For Oyo community, it’s a September not to remember
Oct. 08, 2019
•As downpour leaves deaths, losses in its trail
Some hours to this year’s commemoration of Nigeria’s independence from colonial rule, a downpour like no other descended on Gbaremu Oloba in Oyo State, leaving deaths, losses and grief in its trail for residents. TUNDE BUSARI, after a visit to the affected community, reports the tragedy of the people.
In the diary of the residents of Gbaremu Oloba, a heavily populated community along the Oremeji Agugu Ajia road in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, the last day in September of this year was a sad day aftermath a torrential rainfall which washed about five people away to their death. One of the five casualties of the angry flood which submerged the bridge on the popular Onigbese stream in the locality was identified as Nusirat Adeyinka Adepoju, a community leader and retired civil servant from Oyo State Ministry of Finance (Internal Revenue department).
Nigerian Tribune gathered that Adepoju was returning to her residence at Adepoju Street when she found the whole perimeter of the Onigbese stream flooded and coming angrily from the New Gbagi northern axis. Like other residents held hostage by the flood, she looked for a shelter where she sat and waited till the flood would subside. Her calculation was right when she saw some bold residents crossing the bridge and continuing their journey. She rose from her seat and joined them, a decision which eventually cost Adepoju her life.
No one could give the accurate account of how she missed her step and got washed away by the flood. For four days, she was declared missing by her troubled family until her corpse was recovered on Thursday, a development which triggered wild protest by angry youths who invaded the bridge with tools and broke a part to make it impassable to vehicles and other road users.
That reaction attracted the attention of law enforcement operatives from the Agugu Divisional Police Headquarters, complemented by a team of Operation Bust members. It was learnt that the arrival of the security agents heightened tension as the youths went wild until the policemen released some shots into the air, dispersing them in different directions.
One of the community leaders, Kunle Ibikunle, found at the scene, was, however, taken away by the policemen. Ibikunle, who was a former vice chairman of Ibadan Municipal Government between 1982 and 1983 became a guest of the policemen at the Agugu Division where two young men were also detained.
Confirming his arrest, the septuagenarian said he was at the scene of his arrest to check the rampaging youths from taking laws into their hands until policemen told him that he would follow them to the division.
“I could not argue with them because I knew they were doing their job. So, I entered their vehicle. When we got to the division, they treated me well; they did not intimidate me. They asked me some questions, and I answered them based on what I saw. I told them that the youths were only expressing the anger in them following the incident. Everybody knows that the Alhaja involved was a nice person. I told the police the truth and they released me at about 8:30; that was two hours after,” he said.
It was also learnt flooding in the area had become an incessant occurrence which usually claimed lives. Giving the record, a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (R.C.C.G.), Gilbert Ekwueme, revealed that there was no rainy season that the residents had not experienced such incident since he came to live in Gbaremu.
Pastor Ekwueme said the people had been frustrated by not receiving necessary attention from the government regarding the provision of corrective measures on the bridge.
“What I have observed as the cause of the annual flood is the bridge. If you check it well, you would find out that sand has blocked the space where water is supposed to pass. This has forced water to look for other routes to move. That bridge is too small for the volume of water that comes from Gbagi direction. I am even told that about three streams meet at this Onigbese stream. My candid advice to the government is to come and dredge the area if they cannot build a big bridge now. If it is dredged, it will give enough space for water to breathe. Owners of two big houses and a fuel station have run away because of the annual flooding here,” he said.
It was also learnt that on September 9, 2018, a commercial motorcycle operator was swept away by the stream, and his corpse was recovered a day after at a spot at Alagbayun area. Also, on September 21, 2018, a tricycle operator identified as Yinka Gold became another casualty. His corpse was recovered at Maosfala area.
Speaking on behalf of Gbaremu Oloba Development Association, Ibikunle, a landlord since 1983, lamented the plight of the people of the community, particularly recalling the efforts made by the community to prevent the flood. Ibikunle told Nigerian Tribune of about 20 letters which the association had earlier sent to the Egbeda Local Government. He said if the government had taken what he called “right action” on the save-our-soul letters, the lost lives would have been saved.
According to him, “Following our letter of July 22, 2019 to the local government, the engineer of Egbeda Local Government Area came the next day and inspected the state of the stream. He later handed to us a bill of N270,000 for the dredging of the stream, which, according to him, would take four days. On August 1, 2019, the H.L.A. of Egbeda Local Government Area wrote to our association telling us that the Oyo State government had frozen all councils’ accounts, and that if the association could not afford the amount, the council would attend to our request of dredging the stream in the nearest future when the council’s financial status improved.”
He added that his call to the Deputy Speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, Honourable Biodun Fadeyi resulted in the latter’s directive to disregard the letter from Egbeda Local Government Area, assuring them that the stream would be dredged soon.
“Now here we are mourning the death of another set of casualties from this annual tragedy. I was part of a delegation of baales who visited the deputy speaker and tabled our challenges. He responded to us positively, and we left in anticipation of what they would do. This is not politics, but life of hundreds of people. The authorities concerned should come to our aid,” he said.
Nigerian Tribune visited the family of the late Adepoju where preparation was being made to hold Islamic prayers for the deceased. The ambience in the palatial building was a reflection of the loss which visited the household as no one was keen to speak about the incident.
“What do you want me to say about this untimely death? If Alhaja [Adepoju] had died through another means, we would have seen it as an act of God, after all we shall all return to where we came from. But being swept away by flood, which government ought to have prevented, makes one sad,” a man who claimed to know the deceased said.
An Islamic scholar who is also a resident of the area, Ustaz AbduRauf Shittu, in addition, confirmed the frequency of the flooding and made a passionate appeal to the governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, whom he disclosed had his Ajia community located along that road.
“I have a strong belief that the governor would look into this matter now. This is a new administration which is expected to put an end to years of our losses. We pray to God to guide him right and do what is right on this stream,” he stated.
Though sounding comical, some residents of the area argued that the spirit living in the stream could be angry and protesting against the negative connotations to the appellation (‘onigbese’ stream which means debtor’s stream) given to it by the community. A tricycle operator who gave his name as Mikail Adesina told Nigerian Tribune that if the people could change the name to that which is positive, flooding would be a thing of the past.
“I am speaking from the angle of a Yoruba man. The stream has a spirit which is not happy with the name by which it is called. God gives spirits power to take the form of men or women without anybody suspecting anything. We are Africans and we should understand this better. I am sure by the time we start calling it ‘Olowo’ stream (wealthy stream), it will stop sweeping people away. Since last week, I have stopped calling ‘onigbese’ (debtor) stream again. It is olowo steam,” he noted.