- Omelugboma, a rural community in Delta, is crying for help as the community has been allegedly abandoned by the government of the state
- The community produces the highest number of votes for the Oshimili south local government area but after winning elections, the politicians dump them
- Being strangers in the community, residents allegedly pay ground rents to owners of the land where they farm and build their houses
- They also alleged that they pay rent for the bridge they use to enter the community when flood overtakes the footpath leading to the village
George Nzebe is an okada rider. He is one of the okada riders who transport people between River Niger head bridge and a rural community in Delta, Omelugboma. NAIJ.com reporter, along with a friend, walked over to him while returning from a tour of Omelugboma.
Nzebe did not hide his feelings as he poured out his mind over the state of the community where he has children and wife who depend on him to earn their living from okada riding.
As soon as he saw our reporter, Nzebe knew he is a journalist, hence he called on him: “Come and interview me, I want to talk about life in this village.” And our reporter was excited following his self-submission for interview.
“My brother, we are just managing life in this village. When flood comes, we climb this bridge to Omelugboma. Motorcycles cannot climb it. The owners will not allow motorcycle to climb it. So, if you must enter the community when flood comes, you will pay N40. Indigenes do not pay but non-indigenes pay N40 to and fro,” Nzebe told NAIJ.com.
He painted a very grim picture of life in Omelugboma. According to him, the houses they live in are mud houses as there is no money for them to rent houses in Asaba to live a decent life.
“Our children go to school but if you have four children, two will go to school, the other two will not go because there is no money. The other two will sell sachet water or ground nut to help the two going to school. You can see that things are hard here. So, if you are journalists, please help us tell government to help us,” the okada rider added.
Nzebe is one of the many people living in Omelugboma, a rural settlement at the foot of the Niger bridge on the side of Asaba, the Delta state capital. People there live a communal life but their only occupation is farming on all kinds of crops. The houses are either thatched, mud houses and others are made of bamboo with a very few block houses. There is no security network in the community as the houses are exposed to all forms of threat from external invasion.
As our reporter moved round the community, a woman was seen roasting corn for the village dwellers. But unlike in the city centre where people most times surround the corn seller, even at times booking the corn and waiting for it, it was a different case for Rose Odili. Her corn stand was empty. The corn was in the fire but nobody around to buy from her.
And in a bid to get her talk freely, our reporter decided to buy two from her at the rate of N100. Rose was happy and she spoke to us.
Rose told NAIJ.com that the situation of the village has exposed her to very harsh living conditions. For her, the major challenge is the flood that ravages the community on a yearly basis.
“If it rains, we pack from this place because water covers the whole place. We now have problem of where to sleep,” Rose said.
When asked why don’t they move out of the community to safer places since that place is prone to regular flooding, Rose responded: “We can’t leave this place because there is no money for us to secure accommodation in the town. Nobody to help us, that is why we are all here. My children are still tender. My husband died many years ago and I’m just managing life with my children.
“My son sells sachet water at toll gate. He is 15 years. He dropped out of school in JSS11 because there is no money to continue schooling. His name is Jude Odili. I get small money from the corn I roast every day to buy little food we eat. I do this so that I won’t steal. If anybody gives me money I will start my business and leave selling roasted corn.”
Odili is not the only woman in Omelugboma who has series of challenges on her neck. The community has army of women and children, some of whom do not have anything doing but waiting for their husbands to ride okada and return home with the N50 collected from each trip to the village. Children are also many, a good number of whom do not go to school.
A fish seller, Ijeoma Okhuo, was not willing to speak. Somehow, she was shy seeing people she has no knowledge of coming to ask her questions about life in the community she has lived in over the years. “Madam, we are journalists, how is life in the village here”, our reporter asked. “I only know my life, I don’t know somebody else life. There is no problem in this village. I’m a child of God. My family and I are serving God. People say wherever you find yourself, adjust to the system on ground. We are managing it,” Ijeoma responded.
Madam Ijeoma, who sells frozen fish in the local market, said she buys the fish from Onitsha market to resell in Omelugboma. Ijeoma, who has been in the village for over four years, said she has no money but she is managing her life in the village. She listed bad roads and poor electricity supply as major challenges in the area.
On further probe, Ijeoma said: “I am from Imo state. House rent here is N1000, N1500 depending on the place. The house I live is N1000 rent I pay monthly. My children go to school in Onitsha. My first daughter carries her younger ones together, they go to school in Onitsha.”
Ifeanyi Nwaeze, a shoe mender, has similar tales to tell. For him, not everybody in the village likes the village. But they have no option than to remain in it. When the rains begin to pour, the community is cut off from communication with the outside world. The people are hedged in. This is because the only footpath that connects the village to the bridgehead is usually over flooded as the rains pour.
He pointed to the direction of a wooden bridge that has been overgrown with grasses and serving as roosting ground for rodents and reptiles as the last resort for anybody wishing to come to the community or go out of it when the rains begin to pour. And that is a yearly ritual.
