Saturday, 15 October 2016

Ogun flood: Hunters, boat operators smile as residents count losses

      Hunters and their dogs at work
It was already a long, distressing queue by 7:18am. And in the line were schoolchildren, the elderly, parents, women and able-bodied adults, all waiting impatiently for the arrival of the next boat to get them out of their flooded area to the other side of the town.
Their faces roamed from one side to the other and one could feel their deep frustration, anxiety, anger and lamentations, all boldly written on their faces.
Since the release of excess water from the Oyan Dam, in Abeokuta North Local Government Area of Ogun State,  the entire Warewa area in Ifo Local Government Area of the state had been flooded, and moving about in canoes on a once motorable road had become the only suitable mode of transportation for the remaining residents whose houses were not taken over by the flood.
To say the normal lives of these residents were truncated by the flood would be understating the obvious; it was more than that. Hundreds of residents were sacked from their houses by the flood; properties worth millions of naira were washed away, schools overtaken by the flood were shut down, churches were closed down, forcing worshippers to worship at home, and business activities were grounded to a halt, because their premises had been taken over by flood.
But in spite of the losses suffered by these residents, it was a season of harvest and celebration for the hunters in the area, as the flood enabled them to kill different kinds of wild animals they never would have come across easily, including gazelle (Igala in Yoruba language) and grass cutter. It was such a huge moment for them such that some other hunters came from neighbouring towns to join in the hunting.
“What happened was that the water flushed the animals out of their habitat and they just ran into our hands, so we killed them,” one of the hunters, Mr. Odunayo Akintunde, said.
Akintunde, who did not hide his pains over the way people were displaced and properties worth millions of naira destroyed, admitted that if not for the flood, they might not have come across such animals.
Akintunde, who is also a vigilante in the area, said, “The last time we killed such animals was in February, and what we did then was combined hunting, whereby people from other areas came to join us. They are not the kind of animals anyone could come across just by the roadside. You need to enter the forest and hunt for them, so when they come to you almost on a platter of gold, you know what it means.
“And we didn’t sell the animals; we, I mean everybody around, ate from the meat. There were many people around who witnessed it, because we killed the animals during the daytime, and they were very big. So, we all ate together. And it was another opportunity for the residents to see such animals because some people thought we killed goats, not knowing they were gazelles. You know the two animals look very much alike.”
Knowing full well that some of these animals had been displaced by the water, the hunters also deployed their specially-trained dogs in the water to chase the animals out of their habitat.
He continued, “It worked, because we killed more animals when we did that. What we did, like we used to do, was to hang something on the neck of the dogs, which would force the animals out. And to prevent killing the dogs by mistake, what we hang on their neck makes some noise, and with that we would be able to distinguish the animals from the dogs.
“The dogs can climb the hills and go after these animals, so they were very helpful as well.”
The event had come and gone, but another hunter, who gave his name simply as Dare Oni, would not forget how easy it was for him to kill some of the animals he had always hoped to subdue someday.
He said, “We used to have some difficulties in killing some of those animals but the flood made it easier. The flood penetrated where they lived and so they came out themselves and they couldn’t run because of the volume of the water, so killing them was easy. We killed two gazelles and one grass cutter on Monday and if you’ve eaten grass cutter before, you would know how sweet it is.
“The same thing happened in 2010 when water was released from the dam. We killed a number of animals too. But this time around, we killed five gazelles and one antelope, and that is huge because they are wild animals.
Some residents who spoke to Saturday PUNCH attested to the fact that in spite of the pain the flood subjected them to, being able to see such wild animals and tasting their meat was a good relief.
For Shola Aina, he said he thought the hunters only killed a goat, only to be told that the animal he was looking at was a gazelle and not a goat. “And I didn’t know that grass cutters could be that delicious. It is about the sweetest meat I have eaten.”
Hunters and canoe operators alike
It is almost customary for some people to make gains while some others grief from losses during such disasters.
And while, with relative ease, the hunters would recall with glee how they were able to kill such wild animals, canoe operators who had been ferrying people across the flooded road also made huge gains. It was more so profitable as boarding a canoe was the only way to get out of the neighbourhood when the flooding started.
When our correspondent visited the community, the road that leads to Banku, Arigbede and Mokore communities that used to be very motorable, looked like a newly inaugurated beach, to the extent that the water got to the window level of some houses, having successfully displaced the occupants and wreaked their properties.
On both ends of the ‘river’, which had become smelly, there were queues and it wasn’t a time to trade banters, as people had become deeply frustrated by the situation. They didn’t forget to blame the government for their predicament, saying if they had been forewarned, they would have relocated.
Vehicle owners had to abandon their vehicles somewhere and enter the canoe, while some residents had moved away from the area. From one end of the ‘river’ to another, it costs N150 and sometimes N100. It was so booming that some people had to go and bring canoes from other places to ferry people and make some money.
They were never used to transportation by canoe, and so entering the canoe, some rickety, was dramatic.
Most of the canoes carried five passengers per trip, which amounted to at least N500 per trip. One of the operators said when the flood started, he made up to 25 trips, making N12,500, and even when the water had subsided, he still made about 12 trips.
