•We prefer to die in our ancestral homes than vacate for flood —Fishermen vow
•Why they refused to stay out of harm’s way — NISEPS
By Wole Mosadomi
A major calamity now looms in Niger State following the refusal of fishermen to vacate flood-prone areas already identified by the state government following an authenticated meteorological report that those areas would be worst hit by flooding once the rains set in.
The report can hardly be faulted since the state and the federal agency have always issued the advisory on a yearly basis in a bid to mitigate the catastrophic effect of heavy flooding in the state particularly in the riverine areas of the state with heavy fishing population.
Once the alarming scientific report was issued, the Niger State Government through its Environmental Protection Agency, NISEPA, quickly approached those who are likely to be hit by the looming flood, to vacate the flood plains and move to more secured locations.
If the agency expected an urgent compliance with its directive, it got it all wrong, as the potential victims largely ignored the protection agency and continued with their business of catching, drying and selling fish as if nothing is amiss.
Beyond the fishermen, majority of the residents living close to drains, have also ignored the advisory to move away from the endangered places, preferring to continue staying there and doing their daily business.
Most of them have even turned their drainage into dumping grounds, filling them with refuse with reckless abandon and thereby threatening their health and well being in the process.
But their recalcitrance notwithstanding, the Niger State Emergency Protection Agency, NISEPS, has continued to move from one street to the other, pleading with the residents to stop dumping refuse in drainage and to move away from endangered locations as the rains begin to thunder.
But those spoken to in Minna, the state capital, say they see nothing wrong in pouring refuse into drains and that they have not committed any known offence doing that. For this reason, women, children, men, boys and girls are routinely seen turning their refuse into the drains without any fear or shame.
“I am just an errand boy. I am only given a directive by my parents to go and dump the refuse into the drainage and I carry out the order,” a young boy, who stays in Minna with his parents, said without remorse when confronted by Arewa Voice.
“In fact, I really enjoy going into the drainage to even play after dumping the refuse there and as much as the drainage is big and deep, we will continue to use it as dumping site, more so that the rains will always wash it away,” he remarked with confidence.
However, NISEPA sees the action beyond a child’s play because of the devastating effects it has on the people.
The Director-General of NISEPA, Alhaji Ahmed Inga, in an exclusive interview with AV correspondent, said despite the annual sensitisation of the people on the inherent danger of indiscriminate refuse dumping into drains, the residents have continued to engage in the illicit act with ease.
Alhaji Inga said: “This year, we have started appealing and sensitizing the people, especially in the urban areas and those in the riverine areas to adhere strictly to advice of professionals on flooding.
“Waterways are being cleared and due to human activities; we have been calling and will still be calling on people to try as much as we can to change our attitudes towards our environment.
“It is our attitude that always put us into serious situations of flooding, and later we will be calling for help. If we observe now, the waterways are now being turned into dumping sites by people within the communities and these are the same people that will start calling for help during flood.
“In as much as we are not going to change our attitude towards environment, then we cannot get away from distress calls every time,” he remarked.
Drastic steps to be taken by government: “The state government has concluded plans to deal with those building on waterways which are the major obstacle to free flow of water in the drainages. Those people building on waterways are our major problem and recently government has taken serious measures because very soon, all buildings on waterways will have to give way because some people don’t care of what happens to their neighbours provided they are safe but government is not insensitive because government cares for everyone.
“There are Laws that go with such offences and the enforcement will soon take effect and there is a clear directive on that. We as an agency has the responsibility to supervise, identify, advise, monitor and see to all these and very soon, the distillation of waterways to ensure free flow of water in the drainages and will commence and there will be strict monitoring because there will be Community Vanguard that will watch over those drainage channels and anybody caught contravening the law will be made to face wrath of the law,” Inga declared.
People residing in riverine areas: The Director-General said that one of the major problems his agency is facing is on how to convince the people residing in the riverine areas to leave their abode temporarily to the upland to save their lives and properties from flood during the raining season.
Why they are adamant: “They remain unperturbed despite our sensitization to them to vacate their homes temporarily from the downstream to upstream and return back after the rains but they remain adamant.
“They are so attached to the riverine areas for some factors which have made them to get glued to those riverine communities.
“They claim that one of the reasons they don’t want to move out of the riverine area is that the soil gives them high yield; when there is flood or immediately after the flood any crop planted brings enormous yield than those in other areas of the state.
“Secondly, they said if there is flood, they use to harvest more fish and that brings to them a lot of money,” he said.
The DG, however, said that: “Government is planning to provide them with highly improved seeds for farming so that when the prediction for flooding start coming to pass, their crops must have been ready for harvesting and with this development, it is hoped that they will yield to our clarion calls from now.”
But the explanations so far made by NISEPA appear to have fallen on deaf ears, as the fishermen insist that they would rather die in their ancestral homes than vacate them.
Some of the fishermen, who spoke to AV, said that government should rather prepare a place to bury them after the flood than move them into any camp given the nasty experiences of those who have been taken into internally displaced persons’ camps across the state.
“We will rather die here in our ancestral homes honourably than being taken into slumps in the name of IDPs,” some of the fishermen stated.
For now, there seems to be a deadlock between the fishermen and the state government but it is not clear who will win the fight.