By ADA DIKE
Over 9,500 citizens of Ndi Ebe Abam community in Arochukwu Local Government Area of Abia State, whose bridge collapsed, have cried out to both the state and federal governments to build a concrete bridge and tar their roads to ameliorate the hardship they are facing.
We however, learnt that their standard of living has dropped after the collapse of the bridge.
According to the Eze Ogo (Chief) of Ndi Ebe Abam, Chief Dike Iroegbu, their problems started when the bridge collapsed around 4.45 pm on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, when a 25-ton truck conveying chippings to a building site in Ndi Ebe Abam tried to pass through it. He added that he’s glad that no life was lost when the bridge collapsed, though the driver of the truck and his conductor sustained minor injuries.
“The Igwu Bridge was first constructed on May 7, 1960. But on August 1, 1984, it collapsed when a caterpillar tried to pass through it and the weight gave in. It was reconstructed on August 24, 1984 through the combined efforts of Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe (rtd), and his cousin, Chief O. O. Awah, retired Deputy Director of Nigerian Customs Service.
“Our problem is how to go about reconstructing it, because we are hopelessly helpless as we are totally neglected by the government and we do not know who and how they will come to our aid.
Since the collapse of the bridge in July, we have been suffering and this has inflicted huge economic loss to the community since we cannot transport our farm produce to markets with ease. In fact, all commercial activities have been halted at a standstill. Our women cannot go to Afor-ukwu market at Ozu Abam and Afor-Bende market to buy and sell. They cannot go to Orie-Amuru market, and in fact, all the foodstuffs that were in the community before the collapse of the bridge have all been bought/utilized, and so we are about entering into a period of famine,”said Chief Iroegbu.
He however, appealed to the Abia State Government, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the Federal Ministry of Works to come to their aid by rebuilding their bridge and construct their roads in a modern form.
“All we the elders are asking and begging is that this bridge be reconstructed for us as soon as possible and our road tarred.”
The monarch further revealed that Ndi Ebe Abam, mostly agrarian society with a population of about 9, 500 people are known to be producers of rice, garri, cassava, yams, plantain, pineapple and vegetable which are sold in Abam, Bende, Umuahia and other markets. In a nutshell, some of her citizens residing in the village are farmers, teachers and petty traders.
“Ndi Ebe Abam has common boundaries with Abiriba, Ozu Abam, Ndi Ojiuwo Abam, Amuru Abam and Umuhu Ezechi. Road networks from the town to other neighbouring towns are bad so Ndi Ebe Abam has been cut off from her neighbours due to collapse of some bridges, pot-holes and flood as commuters have deserted the roads.
“In the 1980s, many Abiriba indigenes and visitors plied Ndi Ebe Abam roads to Abiriba. But since 1999, after elections, the roads have become havens for reptiles and wild animals because Abia State Government abandoned the road and could not even grade it as the military governments used to do on a regular basis.
“According to a source, Abia State Government’s view is that the road leads to nowhere important for the government. Besides, His Excellency, Chief T. A. Orji is planning to leave office and not to engage in any projects again. I was informed that if we are waiting for the state government, we are going to wait for another two years for the incoming government,” he said.
Speaking to us, Ndi Ebe Abam National Union Chairman, Mr. Francis Okorie Iroegbu, said that as soon as he heard about the collapses of bridge and saw some pictures of it on the Facebook, hundreds of phone calls woke his mental self.
