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Aiyetoro: Last trace of communism on verge of extinction

The once vibrant coastal community of Aiyetoro in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State is drifting towards disappearance from the surface of the earth due to the incessant sea incursion that have rendered many of the resident homeless while properties worth millions of naira have been destroyed.

The yearly erosion have wiped out businesses in the environment while the trace of human existence was reducing by the day, making many people to express fears that the community may cease to exist in few years if steps are not taken by the government to address the plight of the people.

Aiyetoro’s communism

Aiyetoro is one of the established communities in South West geo-political zone, where people settled in the coastal community in the 1940s. It is the only community with one worship centre known as Holy Apostles Church and the head of the church is the traditional ruler of the town. The town was a utopian Christian community where communism once fully held sway. There was joint owner- ship of properties; it tilted towards a classless society like it was done during the communism practiced in the defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

The history of the community started when a group of militant Christians known as Omo Oba Jesu came into the coastal part of Ilaje in the southern part of the state. This group of Christian preachers called the Holy Apostles on January 12, 1947, converged and established their church and a settlement called Aiyetoro. They had a unique way of communal relationship which was akin to communism as practiced by the early Christians in the Bible.

In Aiyetoro, these militant Christians ensured that there was public ownership of all investments. At that early part, there was no individual ownership of property. Their peculiar way of life and place of settlement was initially opposed by some powerful rulers in Ilaje land.

Provincial Secretary

It, however, took the intervention of the colonial authority through the secretary of Ondo Province who allowed them live as they deemed fit.

The people of Aiyetoro were reputed for their commercial living and advanced technology in fishing, transportation, industry such as carpentry and furniture, shoe making, bakery, soap making, textile and marine business. The town was popular to the extent that it attracted the attention of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the communist world in the 1950s, particularly the USSR. Many students from Aiyetoro were educated through a bi- lateral agreement with countries like West Germany, Hungary, Austria and the United Kingdom. However, the decline in Aiyetoro’s sense of communism began in the 1970s.

An octogenarian and one of the survivors of commu- nism in Aiyetoro, Pa Bankole Joshua, spoke glowingly of the early days of communism in Aiyetoro. The community had celebrated 70th founders’ day. He said the community was uninhabitable before the first Christian militant, Zaccheus Okenla, received the call of the “Almighty God” and led others there.

He said that in the beginning there was no individual ownership of properties, no se- curity challenges and the whole community worshipped in one church with the spiritual leaders being in control of all activities. Speaking on the genesis of communism in Aiyetoro, he said the spiritual leader, Okenla, whom he described as intelligent, imaginative and strong-willed “received the inspiration on the style of governance from God through the Holy Spirit.”

His words; “The adoption of communism was aimed at reducing the importance of family bonds and fostering of communal ownership of everything. Under Aiyetoro communism, the traditional extended family was abolished and all activities organised along family lines were discouraged. By early 1950s, the whole settlement was spatially divided into female and male sections, separated by a central board-walk raised on stilts.” Pa Joshua explained that spouses lived separately saying about four or five women lived in one house in the female section and the same applied to the men. On how they raised their chil- dren, Pa Joshua said young children under the age of five were kept at a special section while their mothers worked in different departments until they retired home around 5pm. He said different departments were created then and things were done together. He listed the departments to include: textile, boat making, carpentry, shoe making, soap making and fish- ery which was the community’s major source of income. He said fish were sold and the income used to develop the community.

His words; “We had a central system; we ate together and whatever you needed would be ca- tered to. But there was no right to private owner- ship; it was just collective ownership. Children were usually assigned to foster parents whom they lived with from the age five or six. These foster parents were responsible for their training and behaviour. “Every man was regarded as a father to every child here. We saw ourselves as very civilized. People came from far and wide to understudy how we did things here. Christianity played a vital role as the church leaders whom we referred to as the Holy Apostles placed more emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in directing our affairs. Though communism is no longer fully practiced, it still plays out in our day-to-day ac- tivities.”

Pa Lawrence Lemamu, one of the elders of the Holy Apostles Church, the only church in the community, said communism was not utterly eradicated as speculated by people, but reformed to suit modern trends and to avert the circum- stances that destroyed the system in Russia and other places where it was practiced. He said the system was reformed to embrace individual responsibilities rather than a large whole feeding on the efforts of a few people. He said the traces of communism could still be felt in the church which is the only symbol of authority in the land: traditionally, spiritually and administratively. He noted that the increase in human population was another factor that led to reforms in the communal system, saying that providing for the teeming population became a huge task which could not be met by the leaders.

