On Government Passivity, Damned Dams And Nigerian Floods

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Spoiler alert: Yes. We’re still talking about the floods.

The year is 2022, and Nigeria is experiencing its worst floods in over ten years. The last major flood emergency occurred between July and October back in 2012, when both the Niger and Benue rivers overflowed their banks. The reported death toll at the time was under 500. This time, we are told it is over 603. Human lives. Simply washed away. We have also heard that over 2.5 million people have been affected so far, with 1.3 million displaced and contracting water-borne diseases, and more than 2,500 persons injured. Without a doubt, these figures will do no justice to the real numbers and devastation on the ground. And while it may be tempting to call this “old news”, or question the usefulness of merely talking, thinking or writing about the floods, it is important to remember that silence will not help, either. So, yes. We’re still talking about the floods.

Kebbi, Adamawa, Anambra, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kogi, Niger, Delta, Benue, Bayelsa, Rivers, Nasarawa and Yobe. Water has engulfed more than 25 of our 36 states. Again and again, Nigerians are reminded that the plight of one is the plight of all, since none of us is safe. The flood did not spare the rich nor the poor; did not stop to request for bank statements. If anything, the situation brings to mind a rather poignant post a citizen made earlier in the year when the floodgates began to open, featuring an image of a parking lot of Jeeps and SUVs almost covered to their rooftops in Lagos, and the pithy caption: “Individually rich, but collectively poor”. 

Expectedly, they are calling this a natural disaster, with some even alluding to Global warming and the ever-rising tides. Fair enough. But in this case, how ‘natural’ is a disaster that could have been prevented?


Stemming The Tide 

Nigeria sees flooding every blessed year, often as a result of inadequate infrastructure and the non-implementation of environmental guidelines. In fact, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA)’s Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) predicted that 233 Local Government Areas across 32 states of the Federation and the FCT fall within the Highly Probable Flood Risks Areas. Seems like fair warning, right? Well, apparently not.

This year, authorities have blamed the floods on water overflowing from local rivers and unusual rainfalls, even going as far as to point fingers at external forces such as the Lagdo Dam in neighboring Cameroon. Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu has (shamefully) accused the Cameroonian government of not informing the Nigerian government before it released water from the dam. That damn dam!


The dam in question, which began operating in 1982, is located 50 km south of the city of Garoua along the River Benue. Its construction was intended to supply electricity to the northern part of the country and allow the irrigation of 15,000 hectares of crops downstream. Following the completion of the Lagdo Dam, the Nigerian government was supposed to embark on a similar project along the River Benue, which would serve to contain the flood water released upstream from Lagdo Dam and prevent flooding, etc.
Forty years later, the dam (which was to be located in Adamawa State) has still never been built. But of course… Let’s blame Cameroon and the rainfall. 

So What
Has Been Done

In September, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the National Council on Climate Change, saying that, “we cannot ignore what is happening in our local environment. The increasing re-occurrence of floods in several parts of the country is a wakeup call”. Meanwhile, Nigeria’s disaster management agency, NEMA, has apparently begun the distribution of 12,000 Metric Tonnes of food and non-food items across the flood disaster hotspots. Will this aid ever reach the people who need it, or will the items simply disappear like the palliatives that were hoarded not too long ago? Find out in the next episode of Dragon Ball Z!

In a more startling, and frankly laughable turn of events, certain politicians have taken to throwing stones at the relief attempts of others, while offering very little assistance of their own:


And in the midst of it all, our beloved President has bid us a warm farewell, and set off to South Korea, safe in the arms of a turbo-powered angel. But while Nigerians are expected to applaud all of this, government efforts are hardly attending to the scale of damage unfolding around the country. With over 108,392 farmlands partially damaged and 332,327 farmlands totally damaged by the floods, loss of crops is a major concern and could increase food prices in the coming months, amongst several other worries. 

Thus, in the face of the usual negligence and nonchalance (and while external aid slowly begins to trickle in for flood victims), it is the citizens themselves, and some ostensibly well-meaning private enterprises, that have had to take up the mantle.


Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

When Nigerians talk about “Independence Day”, we mean it in the most literal sense. In a country where citizens generally pump their own water, generate their own electricity, and sometimes even have to pool funds to ensure their own communal sanitation and/or security, it is not surprising that individuals and organizations have started online and offline fundraising campaigns to crowdsource relief for the flood victims.




Others have taken it upon themselves to tell the stories that matter and document the real magnitude of the damage on the ground: 


But in the final analysis, it is Dakuku Peterside’s words that continue to echo through the room of the Federal Government’s silence and blatant lack of accountability: “the flooding problem is symbolic of a country whose leadership at all levels does not value planning, working with data and proactiveness”.
The provision of post-flooding relief materials almost every year is no longer good enough — we need abatement measures. Simple. These involve enforcing policies and the construction of structures, like dams, that inhibit flooding (or at least significantly reduce its impact). If we’re being honest, this will most likely not be the last time Nigerians experience a flood. The forces of nature will not stop, but the constant dereliction of duty by our supposed leaders should.