Though a middle-aged housewife, Mrs. Alimot Bisiriyu, who resides in Saki, Oyo State, had never heard the word ‘apocalypse’ in her life, a disturbing experience she had three months ago made her think the world was about to end.
“It was about 2.30pm that day; I had just finished doing some laundry that afternoon. I was hanging the clothes on the line when all of a sudden the ground started vibrating violently. I was so terrified that I crumpled to the floor and held my head in my arms. I began to say prayers,” she said.
Bisiriyu stated that everyone in the house thought the building would collapse.
She said, ‘‘They were running helter-skelter; those inside were running out, while the ones outside were running indoors. When it stopped a few minutes later, I couldn’t believe that I had survived.
“It was the worst experience of my entire life. I had a pounding headache for the rest of that week.”
Bisiriyu, like her husband, Abdulraheem, and other residents in the town located in the South-West, recently experienced the rage of an earth tremor.
Speaking to SUNDAY PUNCH on a breezy, quiet Sunday afternoon, Abdulraheem, said he found the tremors perplexing since there was no physical activity in the area to cause the underground activity that terrorised the villagers.
He said, “There is no quarrying in this area, so we find it strange that we would be experiencing such a strange occurrence 25 years after settling here and after 10 years in this house.
“Between March and May, we heard it constantly almost every day, like an explosion happening underground. It was extremely terrifying. But we have not heard it in the last two days. We only hope the tremors are gone for good. But from experience, we know that such hope only lasts a short while.”
An Associate Professor of Applied Geophysics with the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Adekunle Adepelumi, distinguished between a tremor and an earthquake.
He explained that tremors are measured on a scale of one to 10.
“It is just like determining the extent of cancer in a patient; when it reaches 10, it is terminal. Likewise, when a tremor happens, we determine its intensity; how strong the earthquake is. When it is between one and five, the intensity of the seismic activity on the earth surface is not so severe, so we classify it as a tremor.
“But once the intensity is greater than five, it is an earthquake. As for the one that happened (in Saki), I placed it at 2.3”
Explaining further, the professor said the earth tremors witnessed in Saki occurred in the Atlantic Ocean.
“The force under the Atlantic Ocean was then propagated to Saki, Lagos State, and some parts of Abeokuta, Ogun State, which I confirmed. Now, the same thing has been experienced in Kaduna State (northern Nigerian); also in Bayelsa State (South-South) on June 26 and July 24,” the geologist noted.
A 2015 joint study by the Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, the National Space Research and Development Agency, and the Department of Geology and Mining, University of Jos, titled ‘The review of the historical and recent seismic activity in Nigeria’ stated that though Nigeria was not situated on any active known seismic belt, between 1933 and 2011, it recorded at least 31 tremors.
The report noted that the intensities of the events ranged from three to six based on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale.
It further stated, “Tremors are concentrated along the south-western and north-eastern to north-central parts of the country. Any future occurrences of earth tremors in the country are likely going to occur along these inferred fault lines.”
The terror below
Bisiriyu’s, a five-foot-tall man with a grey beard, told our correspondent that the tremor in Saki began as incessant “explosions underground” which gradually escalated into more violent vibrations.
He said, “It started like someone was blasting rocks underground. The moment the sound occurred, it would shake the building. The louvres within the premises would rattle violently. This began in January last year. From October, we stopped hearing the sounds. But little did we know that we were about to witness our worst nightmare. At the beginning of this year, the sound returned and it was more frightening and rampant every day.’’
According to him, residents don’t know how long it will be before the tremors become full-blown earthquakes. “Already, people are terrified. It is only natural for us to feel scared for our safety. Once it starts, everywhere erupts in commotion; people run all about frantically,” he stated.
A former Principal Account Officer at Atisbo Local Government Area, Saki, Tafa Giwa, said he has been living in the town since February 2003.
The retired civil servant said the tremors could occur at any time of the day.
“It could come at about 2 am or 3 am. As one is sleeping, one would hear the sudden explosive sounds underground. Everyone would immediately start saying their prayers. There are many mosques around the area. Some would slaughter rams, reciting Surah from the Quran to seek salvation from the occurrence.
“Once, when I was at an automobile workshop, the tremor began. Those of us in the workshop were running outside; the hairdressers, tailors and others outside were also running into the workshop, shouting, ‘What is happening!’ It was complete pandemonium,” Giwa said.
