By Ben Aroh
This is the second part of the reports on some communities in dire need of basic social amenities in Nsukka and Udenu Local Government Areas of Enugu State. The focus here is Igboeneme in Udenu LGA, and Breme under Nsukka Local Government Area
Igboeneme is a settlement in Amaogu village, Ezimo, in Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State. The settlement is synonymous with gully erosion that demarcates it from its ancestral home, Amaogu.
“We were born when this erosion had established, so its origin is unknown to us,” says Dr Paulinus Mba, a native of the settlement.
According to him, the erosion flushed sands to the popular Nkakwu beach which serves the entire local government with sharp sands. “We are simply at the receiving end because we gain nothing from it. And the erosion keeps expanding.”
The gully erosion at Igboneme begins from the boundary between Ama-Ogbele and Amaogu, both villages in Ezimo community. It then traverses Nkakwu, where sand merchants harvest the sands in commercial quantities. Akponge, Ishiiyi, and Iyinzu are among the streams that birthed from the gully.
Recently, excavation of gravels/sands at Ugwu Enwe (hills), which is close to the head of the bridge, has exacerbated the erosion as it keeps expanding, threatening to swallow the settlement.
The expansion makes the inhabitants find it hard to cross over to Amaogu Uno, which is their ancestral home. The eastern side of the settlement has recently been cut off by emerging erosion.
A community in dire need of government intervention
While it is not more than two kilometres away from the main road, recently constructed by the administration of the state government under Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Igboeneme has not attracted the attention of the same state government.
At best, it does not have a government’s presence at the moment.
A native of the settlement, Mr Benjamin Mba, said, “Our greatest and the age-long problem is lack of an access road. Recently, there was a rural road under RAMP that headed towards our area. It didn’t get to our area. We have been pleading with the government to look into our plight.
“We have erosion problems. In fact, we are practically cut off and isolated because of erosion. We are demarcated from the entire community by erosion. Then the only access road that passes through our area to Ibagwa on the one end, and Obollo-Afor, on the other, has been taken over by erosion,” Mba added.
Despite these challenges, the people of Igboeneme are apparently not enjoying any services by the state government – they have no access to clean water, and have no school.
“In terms of water, we have none. We trek about three kilometres to have access to potable water. Otherwise, we rely on rainwater. Our people now construct underground water reservoirs. All these factors make life here very miserable. Our children also trek many miles to go to school. There is no school here. Generally, Igboneme settlement has no government presence. We are mainly agrarian.”
Majorly cashew farmers, the villagers have no access to markets to sell their farm produce.
Another resident, Sylvester Eze, said, “We beg governments to come to our help. We have the best cashew breeds here. But we have no access to markets. What we have here can transform the people of the state in terms of food security,” Eze said.
“There is no difference between us and people at isolation camps. Our children start school as adults because of the distance. You don’t expect a child below eight to start school here because of the distance.”
Meletus Asogwa laments that it costs farmers a lot to transport their produce to the market. “The suffering is much. Selling what we produce here is expensive because of the cost of transportation. Our greatest challenge is the road because when we get access to the world, other things follow. Through communal efforts, we were able to bring electricity down here.”
Christian Eze Ekebe said, “Our main source of livelihood is cashew, but the cost of conveying the produce to selling points is becoming a huge challenge. Okada riders charge too much for transportation, and in the end, we have very little or no gains at all. We need roads, schools, and water.
“Governments should assist us. Once we have access to the outside world, I assure you that industries, especially cashew processors, will be cited here.”
Failed efforts to get government’s attention
Investigations show that from time to time, researchers come to the settlement for facts gathering, but with little or no impact on the residents. Some non-governmental organisations have also carried out need assessments on the settlement, but no positive results yet.
The settlement, it was gathered, also wrote to the state government, authorities at Udenu Local Government Area and other relevant agencies for help. A copy of the letter dated, June 22, 2020, addressed to the state governor was sighted during this investigation. In the letter, residents demanded government attention to the area, especially as they pertain to road facilities.
The letter, titled ‘SAVE OUR SOUL ON IGBONEME (EZIMO) ROAD’, was signed by Dr Paulinus Mba, a community leader.
It reads in part, “Your Excellency, on behalf of my Igboneme settlement in Ezimo, I passionately draw your attention to our peculiar problem. Igboneme is located close to Ibagwa in Ezimo, about two kilometres from the ring road which you constructed. Our road is towards the end of the link road connecting Obollo-Afor-Ogbelle-Ohullor from Ibagwa Ezimo.
“Our particular side has become inaccessible for some years now. Worse still, we have been cut off from Ezimo Uno for decades by gully erosion. As it is today, we have no means of accessing outside our suburb except on foot. We are densely populated and agrarian.
“We beg you to urgently grade our portion of the road to enable our legitimate businesses. The road was graded recently down to a place called Oturkpo Amaogbele, but did not continue to our side.