According to the residents, it was a dreadful experience they would not forget in a hurry, and even though it was not the first time the area would be flooded due to the release of water from the dam, this year’s episode did not do less damage than those of previous years, especially those of 2007 and 2010.
As the days passed and the volume of the water subsided, those who could not afford the N100 fare, entered the water, including women, who had to roll up their trousers or skirts almost to a lewd level so the clothes would not be drenched.
The frustrations were expected and they poured in, from home owners, tenants to business owners, in their numbers when Saturday PUNCH spoke to some of them.
One of the home owners displaced by the flood and constrained to live with a friend, together with her two children, recalled how the flood started, saying she was away when she learnt of the flood. She explained that if the residents had been forewarned, they would not have suffered losses the way they did.
“If we had known that this place would be like this when we bought the land, we would have looked for somewhere else, because we experienced the same thing in 2007, 2010 and 2011. And it is not easy to abandon a house we laboured to build to be tenants elsewhere.
“Some of our gadgets and personal belongings had been damaged by the flood. What do we do?”
Also of particular interest was that of a man in a white shirt and black suit, who was drenched by the water when their canoe failed to move in the middle of the water.
While he wriggled his way through the water to the river bank, his shoes and pair of trousers had been soaked to knee level. His frustration was understandable, but his reasons stunned everyone present, all of whom initially appeared uninterested in his story.
While insisting that he would not pay the N100 fare, and even demanded an apology from the operator, he said, “What sort of nonsense is this? I have an appointment with a client in Ikeja now, is this how I will go; soaked? Why didn’t you tell us your canoe was bad?”
While threatening to slap the boat operator if he argued further, he explained that the canoe got hooked due to an obstruction and would not move unless they all alighted, thus they had to enter the water and find their way through to the bank of the ‘river.
“That boat almost capsized. What is the meaning of all these? And the water is even smelling,” he lamented.
…as businesses, schools shut down
The frustration from the flooding at Warewa in the past few days has known no bounds, as the water overtook several business premises, forced schools to close down and religious houses to remain closed.
A church in the area, Christian Liberation Centre, was seen flooded when our correspondent visited, forcing the members to either converge in an alternative location for their services or suspend their services.
And in a private crèche close to the flooded road, the teacher in charge, identified simply as Felicia, said the flood had affected their activities because of the drop in attendance.
She said some of their pupils live in the flooded area and had to board canoe, while some parents disallowed their children from going to school.
She said, “Our main school is around the flooded area. Our teachers and the pupils had to board canoe to and fro because some of them live in that area. We recorded low attendance, because some parents asked their children to stay back until the place is dry.
“Last week, one of the canoes capsized, making the some pupils of another school on board to fall inside the water and even drink part of the dirty water. It’s so sad but thank God there was no casualty. It would have been a different story if we were closer to the exam period; you can imagine what would have happened to the pupils. The few days may not alter our calendar but no doubt we have lost some days.”
The situation is barely different at the Warewa Community Primary School, where only few pupils were seen in the premises. One of the teachers told our correspondent that they had recorded poor attendance since the flooding started, mainly because some of their pupils live around the flooded area, thus, they could not make it to school.
“That is what we are faced with. Some of our pupils have been absent, understandably because of the flood,” the teacher added.
The wind of lamentation did not spare business owners on that road and its environs, as they also had to close their shops to avoid being swept away by the water. Some of the shops include a foodstuff shop, a carpentry shop and cement shop.
A carpenter, known as Seedof, whose shop was completely flooded, told Saturday PUNCH on the telephone that he had incurred huge losses due to the flood.
Even though he sounded unhappy on the phone, he said there was nothing he could do than to vacate and make use of a make-shift shop somewhere else.
He said, “I have not been able to open my shop for the past three weeks, because of the flood. I would have made some money if I were to be in my shop but I couldn’t open because of the flood. So, I had to move some of my equipment to a temporary location until the time the water would dry up. And after such, when the water dries up, there are always repairs to do. So, it has been a big loss.”
The water may have subsided, but the losses incurred by the residents and business owners, coupled with the discomfort suffered by churches and schools may not abate quickly. Yet, hunters embraced the opportunity to kill wild animals they may not have come across ordinarily, while boat operators recorded huge gains from the tragedies.
Responding to the flooding created by the release of water from the dam, the Managing Director, Ogun/Osun River Basin Development Authority, Mr. Akintunde Soyemi, told The PUNCH that the flooding was mainly because the owners of the affected houses built them below the level of the road. “Anywhere below such level will always be submerged,” he added.
Meanwhile respite may be on the way of the dwellers as he has promised that the residents would see an improvement in the days ahead.
The state government had said it warned the residents of the affected areas of the likely incident but that they disregarded the warning.
The state Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Bolaji Oyeleye therefore urged the residents of such flood-prone areas to vacate such premises to avoid loss of lives and properties.
He added that the state government would work with other relevant agencies and the Federal Government to provide succour to affected communities.

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