“It is blocked with bamboo because people go there to defecate. When water covers the footpath that leads to the community, the wooden bridge becomes the last resort. Our problem here is road and light. Since 2012 after the heavy flood that sacked the entire area, there has been no light in the Omelugboma.”
Nwaeze, who was seen mending a shoe, said besides repairing shoes he also charges phones for the community members using generator light. He collects N50 for each phone. He makes money from it but for the fact he buys fuel to power the generator, he has no much money left for him.
Chairman of the community, Anthony Okeke, is most unhappy with the condition of the community. Almost everything happening in the community is an eyesore to him. He narrated painful experiences which have become nightmare to the community members.
One thing is that Omelugboma is an extension of Oko community in Oshimili south local government area of Delta state. Hence, the settlement is owned by indigenes of Oko. Based on this, the Omelugboma community members told our reporter that they pay ground rent to Oko, the owners of the land.
Consequently, he said: “We pay Oko community N70,000 every year before we operate the bridge. We built it by ourselves. They said as we collect N20 for maintenance, we should give them returns as owners of the community. We argued with them sometime ago but they disagreed, so we continue paying the money on yearly basis.”
It was gathered that the Oko community indigenes do not pay while using the bridge during the flooding period but non-indigenes pay N20 to use the bridge. Okeke said despite Oko indigenes do not pay for using the bridge, they must still pay the N70,000 yearly. He then added: “We accepted it so that we can stay in Omelugboma because we are not indigenes of the area.”
In 2012, there was a heavy flood that ravaged the entire nation, sweeping through coastal communities across the country. The flood swept Omelugboma and wiped the community almost out of existence. Following the impact of the flood, all residents were quartered in Asaba for many months. The flood affected the power supply to the area and from then till now there has been no light in the community.
He told NAIJ.com that the community is contributing N900,000 to repair the old transformer so as to restore power supply. Some of the cables that have been vandalized are being replaced. This, according to him, is the effort of the non-indigenes in the area.
He said the community wrote letters to the member representing the local government in the state house of assembly, Peter Onwusanya, who was former speaker, for assistance, but painfully, he disappointed them. “I even went to his office with a group of men, he gave a promise but he did not do anything,” Okeke lamented.
“We wrote a letter to former local government chairman, Monu Olarewanju, she didn’t do anything. We wrote a letter to the ministry of power and energy, nothing happened. That was between 2013 and 2014. To bring the transformer we are repairing to the community is a problem. We have paid N600,000 but we are yet to pay N300,000.”
The settlement does not primary school owned by government besides the ramshackled private schools being run by the villagers. The community also does not have a health centre. Hence, he said: “If your wife wants to deliver, you must take her to Asaba. If there is no means to do so, it is left for you.
“If you look at the area, there is no way to take our crops to the market. Vehicles cannot come into the village. My car cannot go out because there is no road until November dry season before I will go out with it. That was how my first car got spoilt. When the 2012 flood came, there was no way I could take it out because the flood covered everywhere.
“Government is giving people loan to work but the farmers here are not benefitting anything. We produce rice here. The Delta state chairman of rice farmers association is in this village. If you look at the way we live here, you will see that people are suffering.”
NAIJ.com gathered that during election, the community produces the highest number of votes for the local government area. People that make up great votes for every election, it was learnt, are from Omelugboma and Powerline but they are non-indigenes of the area. Everybody living in the community is non-indigene. Hence, they are abandoned despite their contribution to election and the quantity of food they produce.
Okeke explained that the residents in the area migrated from different places to settle in Omelugboma to do farming. Even before the civil war of 1967 to 1970, the people had settled in the community. Okeke, who migrated from Anambra state, said many of them in the community were born there. During election, the people vote for Delta people. Okeke told our correspondent that during voters registration, his house was used for the exercise, adding that he is even an exco of PDP ward 10 in the local government.
He pointed his house to our reporter, noting that all his children were born in the village. He added: “If you go to INEC, you will see that we vote massively here. I’m in charge of this area under PDP. We have more votes here than Asaba town. In the town, people do not vote.”
He lamented that the borehole that was given to the community during the heydays of former Governor James Ibori did not produce water for one day. If it is pumped, it will appear as red mud. The government officials did not care to check after the commissioning. For many years the people fetch their water from River Niger which serves them for all purposes. But in the process of time, some community members dug boreholes from where they sell water at the rate of N10 to the community dwellers.
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He told NAIJ.com that every year, owners of the ramshacked buildings pay N4000 to Oko community. They also pay N2000 per farmland where they cultivate their crops. “If you have plenty farm, you pay N3000. The money we pay is ground rent to the Oko community. We pay per building. If you have three building, you pay for all of them.”
But when our reporter visited leaders of Oko community to verify the claims, the leaders denied the allegation. The community chiefs agreed that the bridge was built by the Omelugboma dwellers, but added: “Yes, if you come to my land to farm, you should pay me some money." But on the issue of paying N70,000 to them for the bridge and N4000 as ground rent for the buildings, the Oko community claimed it was a false alarm.