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Inside Sokoto communities ravaged by erosion

Fifty-five-year-old Zakari Aliyu let out a long sigh of frustration at the gully erosion that has rendered him homeless. The erosion is threatening to consume the historical and commercial village of Yarbulutu in Sabon Birni Local Government Area, which is in the eastern part of Sokoto State  and shares a border with Niger Republic.

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More than 15 years ago, inhabitants of the village lost their houses, schools, hospital, markets, motor park, farmlands, graveyards, including those of the disciples of Shehu bn Fodiyo, who were buried in 1804, to gully erosion.

Many of the villagers said they still missed their ancestral homes of over 100 years.

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“Anytime I remember my inherited home, it pains me that it is completely gone, it only exists in my memory,” one of them said.

Sadly, Yarbulutu dwellers are facing recurring gully erosion menace in their present location.   Having lost his house and farmlands to erosion, Aliyu, his two wives and eight children were given shelter by a Good Samaritan in the village. 

Many others have been forced out of their houses, while many more are at the risk of possible displacement.

Inside Sokoto communities ravaged by erosion

“Look at the house, the gully has already caught up with it. I can’t dare to live here anymore,” Aliyu lamented, pointing at his house, which is at the mercy of erosion.

According to the villagers, some married couples have been forced to live separately, having lost their houses. As a result of this, some marriages are at the risk breaking up.

Yarbulutu, about 140 kilometres from the state capital, is noted to have a steep slope and poor soil type that make it susceptible to erosion.

Information on the Yarbulutu site indicates that it lies within 13*36’16” latitude and 06*10’19” long, with erosion recorded along the banks of River Rima in Yarbulutu and two other villages of Zalla Bango and Gajit, while the length of the river bank destruction reportedly stretches to  15-30 kilometres.

Thousands of inhabitants of the three villages are affected by the disaster.

Noma Abdullahi  Yarbulutu, one of the villagers, had  migrated twice within 15 years. “This is the third house. Even now, I am set to move,” he lamented.

Gully erosion, which is also threatening the road in the area, which is a route to Niger Republic, has caused severe damage to agriculture in the community, noted to produce watermelon, millet, rice, beans, guinea corn, and cotton.

Aliyu is not only homeless, he also lost his farms as his plots of land have been destroyed by erosion.

“I can’t farm because I have lost my four plots,” he disclosed.

Yarbulutu is home to an age-long international market, which is in its third site as a result of erosion.

People from other states of the federation and Niger Republic visit the weekly market to transact one form of business or another. It is a well known livestock market in the locality.

“Close to 150 small vehicles and over 100 articulated trucks visit the market every Monday, which is the market day,” Ahmed Abubakar, a resident disclosed.

Recalling their past experiences in the community, a trader, Alhaji Salihu Mai Kwanu said, “As a result of the constant menace of gully erosion in this community, we have lost a lot of customers and money. This is because the practice is that on a market day we give goods on credit to customers who come from all over the country and the neighbouring Niger Republic, hoping to collect the money on the next market day after they would have sold the goods. When the entire village, including the market, was destroyed, it was difficult for the customers to locate us and give us our money. That was how we lost lots of money and customers.”

Another trader, Aliyu Na Hantsi, a meat seller noted: “As it is now, during the rainy season, several communities on the other side cannot cross to this place. The moment it starts raining, the market is disrupted.”

 The village head of Yarbulutu, Alhaji Muhammed Magaji, whose late father oversaw the previous  village destroyed by erosion, said that nothing had been done to ameliorate their situation – they have been inundated with empty promises.

“The people are not happy. The situation should be redressed. Some have migrated four to five times.

Inside Sokoto communities ravaged by erosion

 “We don’t want to relocate from this vicinity because we don’t want Yarbulutu to lose its originality. It is a historic town. We have  the grave of  the leader of Gobir Empire, Bawa Jan Gawrzo here. We can only leave to a farther place when it is absolutely necessary. We prefer to remain here as we don’t want to lose the originality of the town, as well as the bond and unity among villagers.

 “What we want is that appropriate action should be taken to check the gully erosion in record time,” the traditional leader said.

