By Benjamin Atu
AS Nigerians celebrated the country’s independence anniversary on October 1, 2017, communities in Etsako Central and other areas in Edo North woke up to be confronted by flood caused by the Rivers Niger and Benue overflowing their banks, aided by torrential rain. This assault by nature continued for days in different parts of Etsako Central, leaving in its wake tales of woe and lamentation as one life was reportedly lost, while properties worth millions, including homes, businesses, schools, worship centres and farmlands, were all washed away. What used to be roads suddenly turned to waterways that can only be navigated by canoes. In fact, all major link and access roads in Etsako Central have been cut off on account of having been submerged by the flood which made the evacuation of victims difficult.
Apart from that, people are now being threatened by snakes, crocodiles, hippopotamuses and other animals dislodged from their natural habitat by the rampaging flood. Also coming with the flood are water-borne diseases, especially cholera, with its high mortality rate. With several communities affected by the flooding, there is an urgent need for intervention by the Federal Government.
The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, as usual, was caught napping. The Red Cross admitted being overwhelmed. The question is: When will this perennial flooding stop? Government needs to strengthen its emergency rescue and recovery plans. The public must be cautioned to limit contact with the flood water due to potentially elevated levels of contamination.
It bears repeating that the yearly havoc caused by flooding has become a painful burden for people of the various communities in Etsako Central, including Udaba-Ekphei, Agbabu, Osomegbe, Ifeku inland, Udochi, Ofukpo, Anegbette, Utsuko and Ukpe Oko Orile. It has also remained a source of tension in the affected areas. Such was the situation that the member representing Etsako Central in the Edo State House of Assembly, Lawani Demain, was moved to tears when he recently visited the area and found the displaced residents eating and sleeping in various makeshift camps.
Etsako Central remains submerged by flood in the past one week with the people rendered homeless. Most schools in the area have since closed down.
What I found most disturbing about this unfortunate development which coincided with the nation’s 57th independence day celebration is the neglect of the victims by relevant agencies of government. Despite the constant alert and warning on climate change, the Federal Government has failed to find a lasting solution to this yearly natural disaster. This is also the fate of communities in Edo North which suffer seasonal flooding when water is released from dams in Cameroon, Togo and Niger Republic through River Benue.
The failure by the Federal Government to find a lasting solution to this ravaging flood will continue to have a negative effect on the nation’s economy. This is because the area affected is the major rice belt of the state and the nation. Following frequent flooding and the attendant destruction of farms and crops, the food situation can only get worse, pushing more people into poverty, while food shortage remain a recurring decimal.
Consequently, agricultural programmes of Edo State, particularly Edo North which is particularly known for farming and contributes significantly in the production of rice, yams and other major crops in Nigeria, has been continuously hampered. There is urgent need for government to protect the nation’s economy against waste as well as protect the People of Afemai land from continuous losses on a yearly basis.
The duty of government is not to lament with the people of Etsako land but to find a lasting solution to this yearly problem. The area experienced similar problem in previous years. It will be a thing of joy for the people of Edo State if the Federal Government and concerned relevant national and international non-governmental organisations, including good spirited individuals, would intervene now to avoid a re-occurrence in the coming years.
The attitude of government in abandoning projects in the area has not helped matters. The IDP camp under construction in the area by government has been abandoned, giving the people more reason to worry over their security. Despite the initial mobilisation of relief efforts to the affected areas by the Edo State government, the burden and pain still remain too heavy for the state to bear. There is therefore an urgent need for the Federal Government to support the effort of the state government in order to provide support and hope to the people.
I want to thank the Deputy Governor of the state, Philip Shaibu, who is from the area; the Senator Representing Edo North, Senator Francis Alimikhena; the Member representing Etsako Federal Constituency, John Oghuma; the Member Representing Edo Central in the State House of Assembly, Lawani Demian as well as the Governor’s representative and Commissioner and other aides of the state government from the area who have severally visited the area to provide relief to the people and to ascertain the level of destruction there.
I want to also commend the effort of the state government in establishing temporary schools to take care of the educational vacuum created as a result of children not being able to go to school. But there is an urgent need for the Federal Government to provide mobile medical clinic to the victims to avoid outbreak of epidemic or emergencies. Provision of boats for easy movement of more victims who are still trapped in the flood will help to save more lives. Government should also endeavour to construct roads with drains in Udaba-Ekperi – connecting Ofukpo Agbabu Osomhegbe Udochi communities.
Farmers whose livelihood may have been washed away by the flood need to be supported by granting them soft loans, seedlings and fertilizer. There should also be effort to move them from subsistence farming to mechanized farming. The Federal Government is also expected to offer compensation to all the villagers affected by the disaster.