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Flood wrecks havoc in states as weather agencies warn coastal communities

By Joke Falaju (Abuja), Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo), Oluwaseun Akingboye (Akure) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
06 October 2019   |   4:25 am
In the first week of August, the Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA), the agency responsible for issuing flood alerts in Nigeria...

Salvaging personal belongings

• NEMA Keeps Mum Over Plans For Displaced Persons
In the first week of August, the Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA), the agency responsible for issuing flood alerts in Nigeria, issued an alert warning of imminent increased flooding in September.

The Director-General of NIHSA, Clement Nze, during a press briefing in Abuja, also accused state governments of failing to heed its previous warnings on floods released earlier in the year, just as it went ahead to urge them to pull down structures built on flood plains.
The NIHSA alert was issued barely 24 hours after the management of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) issued a notice asking students to vacate the campus in the wake of the death of four students in a flood disaster on campus. Heavy rain brought down a makeshift bridge on campus, which led to death of four students.

The agency in the alert, specifically warned states in the South to brace up for more flood, saying the flood coming from Rivers Benue and Niger, converging in Lokoja would still find its way to Edo, Delta, Anambra, Bayelsa, and Rivers state.

At the time of handing down the warning, river and urban flash/floods had pounded and wreaked havoc in at least 34 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Kastina, Plateau, Kebbi, Bauchi, Niger, Rivers, Ekiti, Sokoto, Zamfara, Cross River, Taraba, Oyo, Kaduna, Delta, Anambra, Kwara, Adamawa, Gombe, Yobe, Kogi, Nasarawa, Edo, Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Asia, Borno, Bayelsa, Jigawa and Kano states were all affected. At least 90 local councils within these states were affected.

While some states may be lucky not to experience another round of flooding going by the prediction of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) of early cessation of rainfall beginning from September 26, in Sokoto and Kastina, before the rains start moving downward, other states may have to brace up for more pounding.

The NiMET prediction had indicated that rainfall would continue up to late November and early December in coastal states of Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa and Rivers states, of among others.

The situation is more worrisome going by the red alert issued by the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) after the flood of great magnitude witnessed in Niamey, Niger Republic on August 31 led to a rise in the water level of River Niger.

Even though the water would eventually empty into the Atlantic Ocean, it would on its way cause flooding in states along the course of River Niger, including Kebbi, Niger and Kwara states, all of whom are still grappling with the impact of the flood.

The NIHSA boss Nze told The Guardian that due to the flood situation, the agency had “advised managers of Kainji and Jubba dams to open their water spillway and start spilling water so that the dam can accommodate the floodwater coming from River Niger. Unfortunately, the water released has continued to move downwards.”

Flooded farmland

The implication of this development, according to the DG is that, “the flood that was sighted, and which led operators of the Kainji and Jubba dams to open their water spillway has got to Kogi State, and it would still move down to states in the South like Edo, Delta, Anambra, Rivers, and Bayelsa.”

The impact of this action has already been felt in Kogi State, as the state recently witnessed another round of flood, where about 150 communities were reportedly affected, with the worst hit being Ibaji Local Council where about 90 percent of the LGA was flooded.

The NIHSA DG also disclosed that reports coming from the measuring station in Lokoja, indicated a steady rise in water levels of Rivers Niger and River Benue, adding that the current water level of River Niger is 10.48 metres, which is not as high as what it was in 2012 that led to a massive flood disaster.

On why state governments are treating flood warnings with community, Nze alleged that most Nigerians and governments are not known for heeding weather-related alerts, adding that more often than not, they believe that the flood may not happen, or if it happens it may not be up to the magnitude that the forecast revealed.

He cautioned governments against waiting for disaster to happen before taking action, as the damage would have become greater in magnitude, adding that it was very important for state governments to judiciously utilise ecological and sundry state funds to address some niggling environmental issues.

Nze warned that, “residents of lowlands must help themselves by relocating from these floodplains to high fields. He added that “if government refuses to provide refuge upland to accommodate people that may be impacted by flood, the people can help themselves by going to stay with relatives for some time, instead of staying back in the flood plains and losing their lives and their belongings.

Meanwhile, there seems to be no well mapped out plans by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to ameliorate the sufferings of thousands of people displaced so far by flood in the country.

