In few years’ time, communities such as Ayetoro, Mese, Awoye and Gbagiyi in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State may be finally buried in the belly of the Atlantic Ocean. OSAGIE OTABOR reports that the affected communities are hinging their hopes on the promise made by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) so that their nightmare can stop.
Ayetoro, Mese, Awoye and Gbagiyi are communities in Ilaje Local Government Area that are gradually being washed away by the Atlantic Ocean. Worst hit by the ocean surge is Ayetoro. A once beautiful community that was the second to have electricity in the country after Ibadan is now a nightmare to live in.
But the residents have insisted they would not leave the place because God has a purpose for bringing their fathers to the land in 1947. Residents of the community have commenced fasting and prayers to seek the face of God for intervention. Ayetoro and others are on the verge of being washed away to the bellies of the Atlantic Ocean. A former communist community that occupies a vast landmass in 1947, when the first settlers occupied the land, is shrinking by the day. It was a land described as the ‘Ethiopia’ of West Africa owing to its beauty occasioned by the sea waves and beautiful beach.
A settlement founded by an extraction of the Cherubim and Seraphim Society known as the ‘Holy Apostles,’ Ayetoro was a theocratic society that accepted people fleeing from their societies. They were accepted provided they follow the rules. It used to be a community where no one owned anything. The people lived together as the leadership was picked after intense prayers to God. The Atlantic Ocean, which gave Ayetoro its beauty and attraction, is now its nightmare. The recent surge, which occurred on April 17, claimed 200 houses within one week.
The current problems of Ayetoro began in the late 90s as the sea gradually began its incursion by removing about 50 metres of the land. Efforts to stop the ocean surge by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) began 12 years ago but various contractors engaged to do the job failed. Traditional ruler of Ayetoro, Ogeleoyinbo of Ayetoro, Oba Micah Olaseni Ajijo, who recalled how the sea shores used to be far away from the community, insisted they would not leave the place because God wanted them to remain there. Oba Ajijo said over 500 houses, the community town hall and property worth millions of naira have been washed away.
The Oba, who was represented by the Bobagunwa of Ayetoro, Rev. Apostle Jeseri Iwasanmi Ajijo, spoke when officials of the NDDC, led by its Executive Director of Projects, Charles Ogunmola, flagged off distribution of relief materials to victims of ocean surge. He blamed the frequent surge to the failure of the NDDC to properly study the community before the commission decided to move into the community. “We want to appreciate the Ondo State government and the Federal Government for what they have done so far. But the truth of the matter is that we are really disturbed. We hope that the government will implement what they have promised to do for us in order to find a lasting solution to this sea incursion in our community.
“This is the area that supplies the Ondo State their revenue and nobody bothers about Ilaje; we are really disturbed. We promise to cooperate with NDDC; we want our community to be protected; we want the road from Igbokoda/Ugbonla to Ayetoro to be done. Please, help us we are Nigerians and we must be recognised; we are producing oil in this area; we are producing personnel to Nigeria; we should be honoured and regarded.”
He said God asked him to declare a seven-day fasting to support the office that is about to do the mighty work of restoration. “This community is a theocratic community founded in 1947. The Apostles came here at night and established this place. We were the second to have electricity after Ibadan in this country. Nobody has any reason to look for job here. Everyone here was working for the community. The community was providing for their need. This communism was inspired by love and not Marxism. We believed this is a land of promise. We have option to leave if we have come here to fish. We are here to fulfil God’s word.
“Sea incursion started in the 90s. It was eating 50 metres in a year. We figured that if we do not take action on time, it will get to where we build our houses. We started reaching out and contracts were awarded. The first contractor did nothing. The second one brought something to stop the wave, but the sea burst everything. We have lost many of the houses of Ayetoro. We have only lost a baby to the sea because it happened at night.
“Governments at all level have been here. They come, make promises and go. They make us to understand it is a gigantic project that they cannot do alone. Our appeal is to all relevant agencies to be united effort to save the land and its people. It used to be a foremost tourist place for the state. We have pictures of the former place and how it is now. Our appeal is that government agencies and parastatals to help us. I have confidence in this NDDC leadership. We believe it is not time for story but action.”
Ogunmola assured the community that the commission would deploy technology to end the sea incursion. He said the NDDC was poised to give the people of Ayetoro the better life they deserve. “We have been on this journey for over 12 years; no solution. But I can confirm that in the future soon, we are going to stop this ocean surge; we are going to protect lives and properties and we are going to give the people of Ayetoro the better life they deserve.
“The next phase will be kind of introducing some settlement so that the people that have been displaced can have a roof over their head until they were able to rebuild. The first thing for us is to how to address the disaster, to also put infrastructure and solution in places that will prevent this ocean surge from coming in into the community and devastating and taking the livelihood of the people and that is why we have come here today and we will continue to come.
“We are going to bring in the best technology skills to address this problem; just like other people have done around the world. Now, this sea incursion will be stopped and it is going to be our administration that will stop this problem, no matter what. We give our commitment to the affected community as NDDC in partnership with SEMA and the state government. We are going to find a lasting solution to the problem of ocean surge in Ayetoro.”
Oba Olufemi Ogbaro, the Odoka of Ogbaro, urged agencies to also extend relief materials to victims in Awoye and Gbagiyi and Mese.
Oba Ogbaro appealed to the NDDC to empower the people with fishing nets and boats to enable them to continue their trade even as he urged residents of Ayetoro to begin intense prayers.
Ondo State Commissioner for Environment, Sunday Akinwalire, said bureaucratic bottlenecks slowed efforts to access a coastal erosion fund from the World Bank. Akinwalire said the protection of Ayetoro would now gulp N30 billion, an amount he said the state government could not afford. The state government is doing everything to save the communities from ocean surge, he said.