“We also thank you for the ongoing work on Obollo-Afor-Ogbelle-Ohulor-Ezimo road. We beg you, like Oliver Twist, to also extend the road to our side.”
Breme: A community’s quest for a bridge across a river
In the past five years, at least three persons have died while crossing Eme River in Breme in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State.
One of the victims was a man who veered off the crossover on his motorcycle and drowned in the river. His floating body was later found.
A recent casualty, it was gathered, was a married woman who was washed away. Her corpse was found after many weeks of search at Mbu in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area where Eme is being worshipped. Many parents would not want their children and wards to pass through there, especially during rainy seasons.
The name of the community, Breme, is derived from the river ‘Eme’. The community has been making efforts to construct a bridge across it, all to no avail.
Breme, a de-construct of Eburu Eme—across ‘Eme’—is an autonomous community with 14 villages. It is under the Nsukka East Development Centre of Nsukka Local Government Area.
The Eme demarcates Breme from its neighbouring communities. The river, to the inhabitants, nourishes their lives through its vegetation, aquatic animals and domestic water. It is nonetheless a source of worry to them because the inability to construct a bridge across it has hindered the development of the community.
Myths and mysteries around Breme River and construction work
The river is a beauty to behold. It flows in a valley, with its serene environment. Farmlands also surround it because of the presence of wetlands on both sides, providing irrigation for all-year farming. However, in cases of flooding, such farms are washed away. Fishes and crocodiles live in the water, but rarely come out except when the river is submerged.
Some residents, however, believe there is more to the river than meets the eye.
One of them, Mr Osita Okeke, said, “That river was and is still a place for spiritual sacrifices. I am now over 70-year-old, and since my childhood, people have made sacrifices there. Maybe that is why all our efforts to build a bridge across it have failed. Whatever we build, once rains begin to fall, they will be washed away”.
Mr Okeke’s statement is attested to by the number of fowls and goats that inhabit both banks of the river. He said no one owns them as ‘they belong to Eme because people from all walks of life bring them to appease the gods.
A closer examination shows that a confluence of about three streams forms the river. They converge not quite far from the spot where efforts are being made to construct the bridge. The water flows gradually and suddenly increases its velocity as it flows down a deep zone.
“It is worshipped at Mbu in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area. There are many goats and fowls around the river, owned by the spirits. People present them for sacrifices.”
Mrs Monica Idoko, however, disagreed with the notion that spirits ‘refuse’ the construction of the bridge. She said, “When have spirits refused big companies to construct roads in Nigeria?
“Our people do not have the financial capacity to build it. The quality of the work makes it easily carried away by floods. If it is the spirits that cause this hardship to us, we can conquer them through prayers.”
Efforts to construct Eme bridge
Eme (river) pre-existed Breme autonomous community. Hence, it is from it that the name of the community is derived. Legend has it that farmers and hunters migrated and settled across the river thousands of years ago. The area was later named ‘Eburu Eme’, across Eme (the river).
It is therefore inferable that since human existence, efforts have been sustained to build a bridge across Eme.
The foundations and erected pillars laid inside the water and by the banks are pointers that the journey did not start today. They look old, unstable, with some already pulled down. By the side of the proposed ‘elusive’ bridge is a makeshift pathway constructed by the natives to enable them to cross over the river. Its maintenance is yearly as heavy downpours seasonally wash the logs away.
A native, Ignatius Ukwueze, said, “Since I was born, we have been making efforts to build this bridge. The efforts started before my generation. From time to time, we build logs across the river to enable us to access the other side of the river.
“I am over 80-year-old this year. We have been communally contributing funds to build it. It got to a level that some of our people living here started migrating out of this community because of over-taxation towards the construction of the bridge.
“People from the government, from time to time, come around, but we have not seen any practical intervention. They make promises that are yet to be fulfilled. A Catholic priest at Saint Charles did his best. Some structures were built through his efforts, but floods pulled them down.
“This river separates the Breme community from Eha-Ndiagu. With that bridge, it takes less than 15/20 minutes to go to Eha-Ndiagu. If rains flood here, nobody can cross here any longer.
“The market where we buy our foodstuffs is at Nkwo Egu-Eha, so going there will mean to pay commercial motorcycles who will then go through another local government altogether. It takes over three hours to complete the cycle of such a journey in case this river is flooded.”
Mr Ikwueze said, “I’m aware of two persons that drowned here. They are a man and a woman. The woman was the wife of a catechist. It also killed one Matthias Nnaji, from Breme here. Matthias was riding on his motorcycle and missed the track and died instantly. The corpse of the woman was not seen around here.”
According to him, “If the government remembers us over this bridge, I doubt if there is any other thing that we need again. Although we basically lack all social amenities, the bridge should be considered first. The bridge causes untold hardship to us.
“We are all farmers, and our farm produce is being eaten up by grass-cutters simply because we don’t have access to market them outside this community. We are densely populated and have the same common problem of this bridge.”