Also, at Gidan Gyado in Gada Local Government Area of the state, Muhammad Musa wore a long look as he recounted the inhabitants’ ugly experiences.  Erosion and sand dune have  taken a massive toll on the village’s access road, making transportation a nightmare.

“My 12-year-old daughter, Hauwa, fell ill and needed to be taken to the hospital. We searched for a means of transportation but could  not get in record time. By the time we got to Wauru General Hospital, 30 kilometres away, she was confirmed dead,” he lamented

Inhabitants of the village said that only very strong cars and motorcycles could ply the very rough and highly dangerous road in the community.

  “We have had situations where pregnant women with complications and their babies were lost because they were conveyed on motorcycles on this bumpy road. 

“Erosion and sand dune  are really disturbing us. Government should address the situation and construct a good road to ease transportation here,” another inhabitant of the village, Aliyu Mohammed pleaded. 

Underscoring the importance of good roads and describing sustainable transportation as a cross-cutting issue, the United Nations had stated, “It is in fact an important enabler for all the issues covered in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), from education and gender equality to food security, water and sanitation.

“The SDGs contain several targets directly related to sustainable transport, including a road safety target under SDG 3 on health, and a target on access to sustainable public transport in the context of SDG 11 on human settlements.”            

At Gidan Gyado, the health facility and the only school in the locality, Gidan Gyado Primary School, with only three classrooms, are at locations susceptible  to the menace of sand dune.

“When sand covers the road, some small children find it difficult to trek to school,” Aliyu said.

The school, which has over 300 children, comprising 260 boys and 40 girls, reportedly has   one teacher. With the absence of a secondary school in the village, many of the pupils do not go beyond primary education,

Daily Trust on Sunday observed that erosion and sand dune have caused severe damage, not only to the road in the area, but agriculture.

Most of the people rely on agriculture for their income and livelihood. Among crops produced in the area are onions, millet, pepper, guinea corn, rice, wheat and garlic, but erosion is a big threat; hence there’s significant reduction in food production.

Musa further disclosed that six of his farmlands were affected.  

“I used to produce 120 bags,  but it has reduced to 60,” he said.

Another resident, Hakimi Hassani had eight farms where he produced   millet, onions, pepper, garlic and beans, but they have been ravaged by sand dune and erosion.

Hassani, who has three wives and 18 children, is left with less than 20 per cent of the farms.

“Five of my farms were completely ruined while three were partially affected. I recorded reduction in production in some parts of the remaining   farmlands and didn’t get anything in other parts,” he laments.

The district head, who spoke through his son, Isyaku Abdullahi, 45, said production rate of farmers in the village had reduced by about 70 per cent in the past years. 

“Almost all farmlands owned by over 6,000 households in the locality are affected. This has resulted in lower income and poverty for the villagers,” he said.

The villagers said that over the years, nothing had been done to address their plight.

When contacted, the chairman of the local government area refused to speak on the issue without an approval from the commissioner for chieftaincy affairs in the state.

Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday, the zonal forestry officer, Sokoto East, Alhaji Mamman, recalled that over a decade ago, sand dune had buried Kaddi Amawa village and forced the inhabitants of the area to relocate to Kaddi Sabon Gari.

He said that as part of the state government’s intervention, tree seedlings were distributed and shelter-belts planted.

Mamman acknowledged that the problem had resurfaced at Gidan Gyado and Gidan Gado villages in the local government area.

Furthermore, at Durbawa, which has over 10,000 inhabitants, who are mostly farmers, there’s massive gully erosion which divided the village into two, stretching from the main road to the  eastern part, and has eaten away structures and trees.

Asmau’s house is precariously close to a gully erosion spot. Remnants of houses which once stood close to hers dot the neighbourhood.

The mother of 11 children said they would hardly sleep, especially during the rainy season, for fear of being covered by erosion.

 “Erosion threatens us. As you can see, some parts have already gone, and I have about 11 children with me here. We don’t even sleep any time it is raining. We intend to relocate to a safer place,’’ she said,  and appealed to relevant authorities to come to their rescue.

At Sirri, the central part of Durbawa village, erosion has consumed  houses and exposed some water pipe network, which hitherto supplied water to some areas. Soil has been eroded  under trees, with the  roots laid bare above the landscape.  Some parts of the primary/secondary school in the area are also affected.

