Vanguard (Lagos)

5 January 2013

Nigeria: Okobe Indigenes Lament - 'We Lost 120 Lives to Fire, All We Laboured for to Flood'

2012 remains a sad and bitter year in the memories of the inhabitants of Okobe in Ahoada West Local Government Area of Rivers State. To them, it was a year of double tragedy.

In June, the community witnessed the death of over one hundred and twenty youths who perished in a petrol tanker inferno.

No family was spared the wailing that accompanied the deaths because every home was affected.

Mrs Theresa Ezekiel, a mother of five, lost two children.

There was no family to console the other because the wailing swept through every home. The Okobe experience compared with the Biblical account of the Passover night when every Egyptian family from the palace of Pharaoh to the subjects lost their first male child.

"I did not know today is Christmas until you mentioned it ", a father of three children that perished in the petrol tanker fire told Sunday Vanguard. The father, who did not want his name in print, said the Christmas meant nothing to him without the children around. He was not alone in this mood.

The scene of the fire yesterday.

When Sunday Vanguard tried opening conversations with some other parents who lost their children, some community youths quickly intervened, pleading that they should be spared the agony of recalling the sad memories.

The community was quiet and calm during the festive period. A youth leader in the area, Mr Felix O. Felix, said they had never had dull Christmas and new year celebrations like the last one in the area.

According to him, because of the commercial nature of the town, festive periods like Christmas and new year were bubbling moments. But the 2012 edition was different. The Okobe families were not in the mood for celebrations as they were yet to recover from the pains occasioned by the loss of their loved ones.

Barely four months after the fire disaster, another catastrophe struck in the town, this time flood displaced most members of the community. Houses, farms and other valuables were submerged in water. Many residents were forced to relocate to temporary relief camps set up by Rivers State government to cushion their pains.

The water has receded and the camps shut. The challenge before most of them at the moment is how to begin life afresh.

They appealed to the federal and state governments for assistance to rebuild their mud houses that were washed away by the ravaging flood.

House submerged in flood

They said they also needed assistance to buy crops for the farming season. They said cassava and yam were among the farm produce that were washed away.

"The flood destroyed our houses. It also destroyed farm produce. Government should help us with cassava stems as the planting season approaches.

The relief camp has closed. They should help us, we are begging the government," Justina Ede, one of the camp coordinators, pleaded.

For Felicia Watson, life had not been the same for her family after the flood disaster. Like others in the community, she lost almost all she had.

When Sunday Vanguard went round Okobe, some residents were seen reconstructing their huts. Those who offered comments said they raised money from relatives outside the community to commence the reconstruction.

In a related development, Ogoni in Rivers State has appealed to the Federal Government to come to the aid of victims of the flood that submerged communities in four local government areas of the state including Okobe.

Ogoni leaders made the appeal at Ahoada East Local Government Area when they donated relief materials to victims of flood in the four local governments.

In their separate comments, Chairman, Rivers State Traditional Rulers' Council and President, Supreme Council of Ogoni Traditional Rulers, His Royal Majesty, King Godwin Giniwa, Gbenemene Tai Kingdom and Chief Priscilia Vikue respectively, said government should help to provide accommodation for those whose houses were washed away by the flood.

The traditional ruler and his subject, who spoke on behalf of the Ogoni nation, said there was urgent need to rebuild the houses of the victims. Chairman of Ahoada West Local Government Area, Mr Awori Miller, who spoke for the four local governments, expressed gratitude to the people of Ogoni. He also thanked the state government for its response to the painful development in the local governments, stressing that most of the communities in the councils were completely taken over by the flood.

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