Umuochi-Utchi community is a rich agricultural community in Ndokwa East Local Government Area of Delta State. But in spite of its rich agricultural endowment it is cut off from the rest of the world as they do not have access road and other basic social amenities enjoyed by citizens of a country.
Our correspondent recently visited the community to see things for himself and what he found was unbelievable. The living condition of these people can best be described as that of a people who used to live in the stone-age era. The government has completely forgotten about this community and they lack all the basic necessities needed to live a good life
They live in mud and thatched houses with little or no protection against the sun and heat, and to make matter worst they live by the shore of River Niger where they are prone to flood all the time. They depend on the river as their only source of drinking water and as a result they usually fall ill all the time.
They do not have a good healthcare centre where they can take their sick children to when they are sick. The women do not go for anti-natal care because there are no hospitals there. Some of them have to travel to Onitsha and Asaba to get good medical care whenever they are pregnant. The only healthcare centre in the village has been abandoned by successive governments.
The community Head, Chief Richard Nzekwe, (The Okpala-Ukwu) who spoke to our correspondent called on Delta State Government to come to the aid of the community, lamenting that they will soon be washed out of the face of the earth if nothing is done.
Speaking on the lack of access road to the community Chief Nzekwe said, “We have been fighting for this road as far back as 1976 and a road was approved from Asaba Head bridge, which is Oko junction down here. We sent a delegation to Benin, to the then Governor of old Bendel State in 1977 or so.
“We met with the then military Governor. He received us and we handed our request to him and he said it a good matter. As an Hausa man he collected our letter and he told us to go and that we will hear from him. In two weeks time he approved the road for us. He engaged surveyors who planned out the road and they engaged the services of a road construction company from Israel called Boni Soni. This company had not started work before the government was toppled.
“We met he civilian government during the time of Alhaji Shehu Shagari when Prof. Ambrose Ali was the governor of Bendel State. One commissioner terminated the construction of the road. But Prof. Ambrose Ali called them back and even paid mobilization to them. They carried all their equipment to Oko junction in Asaba. Few days for them to start work, the government announced that there was recession and the company left with their equipment and since then we have never seen anybody again.
“We have been meeting will successive governments concerning this road but they never did anything. I met Governor James Ibori in 2001 or so and we submitted our letter of petition to him and he told me that he will look into the matter and get back to us. He convened a state council meeting and there he made a statement that he will commission this road before the end of his tenure. But till today we saw nothing”, he continued.
Narrating how he met with their representative at the Delta State House of Assembly, Hon Friday Osanebi, concerning the plight of the community, the community head said, “Since then we have been trying to meet all those who have been representing us. None of them have been listening to us. Last November, I went to meet the man representing us, Friday Osanebi, who is the Deputy Speaker. He told me to come back again and that I should give him a day or two notice. At my age, I deserve respect even though I do not have money.”
Continuing he added, “We need the access road now because the River Niger is building up every day and soon it will cover the entire community. When that happens everywhere will be filled with water and it will make it impossible for our people to move their things away. Our people take a lot of risk during these periods.”
Speaking on the deplorable condition of the only primary school in the community, Chief Nzekwe lamented that those who collected the contract for the rehabilitation of the school abandoned the project half way.
“Look at our only primary school. The contractor has abandoned the building of the school project that was awarded to him. He just came and did small work and left without telling us anything. Our children who go to the school learn in that deplorable condition. There are no teachers in the school. It is only headmaster that comes with one or two teachers that teach the children. How can only three people teach a whole primary school in the Community?
“We are forced to send our children to other places to go to school at a very tender age. This has made our children to be what they are not supposed to be because they lack parental care where they are because we have to hire houses for them. Most of our children are outside and many of them have joined bad gangs and they never come home with good results to their parents.
“The lack of roads is killing our schools. We have children in this community that can feed three primary schools. But they are all around Onitsha, Kwale, Asaba and other places. Any where you have people you send them to help you look at them for us. So how do you expect somebody that has not been able to take care of his children to take care of your children for you?
“Look at the health centre that we have in the community. We built that health centre through communal efforts and we called the council people to engage staff there, but they have refused to do anything. The people they sent to come and manage the health centre do not come to work. They are only there to collect salaries. We do not know whether the council do supply them with drugs or not because our people are paying heavily to get drugs. We have become endangered species.”
On his part, Rev Father Paul Arinze Obi the Parish Priest of Holy Trinity Parish Church in the community who was posted to the area since 2013 also narrated his experience in the village. He said the community is suffering as a result of neglect by successive governments.
“These people here are peasant farmers and are made up of indigenes and non-indigenes who have come here to farm. But for all their toils, they seem not to be getting anything meaningful from it because there is no road to evacuate their produce. As a missionary here I feel their pains so much.
“For example I have to be crossing River Niger on a daily basis because there are no roads. There is no water to drink and there is no healthcare centre for the people. The education here is almost zero. Young men with good future end up doing farming. Even the farming they engaged in is not profitable because there are no roads. Some of them end up destroying themselves by joining bad gangs which makes them lack morals. When I see these young people suffering I really feel pains inside me.
“I am really moved by their plight and that is why I want the state government to come to their aid so that they can have a sense of belonging in the state. They should feel the dividends of democracy in this modern age. Most of them are still living in thatched houses in this modern age. This is the reality on ground.”
One of the community women, Mrs. Uju Uba who spoke to our correspondent lamented how pregnant women in the community do suffer on daily basis before they give birth to their children. She said that most of them have to travel to far away Onitsha or Asaba to seek medical care, a journey she stressed made some of them to suffer complications.
“Government is not even remembering that there are people in this community. We do not have roads, water, market, schools and light. We do not have teachers in the only primary school in the Community to teach our children. We do not have water to drink. The only water we drink is from the River Niger. Sometimes we drink rain water and sometimes we go to Onitsha to buy water. My children do not live here with us because there is no school that they can attend.
“I want the State Government to help us with so many things in this community. I want the State Government to provide good schools for us because it is not a good thing that our children are not living with us. There are so many things the child would learn from the parents when they are living together,” Mrs Uba lamented.
Another resident of the community, Mr Ifeanyi Chukwuji said that; “We do not have roads and water in this community. Our school is in a deplorable condition. We are farmers here but when we finish harvesting our crops there is no market to sell them. There is no road to transport them to other markets too.
“We want government to come and help us. We want them to provide us with schools, electricity and roads. We do not have a good healthcare centre here. Whenever our people are sick, we have to travel to Onitsha or Asaba to seek medical services.
“I want to appeal to the State Government to provide us with roads so that we can be able to evacuate our produce. We want them to provide electricity for us too. We want the Government to make our healthcare centre functional because the only one that we have is not functional. The nurses and the doctors do not come to work. They only come to work in the health centre whenever they like. So we want Government to really look into our plight and help us.”