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Nigeria floods: the agony of another rainy season

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander / African News Agency (ANA) – Given the seasonal occurrence of floods in Nigeria, it is inconceivable that the government fails to cater to the needs of the people living in disaster-prone areas, while the people also prepare less for the impending dangers, the writer says.

By Omololu Fagbadebo

Nigeria and Nigerians are no strangers to floods and other natural disasters. This perennial disaster has claimed more lives and destroyed properties. There are instances when floods sack some communities, while some farmers usually count their yearly losses when floods have ravaged their farms and destroyed their crops.

But the 2022 version has been more devastating with more than 600 fatalities and over 1.4 million people displaced, as well as damaged properties and farmlands. Twenty-seven (27) out of Nigeria’s thirty-six states have been affected with high records of damaged properties. These states are mostly from the southern part of the country and others along the belts of rivers Niger and Benue.

The Southern part of Nigeria is prone to such disasters because of its geographical location in a rainforest with raining season accompanied by heavy rainfall between June and October. The truth is that while there are structures designed to forestall and manage disasters and cushion their effects and consequences, the appropriate governance of such management is defective.

A lack of adequate preparedness and the politics of corruption has remained the bane of disaster management in Nigeria.

Ten years ago, precisely in October 2012, floods killed 430 people and displaced seven million in a disaster that ravaged 30 out of the 36 states with a total loss of N2.6 trillion (N=naira; about R122.7 billion) and damaged 597,476 houses. That was the worst incident of the time after the devastating floods of August 31, 1980, when the notorious Ogunpa River in Ibadan overflowed its bank. The river gained an international record as a notorious source of devastating disaster in Nigeria.

Video: Shifaan Ryklief

A 10-hour non-stop heavy downpour left a tale of ruins that killed more than 300 people retrieved from the debris of buildings that collapsed and vehicles that the deluge washed away. More than 50,000 people were rendered homeless. That was not the first time the river would wreak such havoc.

In 1960, the river overflowed its bank, and the floods thereof rendered more than 1,000 people homeless. In 1963, the river flooded the city of Ibadan and damaged more than 500 buildings. In 1978, more than 32 dead bodies were retrieved from the ruins of more than 1,000 buildings that the floods destroyed when the river overflowed its bank again.

The channelisation project of the river, which passed through the entire city, has been dogged by what media reports have described as sheer ineptitude and outright negligence.

With these past experiences that have spanned more than 40 years, one would have expected that the government should have explored various means and strategies to mitigate the consequences of this perennial disaster. In terms of institutional and structural arrangements, Nigeria has the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) established in 1999 to manage disasters in the country, including the provision of “timely relief assistance to victims both at national and international levels”. Statutorily, there is ecology and disaster management funded by 2.32 percent of derivation funds. Since 1999, each of the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) share this money monthly aside from the regular revenue allocations. Thus, the government has special funds to manage ecological problems.

The question revolves around the management of the funds.

Early warning system for disasters in Nigeria is not a rarity. Often, relevant agencies associated with weather and ecological matters issue warnings against pending disasters.

Given the seasonal occurrence of floods in Nigeria, it is inconceivable that the government fails to cater to the needs of the people living in disaster-prone areas, while the people also prepare less for the impending dangers. The idea of emergency relief after the disaster is a manifestation of the lack of preparedness to deal with annual natural challenges.

Most importantly, the poor state of disaster management in Nigeria is a paradox generated by corruption. Politicians and top government officials have converted the ecological funds of their respective states into a haven of corruption with monumental mismanagement. Given the quantum of the ecological fund allocated to each of the states, the agonising strains and pains associated with the flood disaster are absurd.

In 2018, the Nigerian House of Representatives indicted top government officials and the management of the NEMA over fraud, corruption and embezzlement of the N33 billion Emergency Intervention Fund.

A former governor of a disaster-prone state was sentenced to jail but later pardoned for stealing N1.2 billion ecological funds of the state. There are more cases of such sleaze in government that have exposed Nigerians to a series of avoidable dangers and perils.

The 2022 flood disaster would come with serious consequences on food security. Already, 3,400sq km (1,300sq miles) of land have been covered and crops destroyed. This has implications for food production in a country where mechanised farming is a rarity, and where insurgent activities have already impaired food production. Terrorist attacks have sent most farmers out of their farmlands.

One would have expected the 2022 floods disaster to boost political activities as politicians are jostling for votes ahead of the 2023 general elections.

The history of corruption in the management of previous disasters and the rampant scandals of mismanagement and embezzlement, with impunity, and the public knowledge of available funds have made it difficult for politicians to leverage this year’s episode to scout for votes and support. Indeed, the floods and their outcomes reminded Nigerians of the chains of failures of the government in addressing the pressing needs of citizens. Not even the opposition candidates could exploit the disaster mod to sway voters’ preferences because of the general disenchantment of citizens amid the excruciating pains of economic hardship. Nevertheless, opposition politicians could subtly offer a promise of prudent management of the ecological funds to advance their interests.

Nigerians with a memory of history would find it difficult to be swayed by whatever benevolent approach of any politician canvassing votes exploiting the disaster as a campaign issue. In 2015, a majority of voters were swayed by the promise of an Eldorado characterised by the assurance that the carnage associated with the Boko Haram insurgency would fade in a moment.

Almost eight years after, the death toll kept rising while the level of insecurity in the country was heightened with incessant killing, kidnapping, and terrorist attacks that have witnessed the government negotiating payment of ransom with bandits. Bandits and terrorist attacks have claimed more than 55,000 lives since 2015 in a government headed by a retired military general.

In 2021 alone, more than 10,000 people were killed. The death toll from the 2022 flood disaster and the associated loss of materials is part of the enduring pains and agonies that have compounded public disenchantment.

Communities ravaged by the floods in Bayelsa and Delta States have the gory experience of seeing floating corpses each time the areas became flooded. The flood also washed up corpses from a public cemetery in Yenagoa. This is a challenging health hazard for the people.

The morgue at the Bomadi General Hospital and Olodiama were submerged and the corpses were washed away. The environment becomes polluted with accompanying health risks. In areas where the rivers are contaminated with debris from the floods, the fear of epidemic looms large in a society bereft of adequate healthcare facilities. Most public hospitals are ill-equipped and the few private healthcare facilities are out of reach of poor people who are most affected by the floods. The political and economic elites who have mismanaged the ecological and disaster management funds enjoy good healthcare services at the few well-equipped private hospitals in Nigeria and medical tourism abroad.

Thus, it is another season of agonies in Nigeria. Losing over 600 lives and unquantified properties without hope of commensurable relief assistance and packages is a harsh reality for Nigerians. They must now begin to fathom how to survive in a country of abundant resources where public management has failed abysmally. Adequate infrastructural facilities to forestall recurring floods and disasters during the rainy season are in bad shape.

Drainage systems constructed with huge resources are relics of corruption with poor quality that could not sustain the pressure of water and waste. Roads constructed with a staggering amount of money with the rhetoric of quality standards are washed away after the first downpour thereby constitutional obstructions to the free flow of waters. Resources allocated for public sector management end up in private pockets and siphoned out of the country through illicit financial flows. The rain season in Nigeria is always an agonising moment of pain and suffering in Nigeria and the story continues.

Fagbadebo is a Research Associate at the Durban University of Technology, South Africa.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.