WHEN the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, said recently that Bayelsa was not among the 10 most impacted states in the 2022 flood disaster, stakeholders, especially Niger-Delta residents and environmentalists cringed. Her insistence that Jigawa in the North-West is the worst flood-impacted state immediately reignited divisive controversy. This is symptomatic of the tendency of Nigeria’s leaders to politicise, and respond late and ineffectually to national challenges. With 33 states afflicted by floods, the government’s priority should be mobilising all necessary resources to provide succour to all the victims and afflicted communities.
Farouq’s statement was a reaction to an earlier cry made by Edwin Clark, a Niger-Delta leader, that floods had devastated the region and needed urgent attention. Like in many other states, reports had indicated severe flooding in Bayelsa with the capital, Yenagoa, cut off from neighbouring states and thousands of persons displaced. Concerned, the United Nations lamented the loss of assets, lives and livelihood to the floods, describing it as a “crisis of major proportion that deserves attention.”
The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mathias Schmale, likened Bayelsa’s case to the Pakistani situation where floods resulted in 1,700 deaths, displaced 7.9 million persons, destroyed 372,823 buildings and affected 33 million persons.
But Bayelsa is not the only distressed state. Ranging from bad to severe, 33 Nigerian states were deluged this year: one-third of Anambra was immersed; in Jigawa, 91 persons died; in Niger State, even the dead became victims when 1,500 corpses were swept from a cemetery in Mariga community. Latest reports estimated 603 persons killed in the flooding nationwide, 1.4 million others displaced, over 200,000 homes completely or partially destroyed, and the areas affected combined measured about 570,000 hectares.
The ministry’s account reported by the BBC said that in Bayelsa, 257,913 persons were affected and 219,417 displaced, while 58 died and 81 were injured; 26,509 houses were also damaged and 703 farms deluged. In Jigawa, 166,076 persons were affected, 68,883 displaced, 91 persons died and another 148 injured, 3,849 farms were ruined and 1,564 houses partially damaged. While Jigawa suffered more in the number of casualties and farms, Bayelsa was more physically impacted; there, people still move around in canoes. Both are in distress. The controversy was therefore needless.
There should instead be a national emergency response, devoid of politics, and incorporating region-specific, and state-specific aspects to cater to local peculiarities. This requires effective collaboration between the three tiers of government, communities and aid agencies.
Experts say littoral states like Lagos, Rivers, Bayelsa and other estuarine states of the Niger Delta region are more prone to flooding with dire consequences. Similarly, Kogi, part of which lies at the confluence of the Rivers Niger and Benue, is also perennially vulnerable to flooding. With their fragile soils, the more arid northern states suffer also when unusually heavy rains like this year’s occur, causing floods that wash away farms, buildings and movable property.
All the states affected deserve urgent attention; Farouq’s duty is to mobilise and coordinate national relief efforts, working closely with all stakeholders. When she eventually visited Bayelsa, Governor Duoye Diri rightly reminded leaders to always visit disaster scenes promptly to enable them accurately assess the situation and respond accordingly.
But unconcern for the plight of the citizens is one of the many negatives of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Regime officials follow in his footsteps, and like him, are also disposed to sectionalism and administrative muddling.
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Typically, he and his aides have bungled the federal response to flooding. Despite their sorry record, Nigerians and the global community were nevertheless surprised to see Buhari and Farouq in Egypt for the COP 27 (global climate) summit when there was a serious flood crisis at home that required their attention.
This attitude contrasts sharply with the timely response and empathy demonstrated by other world leaders whose countries were flood-afflicted. At least 27 countries had witnessed floods by October 2022 said UNICEF.
After flash floods killed 40 persons in June, Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, visited the affected sites to condole with the victims and coordinate relief efforts. Australia’s PM, Anthony Albanese, rushed to Victoria and New South Wales in October and November respectively to join sympathisers and emergency responders after floods devastated parts of the two states in succession. United States president, Joe Biden, broke off national and foreign engagements in September to tour cities in his country’s North-East deluged by floods.
Buhari rarely exhibits such leadership, jetting out frequently for even minor foreign engagements, or staying put in Abuja while his aides recycle tepid statements when disaster strikes Nigerian communities.
Nigerian governments; federal, states and LGs, should take their responsibilities more seriously. Public office is about service to the people, empathizing with them and providing support in times of grief. They should implement measures to enable displaced victims return to their homes and livelihoods as soon as possible.
Caused variously by climate change, heavy rainfall, swelling rivers and overflowing water reservoirs, floods are inevitable in some parts of the world. Responsible governments and leaders prepare for them. Persistent alerts by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency did not attract effective proactive measures by Nigeria’s national and sub-national governments unlike in other climes. Prone to floods because of its geography, Indonesia has adaptable flood control measures focused on physical infrastructure such as reservoirs, water pumps, polders and canal maintenance.
Nigeria should do likewise. The World Economic Forum under the Climate Action Platform programme reported that despite early rainfall alerts and awareness of the impending release of excess water from neighbouring Cameroon’s Lagdo Dam in September, Nigeria has failed over the years to build a buffer dam, while the states never make adequate defensive preparations.
With food shortages predicted to worsen, and poverty and insecurity ravaging the land, Buhari needs to activate national emergency plans against flooding. The state governments should also roll out emergency relief plans and tackle flooding and other natural disasters. ,
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