• Apprehensive residents narrate ugly experiences in past years, beg for help
• Affected state govts speak on plans to mitigate disaster
By Cosmas Omegoh (Lagos), Tony Osauzo (Benin), Paul Osuyi (Asaba), Scholastica Onyeka (Makurdi), Emmanuel Adeyemi (Lokoja), Tony John (Port Harcourt), and Femi Folaranmi (Yenagoa)
As the rains resume in the second phase of the season, there is apprehension in most states over flooding and its attendant disasters. In the days ahead, many communities in Benue, Kogi, Edo, Anambra, Rivers and Bayelsa states will again be under threat of going under the water.
About this time each year, residents of the affected communities grow edgy, and the reason is easy and simple. Very often, they are left out there, in the cold, in a world of their own, right at the mercy of the commanding flash flood that leaves nothing other than devastation on its pathway. It is such a deadly annual ritual.
Once the Cameroonian authorities open the Lagdo Dam they built on their own end of the River Benue course, Armageddon descends downstream. The River Benue swells out of proportion. Joining forces with its sister River Niger, their waters go raging, rampaging and wrecking everything on their course as they sail with fury down to the Ocean. It is such a huge disaster everyone knows will always happen – a monstrous cross many have been condemned to carry with pain in their hearts, and tears in their eyes.
Now, many who had witnessed this perennial disaster, and drank of its waters to the dreg, are preparing for another season of sorrow and sadness. Recalling their woeful past, they are expecting yet another year of the flood with fear and trepidation as each year of the flood leaves nothing to cheer, but death and distress to remember.
For them, their utmost concern now is how would the survivors of those previous floods fare this year? How would they feel going into the cold IDP camps? How are their respective state governments preparing them for what to come? Their pains are better felt than imagined. Our correspondents in this report bring snippets from the affected states as the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) warn of the coming of the deluge.
Residents of flood-prone communities in Delta State are apprehensive as the River Niger water levels keep rising.
Like in previous years, the residents fear that in a matter of days, the river will overflow its banks.
In the past, property along the bank of the river were submerged by the flood; owners of farms and other sources of livelihoods that were destroyed are yet to fully recover from their experiences of last year.
Farms, houses, public infrastructure in communities on the bank of the River Niger such as Asaba, Oko, Utchi, Patani, Abala, Obetim, among several others, were submerged during last year’s rainy season.
At Ogbe-Ofu Phases I and II and other communities in Asaba, there is palpable fear following the rising water levels.
Already, some residents have heeded to the advice of the state government to relocate to safe havens, while others claimed that they have nowhere to go to until public-holding camps are established.
Some victims of the previous flood disaster claimed that the promise by the government to meet them halfway in terms of compensation was largely unfulfilled.
A resident of the area, Mr Anthony Nwakoboa said: “As you can see, the level of the water is now above the usual. Some people have moved, while others are still preparing to relocate.
“Most of us don’t have a place to relocate to; so we are here waiting until flood waters overflow into our homes.”
What the residents are doing
A traditional ruler in Ndokwa East, Akor of Aika community, Emmanuel Obiechine, said that he had advised his people to relocate to safer places.
“I actually told our people to see how they can secure their houses because last year’s flood was very devastating; a lot of houses were destroyed.
“I have told them to start relocating because the water is rising; all the elderly ones, women and children have left the community.
“Some youths were left behind to harvest farm produce and watch over the community against those who will come to steal farm produce like what happened last year,” he stated.
The Akor noted that if water was being released in bits from the (Cameroon) dam, it would not be as devastating as it was last year when farmlands and houses were submerged.
A chief in the community, Okwukudi Prince also affirmed that the area was in distress, and appealed for urgent intervention.
Meanwhile, the Igwe of Abala Kingdom, Frederick Egbunokonye, said that residents of the area were advised to plant crops that would be harvested early to avoid the flood over-running them.
Lamenting that the solution to the flood was not readily available, the monarch re-echoed his call for the dredging of the River Niger by the Federal Government.
We are completely helpless
Elsewhere in Obetim, Ndokwa East, residents said that they had resigned to fate, noting that the government did not put anything in place after last year’s painful experiences, to at least mitigate the impact of the flood on households and sources of livelihood in the largely peasant community.
President-General of Obetim National Council, Chief Sony Neme, told our correspondent that the people in the locality were completely forgotten after last year’s flooding.
Neme said that at the moment, his people were apprehensive, praying God to avert the natural disaster, as there was nothing on ground to prevent or mitigate the impact of the flood.