“So I set out to the community from my place of abode (Lagos State) to ascertain the extent of the collapse. When I got to the village, I could not get across to the other side (inside the community itself). So I wrapped my valuables in a polythene bag (nylon) and swam across. However, I have checked all avenues to ensure that a quick/speedy construction of a new bridge is done, due to the sufferings of my people, but all seems like a mirage to me. So, all I can say is to appeal to well-meaning Nigerians to speak with our able governor, Chief T. A. Orji and the Federal Government to come to our rescue. Without which even further or other activities concerning outside world coming to our community and vice versa is totally defeated and the hardship we are facing right now may continue,” Iroegbu said
It is pertinent to note that a native of Ndi Ebe Abam, St Kingsley Uzoaru JP, raised an alarm over the bridge on Facebook in 2013 that: “Anybody who travelled last December, and every visitor to Ndi Ebe Abam last Christmas will bear me witness that we do not have a road from Ndi Ojiugwo Abam to Ndi Ebe Abam. The once popular and beautiful Igwu Bridge is now a death trap. We are waiting for the first victim to fall inside it in his car, probably with his family. …This bridge has started rusting. Why won’t it rust when it was hastily re-constructed in 1984 after the collapse of the former one when a heavy vehicle tried to pass through it? Igwu Bridge is a death-trap which may collapse any moment from now. Its concretes have cracked and almost fallen while the irons have rusted so the bridge shakes when a vehicle is passing through it. Also, The Ogbuebulu and Ogbele bridges made with concrete and built in 1960s have holes in them and may soon collapse,” Uzoaru lamented.
He stressed that: “Ndi Ebe Abam is housing many governmental projects like the Anambra-Imo River Basin Authority, Rice/Irrigation Project, as well as World Bank. The bridge links Ndi Ebe Abam to the outside world. “Through the bridge, Ndi Ebe Abam gets access to other Abam communities in Abam (26 in numbers). It also links Ndi Ebe to Bende, Umuahia and the world at large. The bridge is also a link between the world to Ndi Ebe, Abiriba and Amuru Abam, as well as over 20 equally industrious settlements (plantations/clans).
“Our reaction is that of despair, anguish and hopelessness, especially, when it happened, those that drove out for their businesses could not drive back in, and some were forced to drive back to where they were coming from, some were forced to sleep outside, because it rained so the river (Igwu River) overflowed and was yet to recede.
“It has greatly paralyzed business activities like those traders, palm oil producers, teachers and so on cannot even go about their businesses anymore, because there is no canoe to ferry people across, because Abam people are not used to ferries/canoes.”
Commenting on the collapsed bridge, an indigene of Cross River State who is doing her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) in Ndi Ebe Abam, Miss Victoria Okwong, shares her experience: “Since the collapse of the bridge, we the youth corpers serving in this community have not been able to go to Umuahia and Ozu Abam respectively where we carry out our Community Development (CD) every Wednesday. We have also been suffering undue hardship due to the fact that we cannot go to the bank which is situated at Bende, Ohafia and Umuahia. Please we are suffering untold hardship, as we cannot even buy soup ingredients to cook what to eat. All we are compelled to eat is yam with the ordinary red oil as the sauce. Let the government help us to repair this bridge.”
“Ndi Ebe Abam is one of the four most populous communities in Abam Onyerubi in Arochukwu LGA of Abia State.It is pertinent to note that Ndi Ebe Abam has produced many lawyers, journalists, Customs and Excise officers, policemen, teachers, pharmacists, medical doctors, politicians and so on, who have sacrificed their time, lives and resources for the development of Abia State and Nigeria. The mother of Hon. Agwu U. Agwu, the immediate past Speaker of Abia State House of Assembly is from Ndi Ebe Abam,” said Mr. Ibem Dike Ukara, another native of the community.
He shares his childhood experience while growing up in that village. “When I was growing up in a popular but quiet town called Ndi Ebe Abam, I was excited whenever anybody asks me my place of birth because a lot of tourists visited our community. I could remember we used to swim in Igwu River in 1980s and 1990s, which later became a tourist centre as some white men and women visited there on weekends to watch teenagers and young men jump from the bridge and swim to the shore. They parked their vehicles beside the Igwu Bridge, and drove round the town for sight-seeing. This and the beautiful houses that sons and daughters of Ndi Ebe Abam built made the town to be regarded as small London in Abam.”
In addition, he said that: “Apart from Igwu River, Ndi Ebe Abam is surrounded by beautiful rivers and streams namely: ‘Ogbu-ebulu,’ ‘Ogbele, Ogbele-aga,’ ‘Iyi Elu-ogo,’ ‘Okpu-ufie,’ ‘Ogbu-Ocha,’ ‘Nfia-anyi’ and so on. Many of these rivers usually overflow its banks and cover the roads which sometimes hinder Ndi Ebe Abam natives from going to farms or market.
