The rains and the pains
The deplorable state of infrastructure in the country is a major source of worry whenever the seasons swing and rains take over. The poor dilapidated roads, the precariously hanging bridges that could be washed away in storm water, the inefficient and clogged drainage channels and the massive floods that wreak havoc are some of the problems that raise apprehension during the rainy season.
All over the country, the rainy season makes life miserable for millions of people. But the situation would be different if functional and social infrastructure facilities were in place. The rainy season exposes the underbelly of our cities and towns.
Added to this is the poor housing condition in which most Nigerians live. All over the place, from the villages to the urban centres, the shanties, the makeshift structures that stand for houses and the slums where millions live in terrible environmental condition make the rains a curse to many. Year in year out, people living in terrible condition go through hell to survive the ravages of the rainy season.
There are citizens whose living rooms and immediate surroundings are permanently flooded throughout the rainy season. Such people are exposed to infections, diseases and ailments. There are others who live in somewhat hospitable housing but have no access roads to pass to their homes. With no official assistance from government, millions of people lose property worth millions to the tempestuous rainy season.
One group that has cause to welcome the rains is the farmers. To the farmers, the rains herald the planting season. The rains bring joy and guarantee a bountiful harvest after a successful planting season. Without the rains, the farmers won’t cultivate and there will be poor harvest. Faming breeds hunger and starvation. In a country like Nigeria where agriculture has been relegated to the background, lack of food is a major constraint to socio-economic development.
Luckily, unlike in some countries where drought wreaks havoc to agricultural production, the rains have been fairly regular here. What is lacking is the policy thrust by government to revamp the agricultural sector through a systematic assistance and incentive to the real farmers. The agricultural loan scheme often anchored by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) could serve that purpose if the real farmers and not the ad-hoc “commercial agricultural adventurers” get the loans.
Ordinarily, the onset of the rainy season should bring joy and happiness especially after the long hot dry season compounded by the endemic national power blackout. The rains sooth the scorching heat, reduce temperatures, water the earth and mop the dusty ground. These conditions make everyone, especially the urban dwellers to feel at ease. The cool nights provide excellent condition for sound sleep. Without the usual night sweating, rashes in children, the rains provide ideal weather condition. But as the rains get heavier, there are issues to watch in Nigeria’s social and economic complex.
First is building collapse. The rainy season is a season of building collapse. Some buildings would surely collapse and wreak havoc on occupants. This problem is more prevalent in Lagos State. However, other towns like Port Harcourt, Abuja, Benin, etc have also had building collapse.
The Lagos State Government, for obvious reasons, should be fully aware of this problem. The state has recorded the highest number of building collapses in recent times. Hundreds of people have perished in the ugly incidents. Many factors are responsible. Structural failure of buildings due to poor engineering design and construction is mostly responsible.
The acute accommodation problem in Nigeria’s urban centres prevents occupants of dilapidated buildings from evacuating before disaster occurs. The Lagos State Government should mount a public enlightenment campaign to alert citizens on the possibility of building collapse during the rainy season. Residents should be wary of this danger. People should be enlightened to take notice of cracks and tilts in their residential buildings and report such to the authorities. Telephone numbers should be provided where such reports should be made. The same should be carried out in all the southern states in particular and Nigeria as a whole.
By so doing, everybody would be at alert to avert possible disasters. There may be need to evacuate residents as the case may be like in typhoon and hurricane prone Asia and America, where citizens are alerted on the approach of dangerous winds. Given the number of building collapses that have been recorded, the authorities should not pretend not to be aware of the problem.
There is need for governments across the federation to put emergency structures in place in readiness for possible disasters. Whether it is building collapse or massive floods that occur after heavy torrential downpour, the national and state emergency outfits should be on standby to tackle such problems when they occur. In the past few years, there have been massive floods in Kano, Kaduna, Plateau State, Abeokuta, Owerri and, of course, Lagos, among others.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Red Cross, Civil Defence and others should be on standby. The state governments should make provision for emergency relief supplies for victims of floods, building collapses and thunderstorms. It is needless running helter-skelter after disaster occurs. The authorities should be prepared beforehand.
Second, Nigerian road travellers are exposed to untold hardship during the rainy season because the country’s major highways are in tatters. The notorious Lagos-Ore-Benin highway has not been fully rehabilitated. The unending patchwork on the road has done little to improve its condition. Travellers on this road should be wary how and when they should travel to avoid getting stuck on the road.
It is amazing that Lagos has so far not had heavy rains that trigger flooding. The apparent dryness of Lagos since July is unusual and may be due to climate change. There is a general low rainfall prediction for this year by NIMET. But this is not the case in the South-East and South-South zones, where torrential rains have continued unabatedly.
In Owerri, the Imo State Government has embarked on a massive urban renewal programme to bring the city to acceptable standard. The demolition of shanties along the major roads has not gone down well with most people. But there is no other way to create a decent city. The government should have a plan for reconstruction and not leave things in shatters.