THE word “independence” means different things to different people, but to the people of Ndi Oko, the hometown of the late Dr Alex Ekwueme, Nigeria’s former vice president, independence means freedom from the erosion that has been threatening to cut them off from the rest of Nigeria if nothing urgent is done to address the situation before it gets out of hand.
The inscription on the signboards that smile at you as you approach the town from Ekwulobia, Nanka or Amaokpala axes read:”Welcome to Oko”. With the benefit of insight, the inscription should have been made to read:”Welcome to Oko, the land that may soon be wiped off the face of the earth by erosion menace. The Oko erosion menace is already something of an international knowledge and concern.
The aggressive and fearsome erosion gully is expanding by hour along Oko/Ekwulobia/Nanka/Aguluezechukwu boundary and eating deep into Oko in almost the four dimensions and closing in on the town, leaving no escape route. According to an unofficial assessment, in a few decades from now, Oko may become history. We are talking of severance of Oko community from the rest of her neighbours in terms of communication as Oko Town has been cut in bits by erosion gullies.
Where in Igbo land do you have the worst landslide? Well, you only need to stress yourself to guess the answer only if you have not visited Oko community in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State. If you have been there recently, you will sympathise with the sleepy town.
Ordinarily, Oko should be the envy of its neighbours, far and near, having had the rare privilege of producing a vice president. The late Dr Alex Ekwueme, distinguished architect and Second Republic Deputy in the Shehu Shagari Government between 1979 and December 31, 1983, was a native of Oko. But rather than being the envy of other communities as far as development is concerned, Oko is on the verge of extinction. Yes, Oko is going, going, going……
Oko is steadily being nibbled away on multiple fronts with each passing rainy season. The sad aspect of this is the bulk of storm water responsible for energising the relentless expansion of gullies, which surround Oko community from all sides, originates from faraway places on higher elevations of the watershed. Oko lies on lower elevation. We can, therefore, say for sure that the ultimate fate of the living space of ndiOko lies in the hands of neighboring communities, which generate the storm water torrents that could end up obliterating this community from the face of the earth if the current trend is allowed to continue unchecked.
Just as the mountain surround Jerusalem, so erosion gullies surround the entire Oko community. But while the mountains of Jerusalem serve as a divine instrument of protection for the inhabitants of Jerusalem against their enemies, the erosion gullies of Oko have increasingly become an instrument of destruction and death with ever increasing prospect of total extinction of the community and adjacent ones in Orumba North Local Government Area.
According to environmental researchers, when computed per capita or by land space, Oko community is easily the town that is most afflicted by the scourge of gully erosion in the entire country. “Much has been seen, read and heard about the gullies in Ekwulobia, Uke, Nanka, Agulu, Ideani, Ekwulunmiri, Aguluezechukwuetc in recent times, but little mention has been made about what could be characterised as the Mecca of gully erosion menace at ground zero, OkoTown. Just for a start, much publicised Umuchiana erosion gully corresponds to the boundary between the two neighboring towns of Oko and Ekwulobia. In fact, the Northern edge of the drainage channel at the bottom of the gully lies Oko, while the Southern side lies in Ekwulobia” the report said.
Oko, together with neighboring communities like Ekwulobia, Nanka, and Agulu, lies on the escarpment that runs from parts of Edo State, on the West, as far as Abia and Cross River States, on the east. Along this escarpment, there exists the most menacing gullies in the country. The Northern and Western borders of Oko Town are delimited by a huge gully network, which extends to Nanka, Agulu, Awgbu and beyond. The renowned Federal Polytechnic, Oko and the palace of traditional ruler of Oko, Professor LazEkwueme are only a stone’s throw away from the this monstrous gully complex.
Another serious major landslide which occurred recently sacked many families for instance Professor Aginam while majority of the inhabitants have run away as their homesteads are daily in danger of tumbling into these frightful gullies.
Vast orchards of cashew trees were planted to check soil erosion that created the canyons in the region, hundreds of years ago, in addition to several other measures by NdiOko people, but the monster has defied the community’s efforts – they have been eroded.
What is on the ground, the magnitude of the plight of NdiOko is beyond what the state could tackle alone. Not even the Federal Government. By popular assessment, in a few decades from now, the bitter truth is that the entire NdiOko community may be singing her nuncdimittis together with the un-cooperative village because in our local parlance, our elders use to say:”Dibiana-agwootolo, ikeyaodun’enu?”.