Even more alarming is that the erosion is trying to   devour the only road linking the town to the outside world.

 The Sarkin Gabas of Durbawa, Alhaji Muazu Yakubu, expressed fear of what may befall the community if the situation continued unchecked.

The village head is also worried over the recurrent flood, occasioned by the overflow of the river in the area. This causes great harm to the community as it prevents them from reaping the desired result from their farming activities.

The river in the area often overflows its banks and wreaks havoc on  crops, leaving them devastated.

A resident, Malam Mustapha, an Islamiyya school teacher, said they expended their savings building embarkments against erosion.

Mustapha, who has spent seven years in the ravaged area, recalled how they used gravels and sand bags to fight the menacing erosion.

For a 49-year-old businessman, Abdullahi   Mohammed, some of the money he makes go to maintenance of the house as it is frequently affected by erosion.

The entrepreneur said his business usually suffered during the rainy season as they spend more time at home to tackle devastating effects of flood.

 Malam Musa Arzika, 45, said he resorted to intensive prayer for Allah to save him and his family as his farm and house were threatened by flood and erosion. He said they made efforts to solve the problem by planting thorny shrubs.

“Thorny shrubs hold soil and prevent erosion from eating deep into the soil. It also cripples my farming activities as we have to remain at home to safeguard our houses during the rainy   season. At my farm, flood destroyed over N50,000 worth of crops,” Arzika disclosed. 

Aminu Mohammed, 50, a farmer, said he could not forget the experience of the last two years when his building collapsed in the middle of the night. 

“We all rushed out, leaving our properties. It was a neighbour who accommodated us.

“It was a my second experience,  so we now remain awake throughout the rainy period. How can we sleep when danger is lurking around us?” He asked.

On the situation at Durbawa, the vice chairman of Kware Local Government Area, Alhaji Abubakar Hamma Ali said, “The erosion from Tunga, through Barade, to the main road, is under our observation. And the Sokoto Environment Protection Agency, state Ministry of Agriculture and a Federal Government agency are   conducting survey on the situation. The survey is aimed at proffering solution to the problem.”

The vice chairman urged the community to exercise patience, assuring that efforts were being made to arrest the situation.

In July 2016, the Sokoto State Government announced that it would collaborate with World Bank to execute  projects in 10 local government areas of the state, to the tune of N8.8billion under the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP).

 The state government said the collaboration was aimed at addressing the menace of gully erosion and land degradation in selected communities. It is one and half years after, and many are wondering what is happening to the initiative.

However, in an interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, the coordinator of the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project in Sokoto State assured that efforts were on to tackle the menace.

“You will see NEWMAP at work in 2018, and it would continue in 2019, up to 2020,” he said.

He said the project would address the problem of erosion along the banks of River Rima in Yarbulutu and other villages of Sabon Birni Local Government Area and Durbawa.

“The project will address the massive erosion in Durbawa; the nightmare would be alleviated. Essentially, the work in Yarbulutu will involve sloop stabilisation.Erosion gullies at the river bank will be stabilised so that they would stop  cutting off and falling into the river. The bank of the river will be stabilised in a way and manner that erosion would not be eating it. There is also an aspect of river training, some aspects of changing the course of the river, but this aspect would not take away the river into an area that is quite far. Once this design contractors go, they would study the situation and take the most appropriate measures to adopt,’’ he said.

On Gidan Gyado, which suffers soil erosion and sand dune, he said, “In a situation like this, they need massive afforestation activities. By the time you place a dune under vegetation its mobility would greatly be altered; the sand will no longer be mobile and the wind velocity are greatly reduced, denying it the opportunity to lift sand particles to new locations.

“Under this project, there is that component of afforestation activities. All the places with sand movement and other forms of land degradation would be effectively captured under the aspect of tree planting, in addition to remedying erosion and flood sites.”

 He gave the assurance that they would not renege on their pledge.  

“People should not see this as one of the many government programmes that would not be executed. We said we would do this work, and insha Allah, it would be implemented,” he promised.

Zakari, Asmau and Musa were unanimous in calling for solutions to the situation in their respective communities.

 “We are crestfallen. The most important thing is for government to act expeditiously. This is the wish of all the villagers,” Zakari said.

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