Enyeribe Ejiogu, John Adams (Minna) and George Onyejiuwa (Owerri)
The prediction and warning given by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) on August 7, 2019 that about 30 states would experience flooding this year became fulfilled for Niger State within a short time.
While issuing the alert, Director General of NIHSA, Clement Nze, had said that the anticipated flooding would result from the high rate of constant rainfall in the country.
Nze explained that apart from flooding occasioned by downpour, river flooding would begin in September 2019 due to the increase in water from Niger and Benue rivers. Within days of the announcement, a downpour pelted the Niger State capital. By the time the rain stopped, the signs of disaster caused by flooding that followed in the wake of the heavy rain were visible everywhere in Minna as residents were left counting their losses.
The downpour lasted four hours. More than 500 people were displaced by the flood. Property worth over N200 million were lost in the disaster. It was a night of pain and lamentation for the residents of Dutsen Kura, Shanu village, Mypa in Bosso and other adjourning suburbs in Chanchaga and Bosso local government areas of the state.
The midnight rain started about 2:30a.m on that fateful Saturday and fell till 7:00a.m. Residents of Mypa area of Bosso, who narrated their ordeals, blamed the early morning rain for the collapse of both the Mypa bridge in Bosso and Mola bridge in Dutsen Kura.
A victim from Dutsen Kura, Mallam Sanusi Mohammed, a businessman, said that three persons were swept away in their area in an attempt to escape from their flooded houses.
Another victim, Mallam Zubairu Abdullahi while recounting his losses, disclosed that his animals and fishpond were all swept away and his entire house submerged by the water, stressing that “it was by the grace of God that my family escaped and I.”
According to him, the flood came from the major canal beside his house. He added: “Before I knew what was happening, my goats, chickens and thousands of eggs had all been carried away.”
The Ward Head (Mai Angwan), Inuwa Bawa Tokura, who lamented over government’s nonchalant attitude towards addressing the incessant flooding in the area, told our correspondent that all the residents of the areas were woken up to face the reality of the flood.
Hear him: “I have witnessed four floods now; the only solution for this flooding is the construction of proper drainage system from the Federal University of Technology, FUT, Minna, down to Bida road. That is the waterway that needs to be properly handled if we must avoid this annual disaster. This is where the government must act now if not we will be confronted with the same reality next year.”
A mother of three, Hadiza Rabiu of Shanu village in Bosso LGA said that she lost N40,000, foodstuff and personal effects to the flood.
She told Sunday Sun: “We were fast asleep when all of a sudden we saw water everywhere in our rooms. I started calling for help to save my children. The flood took everything, our house collapsed and everything we had including over N40,000 were washed away. The government should come to our aid.”
Similarly, the Head of Shanu village, Ibrahim Musa, recounted his experience saying “when the rain started in the early hours of Saturday, I was happy and thanking God that it was going to be a rain of blessing because of our farms, not knowing that it was going to wreak havoc. We have lost our farm produce and houses. This is tragic and we don’t know where to start from now. We really need help from the government.”
The Director General, Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA), Ibrahim Inga, who has visited the scene of the disaster for on-the-spot assessment of the extent of damage, said that deaths were reported and many people displaced.
While stating that the government would provide palliative assistance to those affected, he blamed them for building their houses along the waterways and for indiscriminate dumping of refuse in drainage channels.
Meanwhile, the displaced victims vowed to occupy the Government House with their mats as at the time of filing this report. The victims are currently living either with relations or squatting at makeshift apartments even as the rains have intensified.
There were fears of possible outbreak of cholera due to the condition of the victims who are currently living under dehumanizing condition.
The NSEMA DG, however, allayed fears of such outbreak as steps had been taken to forestall it by boosting health facilities around affected areas.
Meanwhile, the deputy governor has paid a sympathy visit to the affected areas, and assured the people that the government would look into their plight with a view to assisting them.
Flooding is fast becoming an annual occurrence in Niger State. Year in, year out people live in fear and wait for disaster to happen as their appeals to the government for proper and right solutions never elicited the right reactions. Rather than find solutions to forestall re-occurrence, the government prefers to pay compensations to the victims.
