Agba, popular known as Amaeta, is a village in Ozizza, Afikpo North Local Government Area (LGA) of Ebonyi State, but virtually cut off from the rest of the LGA and attendant development; as a result of inaccessible road. PAUL OKAH visited the village recently and reports the lack of basic amenities, including potable water, healthcare centre, power supply, among other necessities of the 21st century, but always visited by politicians during electioneering campaigns.
From the popular Afikpo motor park, the mention of a trip to Agba-Amaeta, a village in Ozizza, Afikpo North LGA of Ebonyi State, to commercial vehicles or commercial motorcycle operators (popularly known as Okada or bike), is always met with rejection, curses and abuses from the service providers.
From the point of view of Okada riders, the popularly adduced reason for refusal to ply the road is as a result of its bad nature and inaccessibility, which is not far from the truth as many often go for maintenance or repair of their vehicles or bikes after visiting the village.
Therefore, if eventually you get a bike that would consider taking you to the village, the journey of less than 20 minutes would cost you between N1, 500 to N2, 000 as it would be on charter.
On the road to Agba-Amaeta from Afikpo city, few metres from the potholed Timber Shed junction, the first diversion on the right is mounted a lone sign post, presently being swallowed up by grasses, with the legend:
ROAD LEADING TO
AFIKPO NORTH LGA
ABOUT 8 KM
POST NO BILL
On diversion to the road from the Afikpo-Abakaliki expressway, you are immediately greeted by heavy duty trucks carrying stone chippings from quarry sites in different locations of the road, with some of them breaking down or stopping for services as you drive past on the equally potholed and uneven road.
However, the road thins out from the junction leading to a quarry site, with the second diversion on the left being the road leading to Agba-Amaeta village in the middle of a thick bush, surrounded by forests and cut off from other communities in Afikpo North LGA.
Welcome to Agba-Amaeta
During the dry season, cars and bikes travel a long distance before getting to Agba-Amaeta. However, during the rainy season, as was the case when this reporter visited for a tour, after driving a few metres from the quarry site junction, you will then park your car on a preferred side of the bush or bike under a tree, where you will probably meet other bikes parked by visiting farmers or residents of the village, before trekking distances to wade through a stream known as Ukwuhe, to get to the village.
However, to avoid getting wet, you would have to undress to your underwear and be on the lookout for movement of dangerous creatures under the water and surrounding bushes as you wade through the Ukwuhe stream as a mistake in step may lead to a plunge in the knee-deep stream, with distracting noises of birds and other animals to contend with.
Also, depending on the level of water, canoes are usually stationed at the bank of the Ukwuhe stream to ferry people across as a bridge project that is supposed to serve the same purpose lies abandoned and gradually being swallowed up by grasses and probably housing dangerous animals in surrounding bushes.
Nevertheless, after crossing the Ukwuhe stream, you will then wipe your wet legs and re-dress. Having parked your means of transportation, because of the Ukwuhe stream, you will then trek the rest of the way on foot, probably meeting a few people coming out from the village to face transportation challenges to Afikpo town.
Continuous trekking will bring you to a clearing and dilapidating structure on the right used by a new generation church, but facing imminent collapse, though supported by planks and other objects threatening to give way any minute, with the zinc falling off and stored in a corner demarcated by broken blocks and equally housing different odds and ends.
Apart from the collapsing church, which is a pointer to structures in the village, other structures and ongoing building projects are the first signs of human existence, that is if you don’t encounter one or two farmers in surrounding farms looking at you from their farms and wondering what your mission may be as your puzzle, dressing and gait would definitely mark you out as a stranger.
However, apart from the inaccessible road, upon gaining access to Agba-Amaeta from any of the borders, including Isi Ekpe, from Ezeayi Oza or through the river, you will be greeted by the squalor of a people.
Investigations by this reporter revealed that Agba-Amaeta is made up of five clans or Ezis, including Ezi Eda, Ezi Inya Okoro, Ezi Akpu Ugo, Ezi Ali and Ezi Egwu Edu, but needless to say that development is far from the village as a result of the inaccessible road, which is evident in the lifestyle of residents.
The predominant occupation of residents is farming. Others engage in fishing, trading and menial jobs meant for peasants, with tailors from Agba-Ameta, including Okoro Obisi and Egwu Odima, preferring to stay in Afikpo urban.
