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 no choice, the erstwhile regimes had to run to the Federal Government for intervention, which in turn promised to address the problem in collaboration with its Ecological Fund Office and the World Bank “very soon”. But the assurance of succor coming the people’s way “very soon” which they had heard severally in the past seems too far, even as at now, their homes, their lands are still under the mercy of the notorious gully erosion which for years has been their lot. And unchallenged, the erosion continues its devastation across the people’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 Area of Gombe State, will always have a story to tell. A story of anguish, agony and sorrow, even as at today, they have become permanent prey – or so it seems – to a natural but avoidable disaster, which for years has defied any logical control. And the erosion, as if aware that it has no adversary to counter its encroachment, 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 pastoral activity as well as their abode, ravaging everything on its path – like the angel of destruction that it is bound to be.

And now, the hapless people have no lands to farm and no homes to call their own. All destroyed by the merciless erosion that knows no boundary. Today, the people merely pass by and 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 propinquity to the flowing river, makes the inhabitants of such areas vulnerable to lingering serious erosion hazards more than those on the high lands, since most of 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 of going to press, many have lost homes and lands running into several millions of Naira, while some, according to the village head of one of the worst affected areas (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 the study according to official sources, was to detect erosion zones and checkmate its encroachment on human habitat, including the protection of other suspected erosion prone areas, through high degree embankments and other ecological experiments. But did the study make any positive impact? How did the authorities respond to the findings of the study? And why are the people still crying?

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, some decades on, the situation has reached an alarming dimension, even as the erosion continues its threats on humanity, causing horrendous havoc with a menacing snail speed of – according to erosion experts – “eight inches per annum”.

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 aggrieved people had hoped that been “one of our own” the former Minister was in position to pursue their case in Abuja. In their letter, they lamented that, as a result of devastation of houses and road infrastructure, including arable lands by erosion, “more than two thousand households have either been completely destroyed, or the 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 findings indicated that the next Chief Executive of the state after Goje, Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo, had also during his tenure, written similar letters of appeal to the same relevant bodies shouldered with the responsibilities of controlling erosion in the area. More especially the extension/expansion of the project to Doma Bridge in order “to save the whole area permanently”, as stated in the letter of the Bogo Communities to the Governor, seeking his intervention. But up to the time Dankwambo left office in 2019, the extension was not carried out.

And now as if abandoned to their fate, the people are once again and for the umpteenth time, voicing out their lingering dilemma to the new Governor of the state, Mohammed Inuwa Yahaya, the Federal government and all other relevant agencies, to as a matter of urgency, come to their aid and save them from endless agony before the next rainy season, a period when gully erosion is more devastating.

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

“Many of the people in my community have been forced to relocate to other safer abodes to escape the advancing erosion. You can see as you have visited the various spots devastated by 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 erosion continues to wreck havoc in the area. Very soon, if nothing is done urgently to check this menace, there will be no land for erecting any structure let alone farming”, the village head narrated pathetically.

He then pleads with the Inuwa Yahaya administration, to do all at its disposal to fight the dangerous trend that has deprived thousands of their means of livelihood, and is still devastating, because as he puts it, erosion has no boundaries and is no 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 the Goje and Dankwambo administrations, tried their best to check the menace of erosion in some affected areas of the state. He said, at Anguwan Misira via Hayin Kwarin Misau for instance, ex-Governor Dankwambo ordered the construction of a box culvert which to some extent, had helped in blocking the surging erosion 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 governments did their best in the past to address the problem. “But you know, controlling erosion is a gigantic project, hence the federal government must be involved, else it is too enormous for the state government to tackle all alone”. He disclosed that, recently, the North-East Development Commission (NEDC), visited some affected areas to assess the situation and at the end of the day, assured of its assistance soon. Soon indeed, the people had heard that severally and they 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 then admonished the people to be wary of the dangers posed by man-made environmental pollution and warned them to desist. He also advised them to seek official permission and guidance from the ministry of environment and other relevant institutions before constructing houses or any structure in any part of the state and await inspection by officials of these ministries and their consequent approval before embarking on 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 include Alhaji Danladi Sale, the village head of Tabra; Alhaji Sulaiman Adamu, the village head of Sabon Garin Bogo; then Alhaji Adamu Ari and Alhaij Yusuf Mamman Yola, who are both patrons of the community’s Development Association, (Bogo-Tabra Community Development Association). They and the people they represent are waiting on the authorities to tackle the problem for them. Will they smile soon?          

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