The Aba River, popularly known as ‘Waterside’, is located in the valley between Eziama community and Ogbor Ancient Kingdom – now called Ogbor-Hill, along Ikot Ekpene Road in Aba North Local Government Area of Abia State.
It flows from a place called Ohuru Isimiri in Obingwa Local Government Area of the state across many communities and continues to the famous Azumini Blue River in Ndoki, Ukwa East LGA of Abia State and terminates at the Opobo River, in Rivers State.
Residents, many who used the river’s resources in the past, said it flourished with aquatic lives and was the source of drinking water and other domestic uses for the people of the communities on its banks in the 1970s until the emergence of different companies that no channel their wastes into the water body.
Worse, the presence of a cattle market nicknamed ‘Ahiaudele’ (market of vultures) which has an abattoir on the banks of the river became another source of pollution to the river. Now, the river’s resources have declined.
“The people used to drink from this river around the 1970s but since they began to slaughter cows, defecate and urinate in the river with butchers emptying cow dungs and blood into the river, the people stopped drinking from it. Again, The Nigerian Breweries Plc, 7up Bottling Company Plc, and the International Glass Industry – all channel their chemical wastes into the river,” Amanze Evuka, a 60-year-old commercial tricyclist said.
Forty-nine-year-old Chima Fijo and fifty-one-year-old Ogbo Okoro-Agwu do their carwash businesses on the Enyimba Hotels part of the river bank. They corroborated Mr Evuka’s claim.
“I used to know waterside as a clean place, but these cow people have already destroyed the waterside,” says said Mr Fijo. “It’s those people killing cows here that are responsible for the bad state of this river,” added Mr Okoro-Agwu.
Companies channel waste into the river
Pepple Nnanna, a businessman who spent his childhood in Aba, described what it used to be like.
“When I was younger, we used to go to the waterside, we made use of the water, we used to cook and drink from the water. But presently, we no longer do that because of the environmental wastes from the Nigerian Breweries and other small-scale industries around, most of who directed their wastes to the waterside.”
Mr Nnanna mentioned 7UP Bottling Company Plc as one of the companies that push their industrial wastes to the waterside: “If you go along that road (pointing towards Umuoba Road) you’d see their drainage that runs 24hrs waste to the water, even with the residents around, you’d see them channelling their domestic waste to the waterside too – some don’t even have soakaways (septic tanks)”, he said.
Along Umuoba Road is the waste pipe belonging to the 7UP Bottling Company. It runs straight into the river through a compound opposite St. Ambrose Catholic Church – where a 46-year-old Oswald Cookie-Arm lives.
Mr Cookie-Arm is originally from Rivers State but was born in Aba and has lived in that compound since his childhood.
“We used to drink water from the river when we’re still little,” he said. “That’s where we fetched our water for drinking, bathing, washing of cloths and other things; but that’s when it was not polluted by this gutter here (pointing at a flowing drainage) from 7UP Bottling Company,” he said.
Asked where they now source their water, he pointed at a borehole whose taps were projected near the gutter. “That’s our source of water now,” he said.
In the company of Mr Oswald, I journeyed on a canoe to the point where the company channeled its waste to the river. The terminal point of the gutter built by the 7UP Bottling Company turned out to be an eyesore of assorted kinds of dirt.
We continued our trekking along a winding pathway into compounds and continued on a bush path till we got to the river bank where we saw some women washing clothes on the bank of the river.
Right inside the river were young boys swimming. The river was largely overtaken by weeds – leaving a small space for the canoe ride as both sides of the river length were a close made by the weeds.
Nigerian Breweries, Unilever also culpable
Soon, I, with my entourage, went in search of other waste channels from the other companies mentioned.
Behind and inside the cattle market, just after the bridge, are discharge channels belonging to both Unilever Plc and Nigerian Breweries Plc.
But accessing the area nearly got me into trouble except for the quick intervention of my new-found friends, Yusuf Mohammed and Abdullaziz Adamu. I had to ‘settle’ some hemp-smoking young men to be allowed entry into the area already demarcated with a wooden fence. I was told that not even security operatives were allowed to access that place which I was later told is a den of hoodlums and kidnappers.
One after another, they came and inquired from my friends in hush tones, why I was there; and on seeing my camera, one of them made attempts to grab it but was resisted by Messrs Yusuf and Abdullaziz.
It was a vast area of serene greenery but a safe habitat for rogues– there laid out-of-use pipes which I was told, belonged to the then Lever Brothers Plc, now Unilever Plc. They were used to flush chemical waste into the river before the company left Aba.
This was according to Uche Akpan, one of the young men that we met in that secluded area.
“These pipes belonged to the Lever Brothers, whenever they’re in production their waste water usually runs through these pipes straight into the river, sometimes it affects some fish and they die. I feel that the chemicals are responsible for that; and even we that bathe in the river, after bathing, we do experience itches on our body,” said Mr Akpan.
Mr Yusuf who spoke in Hausa added, “Honestly, this river causes us to sick because when we bathe in it we always have rashes all over our body because of the chemicals being flushed into the river. There used to be fishes in the river and we used to catch them but the chemicals have killed them all. Before now, it was Lever Brothers that made use of these pipes but they have stopped. At present, it’s the Nigerian Breweries that flushes theirs into the river; let’s go there and I will show you the pipe.”
Searching further, we found the waste channel point belonging to the Nigerian Breweries Plc; it passes into the river with a local eatery by the side.
