By Morenike Taire
In recent weeks, the city of Lagos has been all but taken over by water. Floods accumulated from days of rainfall have found their way into places they ought not to be- mostly inside people’s residences. Kilometers of roads have been washed away, returning the nightmares to the affected roads. Electricity supply has been cut off in several places, resulting in unforeseen human misery- a tad worse than that with which we have become familiar.
While the victims pick up the pieces of their lives, various reasons have been propounded as being responsible for this year’s flooding. Of course Lagos is not unaccustomed to flooding; still this year’s floods came as something of a surprise – to most, at least, which is why the very nature of the city was the least touted reason for the floods. Lagos is a coastal, tropical city and has basically the same climatic geography- for good or for bad- as other coastal, tropical cities the world over.
Mostly, the blame has been put at the door of residents, who are accused of throwing refuse into designated and undesignated canals, as well as other water channels. Others have violently accused some residents of situating their buildings along the paths that potential floods would have passed, resulting in their accumulation in the first place.
Others yet have knocked the continuous reclamation of land in various parts of the Island, resulting in waters from the Atlantic Ocean and the Lagos lagoon being pushed further from their natural shores.
While there is little doubt that there is a man made element to the phenomenon, the victims- rather than the perpetrators- are being blamed for their own troubles. Lagosians residing outside of the island have continued to rile at those living on the other side of the bridges as being responsible for their own woes, taking on the “us” against “them” stance against residents who have just experienced a decline in the quality of their lives occasioned by a season which ordinarily would have provided respite from the burning heat.
The logic of this stance however remains to be seen. In the first place, it exacerbates the Nigerian tendency to absolve government of every responsibility when things go wrong in the society.
If, for instance, the canals were blocked as a consequence of reckless waste disposal habits, it would still be under the purview of the raison d’etres of the presence of government in a democracy. Ditto if it happened because some residents or their landlords built on water channels.
By far the most laughable is the idea that Lagos island residents somehow deserve the punishment meted to them by Mother Nature for the incomprehensible reason that they live in the more affluent side of town and so ought to- in addition to providing their own electricity, water and security- also ensure the water channels in their neighbourhood flow freely. This, regardless of the fact that they not only pay higher property taxes , they are subject to classes of taxation from which the mainland residents are exempt .
If environmental impact assessments are not done or are improperly done before sand-filling and building permits are issued, government is again liable and must be held responsible. It must in fact have enough capacity not only to decipher the difference between a manmade disaster and an act of God, but also to be prepared to provide welfare and relief to impacted victims regardless of which side of town they reside in.
In any case there is little evidence to show the reasons advanced for the flooding in Lagos island hold any sort of validation. Right across the country, floods devastated homes and farmlands in areas such as Lokoja, which does not have the same topography as Lagos. Beyond Nigeria, many European, Asian and American cities have suffered the devastation of flooding in the last few years.
It is clear that global warming is real, and that it comes with more and more disastrous consequences every rainy season. It is also clear that we are not prepared in any way for these consequences; nor are we even aware that we are contributing in any way to the atmospheric disaster the earth is suffering from; we and our 50 million generating sets.
Nor are we, for that matter, prepared for the consequences of manmade disaster as occasioned by our stubbornness at retaining corruption. During this week, another storey building collapsed in Lagos, killing many and leaving dozens homeless and destitute. The house is probably not insured; ad if it has a building plan, it is probably not approved.
But worse than the incompetence of our disaster response apparatus is Nigeria’s general apathy to the plight of their compatriots who were hit by the floods and other disasters. In Lagos, residents of areas usually safe from floods continue to make distasteful jokes about the victims. Denigrating photographs litter the internet.
Instead of being our brothers’ keepers, we laugh.