Anxiety in sleepy town
Saki, located in the northern part of Oyo State, is a hilly town that lies near the source of the Ofiki River, the chief tributary of the Ogun River, which is about 60 km to the Republic of Benin border.
It is an agrarian community commonly referred to as the food basket of Oyo. Saki, famous for its large-scale production of aluminium cooking pots, known locally as ikoko, is also a major exporter of cotton, swamp rice, teak and tobacco.
The quiet town is known to come alive on Thursdays with visitors from far and wide thronging the local Sango Market to engage in commercial activities.
But with the recent occurrence of earth tremors, commercial activity has declined in the town as several residents have also begun fleeing to neighbouring towns.
The affected areas include Balaku (formerly Veterinary), Muslim Hospital I and II, Abimbola Layout and Medinat.
According to Giwa, tenants pack their belongings on a daily basis and move away with their families.
He said, “Most of those living in rented apartments have no choice but to pack their belongings and flee elsewhere. They have moved to Igboro and other settlements in Saki like Isale Alfa, Jale Oda, Mokola and Oke Osuna.
“But many of us who own houses don’t have any option. I don’t have two houses. This is my only home. Will I leave my five-bedroom house to go somewhere and rent a house? That is not possible. I have put everything in God’s hands.”
One of the landlords in the town, Amoloye Oromidayo, however, said he was willing to abandon his family home of almost half a century because of the spate of tremors.
Oromidayo said, “My mother started building this house 45 years ago. I inherited it from her and completed it 20 years ago. The tremors were not occurring then. But with the way this has escalated, I am eager to leave the house and move far away from here. I don’t want my family to be victims of an earthquake.”
Counting his losses, a community leader and landlord, Abdulganiyu Oke-Aran, said he had lost up to nine tenants as a result of the tremors.
“I had nine tenants (families) and they have all moved out. They all left when they experienced the tremors. After repeated complaints, they started packing their things and leaving last month. They even left without collecting the balance on their rent. Now, no tenant wants to come here to rent a home anymore,” he bemoaned.
According to Oke-Aran, when the vibrations began, the chairman of the local council area complained to the state government about the development.
He said, “Officials from the state government came to see what was going on and they took their report to the Federal Government which also sent some officials. The National Emergency Management Agency came and also took their report back. The Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics, Toro, Bauchi also came.
“Prof. Adepelumi also paid a visit. We were told that the equipment they brought would not stop the tremors, but that they would detect whether the tremors were high or low.”
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that the state’s Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Mr. Isaac Ishola, also visited the area to assess the situation and make a report.
The community leader added, “When the geologists came, they said there was no cause for alarm; that the tremors are not so serious. But the Federal Government should not abandon us. These homes are our legacies which we built over several lifetimes.”
“One of my neighbours has moved out. My elder sister lives in Ajegunle which is unaffected and wants me to follow suit when she heard that the tremors had reached my neighbourhood.”
Preparing for the worst
Adepelumi told our correspondent that the trajectory of earth tremors in Nigeria points towards a severe earthquake in Nigeria occurring by 2020.
“I studied all the past records of earth tremors in Nigeria and arrived at the conclusion that the likelihood will be between 2020 and 2025,” he said.
He noted that precautionary measures should be taken to contain the level of devastation that could arise from the likely occurrence of an intense earthquake.
The don illustrated the far-reaching effects of an earthquake using recent events spurred by the tremor in Saki.
“There was a report that the Ogun River dried up almost two months ago. That river dried up the same day that the earth tremor occurred in Saki. We have information from the United States satellites and, from my calculations and all the records of earth tremors in Nigeria since 1933, in Lagos alone, we have had no less than four earth tremors this year.
“In Yoruba land (south-western Nigeria) this year, we have had over 21 earth tremors and all of them have been happening between 12 am and 3 am. The possibility is high that in the near future, something big will happen.
“I had predicted based on past records that we would have series of earth tremors in Nigeria and I mentioned several locations. I predicted it but nobody took any action.
“There has been seven years notice. I have been going all over the place and making a noise. These occurrences are not recorded in Nigeria alone; they happen all over the world. Recently, people in Bayelsa started shouting that they experienced the same tremors.”
When contacted, the Spokesperson for NEMA, South-West Zone, Ibrahim Farinloye, said federal agencies had jointly conducted an assessment to determine the number of residents affected in Saki.
He said, “We only have a handful of them who are now squatting with their relatives. Other government agencies like the Federal Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Science of Technology are working in concert with other Federal Government agencies to forestall any unforeseen situation. As of now, we don’t see ourselves being caught unawares about any incident that will occur.”
