In Nigeria, it doesn’t only rain, it pours. It also floods. Utter devastation, carnage, pain, losses and in some instances, death are the memories that flood evokes across the country. The last few years in Nigeria have seen seasonal flooding killing hundreds and displacing millions.
Any time the issue of likely flooding arises, especially through flood alerts from the authorities, Nigerians usually recoil in fear. The raining season, to them, is simply a harbinger of traumatic experiences.
From the length and breath of the country abound heartrending stories of survival and life altering encounters each time nature bares its fangs during the rainy season.
This flooding across the states, based on experiences, has always been perilous, especially to vulnerable communities abutting rivers and in low-lying areas.
Reports indicate that flooding incidents have affected and displaced more people than any other natural disaster, with about 20 per cent of Nigeria’s population standing the risk of being overrun by rampaging rainwater. Realities on ground have attested to such statistics, especially that of the 2012 flood that devastated lives and property.
As the waters receded that year, the authorities described the flood as the worst to hit the country in over 50 years. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) disclosed that an estimated 431 lives were lost, 1.3 million people displaced and 152,575 hectares of farmland destroyed as major rivers ballooned, bursting their banks. Thirty of the country’s 36 states were affected. Adamawa and Kogi states suffered some of the worst casualties, with an estimated 18, 000 people injured.
The devastation was followed by that of 2015, where over 100,000, were displaced and 53 deaths recorded. The 2016 flooding also saw 92,000 displaced and 38 killed, while that of 2017, affected 250,000 people in the eastern-central region.
In 2018, the flooding also came with its own nightmares, especially for residents of upscale areas in Lagos State. Many woke up to find their streets and homes flooded and their property, including cars and other valuables, submerged. Many others were marooned in their homes for days until the waters receded.
The continuous rainfall, which reached its peak in September, caused widespread destruction in 34 states. A state of emergency was declared in nine states.
While the flood lasted, despondency and anger hung thickly in the air; anger invoked by losses, perceived government neglect, and also against the flood for taking its natural course.
With the 2019 rainy season entering its bloom, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), has again alerted Nigerians to likely destructive flooding. The agency disclosed that 74 local government areas in 30 states would experience severe flooding between July and September. The report stated that 279 other local government areas would experience minimum flooding within the period.
The Director General of the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), Clement Nze, who made these disclosures during a Stakeholders’ Validation Workshop in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, said the alert was for measures to be taken to avert disaster.
Already, several areas in the country, especially in Lagos, are feeling the impact of the rainy season. With this has come widespread apprehension and gloom. The people’s fears might not be farfetched because the memories of past floods and their sad reminders still lurk like restless ghosts in many places. Those that have lived through the disasters still recall water stretching farther than the eyes could see and how the deluge ferociously decimated their property and means of livelihood.
In 2016, the then Director General of NIMET, Dr Moses Beckley, while unveiling the 2016 annual flood outlook, said Nigeria has had its fair share of flooding over the years with its attendant consequences. He also highlighted the need for state governments to put in place artificial reservoirs to check the flow of the flood, to avoid a replay of the 2012 flooding disaster.
Though flood alerts are meant to serve as early warnings to mitigate the risks of flooding and to guide government in taking pecuniary steps to reduce possible impact, environmental experts said the reverse had always been the case. They decried what they described as the lack of political will by the authorities to put in place solid structures that should help checkmate flooding in vulnerable states.
They also warned, that heartrending scenarios might be replayed if early warning signals are not heeded by the authority. This is amid expectation by the National Hydrological Agency that relevant government agencies and policy makers will be well prepared to respond adequately to the incident of flooding in their area.
Nonso Ike, initiator, Friend of the Earth Advocates, an environmental group in Ilupeju, stressed that there was need for Nigerians and the authorities to take NIMET warning seriously.
“Lately, there are indications that rainstorms are getting more intense. Data showed there are fewer rainy days, yet the total yearly amounts of rainfall have not changed much from previous decades. This means that more rain is falling on the days that there is rain and rainstorms are getting more intense, thereby, increasing the threat of flooding.
“The country appeared not to have learnt lessons from past flood incidents. One would have expected that they would have served as litmus tests for the nation’s emergency agencies and strengthen disaster plans and preparedness. We must be prepared and at alert because no one can tell the dimension it might take this time,” he warned.
An urban planner, Kehinde Kazeem lamented that Nigeria has failed to do the right thing, to make corrections from the past. He maintained that Nigeria’s flooding challenge would multiply until early warning system is synchronized and well coordinated through local intelligence and community collaboration.
“There is so much distrust and people no longer believe information from government. Warning systems needs to be domesticated, internalised and localised before it works.”
For many concerned about flooding in a place like Lagos, solving the problem of flood, they argued, goes beyond predictions and flood alerts. They maintained that energy should be expended into taking more proactive and mitigating steps. They also clamoured for the construction of more drains to serve communities and the de-silting of existing ones.
Already, a tour through most areas prone to flood in Lagos showed lack of preparedness on the part of the state government. Unlike in the past when major channels would have been de-silted and drains cleared, they are filled to the brim with refuse. Also, the rain that has poured nonstop for some weeks now have not only caused massive flooding in some areas, it also overwhelmed them with debris.
Investigations further revealed that Lagos residents also appear indifferent towards any likely flooding as well. With a sense of apathy displayed alongside lack of preparedness, they appeared to have resigned themselves to the mercy of the coming rains. They are also of the belief that despite the flood alert, the rain would always find its natural course.
However, The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said Lagos remains one of the states that has had its own share of flooding incidents, adding that lessons of past flooding were not lost on the authorities.
“We have put in place machineries to combat flood disasters should the need arise,” he assured.
Osanyintolu said in as much as Lagos is low-lying and a coastal state, which makes it vulnerable to flash floods, it was of utmost importance to the government to ensure that rainwater was effectively discharged into relevant channels.
He said his agency was focusing on Disaster-Risk-Reduction (DRR) approach, part of which was to create massive awareness, carry out advocacy and surveillance of vulnerable areas.
“Whatever challenges that come up would be treated as utmost important,” Osanyintolu assured.
With the fate of many states hanging in the balance, the question on the lips of many is, if the federal government is ready to make good its promises of mitigating flooding incidents.
In the words of Awe Segun, a resident of Shomolu, an area where flooding is an annual reality, the downtrodden will always be at the receiving end of government ineptitude and lack of foresight when it comes to addressing the issue of floods and other natural disasters.
To him, the government is not doing enough to stop the harvest of deaths reaped through flooding.