According to him, the people of the com- munity still jointly carried out some projects for the wellbeing and welfare of the people. He said, “The NDDC sunk a borehole for the community without completing the project, but through communal effort, we finished it and water runs in almost every home in Ayetoro. Aside this, we renovated our old bakery and started production again. The loaves of bread we consume are produced by our people, while we use the profits from the proceeds to develop our land. To make life more comfortable for our people, each house in the community enjoys at least four hours of uninterrupted power supply every day of the week.

At weekends, we supply electricity from morning till evening. We have been doing this since the days of communism. We don’t depend on government for this.” However, Lemamu said those who were sponsored through communal efforts to ac- quire western education turned against the system when they returned home. He said; “The educated elites see themselves as superior to the people who worked for their academic training. They considered the old tradition and system of the community as barbaric, archaic and evil. This affected us a great deal.

They insisted that we embrace capitalism and not communism. Today, each family is responsible for the education of their wards or children. It is no longer through communal efforts.” A member of Aiyetoro youth congress, Emmanuel Aralu, noted that those who turned against the tradition of the people were driven by selfish motives meant to destroy the traditional practices of the people under the guise of bringing civilisation to them.

He said; “These people, since they had acquired foreign education through communal sponsorship and attained influential status, they chose to fight the community’s governance establishment. Our community is educationally backward. The only secondary school here is Happy City College which was established during the days of Obafemi Awolowo. “Today, the school is nothing to write home about. We have cried to government for help on the frequent occurrence of ocean surge which usually damage our homes, but succeeding governments are insensitive to our plight.

Some members of the elite from this town are also not helping matters by using the embankment project of the government to siphon money into private pockets. We have not felt the impact of this embankment project. Our homes are daily flooded while some of them are interested in the oil deposit in the community.”

Incessant ocean surge ravaging community

The people and residents of the coastal community have been fleeing the town following the recent incursion of the Atlantic Ocean that ravaged the community.

The recent ocean surge which wreaked havoc on the community destroyed properties worth millions of naira, and rendered many of the people homeless. He said more than half of the land of the community have been washed away by the ocean surge. Aralu said more than 200 homes were affected during the latest surge which affected the entire community.

Aralu said the surge has become an annual occurrence which successive government had failed to attend to, saying hundreds of homes and properties including schools, and hospitals, business centers had been destroyed with several people dis- placed by the ocean surge. He said the recent surge had rendered many landlords homeless while many of the residents of the community had relocated to the neighboring communities.

According to him, all efforts to draw the attention of the state and Federal Government to address the yearly surge had failed saying, “government has abandoned the community to be at the mercy of ecological disasters.” His words; “The ocean surge has been threatening the existence of Aiyetoro com- munity and this had been happening for the past 20 years, the level of destruction cannot be quantified again. From 2015 till date the community has lost over 10 kilometers of the landscape to the ravaging sea surge.

This time around no fewer than 500 to 700 buildings has been destroyed or washed off with properties worth millions of naira washed away. We have cried to the state and Federal Government but all efforts to get government attention have been abortive.” Aralu recalled that contractors had been mobilised to the site twice for the dredging of the ocean, but said no work was done on the site, while government never bothered to query or probe those behind the contract, just as the residents are dying on a yearly basis. He blamed the state government and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) for the natural disaster due to what he described as their failure to complete the N6.5bn shoreline protection contract awarded a company, Atlantic Dredgers Limited (DAL), in 2006.

He called on the government at all levels to come to aid of the community. A resident of the community, Edward Ikuesan, said the community might be wiped out in the next few months if government and relevant agencies fail to attend to their plight. He said; “The ocean surge has wiped out more than half of Aiyetoro community. Asides homes and properties that had been lost to the ocean incursion, the people of the community now live in fear of getting wiped out by the sea in the next few days. In 2006, the community had 30,000 residents, but now, the population has been depleted to 5,000 due to incessant sea incursions into the community which had forced many residents to relocate to other places.”

Another resident of the community in a video message called on the federal and state governments as well as the intervention agencies – the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Ondo State Oil-Producing Areas Development Commission to come to the res- cue of the community in order not to go into extinction.

The voice in the video said; “Please save our soul, this is Aiyetoro 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 by the ravaging sea surge. This is excruciating, this is sardonic. “We are calling on the relevant agencies to help rescue this community.