For eight consecutive years, from 2010 to 2018, it has been tales of woes across communities in Niger State overrun by flood. Despite warnings issued each year by the Nigeria Meteorological Services (NIMET) and the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) about flooding, and the need for the government to take proactive steps to prevent or reduce incidence of flooding, nothing tangible was done, beyond appealing to the people to move to higher ground, a call the people roundly ignored because of seeming attachment to their ancestral homes and farmlands.
Niger is one of the states prone to flood disasters because of the three hydroelectric power dams – Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro – located in the state. The presence of the dams makes people living in communities downstream very vulnerable each time floodwater was released from the dams.
The state witnessed the first major flood disaster in 2001, in Muregi community in Mokwa Local Government Area, which left hundreds of homes and farmlands submerged. Since then flood disasters have been a recurring experience in the state.
However, in 2012, Niger recorded the worst flooding incident when over 147 communities in 13 local government areas were affected. By the time, the water receded and later dried up, over 1,000 houses and property worth more N1billion were lost to the disaster. Fortunately, only five lives were lost to that particular flooding incident.
The flood was largely attributed to excess water released from the three hydroelectric dams in the area. Experts described the flooding that year in the state as the worst in 40 years.
Records showed that a large expanse of land, estimated to be 23 square kilometers in Mokwa, Lavun, Katcha and Bida local government areas, which are predominantly rice producing areas, was washed away by the flood and this had multiplier effects on food, especially rice production in the state in 2012.
Apart from the rice producing areas, some local governments in Niger East senatorial districts comprising Shiroro, Munyan, Rafi and Bosso local government areas had their farmlands estimated to be about 30 square kilometers were submerged by the 2012 flood. Some of the farmers affected that year are yet to recover, seven years after the incident.
In 2018 the state was shaken to its roots when an early morning downpour which lasted for about five hours, beginning from 1:00 a.m till 6:00a.m swept through the nooks and crannies of Suleja, one of the most populated towns in the state, leaving over 15 people dead, over 200 houses submerged and property worth hundreds of millions destroyed.
The highpoint of that disaster was a tea seller, Mallam Sa’ad Abubakar, popularly referred to Sa’ad Na’ Aisha, who lost everything he had laboured for all his life except his little teashop. He lost six children, two wives and a five-room bungalow to the disaster. It was a night that he could not provide the needed fatherly protection to his family.
Far from Niger State, and in a very real way, Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, which for long had contended with flooding, is on a rebound after eight years of pernicious neglect by the past administration. The once clean and beautiful city was treated with benign neglect all through that eight-year tenure as garbage grew and took over major roads, creating terrible and ugly sight of flooded streets each time it rained.
Flooding was never associated with the city prior to 2011, when former Governor Rochas Okorocha was first elected. Way back in 1977 when the foreign firm, Fingerhauth and Partners, produced the master-plan for the development of the capital city, proper drainage facilities were carefully designed into the plan as provision was made for huge underground concrete tunnels.
Monier Construction Company, a German firm, handled the construction of the major roads that turned the quaint sleepy provincial town that old Owerri used to be into a true state capital, when it commenced work in the city. It first of all constructed underground drainage tunnels, which served as the arteries into which run-off water from the surface concrete drainages by the roadside emptied after rainfall.
Recalling those days, Joseph Ibezim, a native of Owerri, who was a teenager back then but now a senior corporate executive in Lagos told Sunday Sun: “The underground drainage tunnel under Tetlow road runs from School road by Tetlow (very close to the home of Justice Duke Njiribeako) all the way to old Okigwe road, where it joins a huge collection chamber located close to Library Roundabout, (near where the Imo headquarters of the defunct Cooperative and Commerce Bank used to be), which leads to the Government House. Run-off water from Wetheral road, Okigwe Road and environs emptied into the chamber and flowed through another underground tunnel to Nworie River. Honestly, the drainage system built by MCC was well maintained during the times other governors presided over the state.”
