BY VINCENT UJUMADU, Awka
THE flood that ravaged no fewer than 40 communities in eight local government areas of Anambra had begun to recede, but it had left behind monumental destruction that is making the affected people to be lamenting over the natural disaster.
Many people who spoke to Saturday Vanguard after visiting their houses as the flood left their communities, said they were confused and even afraid to sleep in their houses for the fear that they might collapse if proper fortification was not carried out immediately.
The case of Mr. and Mrs. Emeka Chukwuma from Atani in Ogbaru local government area was so pathetic that the couple appeared to be confused as to what to do in view of the enormous damage done to their once palatial mansion in the area.
In fact, at the time the flood began, Mrs. Evan Chukwuma was in India for a routine check up, having earlier undergone a kidney transplant in that country. When she returned and travelled to Atani, their house was completely submerged and they were only able to salvage some of their property and relocated to Awka, the Anambra State capital.
As she was recuperating from her illness, she was also worried about the condition of her house and property back home in Atani. Though they managed to remove some of their property, most of those property were further damaged in the course of transfer, while others got lost in transit.
Mrs. Chukwuma told Saturday Vanguard: “When we learnt that the flood had receded, we travelled to Atani to see the condition of our house. We discovered that we need to do total rehabilitation to make the house conducive for habitation. And because we spent almost all the money we had during my trip to India, coupled with the fact that we sustained heavy losses in the course of transferring our property, the return journey has become very difficult.”
According to her, rehabilitation of their village house would require more that N1 million, adding that they need financial assistance from appropriate authorities to enable them resettle. The situation, she confessed, was aggravating her poor health condition.
Like the family of Chukwuma, most manufacturing industries in the commercial town of Onitsha which had to shut down their factories in the wake of the flood that submerged the Habour Industrial Estate in the city, are sending Save Our Soul, SOS, to the authorities to come to their aid, especially in the cleaning up of the flooded companies.
Chief Paul Okonkwo, whose multi –million naira Tourist Garden Hotel, Asaba and the manufacturing arm of his Pokobros Group of Companies, said he lost over N2 billion to the flood.
Conducting Senator Andy Uba representing Anambra South round his Tourist Garden Hotel, Asaba and the company’s head office at Onitsha, Okonkwo said it would take the company about N400m to clean the hotel at Asaba. At press time, the hotel was still submerged.
According to Okonkwo, his Pokobros Group of Companies, which has about 1,500 staff in its employ, stopped production due to the flood, adding that as the flood has begun to recede, the immediate concern of the manufacturers in Onitsha is how to get the companies running again.
The industrialist also stressed the need for the federal government to complete the dredging of the River Niger, stating that if the much-publicized dredging of the River Niger had taken place, the impact of the flood would have been minimal and dismissed the claim in some quarters that the River Niger has been dredged up to 70 percent, saying that as it is now, the Onitsha River Port cannot be operational because it cannot take barges due to the shallow nature of the river.
He said: “We were asked to invest in manufacturing ventures. We have done that and now that the flood had destroyed these investments, government should also bail us out by putting in place measures that would enable the companies to resume production to avoid a situation where jobs are lost due to the closure of the companies.”
He called for the creation of an intervention fund, that would help to reactivate the companies, and pay workers for some months to enable them pick up again.
Another industrialist, Chief Chidube Oranu, who is the managing director of Kristoral Group of Companies commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan during his visit to Anambra State, said all the raw materials acquired by the company, as well as some machines and generating sets, were destroyed by the flood. While the flooding lasted, canoes were the only means of moving into and out of the company and with the flood receding, the environment had become messier with debris littered in the massive compound.
Oranu said: “Everything is at stand still in the company. The over 1000 workers, including the expatriates, are idle because the company was completely shut down. Like his colleague, Chief Okonkwo of Pokobros, he said the solution to the lasting problem of flooding is proper dredging of the River Niger.
While the industrialists are lamenting the loss of their investments, a farmer, Mr. Godwin Ochia, whose family was camped at a primary school in Atani was downcast when Saturday Vanguard visited the camp. He had looked forward to returning home when sign of the receding of the flood was noticed. He enthusiastically travelled to know the situation at his Akili community only to discover that his bungalow, which he built two years ago, had collapsed.
Narrating his ordeal, Ochia said that all the while, he was concerned about how to acquire seedlings for the next farming season only to be faced with the situation of not having a home to move into. Many people have similar stories to tell and this poses greater challenges to the authorities.
Following the problems that arose from the flooding, Anambra State government and well- to- do people in the state have started making arrangements on how to ensure that the victims were properly rehabilitated.
Government records showed that there were over 25000 victims at the 23 camps provided for the victims, excluding the industrialists. Proactive measures had also been adopted by government to ensure that materials donated by the people went round, while the money promised by the federal government, in which Anambra would receive N500 million, is being expected.
The state inter-ministerial committee on flood disaster, which is coordinating the exercise, said government spent N40 million to evacuate the victims from the affected eight local government areas to the 23 camps located in parts of the state.
Vice chairman of the committee and commissioner for economic planning and budget, Professor Chinyere Okunna, in a passionate plea to the people of the state, said while people were providing food items and other materials to the victims, they should also bear in mind that money was needed for the proper resettlement of the victims after the flood.
According to her, accounts had been opened in two banks where people could pay in their donations, assuring that such monies would be properly receipted and the donors made public.