“People are apprehensive especially as they recall the impact of the last flood.
“Not even the council chairman showed concern, not even a councilor. We learnt there was a committee (on the flood), but the members never came; nobody came to ask us how we fared.
“The community was devastated; my house was submerged; the chief’s house was also completely submerged. He was moving from one place to another.
“My vehicle became a submarine; I was in Lagos when the flood hit my community. People lost valuables running into millions of naira. Yet, there was no concern from the relevant authorities.
“It was a few days before the elections that the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) called on us to come and collect relief items.
“Before then, we were asked to send photographs and videos of the devastation, which we did. The media even came, but there was no response from the three tiers of government,” he recalled.
Neme said that the government had done nothing to prevent the flood, revealing that what the community had now embarked on was to create awareness among its members.
“Nothing has been put in place, but we are doing the awareness ourselves. We are praying and believing God will not allow the flood. Let human beings predict, but we pray that God would disappoint them because we are completely helpless.
“If the government cannot do anything, what can we, poor peasant residents, do? Our hope is hanging; we are praying that God would disappoint the soothsayers,” he added.
On his part, the Secretary of Abagalada community, Simon Ilona, said that his people were hoping that the river would not overflow its banks even as the water continues to rise, maintaining that there was nothing on ground to contain the deluge.
“There is nothing we can do; there is nothing like human preparation. We don’t know whether the prediction is true or not; we are just relying on God to save us. Some predictions do fail; it does not always happen as predicted; so that is why we always rely on God,” he said.
Delta State govt’s response
Meanwhile, the Delta State governor, Sheriff Oborevwori, has reiterated his call on residents of lowland and flood-prone areas to relocate to higher grounds in view of the impending flood.
The governor in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Sir Festus Ahon, said that the state government was concerned about the lives and property of citizens living in flood-prone areas in the face of earlier warnings by the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA).
Ahon said that Governor Oborevwori had approved the setting up of a 14-man Flood Disaster Management Committee headed by the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Kingsley Emu, to mitigate the challenges expected by the impending flood.
He said that the committee was saddled with the responsibility of carrying out aggressive sensitisation of citizens on the impending flood and to propose appropriate measures for the prevention and management of flooding, addressing the displacement of people and to suggest ways for the provision of relief materials to victims.
He said: “The Delta State government has been informed that the authorities of Lagdo Dam in Cameroon would be releasing modulated amounts of water into the Rivers Benue and Niger due to flooding caused by torrential rainfall.
“The Delta State government will provide support to those displaced from their homes by the rising water level occasioned by the overflow of the River Benue and River Niger.
“Already, His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Sheriff Oborevwori, has approved the setting up of Flood Disaster Management Committee to ensure that persons displaced from their homes as a result of the impending flood are adequately catered for at various Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps nearest to them.”
Equally, many residents of Benue State, particularly those living in Makurdi and areas along the banks of River Benue, are consumed by fear and apprehension of the unknown.
Some residents who spoke to our correspondent told woeful tales of their past experiences of the flood, which has long become a perennial occurrence.
Bishop Amo Daudu of the African Church recalled with nostalgia how the 2012 and subsequent flood incidents dealt a heavy blow on him and his household.
Bishop Daudu who resides on the bank of River Benue, behind Kucha Utebe, Gboko Road, said: “Flood came to this house in 2012; then I was the Bishop of the African Church, Calabar Diocese.
“I was in Calabar, but my wife and children were here. When the flood came, they sent me photographs of how it submerged the house, and how they were faring. I was shocked at the devastation and I immediately asked them to leave the house.
“When they left, all the property were inside the water and before they returned, thieves came and took away all that we had. When I came back to Benue in 2015, the same thing happened. Flood came again and destroyed all our property. People came and stole our things; all the glass windows around this house were removed.
“People came here and interviewed us; the government also came, took records, but nothing was sent to us.
“In 2022, the flood level became higher than we used to know it; all the fences around here were pushed down; all the glass windows we replaced were all removed again by thieves; they took all my chairs and so many other things inside the house. Some memories I had since I was in secondary school – my documents were all taken away.
“When we came back after the flood had receded, some NGOs came and counted the people around here for relief materials, but where they put my name they later removed it; so since then I have been using my resources to repair this house. Nobody has come to my aid. So, with this new development, we don’t know what to do now.”
Another resident, Kashimana Ordue, who noted that she had lived behind Kyabiz Hotel for 10 years said “for these period, last year, 2022 flood was terrible.”
