Farmers count losses over collapsed 48-year-old Abia bridge
Elemaga Itunta is a small farming village in Ibere, Ikwuano Local Government Area, about 15km southwest of Umuahia, the Abia State capital. Often referred to as the food basket of Abia State, Elemaga is located in the centre of Inyila, Isiala-Ibere, Ahia Orie, Iberenta, Inyilu, and Oburo communities.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that the collapse of the 48-year-old bridge that linked farmers to neighbouring communities had become a nightmare. The bridge, which collapsed as a result of erosion menace, connected other rich farming communities like Oburo and Nkalunta.
The people are known for the production of rice, cocoa, palm oil, plantain, cassava and cucumber.
Despite its proximity to Umuahia and being known as the food basket of the state, various communities that make up Ikwuano Local Government Area are subjected to lack and neglect as can be seen in infrastructural decay and lack of basic amenities there.
Unfortunately, as a result of the collapse of the bridge, the farmers are forced to keep their produce at home until interested buyers find their way into the villages by whatever possible means. The traders in turn sell at exorbitant prices when they eventually get to the market.
Our correspondent also observed that Elemaga Itunta also suffers neglect in health care, roads, schools, potable water and other basic infrastructure.
The traditional ruler of the community, His Highness Ibeabuchi Chidiebele, said the collapsed bridge was constructed before the Civil War. He noted that during the fifth Abia State Cocoa Festival, a Federal Government delegation led by the then Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, visited the community because cocoa, rice, palm oil and other farm produce were harvested in large quantities.
Before the eventual collapse, the bridge was maintained and sustained by the efforts of the community through yearly contributions.
“As I speak with you, our community produces 10 tons of cocoa yearly. We export our local rice, plantain and palm oil. But because the bridge has collapsed, this has become increasingly difficult. As it stands now, tomorrow is our major market day and we use wheelbarrows to carry our farm produce through the deep river to the other side of the bridge. Sometimes the services of loaders are required, depending on what is to be exported. If the farm produce are much, their services are required, but most times their services are not affordable.
“However, despite the fact that the bridge collapsed, buyers still come to the community to buy farm produce at giveaway prices. When they come from the town, they have no option than to cross the river before they can access the community,’’ the traditional ruler said and appealed to the government to come to their aid.
Also speaking, Anayo Chioka, a cocoa businessman, lamented that since the bridge collapsed, his business also collapsed because there are a lot of cocoa produce in his house but no buyers as there is no access road. He said that for the past 10 years, palliative works were carried out on the bridge before its eventual collapse. Most times we carry our cocoa bags on our heads to cross the river for our customers,’’ he said.
It was also observed that some unemployed young men in the community have taken advantage of the situation to play the role of intermediaries between farmers and the buyers.
When Daily Trust on Sunday contacted the member representing Ikwuano/ Umuahia North/South constituency in the House of Representatives, Sam Onuigbo on phone over the situation, he said he had commenced the process of reconstructing the bridge.
“It is true that the bridge which links Itunta, Obuoro and some other Ibere communities to other villages in Ikwuano Local Government Area, Umuahia and other parts of Nigeria collapsed some years ago, thus making it difficult for residents of the affected communities to go to other parts of the state. It has impacted negatively on the economy of the affected communities and the state in general,’’ he added.
Onuigbo, who is also the chairman, House Committee on Climate Change, said he was aware of the importance of the bridge; hence he is making frantic efforts to ensure that it is reconstructed. He said it was a long overdue project, which completion would impact positively on the economy of the area and wellbeing of the people. He expressed optimism that the job would be completed before the rains come back fully. An indigene of one of the affected communities, Mr. Chigozie David, thanked the lawmaker for his efforts at ensuring that the bridge is reconstructed.
He affirmed that the collapse of the bridge had brought untold hardship to the people, saying that its reconstruction would once again bring smiles to their faces as they would be able to transport their farm produce to available markets in the state and other parts of the country.
The people of Elemaga Itunta share sociocultural similarities with neighbouring villages. Some of the cultural identities they have in common are Ekpe festival, New Yam festival, Obono dance, Ekpo masquerade, Okumoko dance and Ubochi Owu (resting market day). The Nkwoahia (market day) is regularly observed as a resting day for Elemaga Itunta people. Major ceremonies like marriages, burials and dances bear striking resemblance among the people, including those who live overseas.
Villagers now find t difficult to cross the river
Youths of the community removing what is left of the collapsed bridge
The make-shift bridge hurriedly put in place for foot and motorcycle passage
Water flowing under what is left of the bridge
Members of the community assessing the bridge area