Efforts by The Guardian to hear from the agency were unsuccessful as a source informed that the director-general of the agency Mustapha Maihaja has made access to information from the agency very difficult, as he has directed that all inquiries should be directed to him personally, and no director is permitted to speak on behalf of the agency.

Maihaja was not on seat when The Guardian visited the agency, at the time of filing the report, but a source confirmed that, “it has become difficult to get any information from the agency. The DG set up a situation room that has archives of all the disasters in the country, but unfortunately, those in the situation room have been directed not to give any information out, except authorised by the DG.”

A year after flood devastated more than 12 states destroying property and displacing several persons, NEMA only recently commenced the distribution of relief materials to victims.

The 2018 flood affected about 327, 052 people, displaced about 77, 460, destroyed about 3, 544 houses, 60, 208 hectares of farmland, about 151 persons were injured and 70 deaths recorded.

Stakeholders harp on the need for NEMA to ensure that relief materials get to flood victims as at when needed to cushion the effect of the disaster, and avoid the diversion of the relief items. Often the disaster management agency has been criticised for doing the opposite.

However, a statement signed by the spokesperson of the agency, Sani Datti, said the agency has commenced the distribution of agricultural inputs to victims of the 2018 flood simultaneously in 18 states.

As NHSA continues to call on states to take action to avert catastrophic consequences, Ondo State is one of those states that have been on the receiving end nature’s fury of late.

Penultimate Monday, parts of the South Senatorial District was battered when the Atlantic Ocean surged heavily into communities, destroying property worth millions of naira and making life unbearable for the riverine people.

Worst hit was Ayetoro Community, in Ilaje Local Council, where residents were not only displaced, but the surge also destroyed the Community Primary School, Ayetoro, which was founded in 1955 and has remained the only such facility in the entire Ilaje area and its environs.

The Guardian gathered that the entire school, part of which had earlier been swept away by the ocean surge was nearly destroyed. The office of the Headmaster, Mr. Olorunsola Alfred Okunnuwa was also destroyed and vital documents belonging to the school also destroyed.

At the moment, the school with over 300 pupils drawn from Ayetoro Alagbon, Legbe, Ebietomiye, Demehin, Erunna, and other neighbouring communities has been shut down.

Mr. Okunuwa while recounting the incident disclosed that, “all the documents in the school are gone except certificates belonging to the pupils. The register, logbooks and other vital academic documents were destroyed by the incursion.”

He said while in the school on Saturday evening, he had a premonition of an impending misfortune hence his decision to cart home the pupils’ certificates “and those are the only documents saved from the destruction.”

The headmaster stated that he has already written a Save Our Soul (SOS) to the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) and the Ministry of Education for prompt intervention.

The Chairman of Ayetoro Youth Council, Mr. Ajinde Iretolu, lamented the losses incurred by residents yearly due to the sea incursion, which affects all coastline communities.

According to him: “The case will not remain the same now even when the new academic year just began two weeks ago. The situation now is worse because all files and vital documents have been washed off by the sea surge, and the headmaster’s office is no more.”

On Friday, September 27, in Akure, a commercial motorcyclist, Mr. Idowu Akomolafe, was killed by rampaging flood on his way home from work. The late Akomolafe was swept off at Ijoka area of the town.

According to eyewitnesses, the heavy downpour led to the area being flooded just as it was extremely difficult for road users to pass through.

“The Okada rider was swept away by the flood during the rainfall on Friday, but it was on Saturday morning that his lifeless body was found by the roadside.”

Idanre has also been battered by flood in the past few weeks and it was residents of Opa, Oke Mapo, Yaba and Alade that took the hit the most. The flood in Idanre and Ayede-Ogbese destroyed over 60 houses, wrecked electricity infrastructure and displaced many residents, who are still seeking refuge in churches, mosques, schools, or putting up with friends and relatives.

One of the victims, who simply identified herself as Helen, recounted: “I was not at home when the incident happened, but my children who were at home informed me of the unfortunate incident before I returned home. We lost most of our valuables to the flood, and as a matter of fact, we don’t have where to sleep.

