Charity Nwakaudu, Abuja
Dr. Clement Onyeaso is the director-general, Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA). In this interview, he speaks on the number of states that would be flooded, level of water and measures to reduce the impact.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected preparations for flood?
It has truly affected us in terms of timely sensitization of Nigerians, particularly those in flood-prone areas. People who are supposed to aid us in certain areas, like printers, were affected by the prolonged lockdown. We were almost ready before the lockdown was declared. It was difficult for us to package the documents properly for public consumption. Instead of going on air by April, it was done in May. And again when it came to the aspect of public enlightenment and sensitisation, during which we normally move from zone to zone to drive the message of impending flooding to the public, we couldn’t do it, and that was why we decided to use the various platforms in the social media and surface mail to communicate.
Were you able to get the desired results using the social media platforms?
The level of results we got was quite encouraging and impressive because we heard it several times on different social media platforms, though, not as it would had been if we were opportuned to do our normal sensitisation programmes to different places. Notwithstanding, we have been able to do the best we could do using different social media outlets during lockdown.
Nigeria had an issue with Cameroon last year for releasing water from its dam without proper notification; has it been resolved and what is the agreement?
Last year, precisely October 10, Cameroon opened their dam and it was open till October 31. That incident affected us here in Nigeria, and, sequel to that, Nigeria and Cameroon signed a memoradum of understanding (MoU) at the highest order after the 2012 incidents, Nigeria began the process of the agreement between the both countries, that before they could release water from your dam in Cameroon, Nigeria in the downstream had to be adequately notified. That agreement was signed in 2016 by President Paul Biya when he visited President Muhammadu Buhari, with regard to Benue sub-basin and dam legmius in Cameroon that had a very connecting effect in Nigeria in 1986.
What is your level of collaboration with state governments in mitigating flood disaster this year?
Flood disaster occurs in the states. It also occurred here in Abuja, some weeks ago. The state governors are the ones to oversee their territories. When the prediction was made public by the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, in May, he dispatched thoroughly crafted letters to each state governor, with relevant documents concerning the 2020 flood incident and also indicating the local governments that would be affected in each state. It was expressly dispatched through a competent courier service to concerned government houses in Nigeria. All the governors and FCT minister received their own documents informing them of the LGAs in their states that would likely to be heavily affected by flood this year and the measures they should take. It’s left for them to reciprocate or take measures, being in charge of their territories. You don’t expect the Minister of Water Resources to go to different states and begin to look for the places that will be affected. It’s the state governments that are supposed to put the measures in place and make sure that the predicted disaster does not occur. So, we try as much as we could to collaborate with them. I am on call most of the time with commissioners of environment in different states to inform them of what might happen, alongside what they should do to avert it.
Could you give us the list of states that are likely to experience major flooding this year?
Virtually all the states would be flooded. In terms of the weight, going by our prediction, the states that have LGAs where flooding would be much higher depending on their location are Abia, Adamawa, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Osun, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara. These are 28 states and a total sum of 102 LGAs that would suffer severe flood incident in Nigeria this 2020. Then the rest of them will not be of the same magnitude. That is, the 275 LGAs in the 36 states of the federation, including the FCT, fall within the moderately probable flood risk areas. The remaining 397 LGAs fall within the low probable flood risk areas. And the states have been notified accurately as early as possible to avert these risk.
Is it too late to start taking measures now?
The answer to the question could be, yes or no. Because we are already getting into the peak of the rainy season and also the peak of flooding. This is not the time to begin to build drainages or construct heavy drainage system that would have been able to convey the huge amount of flood to somewhere else. These are things that are supposed to have been done during the dry season. You can’t do some of those things, but small drainages that are already blocked and rivers that are overflowing. Howbeit, something can still be done by dredging and clearing those things that filled the rivers and other waterways. It should be an annual event, after each rainy season. Clearing of waterways that have been blocked can be done now but, in terms of serious work, it is not quite possible under the rain. The maintenance of gutters and flood paths ought to be an annual event instead of waiting until the rains begin to drop.
Is there anything the Federal Government can do to tackle the disaster ahead, looking at the rate of predicted flood?
The question should have been, Is there anything the state governments can still do now to avert the disaster ahead? The govenors are in charge of their states and the life and property of their people should be paramount to them. Federal Government has taken measures in the way of releasing early information to the states, telling them what is likely to happen and what should be done to avert it. It is the responsibility of the states to mobilise and do the needful. They all have a ministry of environment, urban planning and this is the right time for them to go to work to ensure that any place that is likely to experience more disaster, it is aborted, and also evacuate the people. They have the mandate and legal backing to do that. Just like what I watched on the television where the FCT Department of Development Control was demolishing some building around Gwagwalada. This is what should have been done much earlier after the prediction was done. So, something can still be done by the states, which is, finding a way of relocating people because, according to what we have seen, technically, we are yet to enter the peak of flooding or rainy season in Nigeria. The rain, according to the 2020 Seasonal Rainfall prediction made earlier in the year by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), the earliest cessation date for rainfall in the southern part of the country is December 28, while September 26 is the earliest cessation date for rainfall in the northern part of the country. If at this time we are experiencing this type of flooding, I wonder what will happen in September.
What could be the cause of this early flooding?
This is normal rainfall. NiMet had predicted that there was going to be above-normal rainfall this year. In other wise, some areas would experience normal rainfall while some would be above, by what they mean. For now, we are experiencing more above-normal rain, looking at the level of flood we are already experiencing, like heavy rainfall in Lagos, where lives and property were lost in June and July. In Abuja, Nasarawa, Adamawa and Niger states, the same was the case. It is likely to be above normal this year if as early as June much really happened. The flooding we are experiencing is just as a result of the local rainfall, no contribution yet from outside countries. There’s no spilling of water either outside or within Nigeria. The dams and rivers are still compounding water, none have started releasing. Nigerians should take the predictions very seriously from both agencies. We have discovered that the agencies that are doing the predictions are doing their work but the problem is with those that are supposed to do the preventive maintenance of the impact, it seems they are not to be doing their work. The individuals also have their own roles to play, stop dropping refuse indiscriminately because it doesn’t disappear. It must end up somewhere either blocking drainages or rivers, which is the major cause of the flooding we are experiencing now. If you are living in a flood path, better save your life by relocating, and government should stop allocating land to estate developers in places that are flood-prone and individuals should be careful of what they are buying.