Residents of the coastal community of Aiyetoro in the Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State are living in palpable fear following the recent incursion of the Atlantic Ocean into the community.
Aiyetoro, which is mainly occupied by the Ilaje ethnic extraction of Ondo State, has been experiencing sea incursion for over a decade, with many houses and property destroyed.
Thousands of residents have also been rendered homeless by the disaster.
Saturday PUNCH gathered that the larger part of the community had been taken over by water, raising apprehension that the whole community might soon be washed away.
This unpalatable experience usually happens during the rainy season.
Our correspondent learnt that a few days ago, the ocean surge destroyed property in the community.
In a video clip seen by our correspondent, a man, who is suspected to be a member of the community, was heard lamenting the incident. He said the ocean had displaced many people whose houses had been destroyed.
While calling on the government and intervention agencies in the country to come to their aid, the resident cried that the ocean had taken over more than half of the community land.
He said, “Please save our soul; this is Ayetoro community. This afternoon, April 17, 2023, it is being submerged by the sea; many houses have been destroyed. More than half of the community has been encroached upon by the ravaging sea surge.
“This is excruciating; this is sardonic. We are calling on relevant agencies to please rescue this community. Ayetoro must not go into extinction; many people are relocating. These are houses being destroyed this afternoon; in fact, we don’t know what to do again.
“You can see the iconic worship centre, (shown in the video) the church of the community, submerged by the sea. For the past one year, we have relocated the worship centre to another place. In fact, these are ancient houses built by our forefathers. We don’t know where we are going and we don’t know where to go.” It was gathered that over 21,000 residents of the coastal town had become refugees, scattered in different neighbouring communities.
The oil-rich community, which was said to be about 15 to 20 kilometres away from the sea, has been taken over by the ocean.
In the process of proffering solutions to the lingering problem, it was learnt that the Federal Government awarded a shoreline protection contract through the Niger Delta Development Commission in 2004 but the project was never executed.
The monarch and spiritual head of the ancient town, Oba Micah Ajijo, appealed to both the federal and state governments to address the plight of the community.
He recalled that Lagos State had a similar challenge some years back but the state government tackled the problem headlong.
Oba Ajijo attributed the inability to get a solution to the community problem to a lack of political will.
He said, “There is no political will. If you get oil from the coastal communities and those communities are being washed up by the Atlantic Ocean, it is very unfortunate. In Lagos, the Atlantic Ocean was almost washing the Lekki area away, but the state government took action; the governor who was in office then took action. It is not because there is no technology, but because there is a strong feeling that people in the coastal area, where there is oil, are poor and uneducated people. “Where they see oil, there are poor fishermen along the coast, they have no voice. But they should understand that there will be a voice in the nearest future. The ecological fund is not even used to protect the livelihood of the people who generate the resources for the country; it is a challenge. Since 2004, all coastal communities are being washed away; the government doesn’t raise it as a serious ecological challenge, but only in Lagos, they decided to mitigate it.”
An indigene of the community and Secretary General of Aiyetoro Community, Mr Shola Olaoluwa, said the town needed urgent attention. Olaoluwa said, “It has been recurring; it’s just that this time around, it happens to be a high tide period where the ocean, by virtue of the high tide, tends to wreak more and higher havoc on the environment and this is what we have been experiencing for over a decade now in this community.”
He lamented that the community was under threat by the sea because of oil exploration and climate change.
“Those are the major factors and let me tell you, two-thirds of Aiyetoro has gone into the sea; two-thirds of our houses gone. Our major roads are already cut off by almost 70 per cent and constantly, the community is under the threat of the sea, so we are at the mercy of God because we cannot even see anything from any of the authorities concerned. People are homeless, and if nothing is done soonest, Aiyetoro will become something of history.
“Obviously, the situation is beyond the community. However, the community leadership and indigenes, in the past, piled pressure on the state government, NDDC, Federal Government, and the Ministry of Environment. Contract for the embankment of the sea around the seashore of Aiyetoro was awarded with no result and nothing to show for it twice, so it is not as if we have been keeping quiet; we have been sending notifications, agitating and calling on the authorities to do something about Aiyetoro community; this is our plight,” he added.
Olaoluwa also noted that many residents were moving out of the community as the sea was not relenting.
“This is a high tide period and the sea is at its worse encroaching and destroying everything on its path. People have been rendered homeless; lives and property have been lost to the encroachment. The community’s main church is gone, the city hall is gone, the powerhouse is gone, several houses are gone, the market is gone, the palace, the only concrete storey building in Aiyetoro community, is under threat; it’s about 100 meters away from the sea. This is our helpless situation,” he added.
Another resident, Mr Daniel Boluwatife, said the state and federal governments, NDDC and OSOPADEC, as well as the elite from the Ilaje area, were to blame for the woes befalling the oil-rich community. He said they were only interested in exploiting the natural resources from the area without any plan to address the problems facing the ‘goose that lays the golden eggs.’
“Ocean surge happens every day. It is a recurrent and ongoing development. No place to hide. It is getting worse every day. And help is not coming from anywhere. In fact, Ondo, under Governor Rotimi Akeredoku, like previous administrations before, is not doing anything to salvage the situation. It has been promises and nothing tangible from the state actors, including prominent citizens of Ilaje who are in government both at the state and federal levels. They usually use us to campaign because of our huge population and after that, nothing,” Boluwatife said.
He wondered why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission were not probing the failed embankment contracts of the community.
The indigene demanded the arrest and prosecution of those involved in the alleged contract frauds. However, the state Commissioner for Environment, Mr Sunday Akinwalere, who admitted the perennial nature of the problem, said the government was concerned about taming the ocean.
He said, “It’s a very serious case on our hand; that is another coastal erosion that sometimes defiles solutions that were out in place. The government has done a lot under this present administration. For example, we have approached the World Bank, under the Newmap (a World Bank/Ondo Government Project) arrangement. Unfortunately, because of the time lag, we couldn’t do much, but as of that period, the engineering design of the place was done; the whole engineering design of the place was about N19bn as of 2019/2020. “So, by the time we tried to renew again at least from 2019 till now, we will be talking about N30bn, so we equally approached the West African Coastal Area Management Programme; it is another World Bank initiative or intervention to take care of coastal areas within the West Africa sub-region. Although they visited Ondo State around 2020, and we were thinking that Ondo State will be one of the first beneficiaries of the programme, till now the programme has not kick-started, although the Federal Government will still do a lot of things. The Federal Ministry of Environment, and the Federal Ministry of Finance, with the World Bank, were there last year to do a stakeholders meeting; up till now we’re still expecting that the Federal Government will talk. “The situation on ground here, if we are talking about N30bn, no state, except maybe Lagos that has the financial capability, will do something of that financial magnitude. Apart from that, before the election, a few months back, the governor set up a committee, headed by the deputy governor, to look into the Aiyetoro matter in totality. So, we were there and we saw things ourselves; we looked at everything in totality so that we can send the situation to the whole world.
“We have gone to many places for possible assistance, so the latest one is the committee. We will be rounding up the whole thing by this week looking at the urgency of the current one, so that is the current situation as far as Aiyetoro community is concerned.”