Nearly two months after earth tremors shook some communities in Kaduna State, residents still await help from the government amid fears of health consequences of the natural disaster.
By Augustine Agbo
The people of Kwoi in Kaduna State, which was recently hit by earth tremors, now live in fear over the safety of the various sources of drinking water in the community.
A 2.8 magnitude earth tremor hit the sleepy town of Kwoi and its environs in Jaba local government area of Kaduna State on Sunday, September 11, impacting about 300 houses and forcing scores of residents to flee.
The people now suspect that they may have been drinking unsafe water as their sewage lines may have been affected by the tremor, forcing faeces to leak into wells, boreholes, ponds, rivers and other water sources in the area.
Our reporter who just returned from a tour of the affected area said that many residents complained that the water they drink now has a funny, sour taste and fear that the tremor might also have negative lasting impacts on the people’s health.
The residents of Kwoi and other surrounding communities relied heavily on underground water for consumption. This has worried many who think that they might be at risk of falling sick in the near future from possible contaminated water.
Speaking to our reporter last week, the Interim Chairman, Jaba local government area, Ben Kure, expressed concerns over the possible health implications of the tremor.
He said that many questions needed to be answered and called on relevant agencies to take prompt action to determine the damage done by the tremors.
“What happened to our water system both underground and surface and what is the state of our sewage system”, he asked.
“The cracks could have affected several soakaways releasing toxic wastes into the underground waters”, he said.
Also speaking with the icirnigeria.org at the palace of the paramount ruler, the secretary, Jaba Traditional Council, Makama Daniel Shehu, expressed fears over the future health of the people.
Shehu said that many people in the community had expressed fears over their health to the palace.
The tremors have left cracks in many houses in the impacted communities forcing many to relocate, while those who remain live in constant fear of their homes collapsing on their heads, in case of future occurrences.
When the first tremor occurred, residents were shocked and traumatised as they had never witnessed anything like that before.
The second tremor occurred in the early hours of the next day and was stronger, sending waves of panic throughout Kwoi town and neighboring communities such as Nok, Sabuzo, Gidan Kundi and Bita Ro.
The traumatised residents fled the town in droves even as the elders of Kwoi, led by the Kpop Ham, Danladi Gyet Maude and his lieutenants did their best to provide explanations for the sudden phenomena.
The frightened residents believed that angry gods who had turned against the people because of their iniquities caused the tremors.
But experts who visited the town explained to the people that the tremor was a result of the dynamism of the earth’s movement and that it is not new to Nigeria.
Emergency response team put the number of houses affected at 300 with many collapsing and others left with severe cracks. Most of the houses affected have toilets with their cesspit tanks that were affected in the course of the vibration.
Although no life was lost in the process, the people still live in fear as more vibrations continue to hit the agrarian town.
Local residents find it hard to believe that what happened in Kwoi was an earth tremor; many told the icirnigeria.org that it was an earthquake even as the frightened residents recounted their experiences.
Isa Musa who was at home when the first tremor occurred said that he felt the vibration at about 11am when the ground shook tremendously.
“I was at home, immediately the ground shook, I ran out of the house only to find lots of people leaving their homes and worship places. It came like a thunder from beneath the earth. It also sounded like something coming from the nearby mountains.
“It repeated again at 1pm and another at 2pm, 3pm and by that time, most residents were already rattled in consternation.
“I was confused too with many thoughts running through my mind including the end of the world”, Musa said.
For Zainab Bulus, the fear in her children made her situation worst. She explained that the big tremor hit them when all of them were sleeping.
“We thought it was a building collapse as the tremor started in the early hours of Monday, my children woke to the shock and they started crying, I held all of them together assuring them that they are not dying.
“We couldn’t sleep in our homes again as we all ran out to avoid our building from falling on us”, the terrified housewife said.
Isiaka Salawu, an auto mechanic who had resumed at his workshop that fateful morning said the sound came from the huge rock few meters from his mechanic workshop.
According to him, the vibration from the third tremor led to the collapsed of a shop beside him.
“I was shocked to my bones, didn’t know where to run to as buildings cracked, some collapsed. I thought of running out of town but was not certain what lies in front. We thought we were about to be swallowed by the earth”, Salawu explained.
