into the gutters must be careless. People should learn to avoid the area.

“Now, look at the Onitsha-Owerri Expressway whose gutters were covered. Right now, they are heavily silted. The openings through which flood accesses them have been blocked by silt and filth. To evacuate the gutters now, efforts need to be made to open everything up.”

Sunday Ihekoronye, a trader, and resident of Atani Road who crosses the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway twice daily on his way to the market, was emphatic that government should provide protective embankment on the big gutters to save lives.

“We have been enjoying this road since it was reconstructed. But what is lacking is protective embankments. The gutters are very deep. Anyone who mistakenly plunges into any of them is gone. So, something needs to be done about that.”

In the same vein, Chidalu Obiora, who trades in Onitsha Bridgehead market, tasked government to do something to prevent people and cars from falling into the big canals.

“Some people have lost their lives in those gutters,” he said. “If your valuables mistakenly fall into them, regard them as gone; Getting into any of them might be easy but getting out is difficult, even in the dry season.

“With the latest deaths, the fear of those big gutters now is the beginning of wisdom. We want government to do something about that.”

A former Commissioner for Information and Culture in Anambra State, Chief Tony Onyima, while decrying the circumstances leading to the bankers’ death, said: “We have to accept that increases in flooding everywhere nowadays are caused by climate change. Rainfall across the world, including Onitsha, is on the rise.”

He recalled that the state government had been doing its best to de-silt drainages in Onitsha to allow floodwater to flow into the River Niger.

The current Commissioner for Information and Culture, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, equally lamented the Onitsha deaths, describing them as a natural disaster.

“The state government sympathises with the families and friends of the victims. The development was most unfortunate.

“We don’t have the true picture of the circumstances that led to the deaths – whether the deceased were over-speeding, whether their vehicle wipers were not working properly, or the driver was a little reckless or that the vehicle had a little problem – we can’t fully tell because there are other circumstances that could cause such accident. But all we are hearing is that the victims were swept into the canal in an unfortunate manner.

“Based on that, we are calling on the federal government to de-flood the facility because Onitsha is heavily populated. We are also calling on the federal government to build speed breakers in the area, if possible.”

Adinuba said he was unsure if the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway had faults capable of causing any form of accidents.

“I haven’t done a study on that,” he said. “So, there is no need for me to pontificate. Experts need
to go there and see if the road has any engineering errors and address them.”

He, however, called on residents of Onitsha to be extra vigilant when next it rained.

“Don’t over-speed; don’t drive if your vehicle wipers are malfunctioning; don’t drive if your brake system is bad or if you are drunk or high on drugs.

“People must try to be law- abiding. People must be mindful that they have friends and loved ones waiting to see them return home alive,” he maintained.