By the time this year’s rainy season fully arrives, it is likely that some residents of Benin City, Edo State, will be having a rough time.
There is some apprehension already among the ranks of those that would likely be affected by the impact of the rains.
In the meantime, residents of the city have begun to see signs of the times ahead. It became clear to residents and visitors alike that the rains and the attendant floods possess the capacity to upset and upstage lives.
While this correspondent was in Benin recently, it turned out to be one visit that offered opportunities to see what happens in and around the city when it rains. It was a chance to see how the rains compel businesses to close down. Business operators and owners don’t want to be caught up in the rains; they don’t want to be held up in gridlocks caused by the floods. So, with the least drizzle, they flee the city centre and other business areas, leaving the roads empty. They flee from the floods that trap motorists on the roads.
On this day, the rain had begun to fall at about 4pm within Benin City and its environs. Many going to the city and beyond met the downpour somewhere near Okada junction, about 40 kilometres from Benin City. First, it began with a drizzle. Then it grew in intensity. Before long it began to pound the earth with savagery, giving most vehicles no chance to continue on their journey. Motorists who dared the situation could only progress as slowly as visibility and the impact of the rain could allow. Visibility was reduced to a mere touching distance. That was unexpected in the month of April as the peak of the rainy season was still months away.
The rainfall lasted for about 20 minutes. When it abated, the motorists began to increase their speed. But 20 minutes later, it resumed again. This time, it was just as heavy as it was before, leaving the roof of the vehicle leaking badly.
A few minutes’ drive to the old Benin Toll Gate, the rain stopped. By then, it had rained very heavily in the town. At 6pm, most motorists going into Benin City were nearing the University of Benin main gate. Then the motorists ran into a gridlock. For the next 20 minutes, every vehicle was at a standstill. When there was some movement, it was at a snail speed. In no time, it was 7pm. And then, 8pm. Yet, things didn’t change significantly.
As the gridlock snaked towards Royal Palm Hotel, it became clear that a massive flood was the cause of the agony. The lane going out of Benin City had been completely taken over by the flood. No vehicle, no matter how big, could dare the flood. Only the lane inward the city was fair. Everyone – those going into and those leaving the city – now crowded the available lane and simply put it on lockdown, thus giving confusion free rein.
The flood had nowhere to go. Over the years, the correspondent learnt, many residents and business owners whose houses were beside the road had had to face the wrath of the flood. Having been dealt serious blows in the past, every one of them had worked out a survival strategy by massing several truckloads of earth to keep the floods away. The piles, which had long solidified, formed a ridge along the corridor. The ridge currently prevents the flood from wreaking havoc on the residents and their homes. That is the only respite the people have at the moment, leaving the floods nowhere to go. So, it simply settled on the road.
A young man, Osaretin, who was returning from Lagos, told the correspondent that people who lived in that part of the city’s outskirts had suffered tremendously at the hands of the floods, which necessitated the measures they took to protect themselves.
“I live in this community,” he said, pointing towards a fast-developing area off the main road. “Ordinarily, I should have alighted somewhere around here, crossed the road and strolled home. But I cannot do that now because of the flood. I cannot wade through this flood right now with my load. So, to save myself this ordeal, I have to go as far as Uselu Road, where I hope to put up tonight. In the morning when the flood might have receded, I will return home.”
He affirmed that the embankment on the road was built by the residents to protect stave off the rampaging flood.
“What you have seen has been there for some time now. If the people had not learnt to do that, they could have for long been at the receiving end of the flood’s fury.
“Before the people came up with the idea, they were under the onslaught of floodwaters. Some residents were regularly tormented by the floods at the peak of the rainy season, even when they were asleep. People regularly woke up in the middle of the night to see that flood had invaded their homes.”
Even hours after the rains had subsided, Uselu Road that night was still flooded. Areas around the traditional ground were affected. Even when there were big drainage channels sucking the floodwaters, there was still more than enough impeding free flow of traffic.
It was already approaching 9pm, but the traffic was still tight. For upwards of 20 minutes, everybody was at a standstill.
When the vehicle eventually reached the busy Iyaro Bus Station, the whole area was deserted. Only a handful of people were noticed. All the shops had closed for business. Even taxis were off the road as it continued to drizzle. That was the reverse of what the area used to be years ago.
To get a bus or taxi going to Ring Road, one had to trek to First East Circular Road. At that hour of the night, everyone was scared. It was a big relief when the bus reached the popular Ring Road.
By then, the roads were virtually empty. Areas around Ring Road were already deserted. People who were still around were all hurrying to get home.
For anyone entering Benin City that night, perhaps for the first time, the first things to notice was that the city sleeps at dusk, maybe before 9pm. The second is that Benin probably does not have a place like Ojuelegba, that Lagos hotspot where even at midnight, residents and visitors alike are still up, waiting to savour some steaming pot of stew just brought down from the cooking stove.
Benin City probably doesn’t have a place like Oshodi or Mile 2 or Ikeja Under Bridge or Iyana Ipaja and the rest of them, where men and women do not sleep all night long.
“The moment dusk approaches, everyone is running home like rabbits disappearing right into their holes,” Monday, a taxi driver, told Daily Sun. “That is the situation here. Everyone is running for his life. The situation is made worse because of the rains. Once there is a drop of rain, people close their shops and head home. They don’t want to be drenched. Some of the shops you see around are run by people living on the outskirts of the town. They want to go home early enough; that is why you see that their shops are all closed.”
Monday added another frightening twist to the challenge. He said that robbery was a regular phenomenon and everybody was afraid of robbers.
“There are several incidents of robbery in town. Everyone is afraid of the robbers and one doesn’t have to blame anybody for being afraid. They rule areas within the town. And that is part of the problem right now. Everybody is afraid of them; everyone is afraid of the next man, especially at night time,” he said as he hit the Airport Road, headed for the GRA.
However, he claimed that there were a few spots in GRA where people could still enjoy some nightlife: “I know of two spots, where people go to enjoy themselves all night. Those places are ever-bubbling with life. As a taxi driver, I’m always conveying people to and from the area. Those who go there to enjoy themselves hardly sleep. It is all because they know that the area is safe and secure, but not any other part of the town.”