By Donu Kogbara

AS millions of Nigerians suffer through the worst by-product of climate change they have endured since 2012 – savage floods that have submerged hundreds of villages, towns and farms nationwide – the Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Sadiya Farouk, has sparked controversy by claiming that Jigawa is the worst-hit state and that at least 10 states are more flood-impacted than Bayelsa. 

Whether you agree with Farouk or not – and I don’t – all Nigerians should be deeply concerned about the situation. Twenty-seven out of our 36 states are involved; and meteorological agencies have warned that states like Anambra, Delta, Cross River, Rivers, and Bayelsa may experience floods till the end of November.

Statistics announced in mid-October indicated that 2,504,095 persons had been affected, including 603 who had died, 2407 who had been injured and 1,302,589 survivors who had been displaced.

In mid-October, 82,053 dwelling places had been damaged or wrecked. Now, three weeks later, the figure must be much higher. The catalogue of flood-related woes is extensive. Waterborne and other diseases are rife. Entire communities have been paralysed or eradicated.

Well over 100,000 hectares of farmland have been inundated. Crops have been destroyed. Fishermen have been unable to fish. Food shortages have ensued. Prices of basic commodities have spiked. Roads have collapsed, rendering many areas inaccessible or impossible to leave. Thousands are stranded on “islands”.

In the creeks of my native Niger Delta region where graves have to be shallow because of the nature of the terrain, coffins containing the long-buried have been uprooted from their resting places and swept away to new locations. In some instances, the coffins have been forced open by aggressive water pressure and the corpses or skeletons within have been gruesomely ejected.

Nigeria has been tottering under the weight of numerous socio-economic, infrastructural, health-related, security and agricultural problems for years; and this flooding crisis has further exacerbated an already bad situation.

Several government bodies, NGOs, foreign charities, indigenous philanthropists and vote-seeking politicians are making significant donations.

But the assistance that the starving, penniless, homeless and sick are receiving is insufficient, random, poorly coordinated and tantamount to putting small sticking plasters on gaping wounds. There is also talk of corruption, with some officials being accused of hijacking cash and aid packages meant for victims.

Dr. Francis Atamuno, a civil servant, is managing one of the palliative delivery programmes in Bayelsa State and says that: “Progress is definitely being made but some of the areas that need help most can only be reached by boat; and there is no fuel for boats because the East-West road that links Bayelsa to the outside world is in pieces and fuel tankers cannot currently get here.”

Climate change is the main culprit but not the only cause of the flooding. In September, the authorities in neighbouring Cameroon released excess water from the Lagdo Dam. But despite having agreed, in the 1980s, to control overflows by building a corresponding dam in Adamawa State, Nigeria still hasn’t done so. 

Critics bemoan successive governments’ failure to prepare for disasters. And President Buhari recently reacted to these complaints by asking relevant ministries and state governments to develop a comprehensive flood prevention action plan.

Meanwhile, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, says that each of the three tiers of government – local, state and federal – has a sizeable budget at its disposal to deal with state-level natural disasters such as flooding.

“It is,” he says, “not clear why some of the state governments in question are not already drawing upon those funds to tackle the current emergency, and the general population is misguidedly calling on the Federal Government to intervene in all situations.”

Kester Dortimi, a Niger Deltan activist and lawyer, has started a change.org petition in a bid to make flooding a major election campaign issue.

“If Federal, State and Local governments were doing their jobs, they should, at least a decade ago, have established an integrated Flood Management Plan comprising structural and functional measures to prevent, control or adapt to flood events and to mitigate the impact of floods on the environment and population centres that are at risk…Distributing relief materials is not enough and is often done purely to corruptly line the distributors’ pockets.” 

He goes on to urge the electorate to “demand a social contract” and ask presidential, gubernatorial and legislative candidates of ALL political parties to tell the public how they intend to manage the flooding problem if they win.

I urge all Vanguard readers to sign Dortimi’s petition and hope that participants in town hall meetings or debates will insist that candidates answer this important question.

Floods are no respecters of bank balances or status – ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s ancestral village is one of the worst-hit areas and his residence was not spared when the deluge came.

There is, however, no doubt that when calamity strikes, have nots usually suffer much more than those cushioned by affluence.

And it’s worth recalling the comments that former President Barack Obama made on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina (August 23-31, 2005), the most devastating natural disaster in American history (1800 deaths and damage to buildings, businesses, etc, totalling $125 billion).

Addressing a crowd in New Orleans in 2015, in the Lower Ninth Ward of the city – which is mostly populated by low-income blacks who were treated appallingly during and after the historic storm – Obama said: “What started as a natural disaster became a man-made disaster – a failure of government to look out for its own citizens.”

As the weakest members of Nigerian society try to cling onto their sanity and try to stay alive in murky treacherous waters, one can only hope that the traumas they are going through will not be forgotten by the next President.

“Never again,” would be a great campaign slogan for any flagbearer who cares enough to dynamically change the flood management narrative. 

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