“It has not been easy coping with the situation. There is nobody to accommodate us, and that is why we are living inside the church, and the church members are the ones providing us food and other things that we need to get by. The clothes that we are wearing were given to us by members of the church. The government should please assist us, and facilitate our return home as fast as possible.”

A secondary school teacher, Mr. Isaac Obe, lamented that “the incident was quite unfortunate, but we thank God that no life was lost. Even though there was no human casualty, but we lost a lot of material things. The storm caused extensive damages and efforts to rehabilitate the damaged things have not been fruitful.

Salvaging alliances at Ilaje

“I was not at home when the heavy downpour started, but I dashed home under the heavy rain only to discover that the havoc had already been done. I lost many of my belongings, my children and wife also lost a lot of their personal effects.”

Among those numerous victims were two retired civil servants and Septuagenarians, Mr. Festus Olamiti and Mr. Taye Akinyemi. They are still groaning after losing their means of livelihood, as the fish business that they set up with life savings is no more. Everything inside the fishpond was washed away by the flood.

The Aladeokun of Alade-Idanre, Oba Olusegun Akinbola, decried the natural disaster, and appealed to governments at all levels to promptly intervene to forestall a reoccurrence and provide relief materials to the victims.

The monarch, who said such flood had not swept across the town before, thanked the Ondo State government for swiftly responding to their SOS, and for being proactive to the plight of his people.

Similarly, the Owa of Idanre, Oba Fredrick Aroloye, expressed deep grief saying: “This incident came to us as a shock. Unfortunately, this could happen to us at this time when things are not easy in the country. That is why we are calling on our state government to assist us and bail us out of this problem. We are begging.”

However, to curtail the recurring flood menace and prevent further destruction across the state, the state government declared that it would demolish all buildings and structures built on waterways.

The Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, who led a state delegation to assess the level of damage in Idanre Local Council, advised those still living in the affected buildings to vacate them to prevent further and preventable disasters.

In Oyo State residents of Arekemase and Ogundipe communities in the Olodo area of Egbeda Local Council, as well as residents of Idi-Ayunre at Oje Market in Ibadan, bore the brunt of a heavy torrential rainfall a couple of weeks ago.

Another heavy torrential downpour towards the end of last month, which destroyed property and got residents of some Ibadan communities scampering for safety was what got the state government to spring to its feet and declare its preparedness to begin the dredging of rivers in flood-prone communities.

According to the state Commissioner for Environment and Water Resources, Kehinde Ayoola, the river dredging exercise would be carried out by the ministry, in conjunction with the Ibadan Urban Flood Management Project.

Last month, the Akwa Ibom State government took preparations to combat flood in the state a notch higher with a pre-bid meeting, where the state Commissioner for Environment and Mineral Resources Ekong Sampson, addressed prospective contractors as the state prepares to build surface and underground drainage to fight erosion and flood on IBB Way in Uyo.

The Federal Government and the World Bank are partnering the state, through Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) to address the situation.

Sampson, while addressing the contractors said: “In Akwa Ibom State, we face major problems with flood and erosion. As at the last count, we had close to a thousand sites in the state. That is to say, we are under pressure. Engagements like this will help us implement our policies and our commitment to addressing the flooding and erosion.”

He assured that the award process would be transparent, adding that the government would not compromise speed and efficiency.

Speaking to The Guardian on the effect of erosion in the state, he lamented that despite the government’s remedial measures to tackle erosion and flood, many areas in the state were still under serious threats.

He singled out Ibrahim Babangida Avenue (IBB); Anua and Etim Usanga Street, all in the state capital as some of the worst sites. Other sites still in Uyo include Uyo Prison; Udo Inwang and Ubara communities in Use Offot.

“We have about 1, 000 disturbing erosion sites across the state. The state is actually under pressure, but we are taking steps to mitigate that through planting of trees. The major erosion site in the state is the one along IBB Avenue, which the state government is collaborating with the World Bank to make the erosion problem there a thing of the past. It is a massive project in which the World Bank is interested in collaborating with us.

“There are several villages that are badly affected by the heavy downpour, which is a major feature of the ongoing rainy season. That is why we are calling on the Federal government to come to our rescue because Akwa Ibom State is erosion-prone by the nature of our environment. The Federal government should come to our rescue.”