Atai Ibiaku Itam, a community in the Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, was recently ravaged by flood. The traditional ruler of the community, Eteidung Mkpong Okon Mkpong, who was also sacked from his palace, speaks to PATRICK ODEY about the people’s plight
How will you describe your community?
We have four families in Atai Ibiaku Itam, namely, Nnung Ekpa, Nnung Mbiabio, Nnung Ayan and Nnung Idiong Ukupekpe. All these families work hand in hand. Yesterday (Tuesday), the Sanitary Inspectors came, all the families were there. I was there as the family head of Nnung Ekpa, which owns Urua Ekpa road. That road was named after my great grandfather.
Your community has been in perennial battle with floods. Can you describe what your experience has been like?
As a community head, the flood along Urua Ekpa road gives me sleepless nights. The latest floods overran the entire community. My 24-room palace was not spared and I have now become a tenant in a rented apartment. It’s not proper for me to leave my location and move into a rented apartment. How can a person like me leave his 24-room apartment and come and live as a tenant? A community head living as a tenant in somebody’s house! It is embarrassing and I feel terribly bad for myself and my people. If you go to our community now you will see all the houses affected by the flood; many of my people have been forced to relocate from the community while some have died from the problem. I don’t feel fine at all.
Have you made any effort to bring the problem to government’s attention?
So many efforts have been made; I can show you documents so you can see what we have done. Right from 1992 to the regime of former Governor Victor Attah to the administration of Godswill Akpabio, we wrote a series of letters to successive governments. There was a time they came and filmed us right inside the water but nothing has been done. We are all members of the Peoples Democratic Party family but nothing has been done.
Your community has a lawmaker in the House of Assembly. What is he doing about it?
Well, I don’t know about him. What I know is that during his campaign he told us that the first thing he would do is to liaise with the relevant authorities to address the challenge. That was what he told us, but till now, this is three years on, we have not heard anything from him. Whether he is talking about it at the Assembly or not, I am not in the Assembly to know.
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What efforts do you think the state government needs to make to tackle the problem?
About four years ago, they came and gave us relief materials like rice. They divided one bag of rice into four for a household. The last time they came, they gave us N30,000, which did not go round all the flood victims. They selected some people to give and that caused a lot of trouble because not every affected person got the money.
What actually do you want the state government to do?
Just to remove the water, award contract to remove the water and let people go back to their houses and continue with their lives. All the businesses along that road have collapsed, there is no road to pass; the only access road has been blocked. My prayer is that government should come and help the people. That land that has been submerged is the only land my family has and we have children growing up, how would they survive?
The state government has said that it cannot tackle the flood alone and that it is waiting for World Bank-assisted projects at hand to finish before packaging another proposal to the World Bank for assistance. What do you say about this?
If the state government said it cannot remove the water alone, I don’t know what to say again. This is a state government, not a local government. What we are asking the state government to come and do is remove the water; we are not asking for more than this.