With Joke Adeniyi-Jackson
Before they talked one could decipher it was going to be a sad tale. Their melancholic countenances reflected their mindsets; their worries written all over their faces. Theirs is a touching narrative of almost a decade of excruciating distress and despair.
The men, numbering eight took turns, in emotion laden voices, to paint the agonising picture of what the people of Okutagidi community in Ilorin West Local Government, Kwara State, are passing through, owing to the gradual degradation of their environment, which has degenerated over time into a cavernous gully.
The cries of women and children for help over the deplorable situation during a visit to the community, was a further demonstration of the people’s need for urgent solution to the environmental problem.
The intensified cry for help is coming on the heels of aggravated fear that the community, which is strategically located in the heart of the ancient town of Ilorin, may become extinct as a result of the gully erosion that is threatening its existence.
Houses were seen perching on the edges of deep gully, long abandoned by their occupants who had relocated elsewhere.
No fewer than ten (10) houses have so far been destroyed as a result of impact of the erosion, which has spread its tentacles to the length and breadth of the community.
Several other structures including a school, Madarasat Al-Khabary Islamic Centre, are on the verge of being toppled by the gully erosion, hence the magnified trepidation of Okutagidi people.
The family home of the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Kamaldeen Ajibade (SAN) is under serious threat of being swallowed up by an encroaching gully unless something is done to save it.
The community mosque, which is the people’s Islamic heritage may soon be pulled down by the erosion, if there is no urgent intervention. Visible fault lines and cracks dot parts of the beautiful structure, indicating that the foundation may not survive further rainfalls with the deep gully few metres away.
For the people of the community, the rainy season, which to many is a blessing has become a source of nightmare. A season welcome with apprehension.
The Chairman, Okutagidi Progressive Association, Alhaji Abdulrahman Shehu, explained that many people in the community had fled their ancestral home as a result of the yawning and dangerous gully. The problem, which he said started eight (8) years ago has led to collosal damage and loss.
He alluded the land degradation that developed into full -blown gully erosion site to run-off, a consequence of water ways blockage during road construction and the fact that existing drainages were not built to specification.
Though the people of Okutagidi had through communal effort tried to tackle the menace but the magnitude is obviously beyond their capacity.
According to him, the erosion menace has defied several self-help interventions by the community at mitigating its effect, adding that all efforts to draw the attention of the government to their plight were unsuccessful.
Following the futile communal efforts, the people had written letters of appeal to the state House of Assembly, Ministry of Works and Transport as well as that of Environment and Forestry and the Abubakar Bukola Saraki (ABS) Constituency Office.
The association chairman recalled that the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki had visited the gully erosion site for on-the-spot assessment in 2012, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology. While officials from the state ministries of Works and Environment respectively, were also in the community for same purpose. But, all of these he said have not yielded the desired result. The erosion, he stressed is spreading fast, hence need for quick intervention.
The Imam of the community mosque, Alhaji Aminullahi Abdulazeez, who spoke resignedly, pointed out that the place of worship sits perilously on the edge of the gully, saying it is a danger waiting to happen. He also noted that many houses in the area are no longer safe for habitation due to threat by erosion.
It was also observed that the road, which was constructed in 1978 has noticeable threats of damage owing to the erosion.
The present situation has no doubt left the people of the area devastated and hapless. The fear of the people is that if nothing is urgently done, the entire community might soon be washed away.
Only a quick intervention by government would save the community from an imminent disaster.