Port Harcourt: From Cultism to Flood.

It is disheartening to equilibrate between cultism and flood: two realities that have engulfed my dear Garden City of Nigeria in recent times. The whites who created Port Harcourt (PH), saw it as a haven for refreshment, supported by its natural environment. Consequently, there were open grasslands provided for in the original plan of PH. All that has vanished and replaced by two key vises: cultism and environmental abuse. Just two weeks ago, six young boys in their early twenties were killed by rival cult group in Oduoha, one of the villages that make up my clan, Emohua, in Rivers State. I am sure that cultism has killed over one hundred youths in Emohua and indeed has done lots of havoc to my clan. And it is still doing so. Then I ask: these boys who do not have any known means of livelihood, how can they raise millions of money to buy guns? The state is still battling cultism. Now it is flood or “floodism”.

Just yesterday six of my close friends living in PH, the capital city of Rivers State, called me and told me that our dear and only PH has been submerged in flood and that they are busy pumping water out of their houses. I was sober. How can development take place in an environment sacked by cultism and now flooded and washed away by the rains? According to them, it has been raining since Sunday. I recall that when I was growing up in PH, flood was not an issue. What has led to the uncontrollable presence of flood in PH?

This first thing that comes to my mind is,are there environmental plans in PH against flood if it occurs, knowing that the state is in the tropics? Such plans should insist that natural water ways must be allowed, land developments near forests should take place from a specified distance and that tarred roads must have drainages on both sides. Also, culverts must be constructed and built in all waterways that cross roads. But it appears that there may not be such plans or that if there are, they are being violated.

Such violations include building of houses and structures on waterways, thus blocking them. Where was Rivers State government when such structures were erected? They should be carefully identified and demolished. A conscious effort should be made at having broad consultations and discussions with the people of Rivers State on this matter. Our people need to be enlightened on how to manage waterways such that they are not blocked as well as the consequences of blocking them. Land sellers and buyers need to be conscious of government laws on these issues. Truth is that blocking waterways is a sure source of flooding in any environment.

Another violation is the disappearance of forests especially in PH. Forests do not disappear on their own, human beings cause forests to disappear. When forests are sold as lands, buyers will clear the forests and build their houses. But they forget that forests have very important roles to play in environmental sustenance. First and foremost, forests host or house water, so when the forest is no more, water that ought to be housed there is displaced. You cannot always displace water and that is why when a forest is replaced by a house, the water will always go there to live: whatever structure that is there does not matter to it. So if there is house for example, the water will submerge and take over the house. If such a house is owned by one of my friends, then he will hire a water pumping machine to eject the water from its God-given abode. The fallacy of this is that, with heavy rains again, water will still come back there to live and he will start hiring machine to eject water. When will this circle and its huge costs end?

The government should insist that forests should be preserved and not sold. Selling of forest must attract forfeiture and other heavy punishments. Forests should be maintained at a distance from structural developments around them so that the core forest areas are not destroyed and can continue to play its role of housing water and other creatures. Port Harcourt and its environs have lost so many forests. For example, as at 1975, along the Olu Obasanjo road, there were two heavy forests, the big one was called Ntawogba and a smaller one. Those forests have been replaced with culverts and spare parts shops. Yet in about 1976-77 when the Olu Obasanjo police station was built, the forests were still there and played their roles. The large private estate opposite the police station did not disrupt the existence of the forests. So life went on smoothly with the forests and its water. No flood. There used to be a tick forest behind the mile-3 market, near the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST) students’ hostel. This forest has also disappeared and replaced with trading shops. There used to be another forest behind the Rivers State School of Nursing extending to all the areas now called Abacha road. That forest has disappeared and we now live with the consequences. Also, between Rumukalagbor and Elekahia (all in Rebisi Kingdom), there used to be an impenetrable forest, now sold and replaced with houses. They are now crying and suffering from flood, as one of my callers live there. What about the almighty OjukwuDiobu forest that extends from Rumukalagbor to mopol-19 through to the Federal Secretariat up to what is now called Ken Saro- Wiwa road, formally Stadium road. That forest has disappeared and replaced with houses and a big cemented waterway, yet flood came. What about the Rumuomoi-Rumuola forest, first destroyed by the Abundant Life Church and later, private buildings etc.In all of these disappearances, one is not advocating non-expansion of the city. But that if well planned, the city can still expand with the forests still there, maybe not as it was but reduced a little. It is a fundamental error to prefer roads and houses to forests. The right thing is to have both: a little to the forests and a little to the roads and buildings.

Forests host animals, trees and plants. Such animals include differentspeciesof fishes which the people farm for food. Trees are very important because they remain the key source for timber which are used for furniture, planks and woods. They are also used for sculptural works of arts and we all know the usefulness of sculptures and arts in tourism. If the forest trees are no more, from where can we get sources for these uses? Forests extinction is an aspect environmental degradation and abuse, hence governments across the world are keen at preserving them.

Another source of flooding in Rivers State is the horrible practice by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to construct roads with one-sided drainage. This has led to the flooding of many places in the state including my father’s family. I have been thinking of the merit of this obscene style of road construction, I cannot find one, except of course the elitists cheating reason of cost reduction for maximum gains. The government of Rivers State needs to discuss this matter with the NDDC with a view to stopping it.

Finally, land reclamation causes flood. One of the most painful reclamation I have seen in PH is that going on at the Oroabali marine-base river in the name of building fantastic structures comparable with those in London. Rivers State government does not need to reclaim lands and extinct our rivers in order to build structures. Everybody cannot be in PH as it is today, hence PH should be gradually expanded by extending such structures to the upland areas of the city, instead of destroying our rivers. The idea of Greater PH City by the RotimiAmaechi government was not necessary. Let government have a well laid out plan for PH to gradually expand and cover the whole of the state, like London did. That way, you do not need to reclaim and destroy our rivers.

Thus, the practice is not compatible with environmental preservation and sustainable development of Port Harcourt. Indeed the reclaiming of lands and destroying of rivers, deforestation, building of houses on waterways and construction of roads with one-sided drainages or no drainages at all are surely inimical to the genuine development of the state. The immediate actions needed by the government is to revisit the environmental policies of the state and see what can be changed or improved. Next, the state should embark on re-education of the people on sustainable environmental practices relating to forests and lands management. Government should also ensure that roads are constructed with two-side drainages with culverts where necessary. Punishments should be attached where necessary to dissuade people and organizations from abusing our God-given environment. What man cannot create man should not carelessly destroy but should preserve to serve him to eternity.

OkachikwuDibia
Abuja.

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Articles by Okachikwu Dibia