According to her, there is need for proper coordination of the donations so that they could get to all the victims who would soon return to their communities. So far, the state government said it spent N40 million to evacuate the victims from the flooded areas and making the camps conducive for human habitation. Part of the money was also spent in the day to day running of the camps and ensuring that the victims were well catered for.
While the victims were in camps, their children of school age were enrolled in schools close to their camps to ensure that their education was not disrupted. The state government also provided uniforms and books to the pupils and increased the number of teachers in the affected schools.
Okunna expressed satisfaction with the condition of the camps, adding that a seven –member sub committee made up the traditional ruler of the area, the community’s president general, the clergy, the transition chairman of the local government, as well as the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, was also set up for each of the camps which ensured that everything went well.
The next stage for the flood victims would be their return journey in which government would also bear the cost since most of the victims are complaining of lack of funds to transport them back to their communities.
Notable Anambrarians are also worried about the post –flood situation in the affected communities and have been assisting in various ways. Senator Andy Uba, representing Anambra South Senatorial zone brought cheering news that that the senate would do everything possible to help the victims of flood disaster and was satisfied that the committee set up by the Federal Government on the issue was made up of high caliber Nigerians who would work hard to incorporate everybody that suffered the effect of the flood.
He advocated the setting up of a special agricultural finance scheme for the resettlement of victims, especially the farmers and the industrialists.
Speaking at St. Paul’s Church at Ihiala where flood victims from Ogwu Aniocha were camped, Uba said the scheme became necessary to enable the displaced persons, who are mainly farmers, procure seedlings for the next farming season beginning next month in the area, to avert food crisis next year, arguing that since the displaced farmers had virtually consumed all their crops, including seedlings that would have been planted next season, there is need for government to make a special arrangement to sustain them.
He promised that the National Assembly would increase the allocation to agriculture to take care of the unforeseen development and observed that it was the efforts of the farmers that had kept food prizes stable over the years, noting that ignoring their plight could be disastrous for the nation’s food security. The senator made personal donations, which included bags of rice, clothing materials and other items, as well as cash, directly to the victims to enable them attend to their immediate needs, while waiting for the money promised by government.
Another prominent citizen of Anambra State, Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu who also went round with items worth over N100 million announced that a bank in which he has a major interest would guarantee interest free loan of N200 million through his Foundation, the Ikukuoma Foundation, to enable them continue with their farming activities.
Ukachukwu observed that though the immediate needs of the victims, like food and medical services, were important and were being met, the most challenging aspect of the disaster was how to resettle them after the flood, explaining that it was for that reason that his Foundation decided to provide them with interest free loan to enable them procure seedlings for the next farming season and take care of other farming inputs.
The good thing about the loan, which disbursement would begin before the end of the year, was that the repayment would be graduated in such a way that it would not be difficult for the beneficiaries. According to him, the loan became necessary so as to prevent famine next year, adding that though the state and federal governments had set in motion a machinery to resettle the victims after the flood, there was need for well –to-do Nigerians to assist in any way they could to ameliorate the situation.
The disbursement of the loan, he added, would be handled by presidents- general of the affected communities, traditional rulers, local government chairmen, the clergy and selected people from those affected by the flood in the affected communities.
Ukachukwu advised: “This flood disaster is a big lesson for everybody and we don’t pray for a repeat of such thing. I believe that if everyone concerned had played his role as required, it might not have been as bad as it is. My plea is that this issue should not be used to play politics because the welfare and livelihood of people were involved.
“To ensure that the loan gets to the people, we will disburse it directly to them and in some cases, provide them with farming inputs. This is one measure we have to take to prevent severe famine next year because the situation will be very bad when all the crops they harvested would have been consumed. Farmers are usually honest people and that is why we want to work directly with them and our assurance is that it will be done fairly and equitably.”
Presidential adviser on national assembly matters, Senator Joy Emodi, who also visited the camps, said the level of disaster brought about by the submerging of some local government areas in the state should be enough motivation to touch rich Anambra people to donate generously for the upkeep and rehabilitation of the affected people, noting that many families might not be able to recover from the effect if assistance did not go to them.
Emodi, the former senator representing Anambra North, who also donated large quantities of food items and other materials for the upkeep of the displaced persons, urged the well –to –do people in the state to come to the aide of the victims as they return to their communities, adding that while the rich people should be commended for their assistance to the victims so far, they should realize that the displaced persons need help after the flood to enable them settle down in their farms.
She said: “There are many people in Anambra State who are richer than the government and this is the time for them to give back to the society that made it possible for them to acquire their wealth. These flood victims who are in various camps will need to be rehabilitated after the flood. They need to rebuild their houses which are collapsing; they need to be provided with seedlings for the next farming season because all the ones they prepared for the next season had been destroyed by flood and some are being eaten at the camps. We have to be proactive about the rehabilitation of the victims, knowing that the flood is already receding and they have to continue with their lives.”
She commended the Anambra State government for mature way it was handling the issue of flooding in the state, noting that but for the way government was handling it, many lives would have been lost. She was also happy that the federal government had set aside over N17 billion for the resettlement of the victims and urged those responsible for the exercise to ensure that the money reached the people concerned.
Already, Governor Peter Obi has promised that his administration would source for money to ensure proper rehabilitation of the flood victims, adding that the disbursement of the money to the victims would be handled by people from outside the government.