Adepelumi said he spoke with NEMA officials in Ibadan and Lagos and gave them extensive information.
He said, “I said if a tremor within the range of six should happen in Ibadan again, Cocoa House (a 26-storey megastructure), for instance, would go down under one second. I used a presentation and wrote an application to the state governor.”
According to Adepelumi, the possibility of a high-magnitude earthquake in Saki and its environs is likely in the near future.
“With the increasing rate and intensity of tremors in the South-West, I believe strongly that the region will be the first to experience an earthquake with far-reaching effects, though it may not be anytime soon.
“There is a 50 per cent chance that the affected area could be Saki. Such a tremor will most likely have extremely devastating effects on a community, so it is important to be prepared for such an eventuality and to take the necessary measures,” the don stated.
A national emergency
A senior researcher at the CGG, Bauchi State, Umar Afegbua, told our correspondent that the magnitude of the tremor in Saki was higher and much more dangerous.
“We went to Saki, asked questions and examined what happened to structures, human beings, the environment and the intensity of vibrations. From the information we gathered from questionnaires and our assessments, we were able to estimate the magnitude between three and four.
“The closest station to Saki is at Ife. We were so optimistic that we were going to have the wave form from the station but the station could not record the event, which made us to assume that it may have been a low-magnitude earthquake that caused a high level of vibration.
“Supposing we were able to record the event with three stations as usual, we would have been able to accurately determine the magnitude, the location and the depth. Most earthquakes in Nigeria occur at a depth of 10 km. Our estimation was made using the Richter scale.”
The Nigerian National Network of Seismographic Stations is made up of seven stations headed by the centre in Bauchi. Other stations are in Kujama, Kaduna State; Minna, Niger State; Ile-Ife, Osun State; Abakaliki, Ebonyi State; Awka, Anambra State; and Nsukka, Enugu State.
“We used to have one in Oyo, Oyo State (nearest to Saki), but we don’t have equipment there right now,” Afegbua added.
It was gathered that despite this network of seismic centres of data gathering spread across the country, there was the need for a great deal of additional funds and equipment for the Federal Government to function at optimal capacity.
The seismographer stressed the possibility of a likely high-magnitude incident in the near future.
“As we speak, it is a top priority. Even though we cannot predict when and where an earthquake is going to happen, with what we are seeing in Nigeria, there is that strong evidence that an earthquake will happen soon.
“Following the incident at Saki, not up to a month ago, there was an intense tremor at the Bayelsa river border. This time around, buildings were destroyed. There was even a crack on the tarred road.
“We are no longer in an era of believing that Nigeria is free from earthquakes. Earthquake occurrences in Nigeria have come to stay and we will continue to experience those kinds of tremors,” he said.
According to Afegbua, since the recent earthquakes in south-western cities like Sagamu, Abeokuta, Ibadan and Lagos, the Federal Government has begun moves to increase the number of seismic stations in the South-West.
“Another earthquake occurred in Kaduna after Bayelsa about three weeks ago. Things are moving really fast in Nigeria and we just need to intensify our efforts and preparedness. If an earthquake is about to happen in any region, one cannot stop it.
“Once one is able to investigate and one knows a place is unsafe and prone to earthquakes, whether small or large-scale, one should then advise the communities, either through the local government, the state government or the Federal Government.
“We are trying to also put more stations in Saki and other places where we are suspecting some seismic activities so that we will be able to monitor them effectively. The same goes for the South-South, the South-East, Kaduna and the rest of the North-West,” he said.
When contacted, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information, Mr. Jonathan Obuebite, could not be reached.
Ishola had, during a visit to the town with experts, noted that findings by experts indicated that the earth tremor was not capable of causing an earthquake.
He appealed to the residents to remain calm, assuring them that all hands were on deck to avert any environmental hazard in the state.
Ishola confirmed that the state government would liaise with the Federal Government to procure the instruments needed to check the tremor.
He said “Let me assure you that this visit was to have an on-the-spot assessment to ascertain the earth tremor and proffer adequate solution to forestall hazard in the zone. The findings so far by the experts revealed that the sound is just a fore-shake which cannot lead to earthquakes.”
Also, when asked to comment on the issue, the Oyo State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Toye Arulogun, directed our correspondent to the Special Adviser to the governor on Solid Minerals, Mr. Matthew Oyedokun, whose mobile phone could not be reached as of press time.