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Governance by condolence

By Tonnie Iredia
In Journalism, sign language can, once a while, be more expressive than written communication.  Here, I remember a famous cartoon some years back which   figuratively requested the weather man to tell us point blank if it would rain the next day so that while going to work we could take our umbrellas with us.

The cartoonist wanted the weather man to note that the rest of us were tired of his hazy and monotonous predictions of “partly cloudy, scattered thunder etc”. Gone are those days of vague predictions. The situation has since improved as our weather reports have become credible and reliable.

In February this year, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), organized a workshop where it drew the attention of participants from across the country, to its prediction that the country would experience massive rainfall this year.

The Director General of the Agency, Mr. Anthony Anuforo who addressed the workshop was emphatic that the surplus rains would result in coastal flooding and erosion in several parts of the country because of the likely effects of stream overflow.

The flooding is a catastrophe,” said Niger State spokesman Shaibu Mohammed.

“It is the worst in 30 years. There are hundreds of villages under water, fields of crops under water. People have lost their homes. People have lost their livelihoods,” he said

”The flooding is a catastrophe,” said Niger State spokesman Shaibu Mohammed.

“It is the worst in 30 years. There are hundreds of villages under water, fields of crops under water. People have lost their homes. People have lost their livelihoods,” he said

Yet, Anuforo was ignored until a few months later when heavy flooding nearly sacked places like Ibadan and Lagos which were among areas specified by the agency as likely to be affected. Ibadan was reportedly the hardest hit by the floods.

According to the Nigerian Red Cross, some 102 people made up mostly of children and elderly women perished in the disaster.  In some cases, entire families were affected.  Indeed, the nation’s premier university of Ibadan lost valuable irreplaceable items worth over 10 billion naira to the floods. NIMET has since confidently claimed that its prediction was 86% accurate.

While recognising the good work of the Agency, should we in earnest be prompted over the likelihood of flooding considering how many times it has occurred in many of our cities? Ibadan has had the greatest experience with the floods of the Ogunpa River in 1960, 1963, 1978 and the very devastating case of 1980.

Last year alone, official records confirmed that some 500,000 people were displaced nationwide by floods. In Katsina, Hassan Suleiman, a director in the state emergency relief agency announced that “we lost a whole village and its crop fields to the flood” while 2,000 persons were rendered homeless.

In neighbouring Jigawa State, flooding reportedly submerged 25 villages, displaced 7,000 people and washed away 3,000 hectares of crops.  If any state requires a prediction on the subject, it certainly should not be those where there have been perennial victims or places like Bauchi and Calabar where the signs are always ominous.

This year, Bauchi is already jittery as 2 of its local government areas – Kirfi and Darazo – have since been devastated by flooding.  In Cross river state, flooding has been recorded in about 11 of the 18 Local Government Areas of the state, destroying houses and farmlands worth more than N600 million.

In fact, in less than two weeks after the Lagos havoc, no fewer than 50 structures collapsed while about 500 others were flooded in Calabar metropolis.

With another warning about a month ago by NIMET that more flooding was coming again, this is an appropriate time to tell our leaders that prevention is better than cure; that people should be saved from being washed away by floods; and that for this to be realised, the subject requires more than a cosmetic approach.

Put differently, the subject needs more than sermons and  long speeches that solve nothing. Oh yes, we heard that Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State has inaugurated a 12-member task force to initiate measures to prevent a recurrence of flood disasters in the state- And so?

The Bauchi state government has announced through the permanent secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency, Muhammed Garba that it has concluded plans to launch “operation-Open-Up-Your-Drain in Bauchi, the state capital and other flood prone areas to curb the menace- What next?

The Chairman of the Calabar South Local Government Council, Hon. Ekeng Henshaw has said that his council was disturbed at the flooding in his area, which he said was a challenge to the humanitarian spirit of his government- And so what?

While we salute our leaders for their empathy for victims of flooding everywhere, the subject requires more than the current fruitless show of emotional support.

Again, we heard that the Abiola Ajimobi-led administration responded to the calamity in Ibadan with a sense of urgency-that although the governor was out of the country at the time, the Deputy Governor Moses Adeyemo and top government officials visited the affected areas to show concern and sympathy.

We also know that Governor Liyel Imoke on a visit to flooded areas in Calabar acknowledged the plight of the people whose homes and other property were devastated and directed relevant government bodies to carry out an appraisal of the flood-prone areas to enable the government to undertake remedial measures to tackle the menace.

These good gestures need to be pragmatically followed up. What has happened in Osun state where government reportedly averted the flooding away of certain buildings at the federal government owned Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife should be emulated.

The gesture was not lost on the University which according to its Vice Chancellor, Professor Tale Omole would not have been able to afford about ?100 million to widen up the water channels by itself to avoid the disaster of flooding.

Other states need to be more aggressive in our fight against flooding because our type of flooding is avoidable. For example, ?30 million which can resettle no less than 6 displaced families in Ibadan is being contributed by the government to the burial expenses of a former governor.

And we hear the family says it is not enough!  For us, the obligation of government is to the living and not the dead because government does not rule over the dead nor does it have a contract with the dead. It is good to pay last respect to a dead leader but it is undoubtedly better to keep the living alive.

On the subject of flooding, we insist that government has to be more pro-active.  It is not enough to appeal to the people to adopt an environment-friendly attitude because even if many accept to act responsibly, society must necessarily have deviants who would do things like building on the drainage system.

It is the duty of government to enforce environment laws for the benefit of society than to complain about people not complying with town planning rules. It is unfair for government to shirk such responsibility only to pay condolence visits to families of those washed away by the resultant floods.

Similarly, it is better for government to create an enabling environment for employment for our teeming youths so as to dissuade them from crimes like armed robbery and kidnapping instead of paying solidarity visits to victims of those crimes. Such visits amount to nothing other than governance by condolence.


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