‘Nigerian needs technology based solutions against flooding’
Chairperson of the Friends of the Environment (FOTE) and immediate past president, Nigerian Academy of Engineering (NAE), Mrs Joan Maduka, in this interview with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO speaks on how Nigeria can overcome the challenge of yearly flooding.
Again, Nigeria is battling flooding with many lives lost, schools shut across the country and many people displaced. What do you think is behind this challenge?
I believe it is climate change; everybody is shouting about it all over the world. But in the developed countries, they are doing something about it. They are trying different methods by which they can counter the effects of climate change. But to say that there is no climate change is not true. Many years back, it rained very little in October, so by now we should be enjoying the dry season slowly.
The effect of too much rain is what we are suffering now. And we are not usually prepared for the different climates. We are not prepared for the dry season and also we are not prepared for the rainy season.
I was telling somebody recently that this flood had affected the Nigerian Academy of Engineering in the past. We went to Abuja for a workshop and on our way back, all flights were cancelled. We had to come back to Lagos by road in a bus and that bus could hardly cross Lokoja because the River Niger was already overflowing. This was in 2012. Now, seven years after, what we even have is worse.
So, what is the country expected to do that is not being done to curb this menace?
You know Ikoyi is below sea level. At a time we were living in Bishop Kale Close Victoria Island, Lagos. Then, every year, the sea would overflow and enter our house and all the surrounding buildings. I think it was Tinubu’s government that went to seek expert advise. I really believe result was part of the reason they had to push back the sea. If you get to Ahmadu Bello Way, the shoreline has been pushed back for about a kilometre or even more. So, flooding in that area of Victoria Island has been taken care of more or less; although with the blocked drainage, the problem is still slightly there but not as bad as it used to be.
So, I believe that if our governments are serious, they have to prepare for the eventuality of our own type of rainy season. It will mean a solution which will be technology based, because in a place like Lokoja and so on, they have to do embankments to contain the river within a certain channel so that it will just go straight and empty into the sea.
Then at the smaller level, virtually all the cities are having their own problems mainly because they are not properly drained. We were told that the Netherlands is lower than Lagos to sea level and they were able to take care of their own. They used technology to solve their problem. We have to do that too; there is no way right now that we can leave things to nature. We have gone past that; and it is not only in flooding but also in other things. So, we have to get a little more serious by taking the right steps to confront our challenges.
At the community level, what can the citizens do?
As I said earlier, at that level, we need to ensure that we clear our drains. In the olden days, the population was much smaller so the land space occupied was also much smaller; control was easier and people were generally more responsive. With what we are seeing in the cities right now, the states and local councils will have to make a strong effort to clear the drains. It is not the duty of the citizens to clear the drains; that part of the reasons they pay tax. It is primarily the work of the local and state governments to clear drains even if they have to mobilise the citizens. So, they have to make sure that before the rains, all water channels, canals and drains are free and properly drained.
In Victoria Island, there is a channel I know that goes to the lagoon. It was cleared a few years ago. When they were doing that, they even had to ask the landlords to move their fence back in order to be able to expand that channel. Since then, nobody has cleared that channel again. The trees inside it now are as high as may be a two-storey building. So, our governments have to do more than they are doing presently.
We have a lot of unemployed people, both men and women, who can be engaged to do these things but we are not doing that. What we are used to is fire brigade solution; everybody is crying now that we have much flood that is causing erosion, buildings are collapsing and children are being swept away by the flood. These are disasters waiting to happen from year to year. Are going to be crying like this every year?
We went to have a pilot project in Yaba Federal Science and Technical College within the week. We discovered that one of the buildings is standing on a drainage channel. And I’m not sure the right gradient was event used to construct that channel so that it can flow easily into the collecting drainage. So, anytime it rains, there is a lot of back flow of water and one of the classrooms is actually sitting on water. We have to pay attention to that kind of thing.
Let me also say that if government is going to work on our drains, it must ensure that it puts the proper professionals in charge so that if something goes wrong, there is somebody to hold. What happens is that they give contracts to non-professionals; sometimes they give maybe one or two kilometres of drains to maybe three contractors. Each one would take his own level, do his own and go away. When the rains come, they discover that the whole thing is a mess. It happens in many government contracts. And when we go into the dry season, as we are going slowly now, we forget that we suffered this year. The same thing and even worse will happen next year and that is the problem we have.
How can the issue of building on waterways and throwing garbage into drains be tackled effectively?
Again, that is for the local councils. There should be supervision. First, how do we clear our garbage? Do we have provision for clearing our garbage? People who have nowhere to pour their rubbish see the gutter as an alternative as long as it is out of their sight. They don’t really care because they don’t know the effect of what they are doing. So, it requires close supervision; if the relevant agency comes to your area and finds such, you should be properly sanctioned. But if you are going to do that, as the supervisor, you have to make sure that provisions have been made for people to dispose their garbage properly.
What is the likely long-term result if the country continues to treat this problem with levity?
Then I’m afraid those of us living in coastal areas will not exist. Last week, I read somewhere that Lagos is number six on the list of cities that are sinking very fast. And one of our experts had told me before that some areas in Lagos, which I won’t mention in order not to frighten anybody, are actually sinking faster than others. If we are not careful, again it’s a disaster waiting to happen. So, what can we do? It’s going to be very expensive to solve this sort of challenge but we just have to do our best for the sake of our survival.