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Cold war in Awka: Relief materials pits community against govt

Posted by By GEOFFREY ANYANWU, Awka on 2006/05/17 | Views: 374 |

Cold war in Awka: Relief materials pits community against govt


Ogbaru Community in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State has reported Anambra State government to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Abuja over what it called the disappearance of relief materials sent to victims of the boat disaster in the area.

Ogbaru Community in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State has reported Anambra State government to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Abuja over what it called the disappearance of relief materials sent to victims of the boat disaster in the area.

In a swift reaction, the former Deputy Chairman of NEMA in the state, Mrs. Callista Nwachukwu said the materials did not disappear but were rather used in taking care of another emergency situation in the state during the religious riot in Onitsha.

Speaking through its representative in the House of Representatives, Hon. Okwudili Uzoka, Ogbaru people queried the rationale behind the diversion of relief materials sent to them when the state government could have used its emergency fund to take care of other community in need of help.

Uzoka, who recalled his experience during the disaster to Daily Sun, said that his people would want to relevant authorities including NEMA to investigate the matter and make sure that materials, which included 300 bags of rice, 300 pieces of nylon mats, 300 pieces of blankets, 300 pieces of plastic bucket, 20 cartons of detergent, 20 cartons of bar soap, 200 pieces of bath towels, 300 pieces of plastic cups, 300 pieces of plastic plates, 300 pieces of plastic spoons and assorted children’s clothing, were returned to the community for those they were meant for.".

He said, "the issue is about the boat mishap that occurred in Ogbaru in the town called Umunankwo. A lot of Ogbaru people perished. The number is not specific yet, but above 40 people perished in that boat disaster. I actually was on my way back to Abuja when I was told about the incident I had to abort my trip and rushed back to the village. By the time I got there, rescue was over."

According to the lawmaker, victims "were actually traders who had bought things at a place called Atiogidi through Obeagwe. They were on their way to Atani for the regular Afor market. This disaster occurred at a place called Umunankpa," adding: "Fortunately, the people of Umunankpa came out very early at 4.30am, they went through the water with their canoes and managed to help save several people in the boat. Otherwise, the death toll would have been higher".

The lawmaker further said that, "when I returned to Abuja, I wrote a letter to the Speaker intimating the House of the disaster. We observed a minute silence in honour of those who died. In the letter, I requested for relief materials for relatives of the deceased persons. Quite a lot of property were also lost .
"At the end of it all I contacted my friend, Hon Chuma Nzeribe who is chairman, House Committee on National Emergency and he ensured that we got something through NEMA.
"By the structure of bureaucracy, it was sent from NEMA in Abuja to NEMA in Government House, Awka. It took me a little time to contact relatives of the deceased to inform them of the relief materials. I wrote a letter to the officer in charge of NEMA in Awka, that is Mrs. Callista Nwachukwu, I said: ‘Please ensure that things are ready to be moved over to Atani for distribution to the people’. She didn’t respond to the letter.

"It was when I thought we were ready that I contacted the people and sent one of my staff to see her in the office to ask that she arrange for these things to be moved to Atani.
"The response was to say the least, heart breaking. First, no single items of all these things I listed was available. That they had been given out to the victims of the Onitsha riot and that she had written a letter to the governor, I don’t know whether it is this current governor or the erstwhile governor.
"The main issue now is when will Ogbaru people get their items, that’s the bottom line. I have protested… I do not want to go into any case, I want all these materials sent to Ogbaru people who suffered the loss. I think relevant authorities should ask whoever is at NEMA, Awka to name the people who received these items.

"We need the items and I think, in the interest of accountability we want to know who among these riot victims that received 300 bags of rice".
The officer in charge of NEMA in the state then and former Chairman of Ogbaru Local Government, Mrs. Callista Nwachukwu, told Daily Sun that the handover of the materials to the state by the NEMA, Abuja coincided with the Onitsha riot, making the former governor, Dr. Chris Ngige, direct that the victims be taken care of with the materials.

She acknowledged the receipt of the items, which she said included about 300 bags of rice, but denied that all of the items were used in Onitsha. She said she raised memo for the replacement of the items for onward distribution to Ogbaru people.

"First, the NEMA edict provides that the governor is the chairman, hence, I am the deputy chairman. Also, I am from Ogbaru Local Government Council and there is no way I would jeopardize any good thing that is coming to Ogbaru. Instead, I will see a way of fortifying it, making it to be a reality.
"The relief materials in question were diverted while I was away. I wasn’t in office. As the deputy chairman I act on instructions. I sustained an injury while I was trying to take some Hausa people to Asaba as hoodlums at Onitsha attacked me, I was taken to hospital.

"When I came back, after some days, I met with the governor (Dr. Chris Ngige) who said he had directed that the relief materials be given to the displaced persons at their various localities at Onitsha and Awka. This instruction was carried out by my workers, the chief of staff and principal secretary.

"The then governor said they should brief me, which they did. He said I should conduct market research and bring a new list so that the items removed could be bought and replaced, which I did.The governor was yet to approve it before the change of government", Mrs Nwachukwu said.
Secretary to the State Government, Mr. Chidi Ezeoke, said that government received a letter from NEMA informing it of the petition by the Ogbaru community and another from Hon. Uzoka complaining that they had not seen materials sent from Abuja to them.

He said that since the incumbent governor was the one in charge when the incident happened, he would not comment on the matter until Mrs. Nwachukwu gives him the details of what happened.

"We have written Mrs. Nwachukwu to give us details of what happened and we will take it from there, for now, we cannot make any statement on it", he said.


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