From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The federal government has revealed that 154 locations with transport infrastructure worth N80 billion have been impaired or damaged as a result of the recent floods, which have claimed the lives of 612 persons, 1.4 million displaced and thousands of properties worth billions destroyed.
The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, made the disclosure while briefing State House Correspondents alongside his colleagues in Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouk and Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, absolving the federal government of blame for not providing temporary shelters for citizens in vulnerable flood plains who said they had nowhere to go.
According to him, it is the responsibility of states and local governments to do that.
“You see, first of all, let us be clear, this is not in Nigerian, unique problem. We see this all over the world. It’s a human issue. Whether it was in Pakistan, Florida, these early warnings were issued. Some people left, and some people didn’t leave. There are human issues,” Fashola stated.
“So, let’s just understand, first of all, is a human issue and let us not situate it as a Nigerian problem. Now, also realise that there are levels of government involved here. There is a federal government, there is a state government, and there are 36 of them. And there are 774, local governments, those places relating to who builds where, who sets up the house, of course, are local planning issues that are not the responsibility of the federal government.
“As my colleague in water resources has said, one of the things his ministry has done is to share the Flood Warning System. It is a big, pro marker that shows that when water reaches this level, you’re safe, if it gets to the yellow level is a warning to run.
“Those are some of the things government does. And it doesn’t mean everybody will relocate.
“But as we speak here, some people didn’t relocate, some might have. But the job we have to do now is to bring relief to those who are impacted. That’s our job now.
“So, recriminating about what happened yesterday, doesn’t solve the problem. And we have come to brief you about the steps being taken to make life livable, easy for the survivors, to commiserate with those who have lost people and property and to plan a way to make life better for tomorrow.
“What we have lost yesterday is gone. Let’s stop recriminating about it. And let’s focus on how we can ensure that we’re in a better position today and tomorrow and beyond.”
The Minister of Water Resources, Adamu, noted that it will take 30 years of consistent investment to control the menace.
He affirmed that nobody can stop the phenomenon in the country.
He noted that government can only minimise the impact of the occurrence.
The Minister who spoke on a joint presentation to FEC by his ministry and that of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, said despite the early warning system in place, a lot of capital-intensive initiatives remain to be done in future to avert the consequences of flood disasters.
Suleiman said that it is not something that can be achieved under one administration alone.
He said the present administration is already working on a flood management masterplan that will take at least three years to complete.
While noting that flood victims ignored warnings to evacuate, Suleiman also blamed tree felling and degraded soil for the massive impact of this year’s floods in the country.
On criticism over the government’s preparedness to handle flood emergencies, the Minister said: “There is no technology on Earth, none that can tell you the extent of the floods, none whatsoever. You work on the basis of data that you have before. Now that the rains have come that is what hydrology is all about, this is a record and now we’re resetting the clock.
“So that our future plans will now consider that this is the historical catastrophic level that we will not account for. That is what engineering does. This has never happened before.”
In the same vein, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Farouk, noted that it is not correct to say the federal government was not prepared.
She argued: “To say that the ministries were not prepared for this emergency or this disaster that was about to happen, it’s not correct. Because we have repositioned our warehouses to take stock of deployment as approved by His Excellency, Mr President to be handed over to the ministry and we have deployed these grains to the respective states where we expect this flood is going to happen.
“So, to say that we were not prepared is really not correct. We did our best and we are still doing what we’re supposed to do.”
In his remark, the Minister of Information and Culture, Mohammed, urged Nigerians to keep an open mind on the way the government has handled the flood disaster in the country.
He said: “You see, I think we should be very broad-minded and open-minded about this issue. I watched and I’m sure many of you watched on television, how two-thirds of Pakistan was underwater because of this flood. If you watched like I did, how Florida was unable to handle this matter.
“You see, it is not a Humanitarian Affair (Ministry) or an APC affair, is a human affair, an environmental disaster. And I did not see any country that can prepare adequately, especially when citizens refuse to cooperate.
“As far back as February, NIMET warned everybody. People have built across channels. They’ve built on villages, they violated at will the planning regulations. Now, disaster now comes and you say Water Resources (ministry) was not ready, Humanitarian Affairs was not ready and even information was already.
“You see, let’s face it, what is happening today is happening all over the world. Let’s join hands together with all governments at every level, with all NGOs and the private sector. This is a human affair, it is a disaster, which does not make a difference between one party or the other, or one part of the country or the other.
“As we speak today, about five local governments out of seven in Bayelsa are under the water. And like the Honorable Minister has said, we are receiving four times the amount of rain that we have ever received in the history of this nation. So please, don’t let us think the solution is blaming the government. Let’s please be objective in our assessment and understanding of the issue at hand.”