By SIMON EBEGBULEM, Benin City
No fewer than three hundred persons in Etsako Central, Etsako East and Esan South East Local Government Councils of Edo State are presently counting their losses since the River Niger overflowed its banks. In the first instance, they were rendered homeless, while property worth over N1 billion were destroyed by the rampaging flood.
It was a pitiable sight when newsmen visited the affected areas as parents, including the elderly, made frantic efforts to evacuate their children from the flood.
Some members of the community even climbed trees in order to avoid drowning in the flood. It was said that the people went to bed that fateful Monday, but at about 11pm flood over took their homes, forcing them to scramble for safety. The ravaging flood which has taken over 20 communities with a population of over 350,000 persons, destroyed virtually everything in the affected areas. Things destroyed include buildings, house hold items and food crops in the farmlands.
At the Ekperi Grammar School, Ugbekpe Ekperi, there were over 60, 000 refugees from Yuluwa village, Ofukpo, Agbabu, Iguzi-Ofukpe, Udaba, Unudoboh, Udaba-Ogho, Anegette all in Etsako Central. The palace of the Daudu of Usumegbe, Chief John Musa and that of the village head of Udaba, Chief David Inetape were among the buildings submerged in the flood.
Agenebode, the headquarters of Etsako East Local Government area and its surrounding villages, have also been taken over by the flood, while Ilushi, Urho, Urhowa and Inyelen in Esan South East Local Government Area have completely been destroyed by the flood. Residents of the communities have relocated to Ubiaja the Council headquarters.
Narrating his ordeal, one of the victims, Alhaji Sedenu Mohammed said he fled his Udochi community with his two wives and seven children without salvaging even a pin from his house. He said he was only lucky to move his family away from the ravaging flood which he said took them unawares.
Another victim, Mallam Musa Aliu also narrated his ordeal. “We woke up one morning to see that water has taken over our community. Several houses have been submerged and all our property lost. We abandoned all we have to save our children and wives. I have no clothes any more, I have been wearing this cloth for the past few days. We thank God that we have not lost anybody. The river carried some of the children but we thank God they were rescued.
Many people were injured but there were no deaths. The Chairman brought food to us; that’s how we have been feeding. The President of the Udochi Community Mr. Zakari Jubril, an Engineer, wept at one of the centres opened for the displaced persons in Fugar…
The level of devastation is very monumental. What is giving us concern is that the water took over the entire community and we are scared that an epidemic can occur. But our joy now is that with this evacuation, some of the dangers have been averted. We are praying that the water level subsides so that the people can go about their normal life again.
It was quite devastating because when you see the crops that were destroyed, the livestock, the farmland, the people climbing on trees to save their lives, it was a pitiable sight. But we thank God the relevant agencies are assisting us to evacuate our people,” he said .
He added: “This is our ancestral home, government can come and assist by providing a place for our people to stay. Being a camp, they are exposed to many health hazards. They should get all the relevant health agencies to be on ground at least to take care of our people for this period”.
The Chairman of Etsako Central Local Government Council, Suleiman Gbagudu, described the flooding in his council as worrisome. About seven communities were affected. As we are talking now, there is no land in any of the communities.We have Otumegbe, Ofukpu, Agbabu, all covered with water.
In fact you cannot access that place with vehicle; you can only do that with a boat. We have been evacuating them but we thank God that since the upsurge there is no life lost. I appeal to the State and Federal governments to come to the aid of this Council”.
However some individuals, including a chieftain of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, in Etsako Central, Mr John Akhigbe, have bee providing relief materials to the victims. Akhigbe who provided five bags of rice, gallons of groundnut oil and other items expressed shock over the incident.
Worried by the devastation, Governor Adams Oshiomhole went on an on- the- spot assessment of the situation last Sunday. A stunned Oshiomhole declared: “I have never seen this kind of thing in my life before”.
The Governor who flew in an helicopter and also rode in a canoe to get to the affected communities to see the extent of damage done by the flood, admonished the victims to remain faithful because the calamity will soon be over to enable them return to their father land. He announced the release of N100million to provide relief materials to the victims.
Addressing the victims, Oshiomhole lamented that “ the entire area is in a terrible shape. “We could not even get any where to land with helicopter because everywhere is now water. I am particularly surprised because I passed through these communities a few months back. I have never witnessed this sort of thing all my life. I understand that it has not happened like this before. This is a serious natural disaster which is affecting several communities.
Farmlands have been destroyed, property have been lost. I saw dead goats and sheep foating in the river. I had to paddle a canoe to be able to move round the affected areas. The entire building of a Church is right inside the water, it is unbelievable”.
Continuing, the Governor said: “This is nature that is angry; we can only pray that God will take control and the water will recede so that people will reclaim their farmlands”.
The Governor listed the short and long-term consequences of the disaster. “Of course there are immediate and long term social and economic consequences but in the long run, I believe both the State and Federal governments will begin to look at both the long and short term solution should this kind of thing happen again. We should look into how to protect the communities along the River Niger and perhaps River Benue.
“We have serious humanitarian challenges and I think the immediate one is to provide food and places for people to sleep. We are going to release money immediately to procure food and mattresses and ensure that we get people of integrity to manage it to ensure that every body that is affected, gets some relief.”
The Governor who said the relief is for every body, warned against discrimination in the sharing. “It is not based on how you voted, those who voted against me and those who voted for me are equal,” he said.