By Mike Ebonugwo, Jude Njoku, Favour Nnabugwu, Peter Duru & Funmi Olasupo
THIS indeed is a time to be dread for Nigerians living in states and communities along the River Benue following the recent warning by the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, of the danger of heavy flooding as Cameroun prepares to release excess water from the Ladgo dam. A release quoting the Director General Director General, Muhammad Sani-Sidi, informed that “the Cameroonian authorities in Garuoa have indicated that between now and November 2015 there would be routine release of water from the Lagdo dam due to excessive amount of water presently contained in the dam”.
Sani Sidi, therefore, warned “ all those living around the dam and along River Benue in Garoua up to Nigeria side should be alert and be ready for evacuation in case of possible flooding”. To this effect, governors of the affected states, state emergency management agencies, first respondents and relevant authorities were enjoined not only to alert communities at risk, but also make adequate preparation for possible evacuation of such endangered communities.
The warning had immediately triggered off alarming echoes of the tragedy in September 2012 when flood arising from water released from the dam swept through some states in Nigeria wreaking untold havoc, with several lives lost and hundreds displaced.
The development had prompted Nigeria to send a high-powered delegation to Yaounde in 2013 to confer with the Camerounian authorities and to demand a commitment from them on how to arrest the worrisome situation, especially as the downstream areas of the dam in Nigeria had been experiencing periodic flooding.
Then Nigerian Minister of Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe, who led the delegation, informed that 49 Nigerians had lost their lives as she painted a graphic, but disturbing statistics and profile of the devastation which periodic flooding arising from the release of water from the dam had caused Nigeria. She did not stop there.
“As at December 14, 2012, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons in Adamawa State was 949 while 45, 253 structures were destroyed. “The devastating flood in Taraba State, which affected about 37 communities, claimed 27 lives and displaced 34, 393 persons, amongst others. “Three persons were reported dead and over 25,000(persons) were displaced; property worth billions of naira in Makurdi, and seven local governmnt areas in Benue State were lost.
“Persistent torrential rainfall and compelling release of water from Lagdo, Kainji and Jebba dams led to massive flooding of 335 communities in nine LGAs of Kogi State, including Ajaokuta, Bassa, Lokoja, Kogi, Omala, Idah, Ibaji, Igalamela and Ofu. “The flood affected 72,725 people in the state, 19 lost their lives; 30, 709(persons) were displaced and disruption of businesses and livelihoods brought down infrastructure and public institutions,” she was quoted as saying.
The meeting between the Nigerian delegation and the Camerounian authorities eventually led to the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the two nations. A key point of this was that the two countries agreed to share information on rainfall and how to manage excess water without leading to flood disasters.
The agreement also entailed that before releasing water from the dam, Cameroun was to give early warning to enable Nigeria put in place proactive measure to prevent destruction of lives and properties. It was in compliance with this agreement that the Camerounian authorities duly informed their Nigerian counterpart of their intention to release water from the dam this time around.
We’re ready to curtail flood — Federal Ministry of Environment
Reacting to the latest warning, the Federal Ministry of Environment, through the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mrs. Nana Fatima Mede, informed that six states are most likely to be adversely affected, warning that the predicted massive rains and release of excess water from the dam would pose serious threat to Nigerians if action is not taken.
She said: “The impending gradual release of excess water from Lagdo Dam by our neighbouring country, Cameroun, which they have hinted could take place anytime soon, and the massive rains in the coming months pose serious threats to lives and property. The states that are likely to be affected are Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi, Benue, and Kogi.
“On a general scale, the massive rains are also expected to cause flooding in many parts of the country. River flooding will affect Sokoto Rima, Niger, Benue and Anambra states. Coastal flooding resulting from sea level rise and tidal surges will likely occur in Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Lagos states.
“Flash floods could be experienced in some urban locations such as Lagos, Port Harcourt, Sokoto, Birnin Kebbi, Ibadan and other towns along the country’s coastline.
“In extreme cases, state governments and local authorities should prepare to evacuate residents. Public places should be designated and prepared for any eventuality. The Ministry has already called for emergency meeting of stakeholders to discuss on elaborate strategies for tackling the impending flood.” She appealed to Nigerians living along flood plains to take immediate actions by clearing their drainage channels, culverts and canals.
They were also asked to prepare for relocation to areas considered to be safe and remain at an alert for any sad occurrence. She also pleaded with states, local governments, churches, mosques, traditional rulers and community-based organisations to sensitise their people to ensure preventive steps are taken to avoid unnecessary loss of lives and property.
Mede said the Federal Government is determined to put in place flood prevention and mitigation measures such as construction of reservoirs and drainage channels as well as sensitisation of people living along flood plains to ensure a conducive environment for sustainable socioeconomic development of the country.