“Another reason why this small London is a tourist centre is because of their popular bi-annual celebration known as ‘Ekpe-aka’ which can be likened to a unique, tall masquerade of about 50 feet tall, in which a boy below nine years of age would be on top, waving and dancing to the rhythm of songs rendered by young men and women. This celebration attracts thousands of visitors from many parts of the country to Ndi Ebe Abam. There are other celebrations which among others include Uri-Agha (War dance), ‘Ekpe,’ ‘Ukwanyiri,’ ‘Ukpokporo’ and ‘Obogo’ Ukara added, giving reasons why Abia State Government should not neglect the economic and tourism aspects of Ndi Ebe Abam.
“I know quite well that our hard working governor of Abia State, His Excellency Theodore Orji wants to leave a lasting legacy that will linger in the minds of Abians through infrastructural good governance and development.
“His Excellency, people from this community voted for you en masse. Let it be on the record that it was during your time that this community got asphalt (tarred) roads and concrete bridges. We want to feel the dividend of democracy in this community. So I hereby appeal to him to build concrete bridges for ‘Igwu,’ ‘Ogbu Ebulu’ and ‘Ogbele’ rivers and also tar our roads. Ndi Ebe Abam has been cut-off from her neighbouring towns and villages which hinders her indigenes from interacting with others in terms of trade, education and so on.”
Meanwhile, Abia State House of Assembly has passed a resolution, urging the Ministry of Works to carry a palliative works on the bridge to lessen the untold hardship the people in the community are going through.
According to a citizen of Ndi Ebe Abam based in Abuja, Mr. Mbaka Onyekachi, “It grieved me to see the situation in which my beloved home Ndi Ebe Abam is in, due to the collapsed of the Igwu Bridge which has left us in a state of despair and total isolation from the rest of the community and the country at large.So a four-man-delegate was on Monday, July 7, 2014, mobilized and led by me (Mr. Mbaka Onyekach) to visit, call, plead and cry out to the representative of Arochukwu/Ohafia Federal Constituency in the Federal House of Representatives in the person of Rt. Hon. Prince Arua Arunsi.
“Rt. Hon. Arunsi, who was moved by the plea took it as a matter of urgent public importance, drew the attention of the House of Representatives to the collapsed Igwu bridge which in-turn has caused untold hardship to the people of Ndi-Ebe Abam in Arochukwu/Ohafia Fed. Constituency he represents.
Hon Arunsi then urged the House to consider the matter as one of urgent public importance and suspend a standing Order VIII, Rule 46(3) as the matter was debated on immediately.
“The good news is that the House on July 8, 2014 resolved to: 1. Mandate the Committee on Works to prevail on Ministry of Works and Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to urgently intervene by reconstructing the Bridge.
2. Urge the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to visit Ndi Ebe Abam urgently with relieve materials to alleviate the suffering of my people (Hon. Arua Arunsi – Arochukwu/Ohafia Federal Constituency).
In addition, it was proposed by (Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta) that:-
3. Urge the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to accommodate the reconstruction of the collapsed Igwu Bridge that links Ndi Ebe Abam to other communities in Abia and the rest of the world in 2014 budget under the Regional projects (HR. 15/2014). (You can get the full details on “House of Representatives Federal Republic of Nigeria Votes and Proceedings Tuesday, 8 July, 2014” pg 96-97.)”
We also reliably gathered that Rt. Hon Arunsisent three people with a crew of newsmen with cameras to Ndi Ebe Abam to see for themselves, and asked questions, after which the leader of the team said he was going to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) immediately to see the NDDC boss.
“NEMA came and promised us that they were going to do something about getting us relief materials but we are still waiting for them. We commend the efforts of Rt. Hon. Arua, who has paid us a visit as regards the fallen bridge that links us with the outside world. Weneed urgent reconstruction of the bridge because we are suffering untold hardship as we now trek for 25 kilometres to a nearby community to board vehicles. I hereby implore both the state and federal governments to construct our bridge and roads,” Chief Iroegbu added.