Ayetoro, whose literal meaning is, ‘world is at peace’, is now an irony of its meaning due to the perennial sea incursion, coupled with the ocean surge that has made life unbearable for the people. BABATOPE OKEOWO reports
The recent surge has rendered over 200 people homeless and threatened the existence of the once vibrant community. Ayetoro community, in the oil-rich Ilaje Local Government Area, is on the verge of extinction, no thanks to the ocean surge that is threatening the existence of the only vestige of communism in the sub-Sahara Africa.
The community, with about 20,000 inhabitants, could be wiped out of existence by incessant ocean surge that has reduced the landmass of the community, rendered many homeless and disturbed fishing activities, which is the only source of livelihood in the religious community.
Ayetoro, unlike other communities in the country and Africa during the ideological war between the USA and defunct USSR, imbibed a unique brand of communal living in the 40s to the early 70s. It is a community with only one church and whose leader is also head of the community.
The religious community was founded in 1947 by some group of Christian religious adherents and fishermen mostly of Ilaje extraction. The community was once a thriving commercial nerve centre for the old Okitipupa division, especially for Ilaje people. Ayetoro’s sea shore according to New Telegraph findings, was more than four standard football fields in the 50s. It was from there that the whole Ilaje used to congregate to mark the Empire’s Day during the colonial era.
The Empire Day was replaced by the Independence Day Anniversary in 1960 at the attainment of political statehood. The implication of this, residents said, was that the beach of Ayetoro was large enough to accommodate almost the entire Ilaje nation during the celebration of the annual ritual. Ayetoro at its prime scored many firsts. Some of these included the first community to have private shipbuilding and dockyard in Africa, first to generate private electricity, first to have internal pipe borne water with full reticulation, first to have thriving private businesses that it lent money to Western Region and the first to build three-storey block palace.
This community is however on the verge of extinction due to the continuous activities of companies prospecting and exploring crude oil from the bowel of its soil-onshore and offshore, depletion of ozone layer resulting in global warming, the rise in sea level leading to sea incursions and other attendant negative consequences.
The Archbishop of Holy Apostles Church; the only church in the community; Rembo Eretan, who also doubles as the Baba Ijo of the religious settlement, said the problem of sea surge started more than 50 years ago, though gradual.
Eretan in his 70s and whose father is one of the founding fathers of the community, blamed the challenge to unwholesome activities of the oil companies around them. According to him, the situation became worse year in, year out as more oil companies joined the search for black gold, both onshore and offshore of the community.
A journalist, who is an indigene of the community, Prince Bolu Ajijo, said: “As a young boy, I used to play with my mates and those older than me on the beach and the beach was very far off from the last house along the coast and accommodated not less than three football fields diagonally.
“But all that seems to be history now. The hungry ocean surge has eaten the whole beautiful beach and is now threatening the very existence of Ayetoro Community which was once the glory of Ilaje nation, Western Region and black race considering its contributions to socio-political discourse and development of mankind.”
Speaking on the effects of the sea incursion, Apostle Henry Ojagbohunmi, a retired Federal worker, said the situation was very pathetic. Ojagbohunmi, whose father was the first ruler of the community, said it appeared the powers that be have abandoned the community to its fate because the community has made spirited efforts year in, year out, to draw Federal and state government’s attention to their plights but to no avail.
According to him: “The loss our people have incurred because of this perennial sea incursion and surge cannot be quantified in term of money and properties. The surge has paralysed our people’s occupation which is mainly fishing. Apart from making fishing very difficult and expensive, it has also destroyed many properties, rendering a hundred homeless. Many of the inhabitants of the once bustling town have relocated to other Ilaje towns while some to Lagos, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, even as far as to Dodo River in Akwa Ibom for greener pasture. The resultant effects of this forced migration are poverty, diseases, joblessness and crime which is in ascendancy in the area.”
His words: “To make matter worst, it appears the Federal Government and NDDC are overwhelmed with these challenges because they are not asking questions about this turnkey project in view of the anti-graft posture of Federal Government under the leadership of Muhammad Buhari.”
Speaking on the recent ocean surge, a resident of the community, Emmanuel Aralu, explained that the ocean began to overflow its bank in the middle of Saturday night and caught many of the residents unawares. According to him, no fewer than 25 houses were affected while no fewer than 200 people were rendered homeless with water submerging most of the houses in the community.
Apart from sacking some of the residents from their homes, many other houses were submerged, while property worth millions of Naira were destroyed during the surge. Aralu said the ocean has overtaken its bank, claiming about 500 meters of Ayetoro community’s landscape with many houses and land destroyed saying the house of the Spiritual Head of the community, Bishop Iwatan Eretan, has been submerged by the surge.
“The surge occurred at the middle of the night when many people had retired to the bed. We tried to pack some of our property out but when we noticed that most of the houses had been submerged and we had to evacuate the people from their house. Property worth millions of Naira were destroyed and washed away into the middle of the ocean; houses were also washed away by the ocean while it has claimed more than 500 meters from its bank.”
The head teacher of Community Primary School, which had already been submerged in the sea, Mrs Ajimuda Stella Kehinde, lamented the situation which had made teaching and learning impossible.
Her words: “Many of our school buildings had been carried away by the sea incursion and have not allowed the teaching/learning process to move as expected. The government should help us do embankment to prevent a further incursion.”
The State Deputy Governor, Hon. Agboola Ajayi, during an assessment tour of the community, said the state government would do everything possible to arrest the situation.
Ajayi, who described the recent upsurge as sad and worrisome, urged the people to be vigilant and devise safety measure whenever they see signs of danger pending the time government would have a permanent solution to the problem. “The people of Ayetoro should be more vigilant and careful while government, at our own end, will do everything to make sure that the attention of the Federal Government is drawn back to this place. Definitely, this is already beyond Ondo State. Everybody can see it. We will partner with the Federal Government to see how we can have a lasting solution,” he said.
Also, the chairman of the State Oil Producing Area Development Commission, OSOPADEC, Gbenga Edema, noted that though efforts had been made by the government in the past in collaboration with Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, using the geo-tube technology, it seemed that was not working as evident with the recent occurrence. He said the government would now go back to the drawing board to see how best to tackle the problem.
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