By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
Mbize: Rage of Red Earth (Stories, Songs on Landslide, Erosion in Igboland) by Chuka Nnabuife; Heinrich Boll Stiftung; 2011
L-R: The book, Author, Nnabuife in red cap, the reviewer, Uzoatu, right, and a guest at the public presentation of the book in Awka, Anambra State.
The erosion menace in Southeast Nigeria is a twice-told story. Whole villages have been sacked, and many houses are teetering on the very edge of very deep landslides.
My hometown of Umuchu in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State used to be a poster town of erosion disaster. The major road of the town was sundered into two making the cut-off communities to be asking to be declared “autonomous communities”.
The then embattled Governor of Anambra State, Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige flagged off the construction of the road across the erosion site despite the onslaught of Chief Chris Uba and then President Olusegun Obasanjo. Today, that road ranks amongst the very best roads in the entire country. This shows that the erosion war can be won if the will is there.
Chuka Nnabuife, the MD/CEO of Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation and Editor-in-Chief of National Light newspaper, has done extensive work on the erosion sites in the Southeast of Nigeria. Under the auspices of the Heinrich Boll Foundation, Nnabuife has used the agency’s “SurVivArt – Arts for the Right to a Good Life” project for the publication of this book of actualities, photos and poems. The photographs are by Victor Okhai while the editing was done by the then Editor of The Guardian on Sunday Jahman Anikulapo.
Nnabuife narrates that his first direct experience of erosion was in his native Ubuluisiuzo in the Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State “not long after the bulldozing of trees and grading of paths, for the expansion and tarring of the Ihiala-Orlu Road in late 1970s”. He would eventually discover that the erosion sites in Ihiala and environs were on a lower scale in comparison with those in the Aguata and Orumba areas where towns like Ekwulobia, Nanka, Oko etc are in danger of being totally submerged.
It was at a news conference of the Nigerian Compass newspaper on September 1, 2008 that the story idea of “Gully Erosion in South East” was mooted, and the assignment was allotted to Nnabuife. He travelled far afield to Oji in Enugu State, Okigwe and Mbaitoli in Imo State, and had a session with Mr. Peter Obi, the then Governor of Anambra State, who revealed that there were “over 500 sites” in his state. Following a distress call while still with Obi, Nnabuife saw that a three-storey building standing by the Enugu-Onitsha expressway had fallen in the gully after rainfall!
An octogenarian grandmother, Ma Justina Mgboye Anigbogu, whose family’s only house stands on the brink of a landslide site in Amatutu, Agulu, Anambra State poses the questions: “Is there anybody who will remember us and help us? Will they come before I die? Ah, is the world so mean?”
Nnabuife’s intervention comes through art in the poems published in this volume. The poems start out with “The Call”:
The yawning earth
sang to my heart
in beats, hitting deeper home than conga,
my mind, more disturbed than jagged staccato,
that moment I saw Nanka’s void,
beheld Agulu’s gorge,
baffled at Aguata’s gulf.
The lament of Nnabuife is heartfelt in the mold of the griots of yore as exemplified by the poem “Rage of Red Earth”:
The horror rides to and fro
upon the back of a terror
routing the town, root to roof
riding roughshod without intent of dismounting the dragon
that matches all down, razes all with burning flood
and never ceases till it finishes off
all elements of life –
upright plants, shelters, species and all.
The first news report published by Chuka Nnabuife on the subject in the Nigerian Compass entitled “Erosion is ravaging Anambra, all S’East States – Obi” is republished here. Obi makes the case that the erosion menace ought to be tackled by the Federal Government in the manner of desertification in the North and the Niger Delta problem. Obi stresses that “even Anambra’s total budget appropriation, in one decade, cannot tackle the ecological challenges it faces in just one local government.”
Through the book Mbize: Rage of Red Earth Chuka Nnabuife has given himself pride of place as a true champion of art for life’s sake. This is a splendid blend of journalism and literature.
The humanization of the erosion menace does great service to the enterprise of social harmony. Nnabuife deserves to be celebrated for charting a part that other journalists across the nation ought to emulate.
The collaboration with Heinrich Boll Stiftung should serve as a ready example for Nigerian NGOs to up their act in exploring newer and grander fields. Nobody can go through the gripping gamut of Mbize: Rage of Red Earth without being moved.
Chuka Nnabuife is a shining light for the wretched of the earth.
A public presentation of Mbize: Rage of Red Earth alongside two other books by Chuka Nnabuife, namely, Homeland Catalysis (More than just Anambra Narratives) and Nigeria Civil War (1967-1970): Holes in Our Bubbles, will hold at the Event Hall, ANPC Garden, Awka, Anambra State at 12 Noon on April 24.