IBADAN should not be one of the places to be associated with flood disasters for the simple reason that for decades, its Ogunpa River has been the best advertisement for what disasters can visit on a poorly planned city.
Ogunpa showed the ugliness of our politicians and administrators, who want to profit from every situation, and a people who ignore the dangers their low levels of hygiene pose to themselves.
The loss of lives, property worth billions of Naira, the displacement of people, and the disruption of academic and social activities in some parts of Ibadan, including the University of Ibadan, that has calculated its losses at over N10 billion, would draw attention to the challenge of floods momentarily. It is the way we are – we live for the moment and forget the next moment.
Floods of the Ogunpa River in 1960, 1963 and in 1978, delivered various degrees of damage to lives and property. Little was done to redeem the situation until the very devastating flood of 1980, which gained international attention.
Again, politics ruined the chances of a lasting solution. The federal government of the National Party of Nigeria wanted to fix the problem with the late MKO Abiola planning a personal fund raising. The Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, the government in Ibadan, turned down the offer, claiming it was a ploy of the NPN to get a foot-hold in Oyo State.
In subsequent years, corruption, sheer ineptitude, and outright negligence compounded the Ogunpa channelisation scheme. Billions of Naira down the drain, the scheme has been concluded, but other factors leave Ibadan prone to floods. The most pressing of these is the poor waste management in the city.
Residents dump wastes into channels. Ibadan is not exceptional in this practice, but the gargantuan size of the city, a refuse disposal system that hardly works and the volume of wastes its many markets produce are challenges governments have failed to tackle. Many parts of the city grew as populations increased. Parts of the city are without conveniences; residents just throw their wastes into the nearby channels.
Ogunpa while under construction suffered this fate. People ignored threats of arrest and dumped refuse in the channel, obstructing it and the work that was being done.
A study conducted after the 1978 disaster made these discoveries – many residents could not move out of the flood zone mainly because of shortage of residential accommodation in the city. The study listed poor drainage, heavy rains, and refuse disposal in the river, shallowness of the river channel and the unplanned layout of streets and buildings as major factors responsible for the flooding. These findings apply to all our major cities.
More than three decades after the study, the challenges have mounted. The major use of rivers, in most of our urban areas are as refuse dumps. The rivers are heavily polluted. Initially, people do not notice the consequences of their actions. As populations increase, generating more refuse, which is dumped into the same waterways, the channels block, then disaster.
Governments on their part act after the damage has been done. In Ibadan, like in other cities where disasters have struck this year, the same reactions of yester-years are being applied – long speeches that solve nothing, and worse, use of these tragedies for photo opportunities.
The authorities must wake up to their responsibilities. Climate change is not largely responsible for our floods. Poor planning of our environment, over-crowding of cities and careless disposal of refuse, some by government agencies, contribute to the worsening situation.
It is no longer useful to state how much governments regret the situation, or would not tolerate poor dumping of refuse. Governments must act decisively to protect the people from these avoidable disasters.