The Walin Jaba and District Head of Fada-Kwoi who spoke on behalf of the Kpop Ham of Jaba, corroborated the story of several residents.
He said the people had absorbed the shocks from the earlier tremors until 3.00 am on Monday morning when a more powerful vibration hit the town at a time most people were asleep.
By the time the second vibration hit the town the same morning, the whole town became apprehensive of the situation and immediately trooped out to the various palaces in the community.
“They were really scared, traumatised and desperate for answers to the thousands of questions asked.
“I was frightened too and didn’t know what to do at that time, I had to summon courage to go out and meet with them.
“I had to address them citing the name of God and that God could create anything and from my knowledge of Geography, I could explain the phenomenon”, he said.
Conflicting signal on relief efforts
More than one month after the first tremor hit Kwoi and its environs, the affected people in the communities have not received much help from the authorities as they try to rebuild their homes and return to normal life.
Much expected relief materials are yet to reach the affected persons leaving many of them to resort to self-help.
When our reporter visited the town recently, not a few of the residents lamented the absence of relief material promised by both the federal and the Kaduna State government.
Before visiting Kwoi, icirnigeria.org spoke with the Zonal Coordinator North West of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, Musa Illalah in Kaduna who said the agency took a joint assessment with the Nigeria Geological Survey Agency, NGSA, and so far no recommendations has been made on whether to evacuate the residents of the affected areas.
He said he would not pre-empt the report from various government agencies on the tremor until they are made available.
In the area of relief material, the Zonal Coordinator said his office had made recommendations to the headquarters of NEMA but the bottlenecks created by the introduction of the Treasury Single Account, TSA, is partly responsible for the delay in getting relief items.
Illalah did not give any idea as to when the people will get the much needed relief material from the federal government.
On his part, the Executive Secretary, Kaduna State Emergency Management Agency, Ezekiel Baba Karik, claimed that the state government had provided some relief material for the affected persons.
Karik said the situation is not as bad as the media had painted it as the cracks were not fundamental.
“We are not relenting on our own, we are working with NEMA and other government agencies to provide for the people.”
“The state took 50 bundles of roofing zinc and 150 bags of cement to the people as relief material”, Karik said.
He also claimed the agency has emergency response teams in the 23 local government areas of the state. He also stated that life is back to normal in the affected communities.
But when our reporter contacted Kure, the Jaba council boss, he said that the state emergency relief agency sent only “150 bags of cement, 20 bundles of Zinc, bags of nails, 30 bags of rice and 10 bags of beans.”
Kure accused the National Space Research and Development Agency, NASRDA, of sidelining the local council when its team visited the area for findings.
“They came to Kwoi without consulting with the custodian of the land, we are the people affected, we felt the tremor more than anyone, yet the agency just came and left.
“We only saw them on national television when their report was being presented to the public.
Makama Daniel Shehu, who spoke for the traditional ruler, also said the palace was not aware of any relief items in Kwoi.
“We are not aware of anything from SEMA and NEMA. As at this very moment, I have assisted two women with two bags of cement each to fix their damaged homes because the women are widows”, he said.
He further stated that the people of Kwoi have been leaving in fear especially those close to the mountains as they feet the vibrations more than downtown residents.
Shehu also said he saw the NASRDA report only television as the council was not availed a copy.
Rahila Bawa, a widow who had to beg for cement to fix her house after losing hope of getting anything from the government told our reporter that she had to mend her cracked homes to avoid further damages.
“I decided to fix the wall to avoid the cracks from expanding as more tremors continue to hit us. If the house collapses, I would not be able to rebuild it because I don’t have the energy any more.
“I have not received any relief material and not heard of anything like that since it happened. I am a widow and my children are not strong to assist me that’s why I went asking for assistance”, she said.
Jessica Maitama, a small business owner and a mother of four said that her house was captured in the government data but has yet to get any assistance to repair her home.
“We are grateful that our homes did not collapse on us but government cannot leave us in this state, we need help to get our homes fixed.
“My children are still in a state of shock”, she said.
Some corps members who spoke to this news website said they have been receiving frantic calls from their parents to relocate from Kwoi.
