…We are paying dearly for not heeding warning!
• Water displaces residents, corpses
• REVEALED: 2012 report to avert disaster ignored
BY BOLUWAJI OBAHOPO, LOKOJA
When the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, NIHSA, on August 29, warned Nigerians living by the banks of River Niger and its floodplains to immediately relocate over possible flooding, listing Anambra, Delta, Bayelsa, Kebbi, Niger, Kwara and Kogi as states that would be worst hit, not many envisaged the magnitude of the devastation of the last few weeks. The agency, in a statement by the Director of Engineering Hydrology, Mr Clement Nze, had said that flood was advancing into the Lower Niger (Nigeria) with both Kainji and Jebba dams already spilling water downstream and the level of water in Lokoja downstream of the confluence standing at 8.69m, adding: “This value has exceeded the corresponding value of 8.57m that occurred on August 29, 2012”, he said.
The warning to relocate has apparently not been heeded in some of the states which have been overwhelmingly hit by flood in the last two weeks, forcing the Federal Government to declare national disaster in Kogi, Niger, Anambra and Delta states.
At the last count, about 400 communities have been wrecked by floodwater and 43 dead. Two states (Niger and Kogi) account for nearly 350 of the sacked communities. 40 persons were reported dead in Niger while four were said to have been carried away by floodwater in Delta. Many other states on the NIHSA alert are on edge with some saying they are prepared for any eventuality.
Some analysts say the worst may not be over in the states already flooded as rains are still falling, warning that the situation may assume the 2012 episode on record as the most devastating flooding in recent times.
Meanwhile, questions are being asked on whether any lesson had been learnt from the 2012 episode to prepare the nation for the current experience.
For instance, there was an investigation into the 2012 disaster in at least one state that came out with crucial findings on flooding and appropriate recommendations to cope with future challenges made. The recommendations, it was learnt, were never implemented.
In this report, Sunday Vanguard captures the situation in some of the states projected by NIHSA to be affected by flood and how the victims are coping.
Kogi was among states worst hit by flood in 2012, leading to the displacement of over 600,000 people, loss of lives and destruction of infrastructure, crops and farmlands. There are ten flood-prone local government areas in the state -Lokoja, Kogi/Kotonkarfe, Ibaji, Bassa, Igalamela, Omala, Ajaokuta, Ofu, Idah and Igalamela/Odolu.
As flood returned this year, residents of these areas, especially those in Kogi East, have begun relocating in large numbers to states in the South-East while those in Kogi and Lokoja council areas are moving to designated camps opened by the state government. Others are putting up with their loved ones who reside upland. Parts of the ever-busy Lokoja-Ajaokuta highway, which is a major link between the North and East of the country, are also threatened by floodwater which has overrun sections of Ganaja roads.
Many communities on the flood plains in Kogi/Kotonkarfe, Ibaji, Lokoja, Ajaokuta and Bassa, among others, have been submerged by flood in the past few days. In Kogi/Kotonkarfe alone, over 64 communities were said to have been submerged.
Over 50,000 people are displaced across Kogi, according to the state emergency management agency.
The Executive Secretary of the agency, Alhassan Ayegba, said more people had continued to relocate to camps while others decided to put up with relatives.
Meanwhile, the level of water at River Niger has continued to rise. Abdullahi Bello, who lives at Adankolo in Lokoja close to the bank of the river, revealed that many of his neighbours had relocated.
Governor Yahaya Bello said over 200 communities in 10 local government areas had been submerged by flood. The governor, who visited some of the affected communities to assess the level of destruction, called on the Federal Government to assist as the situation was getting out of hand.
Bello also visited the Koton Karfe Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp where two women, who had been in labour, were delivered of their babies.
A youth leader at the camp, Abubakar Isah, appealed to government to assist victims as they had lost all their crops to the floods, while the “meagre assistance” they had received from public-spirited individuals “translates only to a few bags of rice and cartons of noodles.”
Seidu Akowe, a victim of the 2012 flood disaster at the Lokoja IDP Camp, said he was forced out of his home at midnight six years ago without being able to pick any property. This time around, he said he moved to the IDP hostel in Lokoja when his house was overtaken by flood to avoid losing all his belongings, while another victim, Hajia Meimuna Akawo, who recalled that, in 2012, many organisations were giving assistance to displaced persons in camps, said, this time around, only very few individuals make donation. He lamented that they were starving. She also said the sanitation situation had become deplorable, even as she feared the outbreak of an epidemic.
Corpses washed away
The flood also took toll on the dead as corpses washed up from graves in Ofu local government area of the state. Flood also destroyed the only road linking Ugwolawo with Obagu and other communities in the local government area.
The villagers lamented that amongst the bodies washed up from graves were those of Pa David Akogu and his two sons, Omale and Akebe, who died over 20 and 30 years ago. However, as flood opened the grave of one Omaji Idachaba, and was carrying the corpse into the Ofu River, youths mobilised and rescued it, repackaged it and took it to Idah, her ancestral home, for reburial.
In another development, the Chief Judge of Kogi, Justice Nasir Ajanah, appealed to the Ohimege of Koton-Karfe, Alhaji Abdulrazaq Isah-Koto, for land to relocate a High Court complex that was submerged. Ajanah, who made the appeal when he visited the traditional ruler in Koton-Karfe, said the relocation becam necessary to sustain the administration of justice in the area.
The Director of Engineering Hydrology, NIHSA, Nze, described Kogi as the “headquarters of flood in Nigeria,” saying the meeting of two major rivers to form a confluence in the state makes the flood disaster in the state worse when it happens.
While on an assessment tour of areas affected by flood in the state, Nze said the state’s peculiar situation was the reason the agency was more interested in what is happening in Lokoja.
“We are measuring downstream of River Niger and River Benue and taking the reading there every day to make comparisons with the past”, he stated.
“On September 29, 2012, it was 12.84m and we have about two more weeks to September 29, 2018. So, if the rise continues as it is going now, the situation might be worse. Yesterday, the difference between the water level to the highest in 2012 was 2.7m, today it has narrowed to 2.59m, tomorrow it might be 2.5m moving to meet up with the value of 2012 that was so critical”.
He recalled that in the Nigerian Meteorological Agency Seasonal Rainfall Predictions released in March, the agency said, “The earliest time rains will cease in the northern parts of Nigeria, including Sokoto and Katsina, is September 28, which means we still have about two weeks or thereabouts of rainfall, but in the southern coastal cities, it would be around December. Going by this record and most of the flooding that occurred between July, August and September, the period of heavy rainfall in the northern parts of Nigeria is here. We are expecting that the rains will continue and the water levels will continue to rise.”
The situation forced Governor Bello to head to Aso Rock last week where he appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to pay more than the usual attention to the flood ravaging Kogi. The state government also commenced the distribution of foodstuffs and other relief items to the flood victims in IDP camps across the state.