Life in the coastal town of Aiyetoro, Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, before now, was a beautiful one where man and nature cohabited peacefully and none overshot their boundaries. Indeed, the sea was the source of livelihood and an element of joy. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE, however, reports that the community has recorded losses following the brutal surge of the sea.
For the people of Aiyetoro community, a coastal oil-producing town in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State which by sea, is said to be about 45 kilometers East of Lagos and about the same distance west of Escravos, Friday, May 8, 2020, was one that came with anguish as the community experienced ecological disturbance in the form of the sea overrunning its shores; invading homes, destroying properties and making many homeless.
It was a day that the sea descended on the community in its fury, ravaging it with its angry waves and beating up the last set of housing line before the broad street to flood the entire community. The massive destruction however is not a strange occurrence in Aiyetoro community; destruction caused by invasion of the sea is a daily event in the community and life is no more what it used to be for the people as source of livelihoods and shelter continues to be massively destroyed.
Though the community had been having ecological imbalance for about two decades, the past three years had been worse for the people as it seems to be witnessing the climax of the destructive nature of the sea which surges regularly and seems bent on wiping out life in the community. At present, over 400 houses had been destroyed and properties worth millions of naira lost to the sea while thousands of people have been rendered homeless and displaced to other communities or forced to squat in areas yet to be ravaged within Aiyetoro town. But on a daily basis, the community is yielding to the assault of the sea which continues to claim land, thereby washing away structures.
Ayetoro community, founded by a Christian movement in 1947 is a town where the major occupation is fishing and petty trading but it became a national reference point for rapid development, driven by sheer communitarian cooperation and hard work of its highly determined people and rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s when it became a well known tourist attraction centre and attracted large number of local and international visitors.
As a community which solely depends on the sea for its economic survival, the town till date is renowned for producing sea-going vessels, speed boats, well trained captains, marine engineers, carpentry and joinery experts and was the first town to generate electricity in the entire Ondo province of defunct Western Region, an achievement still being maintained till present as the community still generates its electricity on its own.
Despite its rich history, the survival of the town is presently being threatened by the sea that gave it life and prominence. Today, the sea that was a gentle neigbour is now the enemy taking life away from the people. And according to the people, the sea did not suddenly become wicked, human activities from outsiders led to the imbalance. They alleged that the continuous ravaging of the community through ocean surge is caused by oil exploration which had been confirmed by various government agencies including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Speaking with Nigerian Tribune, Victor Akinluwa, the first son of the late Oba C. E. Akinluwa, the Ogeloyinbo III of Aiyetoro community and the Public Relation Officer of the Holy Apostles Church and Aiyetoro Community, said: “Aiyetoro lived in peace and serenity until our oil attracted the government and the land was distorted, the sea rose and began to intrude into the town. Houses have gone, people are dying. The community in recent years has been faced with incessant sea attacks which have at many occasions resulted into rapid destruction of properties worth billions of naira and the forceful relocation of several indigenes due to the destruction of over 500 houses.”
Further findings revealed that the community began to experience ecological disturbances arising from the effects of oil exploration and climate change from the late 1980s and this continued over the years leading to gradual depletion of the 300 metres distance between the sea shore and the housing line of the community.
And over the years, there have been efforts to curb the trend. As the sea continued to ravage the community yearly, the people drew the attention of the state and Federal Government to their plight. This led to the award of Shoreline Protection Project contract in 2004 and 2009 by the NDDC.
But the efforts despite the huge amount spent did not give the expected succor. “None of the two companies found a solution despite the N2.4 billion and N6.5 billion that we learnt they were paid. All the efforts by the community to reach out to government and NDDC to prevail over these two companies yielded no result and the ravaging nature and effect of the sea surge continued unabated.
“Well-meaning indigenes and groups made several protests and petitions yet nothing was done. Consequently, the NDDC re-awarded the contract of the Aiyetoro Shore Protection Project to another company but the company’s efforts seemed to have compounded the problem rather than solve it as it began to dredge the immediate sea-shore for sand to embank the shore. This proved ridiculous and thereafter, the company disappeared. The results of all these on Aiyetoro is an unstopping, aggressive and destructive sea-incursion.
