By Friday Omosola
Aiyetoro community also known as “Happy City” a utopian Christian settlement of the Nigerian Holy Apostles’ Community was established in January 12, 1947. The community rose to become one of the strongest towns in the present Ilaje local government with an estimated population of 14,000 in 1991 Nigerian census; which increased to 26,000 in 2006.
The ruler of the religious community took their mode of worship and Christian practice from the white garment Cherubim and Seraphim (Aladura), headed by a King referred to as the Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro and His Spiritual Majesty of Holy Apostles Church, Ayetoro Worldwide.
The community is currently being faced with the challenge of sea incursion over the years, the problem was said to have emerged as a result of the oil exploration which resulted in the loss of over five kilometres of the community’s coastline to the Atlantic Ocean, affected the fishing profession and made life unbearable for the fishermen, as many have left for greener pastures.
On Wednesday afternoon, The Trumpet Newspaper arrived at the community to ascertain the level of damage done by the sea incursion and discovered that many people have become homeless in the riverine community following the devastating effect of sea incursion.
According to findings, the sea incursions most of the time rise around 5:00 am when residents of the community were still fast asleep which had left many of the dwellers in a state of perpetual fear of being swept away while sleeping.
The constant sea incursion with its latest incident had destroyed property worth billions of Naira and fishing, which is the mainstay of the local economy of the Ayetoro people, has been paralyzed, ditto the aquatic life of the people.
The Trumpet gathered that as the sea incursion persisted, the community leaders had cried to the government at all levels in Nigeria for intervention–in 2004 the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) established in the year 2000 awarded a Shoreline Protection contract to Gallet Nigeria Limited at the sum of N2.4billion to construct a defence on the river bank for the community against the threatening ocean surges.
However, four years after the contract was awarded to the company, the community then made exhibitions to the government and the contract was cancelled for the justification of non-execution of the contract. However, the contract was re-awarded in 2009 by the NDDC to another company, dredging Atlantic at the sum of N6.5billion, and up till now, there is no shoreline protection on site, as the community members continued wallowing in fear.
In an interview with The Trumpet, the Spokesperson of the community, Prince Victor Akinluwa summarised the current situation facing Ayetoro as unbearable for its inhabitants, adding that failed promises were what they got despite consulting relevant authorities for help.
Prince Victor revealed that the community has over 32 houses per street, but as a result of the surge, the number has drastically dropped, adding that the major road in the community (Broad Street) alone has an estimated 500 houses that have been swept away since the incursion started in early 2000.
The spokesperson disclosed that some submerged buildings could be specified with their pegs evident in the ocean, while others had been missed without any evidence. “We are powerless, we have not received any relief from the Ondo State government and representatives, not even heard from them despite many promises,” he added.
“The incumbent representative representing Ilaje/Ese-Odo, Kolade Akinjo made a promise to us, but nothing was done. He never came down to Ayetoro and we have vowed not to allow them to campaign come 2023.
“We cannot say the federal government is not aware of our plight, because many international television stations have aired our story.”
Prince Akinluwa divulged that Ayetoro was a largely autonomous community with most of its amenities, such as electricity and water, provided with community funds. He, however, stated that in 2019, the water reservoir and underground pipes supplying water to all houses were destroyed by the windstorm.
“Our People no longer feel safe. We have sought the attention of the government and international communities but got no response.”
The spokesperson further stated that the two palaces of the community had been submerged; King–the Ogeloyinbo of Ayetoro–had to host visitors at his private residence.
Prince Victor also told The Trumpet that apart from over 500 houses washed away, the Community Primary School, Ayetoro, established in 1955 and the secondary school, Happy City College, Ayetoro had been washed away, saying pupils and students of the community could not resume for the current academic session on time.
“The pupils and students are learning where there is no class. We’ve moved both the primary and secondary schools six times from their initial site. Where the schools are currently, once the sea rises, the pupils and students run away till it comes back to normal before they return to class.
“The Students currently writing their West African Examination Council, WAEC, faced a lot of challenges from the sea incursion. Sometimes they flee for their lives once the sea rises.”
In the same vein, the Youths Secretary, Aralu Emmanuel, expressed his dissatisfaction with the neglect of the community by the government, revealing that in the past, the landmass between the town and the seashore was kilometres apart, but now the ocean is already at home endangering their existence.
“I had been inside the water since morning to raise my submerged place of work, just to make money and feed my family, most of my properties had been swept away,” he said.
Aralu, who said all the experience had as a teenager was very interesting, bemoaned that all their historical assets could be swept away by the ocean to the degree that no land would be left for social activity and agriculture as was in the past.
He said if the state and the federal government failed to save the town which became popular through its embrace of communal systems of living and technical education urgently, it would go into extinction.
“When this community was formed by our forefathers, there were roads along the coastline with other facilities built with the community money, but now, all these have been lost to the ocean. With the loss, if I am to estimate the assets that have been lost by the community to the sea, it will stand at N300bn and above.
Aralu said many lives had been lost because of the incursions and many members of the community have scattered all over the Ilaje communities, even up to Igbokoda as a result of houses and properties lost to the sea.
A woman who simply identified herself as Funke, who currently managed a small shop where she sells provision, revealed that her provision shop was five times the current one.
“I sell provisions and my shop was along the major road in the community (Broad Street) but immediately the sea incursion started, it swept the shop away including some of my goods,” Funke said.
She explained that to avoid being idle, she had to relocate her shop to a safer part of the community. “I cannot say this place is safe because if the sea rises, this place will not be left alone.” She maintained.
Other community members such as traders and fishermen among others who granted The Trumpet interview lamented that things are not as easy as they used to be in the past.
“Now that the entire place has been submerged by the ocean it is now costly to buy our commodities from other neighbouring communities as well as storage for the fear of being swept away.”