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Flood: Buhari may clash with NASS over ecological fund

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh, Terhemba Daka, John Akubo, Ann Godwin and Obinna Nwaoku, (Port Harcourt), Ameh Ochojila (Abuja), Ahmadu Baba Idris (Birnin Kebbi), Ibrahim Obansa (Lokoja) and Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia)
29 October 2022   |   4:12 am
A face-off between members of the National Assembly (NASS) and the executive arm of the Federal Government is imminent following alleged failures of the government in checking the menace of perennial flooding that has caused loss...

No More Excuses Over Perennial Flood Menace, Lawmakers Declare
• Minister Blames Menace On Non-passage Of Water Resources Bill By NASS
• Bagudu Seeks Establishment Of National Drainage Architecture
• FG Reassures Niger Delta Of Resettlement Plan
• Death Toll Rises To 21 In Abia

A face-off between members of the National Assembly (NASS) and the executive arm of the Federal Government is imminent following alleged failures of the government in checking the menace of perennial flooding that has caused loss of lives and property across the country.

Many lawmakers who spoke with The Guardian said they were upset about the alleged poor application of the ecological fund, which they believe could be utilised to tackle the flooding problems of the country.

However, the Federal Government has insisted that the states were not doing enough to address the problem, even as it explained that it has built nine new dams in different parts of the country between 2016 and this year.

The executive arm also attributed this year’s flooding that has killed over 600 people and displaced about 2.5 million Nigerians to the failure of the NASS to pass the Water Resources Bill, saying it has hampered proper management of the country’s water resources.  

But a member of the House of Representatives, Mark Gbillah, alleged that corrupt practices by government officials were behind the devastating effects of flooding in the country.

Gbillah, who is a member of the opposition Labour Party (LP), accused the authorities at both the state and federal levels of diverting ecological funds meant to tackle the problem.

The Benue-born lawmaker acknowledged that the National Assembly (NASS) had not done enough to hold those behind the alleged diversion of ecological funds accountable.

“It’s a government problem. It’s part of the corruption that we are experiencing. We have funds that are allocated for ecological interventions that are being mismanaged by the state governments.

“Those monies are being diverted to other uses and the NASS needs to rise up to its responsibility to investigate how they are expended throughout this administration. And even at the federal level, those funds are not being applied appropriately,” Gbillah alleged.

The lawmaker said the abandoned dredging project remains a clear case of irresponsibility on the part of the Federal Government.

He added: “There is always a pre-warning by the meteorological centre about impending floods. Even before then, the government should have been proactive by carrying out the necessary dredging and rechanneling of tributaries. 

“And then, we need to start looking at proper dams along the routes of these floods and then final relocation of those places along those banks. They should not be allowed to develop property there anymore. These are things regulatory authorities should be enforcing, but they are not doing so. So, it’s a failure completely on the part of the government.”

Also speaking on the government’s inaction, the Network for Health, Equity and Development (NHED) charged the citizenry to hold government officials accountable for the lives and property lost during the floods.

Project Adviser of NHED, Jerome Mafeni, stated that it behoves the citizenry to hold those entrusted with the mandate to administer the country responsible for the loss of lives and property running into billions of naira.

He particularly identified the failure of the government to build additional dams and dredge the Rivers Benue and Niger as the reason riverine communities in the country have continued to suffer the recurring problem of flood over the years.

His words: “The perennial issue of flooding is one that really requires the intervention of those who run the government. My understanding is that at the time that dams were being built, upstream River Niger and River Benue, there were agreements on what Nigeria as a country was supposed to do because when those dams were built, it would enable waters to be diverted to support farming and other agricultural activities and electricity generation.  

“So, as people were building those dams, we also were expected to build our own dams. We should have channels we can divert the flow of these waters to so that as the water released upstream comes to where we are, we would be saved from the consequences.  

“Nigeria as a country has failed to meet its own part of the bargain in terms of building additional dams. In addition, the country has budgeted billions of naira to dredge our waterways to make the rivers deeper, but nothing has happened in that regard. In the dry season, you see islands of sand on River Niger and River Benue. That tells you that the riverbeds are very shallow. If there were no depth in the rivers, it would essentially worsen the impact of floods in the country.

“The flood of this year brings with it a lot of sand as it carries water downstream. At the end of the flooding season, the government is supposed to go and dredge those rivers and make the river channels deeper. But the government would not do it. They would rather sit on the money than do the needful.  

“So, we just let the problem go and everybody goes back to business as usual till the next flood returns and we will start calling for humanitarian reliefs like bags of rice, blankets and other items. That really is not sustainable. We need to hold the government accountable for its inaction.”

The senator representing Kogi East in the National Assembly, Senator Isah Jibrin, who is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), also didn’t spare the government. 

He listed the reasons for the government’s failure to check the flood including the lack of dams and the haphazard dredging of the major rivers – Niger and Benue.

