All Gullied Out
Trip Start Sep 15, 2007
54Trip End Oct 20, 2007
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So people I've been wondering around South-Eastern Nigeria land of the Igbos looking at gullies. These things are absolutely huge craters formed by erosion somewhat like the Great Rift Valley. The amazing thing is they are pretty much man made. Talk about 9th wonder of the world. The thing that completely confounds me is how people let these things happen. Erosion is caused by a number of factors including poor agricultural practices and over grazing but the number one cause in this part of the world is bad road workmanship. The people who build roads just decide that drainage is not really their problem, a bit like not having a soak away for excess water in one’s house and thus leave it to the Gods to sort out – African fatalism! Except that as you know water will find a way out to the river and thus create large gullies or topple your house as the case may be. This is also a high rainfall area between 1000 and 2000mm per annum so torrents of water. One would think given this scenario people would take care as not only do they have gullies they also have flooding – hello. One would also think that having lived with this for a while someone would say to themselves maybe we should build roads with drainage and see what happens. Well it seems not as this would defy logic and rational behavior and what would the Gods do then? By the way this is not an earthquake zone although they are trying very hard to link it to some fault line somewhere but the sad and pretty obvious fact is that there are huge gaping holes where people used to live. I guess it’s like one of my friends said about my UN indigenization plan – I need to learn that things are left undone until they reach crisis conditions and then we act – so I guess this is now a crisis for South Eastern Nigeria.
The team went to visit Nanka Gully in Anambra state. The team was calmly told that this was the gully capital of the world and you have no idea how low key that sounded until the team reached this great big gaping hole that extends for kilometers oh and this was not the mother this was just one of the fingers as they are called the mother was even bigger. (I have attached a link to some pictures somewhere in the nether regions of this diatribe). Talk about understatement. Houses are literally falling down, animals have been lost and it is of course all controllable if someone had the political will to tell the engineers to do environmental impact assessments before they put in their roads and even simpler to put in adequate drainage. One urban site had the market place literally hanging off the edge and with typical understatement one engineer said that if nothing was done the next time we came the market might be halved. Okay!
I must say I love Nigerians they believe in living in the moment planning is really not their strong suite but they also believe in showmanship and having Wadzi there just added to the sense of larger than life. At one stage we had a convoy of 26 vehicles and this is an environmental project – we were doing wonders for carbon capture I tell you. Planning though is an issue. So generally if one alerts a host that they are coming to visit the host would ordinarily make a tentative plan to entertain them right? Wrong. In one state we arrived the Terms of reference where pretty standard – to see the extent of erosion in the state (province for those of us from non-federal systems) – so one would think that if someone is coming to see your problem, especially after you’ve solicited assistance – you would immediately take your knights (knightesses in my case) in shining armour to the site that needs rescuing by the quickest possible route. Elementary my dear Watson (Sherlock Holmes – crime). Not in Nigeria. The quickest possible route involves a two hour detour and then a conference with the local population to identify the site – believe me a gully is un-missable so when your hosts are now conferring with the local population one tends to wonder whether they actually have a problem. Needless to say that trip was a bit of a disaster.
So in the next state having assured us that they have the "mother of all gullies" I immediately took offense of course with the terminology and called it the “father of all gullies” one would think that having made this claim the host would immediately drive you to this monstrosity and assuage all curiosity. You’ve got to be kidding. Scenic route via a smaller, almost non-existent gully just to show you how the mother/father of all gullies starts. This is after the disastrous outing of the day before – okay! Another two hour detour but we certainly got to see the countryside and I can now do my crop budgets based on some actual views of what people produce. The landscapes are amazing and the country is incredible. Apart from population pressure, minor insurgents (bomb blast at police headquarters in Abuja) and kidnapping (only for profit – I kid you not the kidnappers will fulfill all your requests while they wait for the ransom – hoping of course that your loved ones want you back not sure what happens if that is not the case) it’s the place to be.
Nigeria completely confounds me. It is a country of contrasts. On one hand you have a highly educated populace – literally everyone I met had a doctorate or thereabouts (because one can also assign oneself a title) and introduced themselves as engineer doctor so and so or professor or doctor or my goodness it was raining (reigning) titles. I’m considering a title just to fit in – how about dowager chieftainess (no) I’ll keep at it – my royal presence? I cannot think of an appropriate one but do not worry when I go back I will have a high faluting title that describes how important I am in my own eyes. For those of us without the ability to remember anything for more than 2 seconds (I blame childbirth, global warming/cooling and genetically modified food for this) it makes life a lot easier when it comes to remembering names though because you know you cannot go wrong if you call someone commissioner, engineer, professor or doctor. If all else fails Madame for the women and 'Oga’ for the men will suffice. And on the other hand (remember there was a thought process here before my usual digression) you have this terrible inefficiency which is completely inexplicable given the apparent levels of education. A colleague and I decided that we would start a consulting service “Efficiency International” whose vision statement is “We help you organize piss ups in breweries!” Honesty though, I saw some of the most amazing architecture in Nigeria but it’s not maintained – depreciation is not a concept – African Fatalism again – I built it and the Gods or someone else will take care of the rest.
Being in convoy proved to be near fatal because on the scenic route to the baby gully - as opposed to the mother of all gullies - our lead vehicle came to an abrupt halt without signaling and almost caused a 25 car pile-up in a village somewhere in South Eastern Nigeria. The lead driver overcome by being in a position of such significance felt he needed to communicate his position to those who were nearest and dearest to him by mobile phone – disregarding the fact that persons speaking on mobile phones while they drive is one of the top causes of accidents especially if you’re the lead car in a convoy. He also had a sense of ceremony so at one point we would be racing at breakneck speed and at another crawling and waving through unoccupied territory – who knows – all of course conversely related to the population of people actually traversing the road – i.e. the more the people the faster we drove! I could just see the headlines 25 car pile-up on World Bank gully reconnaissance mission. Needless to say hobnobbing with the locals proved a bit difficult given that we arrived en masse – descending like a herd of locusts and flying off in a haze of dust.
I am as usual digressing from the real work I should be doing so I just took a short time out. By the way the beautiful thing about Nigerians is their honesty and ability to laugh at themselves as demonstrated by some of the quotations on the World Bank Face book Page regarding the project we are helping design – I quote below:
let’s just make it real this time. Nigerians are tied of premature promises. May God help us all. God bless Nigeria
Nice project! I just hope it would be executed
Good initiative, to tackle erosion problem, but another is executing it without looting the fund
I really don’t get bothered by the execution but the initiation of such proactive measure. it shows someone in Gov. is now thinking rather than keep feeding us with junks
good idea but what about the implementation?
I leave you now with these wonderful quotes.
Ciao and huge Wadzi hugs