She explained that “when the rain came we thought it was going to subside, but before we knew it, the whole place got submerged the more.
“So, we had to pack out, and then in packing out we had no place to stay. We had to stay with a relative in town. That was when I appreciated the comfort in having our own place.
“In that house, my husband was insulted, my children scolded for little reasons; it was so embarrassing and terrible, but we had to manage.”
Mrs Ordue said that to get their property out, they had to engage the services of canoe men, saying “in fact, I was only able to take our books, clothes and a few items. Other things were left inside the flood. It was a terrible experience and we wouldn’t want to go through it again.”
Also lamenting, David Ogbu said that in the last four years when he was a student, he had experienced the flood twice.
“This time last year was terrible, such that we couldn’t stay. It was very serious.
“On the Internet, I read that the flood was coming again and we are really worried.
“My friend and I went around the school area to look for a house to enable us relocate. There, they told us that accommodation was going for N270,000 per annum. We are planning to pay to move because we don’t want what happened to us last year to repeat.
“Last year, the flood came heavily such that it got to the roof of our houses. You could not see any of these houses anymore.
“Some of my neighbours are already planning to move, but where they are moving to is the problem.”
We depend on God’s intervention
Bishop Daudu, who expressed deep pains at the current hardship facing the people, said that they were praying for God’s intervention to enable them get the needed resources to leave before the flood water got to them again.
“That is our predicament. When government said you should move to a safer area and an area is not shown to you, how do you go there? It’s very difficult; if you have money then you will be able to get a safer area, but if you don’t, that is where the problem comes,” he lamented.
What residents want Benue govt to do
Mrs Ordue called on the state government to provide a temporary place to enable them move before the flood water arrived.
She recalled that “last year, 2022, nobody provided anywhere for us. We had to move in with relatives. We have been crying for over 10 years now; the Federal Government should help us by dredging the River Benue which is now very shallow. If this is done, the issue of flood will be solved. For this period, the government should please show us a place to move into before the water comes.”
Ogbu said that the only thing the government could do at a time like this was to help the people get a temporary place to stay pending when the flood would hit and recede.
Benue govt’s intervention
Meanwhile, the Benue State government said that it had earmarked designated places across the local government areas in the state for temporary shelter.
An evaluation plan for residents living along flood-prone areas in Makurdi showed that the Benue State Emergency Agency (BSEMA), had designated Gaadi Primary School, International Market, LGEA Primary School, Wurukum, NKST Primary School, Wadata, among other places as camps for residents in Makurdi
According to an information officer at SEMA, the acting Executive Secretary, BSEMA, Sir James Iorpuu, during a meeting with the Director General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr Mustapha, Habib Ahmed, in Abuja recently, also harped on the preparedness of both NEMA and BSEMA on the 2023 flood, saying there was a need to strengthen Local Disaster Management Agency (LEMA) to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to collectively tackle the menace.
A resident of Edeha community in Kotokarfi Local Government Area of Kogi State, Abdullahi Shuaibu, who lives at the bank of the River Niger, said that in spite of the release of waters from Lagdo Dam and the persistent warnings by NIMET, they would not relocate from their ancestral land to anywhere.
Speaking with our correspondent, he said that they were already used to the annual flooding, and already knew what to do to navigate out of the flood.
He said that as professional fishermen, it would be improper for them to relocate to anywhere they would have nothing to eat.
However, two other persons living on the bank of River Adankolo told our correspondent that though, the Lagdo Dam waters were yet to reach Lokoja, they had already moved their family and household items away to avoid the impending disaster.
He said that they hoped to return to their community whenever the waters receded.
It was gathered that a lot of tenants who were affected in Lokoja by last year’s flood had fled to seek better accommodation elsewhere in the town.
Kogi govt gets knocks for last year flood
Narrating her ordeal, Hassana, a mother of three, who was hit by the flood last year, accused the state government of not doing anything to help them, saying upon all the money and food items donated by corporate bodies and individuals, nothing was given out to the affected victims.
She said that even the IDP camp at Adankolo Primary School did not accept any flood victim last year as there was neither a single government official nor any shelter to accommodate them.
He told the state government to stop playing politics with the lives of its vulnerable citizens.
Kogi govt reveals plans
However, the state Commissioner for Environment, Omofaiye, assured that the government had put necessary measures in place, and done a lot to sensitise people living in flood-prone areas on the need to move.
He stressed that the problem at hand was that some people were not willing to leave for upland areas because they said they could not relocate from their ancestral homes.
