Now That There Is No Immediate Threat of Floods in Nigeria
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Seemingly good news came recently the way of Nigerians living in the flood-prone areas of the country. The message, which was from the new Minister of Water Resources and Sanitation, Prof Joseph Utsev, among other remarks, stated that ‘there is no immediate threat of flooding in the country.
Utsev, who spoke to newsmen in Abuja on Friday, explained that the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) had observed an increase in the volume of flow along the River Benue system, registering a flow level of 8.97 meters today. This, he said, was insignificant, as compared to a flow level of 8.80 meters on the same date in 2022, noting that reports from inland dams, including Kainji, Jebba, and Shiroro, also showed a consistent flow regime.
While this piece of information is celebrated, one vital question crying for an answer is: What are the tiers of government in Nigeria currently doing/ appropriate measures to ensure preparedness to minimize the potential impact of flooding during the peak of the rainy season?
The above poster becomes well appreciated when one remembers that last year (2022), raving floods which lasted over two months reportedly hit parts of Nigeria; according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), about 2.5 million persons were affected and over 603 persons killed by the flooding. Within the period under review, houses and farmlands were submerged in Lagos, Yobe, Borno, Taraba, Adamawa, Edo, Delta, Kogi, Niger, Plateau, Benue, Ebonyi, Anambra, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Jigawa, Zamfara, Kebbi, Sokoto, Imo, Abia States, and the Federal Capital Territory.
Without any shadow of a doubt, flooding, as noted in a similar piece in the past, is a natural disaster. A natural disaster, going by information available at Wikipedia, a global information power horse, is “the negative impact following an actual occurrence of natural hazard in the event that it significantly harms a community”. A natural disaster can cause loss of life or damage property and typically leaves some economic damage in its wake. It includes events such as a flood, earthquake, or hurricane that causes great damage or loss of life’.
However, while Wikipedia’s intention for classifying flood as a natural disaster is understandable and commendable, some questions immediately come to mind as to whether the series of floods that ravaged communities, villages, towns and cities in the past truly qualifies as an act of God/natural disaster. In the applied sense of the word, it cannot, in all honesty, be qualified as a natural disaster or an Act of God and even though it has taken a great toll on Nigeria and its economy,
Aside from the lackadaisical attitude displayed over the years by both past and present Governments, the above opinion is predicated on the mountains of early warning signs which ought to have activated some remedial measures but was not hearkened to by any of the tiers of government.
In 2012, for example, when the flood of unimaginable magnitude and volume first occurred, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), as he then was, during a visit to flood victims in Lagos, promised to create an artificial/dry lake to contend with future surge in flood. As at the time of leaving office in May 2015 (that was three years after the promise was made), not even a pit was dug.
Between 2015 and now, President Muhammadu Buhari, who succeeded former President Jonathan, did next to nothing to resolve the issue of flooding in the country.
Let’s assume that he (Buhari) lacks the needed leadership and creative prowess to generate ideas in this direction. One should have expected him to, at the very least, implement/execute the proposed Dam in Adamawa state, as suggested years ago, to take care of flood eventualities. After all, leadership is a continuum. There is also a saying that if you cannot create, copy!
The truth is that we failed as a nation in all these directions, and therefore, we lack the moral justification as a nation to describe flood as an unexpected occurrence.
But instead of doing the needful, we fail in our responsibility as a nation and attribute the same failure to God. What has happened in the past as it relates to flooding were totally, squarely and completely leadership failures. It is a sign of an absence of foresighted leadership in the country. It tells a story of people whose poor leadership has drained their rational will, a nation devoid of proactive leadership but filled with sets of reactors masquerading as leaders.
Fundamentally, the inability of the government to manage the flooding in the country all these years further serves as proof that ‘poverty of our leaders certainly does not mean material poverty, but lack of commitment to duty, lack of vision and greediness characterized by corruption’. That is the only possible explanation. If not poor leadership, how do we explain the fact that each year, the three tiers of government periodically gather to share the National Ecological Funds and yet cannot tackle the issue that is as simple as a flood?
For a better understanding of the argument, the ecological fund was established in 1981 through the Federation Account Act 1981, on the recommendation of the Okigbo Commission, Decree 36 of 1984 and 106 of 1992, as well as the allocation of Federation Account modification order of 2002 subsequently modified the act. The prime objective of this initiative was to have a pool of funds that would be solely devoted to the funding of ecological projects to ameliorate serious ecological problems nationwide. This is at variance with the practice elsewhere in the world where funds are set aside, especially for natural disasters.
In the United States, for example, there are at least four major pieces of Federal Legislations enacted for this purpose: the Water Quality Act of 1965, the Water Pollution Control Act and its amendment of 1972(PL92 500), the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1976 (PL 94 800), The Toxic Substance Control Act of 1983 (PL 94 469) and Comprehensive Environmental Response. Compensation and Labiality Act of 1983 (CERCLA) (PL96 510).
These laws all make provisions for funding and other facilities for the protection, monitoring and remediation of polluted aquifers. The funds are additional to the existing periodic statutory allocation to the United Environmental Protection Agency and are also readily accessible to local governments and individuals. Looking at the above explanation will elicit the question as to why ecological funds are not readily available for use in a period such as this. As the flood rages, the question that is as important as the flood itself is: What is the nation doing to prepare for the next one because we know that it will happen again in the near future?
Finally, even as Nigerians continue to celebrate the cheerful from the Minister that there is no threat to lives and properties, especially those states that are contiguous to Rivers Niger and Benue, this piece, on a final note, calls on relevant agencies of all the three tiers of government in Nigeria, particularly the flood-prone states such as Delta, Kogi and Bayelsa, among others, to ensure preparedness and deploy appropriate measures to minimize the potential impact of flooding during the peak of the rainy season.
Nigerians, on their part, must unlearn the ‘culture’ of indiscriminate waste disposal and, in its place, imbibe the tradition of organized waste management. Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) should, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR), train Nigerians on waste-to-wealth practice.
These are little efforts that will produce great results.
Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA). He writes via [email protected]