Jibrin urged the Federal Government to take the issue of dredging the River Niger and Benue seriously.

He stressed: “The Federal Government should also take the issue of dredging of the River Niger seriously and also River Benue. We need to do sufficient dredging so that the water can find its way. Water will always want to find its level because if you do sufficient dredging, it will create enough paths for the water to flow; then the issue of flood will be minimised. The Federal Government have to put measures in place to forestall reoccurrence.”

The lawmaker said a lot of havoc had been caused across the country following the release of water from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroun.

“To forestall reoccurrence, we also need to create our own dams that can absorb this water. A lot needs to be done in terms of educating the people living in the flood planes. Usually, they are forewarned; what is expected of them is to relocate to higher grounds. When the flood comes, they will relocate, but as soon as the flood subsides, they return. They are also contributing to this problem,” he added.

Jibrin noted that since it was a yearly occurrence, affected communities ought to be made to relocate permanently rather than crying out for help every rainy season.

“They may not also have the money to relocate. So, the government should also make it a deliberate policy to assist such residents by providing low-cost houses to move them to higher planes. They can make payments over a long period because the havoc on their farm is enormous. We need to look at the long-term measures,” he stressed.

According to him, this year’s flood was unprecedented, adding that he had never witnessed the type of havoc it caused.

“With particular reference to Kogi East, Bassa local council was the first victim; all their buildings collapsed,” he lamented.

A water management expert, Ada Ajonye, stated that rainfall could be predicted and areas prone to flooding identified, adding that what all that responsible governments needed to do was to design strategies on curbing the negative effects of the flood on the environment, people and the ecosystem. 

Ajonye said the current flood in Nigeria could also be partly caused by global warming. “Several main ingredients contribute to flood development – precipitation, snowmelt, topography and how wet the soil is. Depending on the type of the flood, some factors may matter more than others,” he noted.

A water engineer, James Idu, also insisted that every responsible government should have a flood prevention strategy in place. “It is not enough to forecast and go to sleep,” he said.

Giving another perspective, the Director-General, of Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, Mr. Clement Nze, attributed the devastating floods in many states to state governments not adhering to warnings.

He said if the states were doing as much as expected from them, the level of devastation that happens year-in-year-out could have been avoided or eliminated.

He said: “We’ve been telling the state governors that the tempo of political activities they embark upon during election periods should be deployed against activities that discourage flooding.”

It could be recalled that in 2017, the flood affected 250,000 people in the eastern-central region. In 2016, 92,000 were reportedly displaced while 38 died. In 2015, more than 100,000 were displaced with 53 deaths recorded. In 2012, devastating flooding forced two million Nigerians out of their homes and killed 363 people.  

This year, Anambra, Bauchi, Kogi, Gombe, Bayelsa, Benue, Kano and 26 other states have been affected so far, with records of the huge loss of lives and materials.

Findings have shown that part of the reason the country has been unable to tackle the problem squarely is a conflict between federal ministries regarding whose responsibility it is to address the issues.

For instance, the Department of Flood Control is now domiciled in the Ministry of the Environment. But the ministry that is principally and directly responsible for designing policy frameworks and strategies to curb flooding in Nigeria is the Ministry of Water Resources, which is in charge of proper damming of rivers and control of the country’s water resources, among others.

It was against this backdrop that the Minister of Water Resources, Alhaji Suleiman Adamu, recently blamed the lack of integration of the country’s water resources management on the non-passage of the Water Resources Bill before the NASS. He also argued that if the bill were passed, it would have allowed for proper and coordinated management of water resources in Nigeria.

A hydrologist and a dam engineer, he also expressed the belief that building more dams around Benue, along River Benue, to halt waters from coming into the River Benue community would help to address the problem. 

He disclosed that Kanji Dam, for this instance, which was purely managed by private entities and was only interested in electricity generating purposes, conserves water as much as possible, but noted that this is in contrast with the water management system.

On the widespread speculations that the release of water from Lagdo Dam in Cameroon was responsible for the perennial flooding in Nigeria, Adamu had clarified: “Yes, the dam releases water; sometimes, it releases water without notice and when they do that, it has an impact on communities downstream. But it is not the main reason you have floods in this country.”

He also added that transboundary water that comes into Nigeria from Rivers Niger and Benue constitutes only 20 per cent of the freshwater that flows into the country.

He said: “Eighty per cent of the flood is the water we are blessed with from the sky falling on Mambila and Jos Plateau. We cannot blame the flood this year on Cameroon. We can only blame them for violating the terms of the MoU, which Nigeria signed with Cameroon on the release of water.”

On the building of Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa, which could serve as a solution to flooding, Adamu stated that “whether we are able to do the dam or not, we will continue to have floods on the rivers Niger and Benue basins.”

He explained: “There was a consultant that had been appointed by the previous administration to work on this dam. When I came into the office, I checked the scope of work and the terms of reference. I was not satisfied that justice will be done to that design.