Usman Arowolo who hails from Ogun State said he had never witnessed anything like that even though he has heard of tremors in the past.
“I was very afraid that night, we had to wait for our landlord for explanations. As strangers, we didn’t know it was earth tremor, it was the following day we got the picture”, he said.
Meanwhile, reacting to the allegations made by the Jaba council chairman, the head, media and communications at NASRDA, Felix Ali said that the agency went to Kwoi to carry out its professional job which was scientific.
“We did a comprehensive report on the earth tremor and we consulted all the relevant stakeholders. We were not there to raise funds for the affected persons.
“Our responsibilities was to carry out the remote cause of the tremor”, he noted.
He further stated that the report the agency presented to the public recently was based on what its team of experts saw on ground. According to him, the Kaduna State government was given a copy.
Ali declined to make available a copy to our reporter and said that the media only got a verbal explanation.
NASRDA findings had described the Kwoi earth tremor as a mini earthquake, positing that it was not true that high magnitude earthquake could not occur in Nigeria.
The report also stated that the tremors could be attributed to the stress released from the fault system of the area.
On the health implications of a leaking sewage system, a consulting environmental health officer and former registrar, Environmental Health Officers Registration Council Of Nigeria, EHORCN, Abisike Onyekachi, was of the view that there are chances the vibration could have cracked open several septic tanks.
In a chat with our reporter in Abuja, Onyekachi observed that there is a good chance of organisms from the sewage system leaking to ground water.
If this happens, he warned that there could be consequences such as enteric diseases that could be contacted through food and water.
Onyekachi noted that since the people largely depend on underground water for survival, there could be the risk of cholera, typhoid and others in the community in the near future.
“We didn’t build our houses with a view of having earthquakes, no reinforcement was done in most homes in the country hence, the risk of leakages in situation as this”, he said.
He urged government to immediately take water samples from various sources in Jaba local government to determine its safety to avoid another disaster.
A former head, Environmental Science Education, University of Abuja, Bassey Ubom, was of the view that government must undertake a comprehensive study of the tremor.
He advocated massive education of the people to prepare them for a worse case scenario as natural disasters like tremors and quakes rarely give warnings.
Also an environmental management scientist and expert in climate change, CO2 emissions and deforestation, Mande Hosea, in a sensitisation paper to the people of Kwoi assured that what took place in the town was not an earthquake.
Hosea, a senior lecturer at the Kaduna State University, said the vibration of the earth in Kwoi was as a result of sudden release of energy in the earth’s crust that created seismic waves.
“This scenario in Kwoi and environs is an earth tremor which is of low intensity and can toss people around, shake and destroy houses with poor engineering structure.
“The perceptible shaking/vibration could occur within few seconds in a day and the situation could persist for few days.
“This tremor occurred at a place called fault zone where jagged edges of two tectonic plates grind against each other, moving in slow motion and a plate may suddenly jolt into a new position and energy released in the fault by this movement creates tremor’’, he said.
He added that fault zones cut across many parts of Nigeria linking up to the Atlantic Ocean fractures zone and it is a zone of concern as areas at the proximity of these faults zones are at risk of tremor/earthquake.
He said tremor challenges are not recent development in Nigeria, as the country has a timeline of experience from 1933, 1939, 1964, 1984, 1990, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2009 and 2016 both in the South East, West and Northern part of Nigeria.
Hosea however ruled out an earthquake happening in Nigeria as West Africa is on a stable croton not located in the zone called ring of fire.
Meanwhile, the environmental expert advised that Nigeria should always be on the alert as the system is dynamic with the change in the environment.
As a precautionary measure, he urged the people to always have in their possession flashlight and first aid kit.
That people should avoid leaving heavy objects on shelves and anchor heavy furniture, cupboards and appliances to the walls or floor.
And in the case of Tremor, he advised that people should not panic, step away to open space and stay away from things in the room that could topple over.
He further advised that in tremor situation, people should hide under a desk or table, unplug electricity cords and watch out for dangling power lines.
He said the people of Kwoi should expect aftershocks in days ahead.
Since Hosea’s issued his advice, Kwoi residents have experienced several aftershocks that has gotten residents of the communities even more frightened.