Over the years, silting substantially blocked the underground drainage tunnels. Efforts made to convince a certain past governor to engage suitable contractors to de-silt the underground tunnels failed to move him. A reliable source told Sunday Sun: “He mocked us and said, ‘if I put money into that project, how will the people see it. That effort has no political benefit’ and, of course, he did nothing. That is a part of the flooding problem in Owerri.”
In the last few months, residents of Owerri have been witnessing growing relief as the Emeka Ihedioha administration has started to tackle massive flooding in the state capital head on, as any recent visitor to the state would readily attest. Back in the days of the Okorocha administration, refuse clogged surface drainages and silts blocked the underground tunnels. Last year, flood sacked residents of Item Street, Works Layout, Trans-Egbu Housing Estate, Rotibi Street, World Bank Housing Estate and Aladinma areas in the capital metropolis. Even major roads like Wetheral, Douglas and Okigwe became flooded and made vehicular movement difficult. Again in April, this year, the capital was flooded following a downpour. Soon after he was sworn-in, Governor Ihedioha appointed Alex Emeziem as General Manager of the Imo Environmental Transformation Commission (Imo ENTRACO) with a mandate to open up all the blocked drainage tunnels and gutters and clean up Owerri by clearing the waste generated in the city as a way of controlling flooding in the state capital. The government also re-introduced the monthly environmental sanitation exercise.
ENTRACO set to work and has gone a long way carrying out de-silting and drainages resulting in significant reduction of flooding of the capital city, and is now actively pursuing the goal of returning Owerri to the days when it was a clean city during the tenures of the first civilian governor, Chief Sam Mbakwe and Dr. Ikedi Ohakim.
“There is too much flooding in Owerri and we have been de-silting the drains and opening up the manholes in an effort to reduce the flooding in the capital city. We have flooding at Assumpta, Mbaise Road, Tetlow and Royce roads and Trans-Egbu, Aladinma and Ikenegbu areas.
“We have opened up the manholes to drain water away from Port Harcourt road through Assumpta to Nworie River as a way of controlling flooding in that axis. We have also done the same thing at Mbaise road, Royce, Ikengbu, Tetlow road and Orji. We are not only clearing the gutters, but we are also recovering the verges of the roads as well as planting trees to beautify the state capital. We are dredging Lake Nwebere as a way of tackling the flooding at the Imo State University and the environs of Aladinma, so that when it rains the water could easily drain into the Lake Nwebere.”
Emeziem further disclosed that the commission had concluded plans to provide refuse bags for residents and traders in the capital city to put their garbage in so as to make them refrain from dumping refuse in the roadside drainage and gutters.
The residents have taken good note of the efforts of the state government to clean up the city and thereby tackle the menace of flooding. One of them, Felix Ohaeri who lives at Mbaise Rod by Tetlow commended the officials of the Imo Environmental Transformation Commission for re-opening the drainage tunnel in the area which he said had been blocked for over six years to allow free flow of flood water after the rains.
“We are happy with what the new government is doing. Last year flood sacked most of the residents because the blockage of this drainage tunnel. Since it was cleared, we have heaved a sigh of relief because the issue of flood taking over the entire area is gone,” Ohaeri said.
Similarly, Chijioke Adiele, a resident of Royce Road, expressed joy that the new spirit at Imo ENTRACO was beginning to produce tangible results.
Also expressing her joy, Alice Mbachu, another resident of Tetlow by Njemanze Street, in the Amawom area of the metropolis commended ENTRACO, saying that unlike in the past, the officials of the commission are now really doing what the agency was actually established to do and urged residents of the capital city to cooperate with the organisation.
But as they see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is not so for the people of Ndegwu and Amakohia-Ubi in Owerri West Local Government Area of Imo State as erosion caused by flooding has cut them off from Orogwe and Irete from where the people pass to get to the state capital. Specifically, erosion has cut the road into two at Umunomo Orogwe that the people of Orogwe can no longer cross over to Ndegwu and the same for the Ndegwu natives.
However, the member representing the area at the House of Representatives, Hon. Ikenna Elezieanya, has said that FERMA would soon begin work on the road as about N18 million budgetary allocation was set aside for it.