“With no solution in view, people of Aiyetoro community continue to put their hope and trust in God as it appears that governments have abandoned us to our fate. Even the reconstruction of the Broad Street of the community which was initiated by the late Governor Olusegun Agagu government has been abandoned and the community had to take up the responsibility of sand filling the entire road now.
“We therefore strongly appeal to people of good conscience, government agencies, NGOs, corporate bodies and international communities to come to our aid and salvage the situation in order to prevent this glorious community, which had at a point, brought fame and good name to this country, from going into extinction,” Akinluwa said.
Today, the story of Aiyetoro community and its frequent sea surge is a story of sorrow, tears and destruction as the community daily testifies to issues of neglect, losses and death as well as absence of government support. Flooding is currently a way of life for the people and dry land is a luxury they earnestly desire as they navigate their streets that have turned to streams and water-logged residences.
According to Akinluwa, “until the Federal Government and its designated agencies step in to assuage the losses of the people, force the contractors back to do the work which they were paid to do and see to the complete execution of the shore-protection project and the rebuilding of the community, Aiyetoro remains a scar on the conscience of the Nigerian nation. As a people the Nigerian government has not given us anything and is yet to lose anything to us. However, we have lost billions of naira in real and tangible properties to the irresponsibility of the Nigerian state. Nigeria took so much from us and gave us nothing in return. Please, save Aiyetoro now.”
Also speaking, Victoria Denge, another resident stated that “The president should please look into this. Our community is suffering due to oil drainage in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State. Our community has been washed away by sea incursion, properties have been destroyed and people are dying. We will not stop shouting.”
A community leader, Joshua Bankole said the nation had been unfair to Aiyetoro community, adding that, “they awarded the contract to solve this problem to two companies, yet, no result. Many houses have been destroyed. We contribute to the economy of Nigeria and Africa. We have done so much for Nigeria in the area of marine technology and oil but the country has done nothing for us, everything we have is through communal effort. Now the community is facing a great threat and we have been abandoned.
“This is a very simple thing that the government can do for us. Why is government finding it difficult to assist us in this community that has done so much for Nigeria? We electrified our community without assistance from the Federal Government or state government, we trained 80 per cent of marine engineers serving this nation at our Aiyetoro Community Technical Workshop School, our personal effort and no one is concerned about us.”
‘We have been left to our fate’
Speaking in the same vein, Olasek Franas, another resident stated that “They gave absolutely nothing to us; rather, they left us to our fate. So many people are now living from hand to mouth due to damages from the sea incursion.”
Adebanjo Kayode Jacob in his comment on the Save Aiyetoro Community plea said, “So disheartening. The cost of building a quality wooden house is much more than blocks. The sea incursion has taken approximately over 400 houses into extinction. Critical disaster like this affects the landmark of our great nation. The Federal Government should do something before things get worse. Please help us.”
Contrary to belief that the state government is not concerned about the welfare of the people, the Ondo State Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Funsho Esan, said the problem in Ayetoro is beyond what the state government can face alone, adding that the state government is making efforts in ameliorating the problem and suffering of the people there as the incursion has been a regular occurrence.
“We have been seeking the support of the Federal Government and the international community. We paid a visit to the community about three weeks ago. Work would have commenced in the area some two weeks ago but for the Covid-19 pandemic. We have been able to secure the assistance of the World Bank, it had been assisting the state government with a lot of money to start the shoreline protection and we have taken consultants there and they are working on the designs.
“Hopefully, very soon, the design will be out and work will commence without any further delay. The work is under emergency anyway and that is why the state government is being given the assistance and I can assure you that we are looking forward to other support from the Federal Government and some international community. The state government is being proactive in this matter and has taken all necessary steps to ameliorate the suffering of the people in the area,” he stated.
As Aiyetoro community continues to lose the battle against the sea with its small land being eroded and houses swept away with lives being lost, residents have sent out a save-our-soul appeal to government and agencies to help salvage what is left of the coastal community.