In this modern age, mud houses are still being built or presently occupied by the small-scale farmers, fishermen and traders, who see kerosene stoves and gas cylinders as luxury and have to rely on firewood to cook, regardless of the inconveniences and health implications.
Also, while some houses are at different stages of completion, the only completed storey building in the village belongs to Barrister Vincent Igweoko’s family from Ezi Egwu Edu. However, the house is pityingly abandoned and presently occupied by rodents and dangerous animals as it is surrounded by bushes, which have equally swallowed the station wagon car parked in front of the house and the late lawyer’s tomb.
Investigations revealed that there are not many cassava processing machines in the village as residents still make use of the manual processing method of tying bags of peeled cassava with tree trunks for days before processing and frying.
Also, from interaction with residents, buying of sanitary pads is difficult for girls and women, due to the high cost, so they use pieces of cloth and other unhygienic items during menstruation, regardless of the health implications, while rape cases are hushed, with teenage pregnancies constantly recorded.
Open defecation is also practiced as some residents prefer to empty their bowels in the bush, rather than visit the common toilet used by villagers at the Ogo or village square.
As there is no local no market in the village, with land for a proposed modern market being in contention, items are bought from Nne Ugonma stores as they sell almost everything, from foodstuff to wears, but at exorbitant prices, thanks to inaccessible road and cost of transportation.
Though Afikpo North LGA has been experiencing power supply problems for nearly a decade now, Amaeta village is not electrified, as poles stand without wires, with the only source of power supply being from generators, that is for the few who can afford to buy and fuel them.
Churches like Assemblies of God, Presbyterian and Catholic are also available in the village, with residents making use of different uncompleted buildings to commune with God.
Basic amenities, facilities lacking
Investigations by this reporter revealed that residents get their water from two overhead tanks procured by Agba Development Union (ADU), Women Wing, in 2019. Residents pay N10 or N20, depending on the size of their water container. Also, to guard against criminals vandalizing the water pipes or stealing the Sumo water pump, they are guarded and watched over by appointed residents.
The only school in the village is Agba Primary School or Agba Migrant Fishermen Agba Primary School, situated at Ezi Ali, with the motto: Greater Tomorrow.
The school’s last entry on the black board was 3rd August, 2021, during the 3rd term exam for the nursery class in English, Mathematics and Writing.
During the visit by this reporter, the classes were unlocked, including unlocked windows and doors, with bags of cement parked in one of the classes.
A five-classroom block that is supposed to be for a secondary school is presently being used by the Presbyterian and Catholic churches as the building is uncompleted.
Abandoned healthcare centre
The unavailability of a chemist store is scary as many have to endure minor sicknesses.
However, this reporter stumbled on a supposed healthcare centre, which is a deteriorating building erected in a clearing in the bush.
To access the building, you have to comb the bushes as the pathway is covered by overgrown grasses, with ants zigzagging their way to hideouts and rodents jumping or running away at the sound of approaching footsteps.
The Agba-Amaeta Health Centre was built by a non governmental organization, Participatory Development Alternatives (PDA), with support from ActionAid Nigeria (AAN), at the cost of two million, seven hundred and sixty two thousand, six hundred and fifty naira (N2,762, 650) and commissioned on 19th June, 2008, with the village contributing land and labour.
There was no sign of life when this reporter visited. The window pane was either broken or missing in different parts. Sheets on the roof were either removed or damaged, with the ceiling broken in different parts and burnt wood hanging down.
Water gathered on the floor. Window nets were damaged and rickety iron beds dumped at the back of the building, all pointing to signs of evident abandonment.
A peep into one of the rooms, through a broken window, revealed two plastic buckets, plastic cups, broom, packer and wooden structures that serve as filing cabinet containing files and records of previous patients, two kerosene lamps, hand towel and brown ceiling fan.
The last entry on a medical card on the floor was dated 8th February, 2021, being the medical record of a two year, 3 months girl, Eni Ogbonnia Mary, from Ezi Akpu-Ugo, Ameta, who was charged N1,700 for treatment of fever, vomiting and cough.
Also, a power generating set lay abandoned at the back of the building, with disconnected wires and parts either stolen or removed, thereby rendering the motorized borehole constructed by PDA and ActionAid useless as even the solar panel that is supposed to supply power to the machine had parts stolen, with the overhead tank lying useless on blocks in front of the building facing farmlands, but accommodating overgrowing tree branches.