Speaking also in Hausa, Mr Abdullaziz, pointing to the gutter, described what the wastes look like whenever they are flushed into the river. “I’ve known this place for the past four years now, as it is now, they’ve not released the water, when they do, it usually goes higher than this, and some of the substances that appear on the surface of the water are usually oily and boiling, and those are the chemicals. Even at that, the environment is dirty and here’s a local eatery – they should be careful because germs could fly from this gutter into the food and it becomes a problem.”
From my findings, the people of Ogbor and Eziama communities jointly instituted a lawsuit against one of the companies – the Nigerian Breweries Plc, over the pollution of the river through the discharge of its effluent wastes into the river.
The authorities of the two communities declined comments when approached on this matter. They said the matter was already in court, hence they would not comment.
I made efforts to have an audience with the management of the Nigerian Breweries in Aba. On the first day of my visit, I was asked to return the following day.
After some days’ efforts, I met with Chukwuemeka Aniukwu, Nigerian Breweries Corporate Affairs Manager-South but he won’t speak until he gets a ‘clearance from Lagos.’ An appointment was fixed for another day.
Subsequent calls and text messages seeking the confirmation of a new appointment with Mr. Aniukwu were neither answered nor responded to as of the time of this report.
I paid a visit to 7UP Bottling Company, and the story was the same, I was asked to write to Lagos for clearance before I could have anyone speak to me.
To ascertain the level of pollution the river has been subjected to, water was scooped from the river for analysis in the laboratory.
Raphael Kalu is a chemical pathologist and public health analyst at Vineyard Medical Diagnostic Laboratories located on Okigwe Road, Aba. I contracted him to do the water analysis and in one week’s time, I returned for the results.
The result indicated the following:
Isolated Escherichia Coli bacteria – a human gastrointestinal bacteria
Enta amoeba histolytica – an intestinal amoeba
High acidity level of 5.8
Chloride values of 14.3mm 1/L
Calcium values of 7.5mg idl
Potassium values of 0.17mm 1/L
Sodium level of 123mm 1/L
Explaining these terms, the chemical pathologist expressed surprise that despite the flowing nature of the river, there was a high presence of the two microbial: Escherichia Coli bacteria and Enta amoeba histolytica in the water which suggested a serious implication of human faeces pollution of the water.
“It’s even surprising to find these microbials in the water since it’s a flowing river, it would have been okay if the river was stagnant but to find this level of GIT in the flowing water means that there’s a point at which human faeces is deposited inside the water,” he said.
Mr Kalu explained that the presence of the other chemicals found in the water which necessitated its high-level acidity is a result of the effluent wastes from the industries.
“We suspect industrial effluents being discharged in the water, normally, natural water cannot come at this levels of high acidity. So, there is proof of an external influence which is increasing the acidity of this water,” the chemical expert concluded as he declared the water totally unfit for human use.
MOUNTAIN OF SOOTY FUMES
Standing on the old, cranky Aba River Bridge that has for long yearned for the government’s attention provides one with a clear view of the mountains of fumes billowing into the skies from both sides of the river, covering the atmosphere with soot.
Unhindered open burnings whose fumes billow into the air with direct negative effects on the layers of the atmosphere – especially, the ozone layer, and thus contributing to the reality of the much talked about global warming or climate change, through greenhouse emissions – are a common sights in the area.
The once beautiful Aba River ought to have become a tourist’s attraction – a reason the administration of the Late Sam Mbakwe, a former governor of the Old Imo State, built the now abandoned Enyimba Hotels by the river bank.
But who finds pleasure in a hotel on a river bank that on a daily basis, gulps huge volumes of sooty fumes?
The sooty fumes rise daily from the rubbles of burnt vehicular tyres used as fuel to roast hides and skins known in local parlance as kanda or ponmo, by butchers at the cattle market and abattoir located just on the hotel side of the river bank.
Aside from the negative impacts the fumes have on human beings and the atmosphere, the Aba River that once flourished with aquatic life has become barren – the fish and other aquatic creatures are all gone – no thanks to the industries that discharge toxic effluent wastes into the river.
I spoke to a physician, Ugochukwu Okoro, who condemned the use of tyres to roast cow hides. He said the consumption of hides roasted with tyres was highly dangerous to human health as it affects vital organs of the human body and could destroy the motor cells of the nerves.
“They don’t just endanger human lives with roasting those hides with used tyres, they pollute the water and the atmosphere with the blood, cow dungs and the smokes that go into the atmosphere. There should be a government action to end this attack on human life and the environment,” said the public health expert.
We are aware – Abia Government
John Kalu, a clinical biochemist, is the Commissioner for Information, Abia State. He said the state government is aware of all these developments and is doing something about them. He discouraged the residents from drinking water from the river – stating that the government would conclude the greater Aba Water Scheme before the end of the year.
“Concurrently, we are working hard to relocate those at the abattoir around waterside Aba, we’ve located a place in Ukwa West and active work is going on there, as soon as we’re done with the work we’re doing, the abattoir will definitely be relocated.”
On the activities of the industries, the commissioner advised them to always ensure that their effluent waters were well treated.
“What we’re saying is that they must evolve to the level where they’re able to treat those effluent water before they get to the river.”
As has been established, it is highly unsafe to consume these hides roasted with used tyres and washed in a highly contaminated River like the Waterside.
It has also been established that there are multiple contributing factors to the pollution of the Aba River which is now highly unsafe for human use.
However, putting all these highlighted dangers to check and restoring the glory of the Aba River has become a litmus test to the government of Abia State.
This report was produced with support from the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ)’ through funding support from the Ford Foundation.
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