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Niger: How government exposed us to disaster — Victims

By Wole Mosadomi,  Minna

Almost on daily basis, torrential rainfall, leading to severe flooding, loss of lives and property, continue to overwhelm Niger State.

At press time,130 communities in 22 of the 25 local government areas of the state are sheltered at the Central Primary School, Zungeru in Wushishi local government area.

40 people are dead as a result of the flooding that carried them away.

The bodies of some of the victims have been recovered and buried.

Hectares of farm lands of rice, tubers of yam and assorted grains worth millions of Naira are also lost.

Besides those camped in Zungeru, 300 victims are sheltered in Kakaki in Shiroro local government area while another camp in Muye in Lapai local government area is playing host to no fewer than 4,572 inmates. About 6,000 victims are in another camp in Kede in Mokwa local government area.

The victims at the IDP Camp in Zungeru are those displaced from the site where the Zungeru Hydro Electricity Dam is being built.

The communities include Gungu, Aboki, Rafin Gora and Sami Dari.

When our correspondent visited the Zungeru Camp, the inmates were seen counting their losses while officials from the Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA) and the state Ministry of Health as well as security operatives were on ground.

Speaking to Sunday Vanguard, some of the victims thanked the state government for promptly relocating them from the flood-hit areas but pleaded for relocation to their permanent site.

One of them, who simply identified himself as Muhammad, said, “No matter what we are being given here, this is certainly not our home and we want government to relocate us to our communities so that we can go and start a new life there.

“We have lost our homes, valuables, farmlands, harvested crops, livestock, cash, among others, and our continuous staying here will not be of help to us”.

Most of those interviewed blamed government for their plight, pointing out that if they had been paid compensation for their lands acquired, their permanent structures would have been erected away from the downstream close to the Zungeru Hydro Electricity Dam and floods wouldn’t have submerged their homes, farmlands and animals. Spokesman for the communities and Chairman, Gbadagun Association, Malam Muhammad Sarki, said government withheld compensation due to the communities five years after money had been approved for the exercise.

“We are aware that money to erect our permanent structures has been released by the Federal Government to the state since 2013”, he claimed.  “If we had moved away from where we were few days ago, floods would not have rendered us homeless since we would be far from the Zungeru Dam”.

Another community leader in the area, Alhaji Ibrahim Adamu Gungu, corroborated the submission of Sarki.

Gungu said, “We will not go back to our former communities where we were displaced few days ago until we are paid our money which we know is hanging somewhere because the area is not our permanent home.”

The state Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Alhaji Ibrahim Balarabe, while reacting to the victims’ claim, confirmed that the compensation for the land acquired from the communities had been paid about five years ago and deposited in a commercial bank but that the state government was making a case for an upward review in line with the present economic realities before the money is disbursed to the affected people.

“It is true that N2b was released to the state government and subsequently to the Committee for Compensation to be paid to the communities affected by the construction of the Zungeru Dam of which I am the Chairman”, Balarabe said.

According to him, the assessment was done by the state government before the present administration and that he only took over as Chairman of the Committee this year.

“The assessment of the compensation by the former committee was done in 2013 and payment came five years after. But the rates which were used in 2013 are not the prevailing rates in the economy and so, as a committee, we feel that, if we should go ahead to disburse the money, it means the affected communities will be grossly underpaid”, the commissioner said.

“What we have done as a committee is to write to the Minister of Power, Babatunde Raji Fashola to look into the matter and jerk up the money in line with the economic realities.

“The money is intact and if affected communities insist that the money should be disbursed to them as it is, we will go ahead”.

Meanwhile, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has directed the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to provide building materials to the new resettlement site for communities affected by floods in Niger in order to ease their hardship.

The Vice President, who visited the IDP camp in Zungeru, assured that relocation of inmates camped in the facility will commence as soon as possible in order to enable pupils schooling there resume for the new academic session.

Governor Abubakar Sani-Bello, who led the Vice President to the camp, disclosed that the state government had taken steps to make life comfortable for the victims.

Ambassador Muhammed Manta, who spoke on behalf of the victims, commended the federal and state governments for their prompt action just as he emphasised immediate payment of compensation to the communities affected by the construction of the Zungeru Hydro Electric Dam.

 


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