The commissioner while advising that it was better to be alive than struggling to sustain an ancestral home, appealed to traditional rulers to sensitise their subjects on the dangers of the impending flood.
The commissioner who said the government had already provided three IDP camps within Lokoja and its environs, recalled that the previous administration built a flood estate, adding that efforts were on to build the second phase of the estate so as to permanently relocate the flood victims.
He mentioned that seven local government areas of the state: Bassa, Kotokarfi, Lokoja, Ajaokuta, Ofu, Idah and Ibaji, are prone to flood.
In Edo State, communities usually impacted by the flood have started harvesting their crops to minimise their losses.
Already, following torrential rains since August 27, farmlands in Udaba community in Etsako Central Local Area of the state have been flooded. The farmers were forced to commence harvesting of their cassava, groundnuts and other crops.
A veteran journalist from the community, Mr Isaac Omoaka, who confirmed this, said this year’s flood was imminent.
On the preparedness of people to relocate to higher grounds, he explained that, only a small percentage of the people usually do so.
“Those who have no relations to live with move to Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps,” he said.
Omoaka told our correspondent that based on their previous experience, the people use the mark of the flood on their buildings in planning for the next year.
“Many people do not relocate. What they do is to erect platforms on which they keep their essential belongings while some keep such important items in the ceiling of their houses, while some would raise their beds and live in their flooded homes,” he said.
He said the IDP camp in Ogomere in Edo North which serves six communities that are flood-prone, could not accommodate everyone if all the people of the affected communities were to take refuge in it.
Edo govt issues flood alert
Two weeks ago, the Edo State government issued a warning alert to residents in lowlands and riverine areas of the state, including people in Agenebode, Anegbete and Ilullshi of Etsako East, Etsako Central and Esan South East local government areas, respectively to be vigilant and relocate to a higher plain.
Besides, areas in Ikpoba Okah, Ovia North-East and Ovia South-West were also put on notice to relocate, following imminent flooding.
The state Commissioner for Communication and Orientation, Chris Nehikhare, in a statement in Benin City, said: “Edo State government has been informed that the authorities of Lagdo Dam in the Republic of Cameroon would be releasing modulated amounts of water into River Benue due to flooding caused by incessant torrential downpour.
“The Edo State government will provide support to those displaced from their homes by the rising water level occasioned by the overflow of the River Benue.
“Because we know this is going to happen, we had to move quickly to ensure that our IDP camps are in a good state and the residents adequately briefed and sensitised,” the statement added.
Similarly, the state Commissioner for Public Safety and Security, Kingsley Uwagbale, while assuring support for residents in the riverine communities, said the state government was prepared to provide emergency response.
Besides, he said that relevant stakeholders, including Edo SEMA, Ministry of Public Safety and Security and NEMA had made adequate preparations, including several visits to the various expected flood-impact communities to sensitise and assess the level of preparation and put in place adequate response and recovery plans.
“The communities in flood-impact zones have been urged to cooperate with their LEMC (local emergency management committee) and move upland.
“Our LEMCs across the zones will give us daily on-the-spot updates in collaboration with local government council leadership to ensure we mitigate the impacts.
“Government has stocked food and non-food items and other applicable materials and resources to support victims as the floods come,” the commissioner assured.
Meanwhile, the Rivers State government has said that it is fully prepared to mitigate the effect of the predicted 2023 flood.
The state governor, Siminalayi Fubara, stated this at St. Paul’s State Primary School Field, Ahoada, during the public launch of the 2023 Road Map of Rivers State government to mitigate the effect of flood.
Both Ahoada East and Ahoada West are among the local government areas that are adversely affected by the River Niger flood. Other local governments include Abua/Odual and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni (ONELGA).
Governor Fubara, who was represented by his deputy, Prof Ngozi Odu, said that Rivers State in line with national intervention strategies, had adopted proactive measures, which included the establishment of a multi-sectoral state committee on flood involving various stakeholders, like the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Social Welfare.
He added that the local government flood committees had also been constituted.
According to Fubara, “the mitigation is in three phases, and phase one is almost concluded with the identification and preparation of IDP camps. And today, the provision of equipment and materials to flash local government areas, namely Ahoada East, Ahoada West, ONELGA and Abua Odual.”
He said that the actions taken so far underscored the level of preparedness of the state when the flood comes.
In his remarks, Chidi Amadi, the Chief of Staff, Rivers State Government House, who is also the Chairman of the Flood Management Committee, said that all necessary measures had been taken to forestall a repeat of the ugly food disaster last year.
Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr Godwin Tepikor, said that part of the mandate of the agency was to monitor the level of preparedness of the stakeholders.
He noted that NEMA South-south zone had carried out aggressive sensitisation and advocacy on early warnings to the public and affected local government areas.
He said that in Rivers State, 15 local government areas had been predicted to experience high flooding, while eight others were to experience moderate flooding, adding that the predictions were real.
Earlier, the Chairman of Ahoada East Local Government Area, Ben Eke, said that the four council chairmen had agreed to support whatever plans the governor had for the people of the state.
But Mr Emmanuel Nwabrije, a politician from Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni council (ONELGA), said that the three tiers of government lacked the political will to tackle flood.
Nwabrije said that it was painful to recall how he lost all his hard-earned property to flood.
According to him, Nigeria has the resources to tackle the menace, but government had not put its best to address the problem.
He said: “The truth remains that Federal Government lacks the political will to tackle flooding, but the resources to mitigate incessant flood are in abundance.
“States are not also helping matters. If not, what is the rocket science in there? I have lost everything I worked for in life to flood.
“All we need to do is simple: government should dredge those rivers, and widen their depths.”
As the 2023 flooding draws near in Bayelsa, there is fear and apprehension among Bayelsans over the fate that would befall them during the period. Drawing from the devastating experience of the 2022 flood, many Bayelsans have little faith in the government’s ability to mitigate the effects of the flood.
Though Governor Douye Diri had inaugurated the Flood and Erosion Directorate with a Director-General, Omuso .D. Omuso, Byelsans are not impressed with the activities of the committee as they are not seeing steps taken to ensure Bayelsans do not suffer.
Mr Johnson Ebitimi who took refuge at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at the Ox-Bow Lake Pavilion in 2022 said that he is planning to relocate to Port Harcourt during the flood because his experience at the IDP camp in 2022 was not palatable.
“I was one of the first persons that reported to the camp at the Ox-Bow Lake Pavilion during the 2022 flood, but my experience was terrible. The sanitary condition was bad and the mosquitoes were terrible. I was the only one that could stay because I had sent my family to my village in Ekeremor. But with what I am hearing about the coming flood, I don’t want it to meet me here. I would be relocating to Port Harcourt by the middle of this month. My only prayer is that when we are away, our house should not be bungled”.
Also speaking, Mr Easterday Ayebatari, a journalist staying at Captain Ayeni road in Yenagoa, said that residents of the area have been organising themselves to clear the drainages and the natural canals to ensure they don’t suffer what happened in 2022.
“Yes, we have been organising ourselves to clear the drainages and the natural canals here to ensure we do not suffer like last year. We have been doing that and our hope is that it is going to help us,“ he said.
At the Ox-Bow Lake area, where bodies were discovered floating in 2022, Mrs Kune Igigogi said the residents are not aware of any plans by the government to control the flood in 2023.
“ We are afraid that the 2023 flood will deal with us the same way we suffered last year. If not until till now we have not seen any concrete plans by the government. By now IDP camps should be getting ready to open. People that go to farms have told us that the water level is rising fast. The flood is approaching, but we are here waiting for the government to help us.”
Also speaking, the King of Biseni in Yenagoa Local Government Area, one of the worst hit areas in 2022, King David Obuma Ibedabowei lamented the lackadaisical attitude of the government in tackling flooding in the state.
“I am not impressed with the attitude of the state government. There is even nobody trying to find a solution. The state government is not interested. After him some other governors would come. Maybe we would have a governor from the Biseni Kingdom that would be interested in the flood situation in Biseni. During 2022, we shouted but nobody paid attention. No single relief materials were sent to Biseni.
“The mood of the people is that they are thinking of relocating. We had a launching for provision for Higher Ground where people can take refuge during the flood, no government official came, no representative was also sent. We invited National and House of Assembly members, not a single one of them came. They are not interested in the people.”
However, in an interview, Mr Omuso of the Flood committee dismissed reports that the state government is not working.
According to him, the government is working round the clock to ensure that Bayelsans do not suffer.
“Our committee has been clearing canals around Yenagoa to ensure people do not suffer. Our committee is new but we are working”, he said.
Also the Director-General of the State Emergency Management Committee (SEMA), Mr Walaman Samuel Igrubia in an interview said that preparations are in top gear to ensure Bayelsans do not suffer.
“We have already identified higher grounds that we will use as IDP camps. We are only waiting for approval”, he said.
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