Ayetoro, a riverine and theocratic community in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State has been battling sea incursion and ocean surge for years. In this report, ADEWALE MOMOH takes a look at how the community is on the verge of extinction as well the residents’ frustrations over the continued neglect of the community by governments
Ayetoro community, otherwise known as “Happy City” which is located on the Atlantic coast in the southern part of Ondo State was founded in 1947. With the community flourishing due to its political and social system which ensured equality and a sense of belonging for all the residents, Aiyetoro is also regarded as one of the most thriving riverine communities in the country as a result of its prowess in the fish business.
The ocean which the “Happy City” once flourished through had become a nightmare and “Sad City” for inhabitants following constant sea incursions and sea surges ravaging the community. With the realisation that Ayetoro may soon be lost to the sea totally if nothing is done to rescue the community by relevant authorities, the inhabitants lamented that they have been left to their fate. According to the residents, over a decade after the multi-billion-naira shore protection project aimed at rescuing the community was awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, nothing is on the ground to stop the ocean surges that that have washed half of the community away.
Worried by the continued neglect of their community, the residents voiced out their frustrations, and vowed to occupy Aso Rock, National Assembly, State Assembly as well as the state Government House in Akure if the situation remains unattended to. While emphasizing that most parts of the ancient community had been submerged due to the sea incursion, the residents lamented that the situation had caused them unbearable harship.
Towards the end of 2020, over 2,000 people were reportedly displaced with 200 houses destroyed in an ocean surge that occurred in the community. With pains and agonies evident on the faces of the residents, the destructive mark of the sea incursion could be seen in every part of the community.
Moderator of Ilaje Advancement Forum, Daodu Juwon who berated NDDC, for ignoring the mandate areas, disclosed that sub-communities like Gbagira, Akinsolu and Mese had been swept away by the ocean sugre. He said: “For the past two years, we observed that NDDC has been up and doing in every other part of Ondo State but the mandate community, the oil bearing community, upon which it was established in the first instance is suffering untold hardship. “The commission has not been able to conduct any project but we observed that it has been up and doing as far as Akoko-North to implement projects in areas where they have don’t have any economic impact or ecological disaster arising from oil exploration activities and we find this as the highest act of injustice on the people of Ilaje.”
An indigene of the community, Victor Akinluwa said the ocean surge always occurred at midnight when no one can rescue their properties. Akinluwa said: “We have long called the attention of the government to our challenges but nobody is listening. While weeping over what befell her and her family, Comfort Omojuwa told told Saturday Telegraph: “the sea destroyed the house I used to live in with my family. Last week when the sea surge occurred many houses were swept away and some people killed. “Right now, we have nowhere to sleep. All we are appealing to government is just to rescue us.
Even at the moment, I don’t know where some of my family members are because since the problem started, we have been displaced all around. “For the last three years, the sea has been sweeping the community away persistently. Government should come to our rescue because we don’t have anywhere to go.
The only place we know is this Ayetoro. For Emmanuel Arali, the Secretary Ayetoro Youth Congress, “the sea incursion is affecting Ayetoro community entirely. Several times, we have cried out to both the state government and the Federal Government and even the local government to come to our aid. But to our surprise, up till today, we have not seen anything that we can boast of. “It is not too bad if the government uses the money it generate from the community to develop our land.
If our people are dying and our community is threatened by the sea, I don’t see why we should be claiming that we have a government. “In this community we don’t have light and common water to drink but what we are asking for is an embankment so that our lives can be saved and our land protected.” According to another resident who simply gave his name as Boluwaji they have been pushed to the wall and they can no longer bear the agonies. “Although, we are not hooligans by nature, we will register our protest because we are eligible voters as well as tax payers in this country. We cannot be living as slaves in our own father’s land. “The government should come to our aid so that our people will not be scattered all over the place. The snail speed at which the project is going on is giving us tough time.
“If government does not do something about it, I think our people will have no option than to shift everybody to Alagbaka, Aso Rock or National Assembly. Maybe they will provide mattresses and nets for us there. “We even heard that there is a road linking Ugbo-Nla to Ayetoro, that the government is now embarking on its construction so that it can join Ayetoro. We cannot wait for that road because before the construction will be done, Ayetoro would have gone into extinction entirely. “Let them bring barges that will convey stones that will serve as wave breakers in order to stop the sea from destroying our land. That is what we are agitating for now. Government is too slow. We don’t want snail speed, we want action. For another resident who didn’t want to be identified, “the funds that had been released by the World Bank had been hidden like a COVID-19 palliative by the state government and we find this as an act of provocation to the peace loving people of Ilaje nation. “So, we are calling upon the governor to use his good offices to save the people of Ayetoro from untold hardship.
Every night people are unable to sleep for the fear of been killed by ravaging ocean attacks. We are calling on the government to forestall a potential danger because very soon, we are mulling the idea of relocating our people from Ayetoro to the residence of the governor. “We have written several letters to the National Emergency Management Agen-cy (NEMA) but they have been directing us to different agencies, claiming that it is a natural occurence. We don’t know what else we can do to draw the attention of the international community to our plight.
“In fact, the Federal Government has been complicit in the suffering we have been facing in Ayetoro and the entire Ilaje local government. Ilaje as we speak is a huge site of abandoned projects. We are faced with a possible extinction in the nearest months to come. “We are calling on the government to intervene as a matter of urgency in the situation we are faced with in Ayetoro and other parts of the coastal communities. A traditional ruler of the town, Oba Oluwanbe Ojagbohun, who described the situation as devastating appealed to the government at all levels and Nigerians to come to their aid. “Ayetoro community is a theocratic community, founded by the prophetic movement of the Apostles who are our forefathers. They came here on January 12, 1947 and they met it as a virgin land. Then, the sea was kilometres away.
They built a city for God and it became a tourist attraction for local and international visitors. “But over the years, due to oil exploration and other environmental problems, we observed that the sea started encroaching on our land. It started at a slow pace initially. We alerted the state government, NDDC, OSOPADEC and other bodies.
“They came and saw the encroachment. They made promises and contracts were awarded over 10 years ago. Up till now, nothing has been done. Right now, it is not just encroachment, the sea has taken over half of the community. It is not just half of the land of the community but half of the residential places. “Half of the residential places had been swept away. Places that used to be buildings are now places where fishermen fish. We have lost count of houses devastated. “It is devastation.
Many people have been rendered homeless and many have become refugees in their own community. It is a serious situation. And it comes at night. Right now, it is very quiet but when it is night, the sea will rise over 10 feet above the level of our buildings. I was an eyewitness two years ago, when it brought down a story building “The rate at which it is going now with half of the community will be lost. The community was designed to have a broad street that will divide the community into two. Half of the community is gone and it is already rolling over the street. “We have nowhere to go, 98 percent of my people are fishermen. This is the only job they know which they inherited from the forefathers. We are making passionate and desperate appeal to the state government, federal and even to the international community to come to our aid.”