Cracks on the wall were also evident, just like anthills in different parts and a ladder at the entrance of the building, but all pointing to signs of abandonment.
Speaking with this reporter, a resident, Mr Uche Eluu, who conducted this reporter round the village, said that the village does not deserve the neglect by goverment.
“I don’t know how best to tell the story of Agba-Amaeta, but the long and short of it is that we don’t deserve the neglect by goverment. We need a good road, health care centre, power supply and all the necessary things due to human beings. We deserve better than we are getting at the moment from NGOs and private individuals as we have been abandoned by government.
“Yes, we have people representing us in government, but you can see for yourself that there is no government presence here. They do come here from time to time, but our situation gets worse by the day, instead of improving. You can hardly believe that we are part of Afikpo North, let alone existing in the 21st century. So, we need government intervention as soon as possible,” he said.
Also speaking with this reporter, 23-year-old HND 2 student in the Department of Quantity Survey, Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana, Egwu Blessing Ugonma, who manages a provision store for her mother, said that the suffering of residents of the village are better experienced than imagined.
She said: “Here in Agba-Amaeta, there is no light, no accessible road, no potable water, among other basic amenities needed to live in this 21st century. What we need above everything else is an accessible road, which can in turn attract other things. This has been a problem for us since I was born. For instance, someone, who is building a house here, had to hire three bikes yesterday; to be able to convey bags of cement to his building site, after the bags of cement were dumped at the other side of the Ukwuhe stream.
“The Okada riders charged N200 per bag to convey the bags of cement just from the other side of the Ukwuhe stream to the village…expenses that could have been avoided if there was an accessible road! You are even lucky you visited when the level of water was not high, otherwise you would have been charged N100 to cross to this village in a canoe, among other inconveniences.
“Our source of water is not entirely safe as we fetch drinking water from an underground source known as Ogbaihom. It is only functional during rainy season, but dries up during dry season, after which we can rely on the borehole constructed by Agba women, but you have to pay to fetch the water. If you can’t pay, you then trek to the river a distant away.
“Depending on the time, sick people are taken to Mater hospital or healthcare centres in Afikpo urban as our healthcare centre here is not functional. Even before it was gutted by fire, nurses and other healthcare professionals refused to stay there because of the inaccessible road and the terrain.
“You can hardly get foodstuff or other items here except you go to Eke market. Even when I travel to Aba or Onitsha to buy the items I sell here, I face transportation problems as I will have to contract a canoe or bike to transport my goods from Ukwuhe stream, that is after trekking to Ezeayi-Oza to Central School before boarding a bike to other parts.
“Apart from that, to have a haircut or shave, you have to trek to Afikpo urban. There is nothing like a barber’s shop or where you can pay to charge your phones or devices. The last person who opened to offer services had to relocate his business to Akpoha due to low patronage. Even hairdressing salon is not here. Not many people can afford to plait hair here. They can hardly afford N200 or N300 to plait hair here. We tried charging N30 for people to charge their devices here, but they decided not to pay, so we had to stop the business to avoid issues with people.”
She added: “With regards to mobile network services, 9Mobile is the only steady network here. MTN, Glo and Airtel fluctuate. Everything borders on inaccessible road. We have 3 men and a lady from this village teaching in the primary school as teachers posted to the school hardly stay because of the transportation cost and distance. Two girls are teaching the nursery school section. There is no private school here. Our people cannot even afford it.
“In my shop, we sell Always, Lady Care and other sanitary pads at N500 naira. We don’t sell condoms here. We used to sell condoms, but the boys refused to pay for them. They will buy condoms on credit and refuse to pay, so, we stopped selling them. We sell different items here, but the cost of transportation is making the prices to be high.
“A nurse from Amangballa and another nurse from Ukpa used to come here, but they have stopped coming for different reasons. Some women give birth on the way to the hospital or at home, that is if they can’t make it to the hospital in Afikpo urban. Excessive bleeding and other complications are always witnessed when our women patronage traditional birth attendants.
“Also, teenage pregnancy and complications from abortions are always recorded here. In fact, I know of four girls, between the ages of 24 to 27, who died as a result of unsafe abortion, especially after using concoctions.
