November 29, 2022

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EDITORIAL: National flood disasters – why we need to act proactively

Going by official tallies, Nigeria is currently experiencing one of its worst flood disasters, which has resulted in the death of hundreds of its citizens. Houses have been destroyed, farmland ruined, roads and bridges washed off. This nature’s rage, aggravated by the incompetence of public officials, has sparked humanitarian tragedies and fears of worsening food inflation. Ironically, the calamity was foretold, which means that if proactive steps had been taken, its impact could have been mitigated. But as usual with governance in this part of the world, the warnings were treated with indifference.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, said that 603 persons had died across the country from this year’s flood, as of October 16. A total of 82,053 houses have been totally destroyed; 1,302,589 persons displaced; just as 2,407 persons were injured. The bad news is that days of anguish are not over just yet, as states like Anambra, Delta, Cross River, Bayelsa and Rivers have been warned to be wary of the scourge until the end of November. The evacuation of citizens living in flood planes in the affected states has been advised. The flood has imposed a force majeure on Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas (NLNG) Limited in Rivers State, which implies that gas shortage is imminent.

As early as 15 February, the Nigeria Meteorological Agency released the 2022 Seasonal Climate Forecast that warned of heavier rainfalls and floods than experienced in 2012. This was followed by an advisory from the Nigeria Hydrological Survey Agency on the annual flood outlook. Other appropriate federal agencies advised states in the country to take charge. That was as far as the proactive measures went. Unfortunately, public enlightenment on safety concerns is never taken seriously in Nigeria until tragedy strikes. Otherwise, the lessons of the 2012 flooding and similar experiences afterwards were enough for states at risk to heed the red flag and at least evacuate vulnerable citizens early enough.

A plague that has so far claimed 603 lives and submerged 332,327 hectares of farmland is a catastrophe of immense proportions. In Delta and Bayelsa States, some schools have been submerged; just as 76 persons lost their lives while fleeing when their boat capsized in the Ogbaru area of Anambra State early this October. Most of the victims were women and children.

Minister Sadiya Farouq has upbraided state governments for not being proactive enough in tandem with the National Flood Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (NFEPRP). But the Federal Government is as liable for being irresponsive as the sub-national authorities have been. If not, the minister would not belatedly be talking of Nigeria initiating “…a bilateral discussion with authorities in Cameroon next month (November), on the periodic opening of the Lagdo Dam.” Water released from this dam aggravated the present flooding, as is often the case. Also, her ministry’s planned high-powered delegation to states to extract more commitment from them to strengthen their response to the NFEPRP is counter-productive, as flooding has already wreaked havoc.

As regular as flooding of this magnitude has become, it is important that governments at the federal and state levels begin to identify policy measures or action plans to checkmate it, since it cannot be totally stopped. Nigeria agreed with Cameroon to complete the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa State, to act as a buffer for excess water from Lagdo Dam. This has not been done. It is criminal neglect that is condemnable and a big threat to national food security.
In Benue State, 12 local government areas have been submerged; 10 in Kogi State share the same cruel fate. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) had earlier declared that 14,496 hectares of farmland in five local government areas in Kano have been totally destroyed, especially in Wudil, Bebeji, Warawa, Rano and Dawakin Kudu. And Olam Farm, one of the largest contributors to the rice value chain, has suffered heavily as its 4,400 hectares of farmland in Nasarawa State have been submerged by water from River Benue. A review of previous flood crises indicates that Niger, Jigawa, Yobe, Kano, Katsina and Kebbi States accounted for 37 out of the 103 cases recorded between 2011 and 2020.

Confronting each flooding nightmare with the same knee-jerk reactions will not take the country far in mitigating its effects. Governors Chukwuma Soludo of Anambra State and his counterpart in Delta State, Ifeanyi Okowa, have pointed the way forward. Soludo rightly observed that “We can no longer deal with perennial flooding as an emergency. We knew it will happen. We know the next one will come.” If the Federal Government builds dams and dredges the Rivers Niger and Benue to deepen them to absorb excess water from the Cameroonian Lagdo Dam, as Okowa suggested, hands-on mechanisms would have been put in place.
Since 1964, the nine countries through which the River Niger and its major tributaries flow have established the Niger Basin Authority (NBA), with its headquarters in Niamey, Niger Republic. It has the responsibility to closely follow the flows of the water bodies and play a role in preventing disasters connected to excessive water flows, in addition to overseeing equitable water usage for all the country stakeholders. PREMIUM TIMES believes that Nigeria should be more active in its engagement around the River Niger and ensure that the NBA does its work.
For their part, state governments should embrace appropriate environmental management, town planning and enforcement of rules without sentiments. It is the resolve Soludo demonstrated with his avowal to destroy 200 illegal houses built on water channels and drainages in Onitsha in April, a few months after he assumed office. But the Anambra boat incident that claimed 76 lives draws attention to the need for all states in the country to regulate and monitor their inland water transport services, as they do with road transport. States on the coastlines should end the reckless reclamation of swampy plots of land for the building of residential structures. It is a recipe for future disaster.

The country experienced a flood debacle in 2012, which claimed 363 lives, displaced 2.3 million people and left 597,476 houses destroyed. A Presidential Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee of 34 members did not help much. Jointly chaired by Aliko Dangote and Olisa Agbakoba, its appeal fund targeted N100 billion but realised only N11.35 billion in cash and pledges. Regrettably, corporate bodies, contractors and captains of industries failed to redeem their pledges six months after the fundraising, prompting the committee’s threat to publish their names.

Ultimately, hindsight is a critical tool of governance. It should be exploited to save lives during periods of crisis such as the present one. No amount of relief materials from NEMA or consolation can bring back the 603 lives lost to this

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