Agge straddles Delta and Bayelsa states in Burutu and Ekeremor Local Government Areas. The community, which hosts a deep seaport, is rapidly being eaten by the Atlantic Ocean, writes Okungbowa Aiwerie, Asaba
Sleeping at night is a luxury for many in Agge, a set of federated communities, which sraddles Delta and Bayelsa states. A part is in Burutu and another is in Ekeremor local government areas. Many are afraid that the ocean can sweep them away while asleep.
The community sits on a rapidly disintegrating estuary where the Ramos River empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The mainstay of the local economy is trading and fishing. Crayfish is common there.
A part of Agge in Bayelsa is to host the Agge Deep Sea Port promoted by Bayelsa Governor Seriake Dickson. But aside this, Agge is a slum. The houses are shanties built wholly with corrugated aluminium roofing sheets, housing family businesses and living quarters.
Commercial activities thrive in Agge due to the influx of traders- an eloquent testimony to Agge’s attraction as a fish processing hub.
A paved concrete walkway built by Shell/NNPC/ENI/AGIP joint venture snakes through parts of the slum. Both sides of the walkway are lined by petty businesses, including restaurants, provision shops, boutiques, hairdressing and barbing salon, drinking bars, hotel and several POS stalls.
But for the UNICEF built health and educational facilities – primary health centre (PHC) and three classrooms primary school, Agge lacks government presence at any level.
The community lacks electricity, pipe-borne water or a police post. Work has stalled on the construction of three classrooms embarked upon by SPDC/ENA/AGIP/NNPC joint venture.
Due to its proximity to Warri and Ogbogbaghene in Delta State, many Agge indigenes share closer socio-economic ties with their kith and kin in Warri than in Yenagoa.
Without shoreline protection coupled with tidal effect, there is palpable fear of being washed away into the Atlantic Ocean among Agge’s beleaguered residents.
A 53-year-old resident, Idris Prebo, said: “Oga, about forty years ago as a thirteen-year-old boy, when I came with my mother to Agge, that was the jetty we landed on. On that spot, we treaded on Agge soil, but today Agge has moved three times to its present location. So you see how much danger we face from the encroaching Atlantic Ocean.”
Agge community is on the verge of extinction as the endless succession of waves pound at its fragile shoreline. Soon, all of Agge’s unharnessed economic potentials, its rich cultural heritage and traditions will be relics of the past.
During the week, Agge, led by their 95-year-old monarch, David Giant Isiaye, Amanayabo 11, mobilised his subjects to a peaceful protest to express their outrage.
On that day, youths, women and the elderly riding in boats defied the heavy military presence as the protesters lined the waterfront with placards of various inscriptions such as “NDDC shoreline protection contract awarded, but abandoned since 2010, “F.G rebuild Agge and compensate us for 2008 “.
Two Joint Military Task Force (JTF) houseboats with two gunboats are stationed nearby. A Nigeria Navy supply ship loiters near Agge shores as crude-bearing barges sailed back and forth along the Ramos River, while a dredging vessel is at work in the vicinity.
His Royal Highness D.G Isiayei and six others, had in a letter earlier to Dickson, said: “Your Excellency, it is important to inform you that the Agge people have only learned about this mouth-watering Agge Deep Seaport Project from the pages of the newspaper, from its conception to the stage of commencing operation in 2020.”
It said: “In a capsule, we have not been carried along. We have been treated as total strangers to the project, while we shall be the people to provide the land for this laudable project.
“It is from the newspapers we read that the Bayelsa State government paid the sum of N230, 000,000.00 to Scot Wilson & Arap for consultancy on the project.’’
Continuing, “We also read that in 2013 that you directed the Commissioner for Land and Survey to carry out enumeration of the lands to be affected by the Agge Deep Seaport Project for the payment of fair and adequate compensation.”
Agge Federated Communities Chairman Germain Irou, who spoke to newsmen, accused SEEPCO of refusing to renew the expired GMoUs six months into a new year of their expiration and refusal to pay royalties for the operation of the Yade Barge in the Agge/Ramos River
According to him, the oil servicing company is engaged in dredging of the Agge/Ramos River without any form of approval or agreement with the community impacted by their activities.
Other issues include land reclamation, shore protection wall/sand-filling, three full-time employment slots and monthly royalties amounting to N360, 000.
Irou lamented the damage to marine ecological life due to pollution caused during the transfer of crude oil from barges to bigger vessels.
According to Irou, “the frequent spillage is threatening our existence. The effect on marine life and fishing activities of local fishermen is under threat by oil exploration.”
SEEPCO’s Community Liaison Officer Konyefa Erebi was not available for comment, as calls to his phone were unanswered or returned as at press time.
Agge monarch David Giant Isiaye urged the management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to make Beks Kemes Nig Ltd return to the site and expedite work towards the completion of the N4billion sand filling and shore protection project in Agge.
The traditional ruler regretted that the project earmarked for completion within a year had been abandoned for more than four years.
He said the continued delay poses a grave danger to the people as more communities were on the verge of extinction owing to the tidal effect of the ocean, while families that left their ancestral land were yet to return because the sand filling was yet to be completed.
A media aide to Mr Okoko Kerry Asari, said Beks Kemes Nig Ltd was owed unpaid debts by the NDDC after it mobilised to site without receiving mobilisation fee.
Kerry said the contract was stalled owing to unpaid debt, stressing that Beks Kemes Ltd would mobilise to the site should funds be made available.
He said: “We have to demobilise pending when funds are available.”
SPDC Gmou City Chairman Feelwn Binbiya Itiemogha bemoaned the occupation by the military joint task force (JTF) of a N35 million four-bedroom bungalow doctors/nurses quarters built by the community.
Anslem Megwa, an Imo indigene, said he has been buying fish bladder from Agge in the past 20 years, adding that with the danger posed by erosion due to Ocean surge business has nosedived.
Agge Women Leader Ruth Bitiema said in the last ten years Agge has been battling erosion that has washed away a large portion of its land.
Reverend Shedrack Stephen, District Presbyter, Church of God Mission, Agge, pointed out that the shoreline has crept up to the church premises.
The Joint Military Taskforce (Bayelsa Command) spokesman, Major Eromosele Unuakhalu, promised to revert to this reporter as he needs to investigate the matter.
Calls to Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information Daniel Iworiso-Markson were unanswered or returned at press time.