“With regards to education, we only have a primary school here. There is no secondary school, so our people attend schools in Afikpo urban. The teachers at the secondary school in Afikpo urban understand and usually overlook the lateness of students from Ameta. They attend Unity or Onomike as the consideration of the distance often prevent other schools from accepting students from Ameta. They walk four hours to attend schools. There is high rate of out of school children here. I lived at Ngodo and attended Rhema nursery, primary and secondary schools before getting admission to Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana. I am also staying in the hostel to study now, but sometimes visit home during weekends.”
Village chief laments
Speaking with this reporter, Chairman of Agba-Amaeta village, Chief Amadi Gabriel Otu, lamented that the greatest challenge of the village is getting an accessible road, which he said has been preventing development from coming to the village, apart from other basic amenities.
He said: “Part of Amorie answers Agba too, that is why we bear Agba-Amaeta. Our greatest concern here is the lack of accessible road. It is preventing development from coming to Agba-Amaeta. It is also the cause of our suffering. For instance, we have to trek more than 10 metres or a distance of nearly two hours to get to Central School in Ozizza before connecting to other parts of Afikpo. We are simply cut off from other parts of Afikpo.
“You may not believe it, but majority of our women give birth at home, because the means of transportation is lacking. In the whole of this village, with hundreds of people, only three people have Okada to take residents to other parts of Afikpo for business or other purposes.
“Though we have traditional midwives or birth attendants, who help our women to give birth, there is no pharmacy or chemist store in case we want to buy over the counter drugs. Also, since I was born, there has not been power supply in Amaeta. You can see electric poles from Ugwuegu to this place, but without wires, with some lying on the ground.
“However, different politicians come to campaign here every four years, including Omo-Isu, Ikoro, Idu and others. Hon. Christopher Omo Isu, from Akpoha, was Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly before winning election to represent Afikpo North/South constituency in the House of Representatives. Hon. Ikoro Kingsley Ogbonnia, from Orrah Ozizza, is a third-term member representing Afikpo North West constituency in the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, while Hon. Iduma Igariwey Enwo, from Mgbom, was a two-term Afikpo North LGA Chairman, but has been representing Afikpo North/South constituency in the House of Representatives since 2015.
“Agba-Amaeta is usually a perfect place for them to perpetuate electoral fraud as many of them stay here to thumbprint ballot papers and rig elections, without supervision by anyone. Whenever they come to campaign, they promise heaven on earth, but would disappear after winning their elections, only to reappear when they want to contest again. Idu and others severally promised to construct our road for us, but nothing has been done about that up till now.
“If not that he is interested in contesting for a political position, what would make Idu to visit here after so many years? He recently visited to distribute education materials to school pupils in February and, as usual, made promises.”
He added: “I heard that the Coordinator of Afikpo North East Development Centre, Hon. Innocent Inya Eluu, known as Omerikete, was given about 15 million naira to construct a bridge for us, but he used part of the money to build a toilet for Ugwuegu people. He then used the remaining money to construct the bridge that he has now abandoned for more than three years now.
“In a nutshell, we are lacking government presence in this village. It is as if we are not part of Afikpo, whereas we have representatives in government. The only health centre we have is not even from government. It was built by an NGO known as PDA. However, the healthcare centre was recently gutted by fire and is presently not functional, so there is nothing like government presence here. We are only remembered by government during election time.
“Apart from the road issue, we need light and other facilities in Agba-Amaeta; in order to attract development. There is high prevalence of teenage pregnancy here. You will see a girl child of 12 years old already pregnant, thanks to jobless boys or secondary school students.
“With regards to education, we only have the Agba Migrant Fishermen Primary School. There is no secondary school here. Many of our children trek three hours or more to and back from secondary schools at Ugwuegu, Ozizza and other parts of Afikpo urban, with blisters on their feet. Some end up not learning much due to tiredness.
“Chief Augustine Igwe Edeze promised us a secondary school when he visited here years ago and he fulfilled that as the Executive Chairman, Ebonyi State Universal Basic Education Board (UBEB) from 2002 to 2007. However, the building is just there, without approval by government. We have been begging government to approve the secondary school for us, in order to curtail the suffering of our children, but our appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Presently, our children attend Unity Secondary School, Onomike, Ozizza Comprehensive, Igbojimba, Holy Child, Ugwuegu Community and other secondary schools miles away in Afikpo urban.”
Furthermore, he said: “As a result of many factors, there is no local market here, though we have some provision stores selling different items at high prices. We buy many of our things at Eke market. Our women sell their wares at the market too, after trekking for hours with their products.