“You cannot build a dam as important and as strategic as Dasin Hausa on River Benue without a detailed feasibility and engineering design.”

He expressed optimism that by March 2023, the feasibility studies and engineering design would be completed.

The ministry, however, disclosed that it has completed nine new dams in different parts of the country between 2016 and this year, adding that 11 more are under construction and would be completed before 2023.

The Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, has however called for the establishment of a National Drainage Architecture. He made the statement yesterday in Birnin Kebbi at a stakeholders’ forum on the proposed HYPPADEC Medium-Term Strategic Plan (2022-2027).

Bagudu said such architecture would support the management of water bodies across the country.

“With the proposed architecture, it can be determined how much is required, for instance, for five to 10 years to support riverine communities rely on water bodies,” the governor said.

Bagudu emphasised the need for effective planning on the hydropower needs of the country, adding that flood and drought were resource issues that could be tackled with adequate resources.

Amid the quest for short and long-term solutions to the problem of flooding in the country, help came the way of the people of Onumaye and Ikumo communities in Kogi local council of Kogi State when a non-governmental organisation, Lift Up Care Foundation (LUCAF), distributed items worth over N5 million to the victims.

Speaking during the distribution of the items at one of the IDPs camps at Okumi where the people of Onumaye were taking refuge, the Executive Director of LUCAF, Mrs. Lami Ahmed, said the organisation discovered that some camps had not received any assistance since they were hit by the natural disaster.

Ahmed, who was represented by the programme manager of LUCAF, Mohammed Sumaila Onudoga, noted that the organisation decided to visit the hard-to-reach communities directly, saying the victims were often forgotten in terms of their needs.

Nevertheless, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Obong Umana Okon Umana, has assured flood victims across the Niger Delta region that there would be a comprehensive intervention by the Federal Government to ameliorate their sufferings and resettle them back to normal life.

He announced that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has directed Federal Government agencies to collaborate to provide relief materials for the victims of the flood as a matter of urgency. 

The minister disclosed this during a visit to flood-devastated areas in Ihuike Community in Ahoada East local council of Rivers State.

Umana, who was accompanied by the Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Emmanuel Audu-Ohwavborua, and other Directors of the Commission, described the flood disaster as a national emergency.

Umana said: “I have directed the NDDC to engage SETRACO, the construction company working on the road, to quickly assess the damages at the Ahoada section of the East-West Road, so that they can commence remedial repairs to restore the link between Rivers and Bayelsa States.”

He said that his Ministry was collaborating with the NDDC, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other Federal Government parastatals and state governments to offer medical and infrastructural assistance to impacted communities in the affected states.

Umana sympathized with thousands of people displaced by the flood and the families of those who have lost their loved ones, noting that urgent measures were being taken by the various organs of government to assist communities in the Niger Delta region by providing relief assistance to displaced persons as well as rebuilding damaged infrastructure.

The Minister pleaded with the people across the region to assist one another to overcome the current challenges, stating that he and his staff were working round the clock with other government agencies to provide relief materials to all affected persons across the region.

Also speaking, Audu-Ohwavborua restated the assurances given by the Minister on addressing the challenges posed by the flood.

“NDDC shall within the coming days, engage and mobilise Setraco Construction Company to the failed and unmotorable sections of the East-West Road linking Rivers state and neighbouring states,” he said.

Umana also disclosed that some of the impending matters that impeded the performance of the NDDC had been dealt with, saying: “For those matters, I have presidential approval for the transmission of the 2021/2022 budget of the Commission. I also have presidential approval that recovered funds be released. The President directed that those funds should be used to fund core infrastructural projects in the region.

“I am also happy to state that some of the serious pending issues, like the absence of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Board, has also been addressed and as we speak, Mr. President has transmitted the names of members of the Board to the Senate and I do know that on resumption the Senate would act on it.”

Meanwhile, the number of people that have died from flood disasters in Abia State in the last three months has risen to 21 from the previous 13. 

The Executive Secretary of the Abia State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Dr. Sunday Jackson said that the latest eight deaths resulted from recent flooding that occurred in Aba North, Aba South and Osisioma Ngwa local councils.

Jackson spoke during the handing over of various relief materials comprising food and non-food items that were provided by the Federal Government through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development to the state for distribution to the victims.

The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Mustapha Habib Ahmed, who was represented by the Head of Operations in charge of the Owerri Office, Mr. Ifeanyi Nnaji, said NEMA would oversee and collaborate with the state government to ensure that the materials get to the victims.

The Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Mr. Chris Ezem, who received the materials on behalf of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, commended the Federal Government for its kind gesture.

The SSG, who spoke through the Permanent Secretary, Bureau of Special Services Mr. Okey Ihedioha, said the governor had done some interventions to cushion the effect of the disaster on the victims, giving assurance that the targeted beneficiaries would be handed the materials without delay.