Aiyetoro 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. We call on the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Ondo State Oil-Producing Areas Development Commission to rescue us, this is serious, in fact it is destroying houses like tornadoes.

“The iconic worship centre, the church in the community has been submerged by the sea in the past one year, we have relocated to another place. These are ancient houses built by our forefathers. We don’t know where we are going and we don’t know where to go. We are calling on President Muhammadu Buhari, we are calling on the governor of Ondo State, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, we are call- ing on the international community. Ayetoro is a glorious community that must not go into extinction.” One of the leaders in the community, Prince Bolu Ajijo, asked the relevant government agencies to help the community before the once vibrant community goes into extinction.

His words; “The irony of this situation is that some of these politicians especially of Ilaje extractions who participated in foisting this current contraption on us and were in position of authority’s and power to stop this ugly occurrence from happening will soon be appearing in the soap box asking the same Ilaje people they have mortgaged their lands, that of their children and children unborn on the altar of self aggrandisement and personal ambition will soon be campaigning to be governor in this state. “Apart from the complacency of succes- sive administrations in the state to strate- gically come to the aid of the people of the riverine area, especially Ilaje nay Aiyetoro Community that have been at the mercy of the perennial ocean surge and erosion the chief culprit of this problem are the Ilajes who by the benevolent spirit of God Almighty have been in position of trust to make a big difference in our lives but failed woefully. Mr Tokunbo Olasele in his opinion said ocean surge happens every day in the community.

He said; “It is a recurrent and ongo- ing development. No place to hide. It is get- ting worse every day. And help is not coming from anywhere. “In fact, Ondo State Government under Olu- warotimi Akeredolu like previous administra- tions before is not doing anything to salvage the situation. It has been promises and promises, nothing tangible from the state actors including prominent citizens of Ilaje who are in the government both at the state and Federal level. “They usually use us to campaign because of the huge population and after that nothing. Do you know that not less than twice NDDC has awarded the Aiyetoro Community sea embank- ment projects to companies sponsored by the indigenes for humongous amount that ran into billions of naira more than 10 years ago?

Nothing on site, the money went down the drain. No query, no investigation.

No Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offence Commission (ICPC), No police or Code of Con- duct Bureau (CCB). It is free for all. “No doubt Aiyetoro is endangered. I have this feeling that the government and Ilaje elites wanted the town to be washed away so that they build a Deep Sea Port in its location. But God won’t allow them. For now, the people of Aiy- etoro are looking up to God for divine solution and intervention.” The traditional ruler of the town, the Ogeleoyinbo of Aiyetoro, Oba Micah Olaseni Ajijo, who confirmed the incident, said the ocean surge has destroyed everything on its path. He blamed the frequent surge on the emissions from the activities of the oil companies in the coastal community of Ayetoro and other adjoining communities.

The monarch said; “That is the reality of rising temperatures and sea levels due to car- bon emissions. The international agreement on carbon cap are not implemented and oil com- panies off the coast of Aiyetoro still flare their gas, not minding the environmental challenges on coastal communities. “As there is no social justice, there is also no environmental justice in the policies of the political class. We only cry to God as the sea eats our land and coastal towns in Nigeria, may our creator give us peace and command the ranging waves to be still.”

Government Reacts

The state government through the Commis- sioner for Environment, Hon Sunday Akinwalere, said steps were being taken to ensure the community is not wiped out of existence. He said; “Governor Akeredolu has done quite a lot about the Aiyetoro issue. It is an issue that is bothering Mr. Governor’s mind and the whole executive. “Between 2019 and 2020, under the New MAP arrangement, the World Bank’s New Map arrangement is a counterpart funding interven- tion. Under the New Map agenda, the engineer- ing design of the Aiyetoro sea incursion was done. As at that time, it should gulp nothing less than N19bn, but because of time lapse, the New Map arrangement was to end in about 18 months when we got the opportunity to access the window, but very unfortunately, Aiyetoro was to be done in about 36 months, so there is no way the arrangement could adequately address the problem at Aiyetoro.

“Apart from that, we have engaged the West Africa Coastal Area Management Programme. It is a World Bank arrangement too for coastal erosion in the West African sub region. Aiyetoro has been listed for intervention.

“Before things could be done, the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Environment and the Federal Ministry of Finance, would still meet with the World Bank to discuss how to handle it. It is a project that no state government can handle. By now, the price must have skyrocketed to nothing less than N30bn. It is a very daunting situation. The governor has constituted a committee headed by the deputy governor to look into all areas affecting our coastal area, most especially the Aiyetoro itself.”

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