“I also want to put it on record that, before his death, Barrister Vincent Igweoko consistently fought for us to get accessible road. Dr Nnachi Julius Umennachi, who is based abroad, Ekuma Akpu, former Vice Principal of Government Secondary School, Afikpo, Anthony Amadi, who works with an oil company in Port Harcourt, and some few others are wealthy men from this village, who have been doing their best to ensure they bring development to us. They are presently tackling a dredging company operating in the village to see if we can get development.
“Ceremonies here are usually fixed for dry season as the rainy season does not augur well for us. During dry season, you can hire a bike to come to the village. However, the rainy season is a turn off as you certainly need a canoe to come here, even through the Ukwuhe stream. The Ukwuhe stream is not deep this year, due to light rain and can be waded through. However, in other years, you cannot wade through the stream as you would need a canoe to get across.”
DC Co-ordinator offers misleading explanation
Interestingly, despite physical evidence that the bridge project at Ukwuhe stream has been abandoned for years and presently enveloped by grasses, the Coordinator of Afikpo North East Development Centre, Hon. Innocent Inya Eluu, popularly known as Omerikete, who hails from Agba-Amaeta, and has been in politics for over 20 years, insisted that it has been completed.
Omerikete, who alleged that this reporter was either sent or sponsored by supposed political enemies to investigate Agba-Amaeta village and possibly indict him, also claimed that the village has an accessible road and does not deserve more attention than other communities in the state.
He said: “Because of the terrain at the Ukwuhe stream or swamp in Agba-Amaeta, I thought of what to do for my people, so I graded the road. The first time the road was opened was during the burial of late Barrister Vincent Igweoko in March, 2017. We were happy that Amaeta got a road.
“Immediately I was reappointed coordinator, I gave it a perfect grading. I did that from the main road down to the village. I did that twice, which is why you can see it motorable now. I started thinking about a road that will serve my people for a long time. I know that ordinarily it is a state government that can embark on the construction of a bridge; I reasoned that if I don’t attempt it, nobody will do that for us. So, that was why I embarked on the project. Today, I am very happy that it is completed.
“Because of the enormity of the terrain, we didn’t know that the money we applied for will not finish the Ukwuhe bridge project. If we had decided to do borehole or any other project, the bridge would not have been touched. But I decided to dabble into it. It was a direct labour project, not a pure contract. If it was a contract, we would have put variation to complete any left over. So, since we were able to put the structure on ground, the problem is over. The money given for the project was not able to sustain the entire team. Also, if we didn’t grade the road before the construction of the bridge, we wouldn’t have achieved anything. The road was not part of what we would have done.
“However, I felt that my people needed a road, so I used part of the money for the bridge to do the road. During dry season, you can access the road up to the village. However, during rainy season, you cannot access it. So, I had to do it because people wanted it. If we had done the bridge and left the road, people will still criticise me. So, the road is extra curriculum expenditure, which will be seen during my retirement of money given to me in order for people not to imagine I embezzled funds. People are happy about the project because the construction was going on just as the road was being graded.
“Also, I can’t tell you when the project was started, the cost and timeframe of completion. My HOD Works will get back to me on that. I insist that the project has been completed. The lateriting of the road to meet the bridge and the other side is what you should be talking about. When you say that the bridge has not been completed, you are talking as if we are still at the foundation stage, which is not so. So, like I told you, I will fill both ends on or before December, whether government brings money or not.”
Afikpo North Chairman assures Umahi’s intervention
On the question of lack of basic amenities in Agba-Ameta, Chairman of Afikpo North LGA, Barrister Obiageri Oko-Enyim, said that the state government will remember the village in due time as the governor is a Project Master with intention to develop all parts of the state.
She said: “Governor Umahi is a project master. He is an infrastructural expert, who has done a lot for Afikpo North. The issue of Ameta Ozizza lacking basic amenities and government presence will be taken care of in due course. I know that, before now, the residents used to go through boat to access the community, but you can use your car to get to the community today, courtesy of the governor.
“In due course, basic amenities will get to them as they are part and parcel of Afikpo North, Ebonyi state. They deserve all the necessary things to live comfortably and they have not been forgotten. We have been making a case for Ameta people and I can assure you that my action Governor will provide amenities for the communities earlier than expected.”