Cyril Asogwa, a palm wine tapper, said, “We have been making efforts to construct a bridge across this river since I was born. It started in an era when N40 was equivalent to N1000, 000 in value. There was a time that every household contributed N40 each to mount the pillars inside the river. I recall that the cost of building it was about N20, 000.
“The contribution lasted over time but was unable to complete the project. Then the pillars already built fell off. Few of them are still hanging. Every savings of our people is spent on that bridge that is gradually becoming a jinx. We are angry and frustrated because there have not been any tangible results despite the huge funds and human labour dedicated to the project.
“Its impact is devastating. We don’t communicate with our brothers at Etiti-Agu during rainy seasons. There was a time we had a health centre across the river, but the lack of this bridge made our people unable to access the services of the centre. Today, expectant mothers die or lose their unborn kids because we don’t have access roads to hospitals.
“We appeal to the state government and Nigeria to help us to build this bridge. We are part and parcel of this country, and beg to be treated fairly.”
Mr Livinus Aroh, a community leader, revealed that efforts to build a bridge across Eme started over a hundred years ago.
“About 20 years ago, we again made concerted efforts to build it. Yet we didn’t succeed, and it collapsed. Later, we contributed funds, under the supervision of the bishop, but still no way. Afterwards, we taxed ourselves to build the pathway for ease of movement. Because of this, there are no thriving economic activities here,” Aroh said.
“During rainy seasons, that place is flooded. Last year, one person died there. He is from Ike Agwu. We have plenty of palm oil, yam, bush meat, cassava and other economic farm products, but they waste here.
“I know about three persons that died while crossing there in the recent past. Aside from this bridge, we don’t also have electricity. We bought and erected some electric poles that have covered some parts. One Catholic priest gave us a transformer, but we do not have the funds to install it. It is just there.
“Our source of water is from Eme. We thank God that it has not adversely affected our health situation. It is not clean as herders also drink there.”
Mr Madu Joseph, a security officer of Eha-Ndiagu ward, said the absence of a bridge across the river was a serious concern for the community.
“Our road networks are very bad. The road across that river is terrible. So, we can’t operate across there in case of security emergencies. That bridge is strategically needed,” he said.
“Before I was born, the efforts to build that bridge had started. My father told me about it. I beg governments to build that bridge. There is a secondary school across that river, but because we don’t have any bridge for crossing the other side, our children don’t go there any longer because once it rains, they suspend going to school until further notice.”
Difficulties accessing other parts of the local government
A journey to Eha-Etiti from Breme would have taken less than 20 minutes if there was a bridge across Eme, according to the natives. In its absence, during rainy seasons, they pass through Mbu in Isi-Uzo LGA, costing them over three hours in the process.
Farmers in the community are the worst hit as they pay more to convey their produce to the market.
“We encounter problems of evacuating our agro-products to the selling points,” Mr Ikwueze, a farmer, said. “The cost of evacuating our farm produce killed our efforts as farmers because there is no gain. We, therefore, eat what we produce, and allow much of it to be wasted.”
An okada rider, Cajethan Nnadi, said, “We currently charge about N1, 000 to convey a passenger to and from Breme from Premier junction, along Enugu-Makurdi road. It would have been more if not for the ongoing road construction that has reduced the bad nature of the road.
“The price is also reduced because we expand the seats of our motorcycles to accommodate three passengers. Load costs as much as N2, 000 to be conveyed outside the community. It is a terrible place to go. We don’t also attempt going there at night for safety reasons.”
Cosmas Ugwueze, the chairman of Nsukka Local Government Area, received both calls and whatsApp messages for reactions on his administration’s plans towards assisting the Breme community in constructing a bridge across the river. He however failed to come with any answers as he kept postponing to respond.
A civil engineer in the council, who agreed to speak anonymously because he was not authorised, said, “Don’t blame any council chairman on such failed projects. Nsukka LGA is a metropolitan LGA, and highly over-staffed.
“At times, funds to settle workers’ salaries are not enough after the federation allocations. I think more innovations for internally generated revenue could help boost the purse of local governments, not only Nsukka LGA. That is where the quality of those holding sway comes to question.”
At the Enugu State Ministry of Rural Development, a director, who declined to be named in the media, said, “Breme community, like other communities in the state, benefits from various state interventions. One of them is the grant of N5million given to every autonomous community to embark on their chosen projects.
“They should present the case of this bridge, probably through their representative in the state House of Assembly, or their councillor to the appropriate authorities. With due process, it could be factored into the state budget,” the state official said.
“The state cum World Bank-funded road projects will capture most communities. The State Universal Basic Education Board is building ultra-modern schools across communities, and I know Breme community must have benefitted, or programmed to benefit.”
This story was produced in partnership with Civic Media Lab under its Grassroots News Project with support from the National Endowment for Democracy.