Speaking on the preparedness of the Federal Government, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Water Resources, Mr. Musa Istifanus, said the Ministry has collaborated with Ministry of Environment, NEMA, and all the state governments likely to be affected by the flood. Istifanus also maintained that the Ministry has given maps of possible maximum point of where the water will reach to each of the affected states for further preparation
“We actually gave maps of possible maximum point of where this water will reach or is expected to reach to the governments of the states where the water will reach along the way, starting from Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Anambara, Delta and Bayelsa.” Mr Istifanus explained further that NEMA has developed its strategies based on how to settle the people in temporary locations so that immediately after the flooding they can return to their communities.
“In that case we will have extra tent which is not very convenient for such things. Some of them will even be allocated to National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, camps,” Istifanus said. The Permanent Secretary also explained that the Ministry has already embarked on measures to control flood into the River Basin as it has completed the Kashimila Dam.
“We have started controlling the water flooding into the River Basin because we recently completed the construction of the Kashimila Dam which takes off 30 per cent of the water quantity that will flow into the Benue Basin,” Istifanus stated.
Kogi to relocate residents: However, some of the affected states have already issued quit notice to residents of flood-prone areas. In the fore front of this is Kogi State. The Deputy Governor, Mr. Yomi Awoniyi , gave the order in Lokoja, the state capital, after the meeting of the State Flood Management Committee of which he is the chairman. He said that the state government was prepared to handle any negative effects from flooding that might occur this year.
Awoniyi, who said the State Flood Management Standing Committee had identified nine local governments of Ibaji, Bassa, Idah, Lokoja, Kogi, Ajaokuta, Omala, Ofu and Igalamela Odolu that could be affected by the predicted flooding, said adequate preparations had been made to cushion any side effect.
He appealed to residents of the areas to be affected to move from their domains, bearing in mind the devastating 2012 flooding. Awoniyi said: “We understand the anxiety arising from the increase in water level in some other states; but I can assure that the Kogi State government is now better prepared to handle the predicted flooding. The 2012 incident which was the first of its kind has taught us what we needed to do.
“We have made provision to embark on immediate sensitisation to all the expected LGAs where the flood will affect; the television and radio jingles will still continue to inform the people; the state is also going to meet with the community leaders, traditional rulers, and other relevant stakeholders to tell them how we intend to manage the flooding. We will involve the National Inland Waterways Authority, NIWA, the Red Cross on their expected roles to help mitigate the effects of the flood,” he said.
Awoniyi stressed further that the State would identify and set up IDPs camps, saying that unlike the 2012 episode, schools would not be used.
Benue puts measures in place
Another state that is taking the flood alert seriously is Benue. This is for obvious reason. Three years ago, Benue State was seriously on the receiving end of the sudden surge of the river following the release of excess water from Ladgo dam in Cameroun. The implication was that many parts of the state were left flooded.
The devastating flood swept away farmlands and rendered many homeless. Apart from that, more than 10,000 homes were submerged for more than two weeks. In fact, it left more than 10,000 hectares of farm land flooded and the streets of Makurdi town occupied by crocodiles, amongst other dangerous creeping creatures.
Benue State, being a host of the River Benue, which is the longest tributary of the River Niger, with a length of about 673 miles (1,083 km) remains vulnerable in the event of a surge and eventual flooding of communities. So, following the recent flood alert from NEMA, the state government said it has already taken action to avert a possible repeat of the 2012 experience.
Speaking recently in a state-owned radio programme, monitored in Makurdi, the Permanent Secretary of the State Ministry of Water Resources and Environment, Nathaniel Alaaga, maintained that the state government had put measures in place to forestall the possible flooding of parts of the state in the event of any heavy downpour or rise in the water levels of the River Benue. Alaaga said: “Some of the measures include the construction of drainage channels by the Benue State University Teaching Hospital in Makurdi and the opening up of water channels in parts of the state.”
The Permanent Secretary who cautioned residents against the dumping of refuse on water channels also sued for the cooperation and assistance of the Federal Government in tackling the menace.
However, recent developments in parts of the state where several homes were submerged after heavy downpours have left many communities and families worried considering the early warnings by the NEMA, NIMET and NESREA of the prospect of flooding in parts of the country.
Just few days back, Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, requested the Federal Government to construct buffer dams on Rivers Benue and Katsina-Ala as a solution to the perennial flooding along the banks of the two rivers.
The Governor made the request when a delegation from the Federal Ministry of Environment, led by the Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Nana Mede, paid a courtesy call on him in Makurdi. Ortom also appealed for the completion of the Idye and Demekpe basin canals as well as construction of what he described as mega drainage channels in the three major towns of the state and also the sustenance of the release of ecological funds to states to help them confront the challenge.
According to him, the impact of the money released in the aftermath of the last flood disaster in the state had not been felt because much of it was diverted and no measure was put in place to address the problems of those displaced by the flood.
He disclosed that the state executive council had set up a committee to make emergency arrangements to contain the impending disaster and identify areas where people had blocked drainages and other water channels for subsequent relocation.
Earlier, Mrs. Mede had listed dumping of solid wastes in drainage and water channels as well as construction of houses on the channels as major causes of flooding and urged the state government to sensitise the people to desist from such habits. She noted however, that the dredging of River Benue would be part of a permanent solution to the flooding in Makurdi.