From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
There is no let-up on the deluge of criticisms against the Minister for Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster and Social Development, Hajia Sadiyar Umar Farouq over her recent comments that Bayelsa was not among the ten most impacted states during the 2022 flooding and that Jigawa State was more affected than Bayelsa.
Ms Farouq, who has been in the eye of the storm since she made the offensive comments, has not been spared by Bayelsans and Ijaw leaders, who have launched a verbal war against her, over the comments which have been described as provocative and insulting.
Bayelsa State Government, in a statement signed by the Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr Ayiba Duba said Ms Farouq “is already turning into part of the disaster she was appointed to manage.
“The way the minister has treated our state is so unfortunate that our people are beginning to doubt that we are part of Nigeria. She sat comfortably in Abuja to determine the most flooded!!!
Is it not curious that since the devastation caused by the flood occurred a month ago, no representative of the FG has visited our state to assess the situation? The Federal Government has not shown the minutest of empathy since this monumental devastation hit our state. And we are asking, is Bayelsa State still part of Nigeria? Are we only important when it is time to exploit the resources in our land? “If the humanitarian minister is sincere, let her tell Nigerians the relief materials brought to the state and who received them.
“The Minister and indeed the Federal Government are not fair to our people who have undergone trauma of losing loved ones, homes and livelihood,” he said.
Former Bayelsa State governor and now Senator, Bayelsa West, Senator Henry Seriake Dickson has not spared the Minister for her comments and has demanded the withdrawal of the comments.
Dickson, who was governor when Bayelsa went through the 2012, 2018 and 2019 flooding, described the assessments reports attributed to the minister as “insensitive, disrespectful and offensive not only to Bayelsa or the Ijaw nation but the people of all states affected by the flood.
According to him, comments meant to downplay the effect of the flooding in a state like Bayelsa had aggravated the pains and worries of the people
He noted that while communities and indeed the entire state in the case of Bayelsa are submerged with critical infrastructure and people’s sources of livelihood destroyed, the Federal Government has not organised any meaningful relief exercise for the people.
His words: “Creating the impression that a whole state whose road networks have been cut off and the entire state submerged is not among the ten most affected by this flood is insulting and is indeed the height of insensitivity that any government official can show.
“And if that is the mindset of the President or Federal Government, maybe that explains why there has been no serious Federal response and intervention,” he said.
The longest serving monarch in Bayelsa State and in the Niger Delta region, and pioneer Chairman of Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council, HRM King (Dr) Warri Joshua Igbugburu, Ibenanawei of Bomo Kingdom has also lashed out at the minister, describing her comments as hate speech.
“The statement made by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster and Social Development that Bayelsa State is not among the top ten 2022 flood affected states in Nigeria is misleading and untrue. I described her speech as hate speech. My palace was submerged by the flood and all the communities in Bomo Kingdom and Southern Ijaw were affected. The people were rendered homeless. Let God be her judge. I call on President Muhammadu Buhari to disregard her comment and call her to order,” the monarch said.
Speaking in the same breath, the President of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Prof Benjamin Ogele Okaba explained that the mishandling of the flood disaster in Bayelsa State by Ms Farouq has further underscore her ineptitude.
He said: “We are concerned that the minister’s false claim has exposed the crass incompetence, cluelessness and ineptitude she has brought to bear in the discharge of her duties. She has politicised the flood disaster. It is on record that like her principal, President Muhammadu Buhari, Farouq sat in Abuja and did not visit Bayelsa State to personally see the extent of destruction before drawing her spurious conclusions relying on bogus data dripping with ethnic sentiments.
“This is the same Minister who, in 2020, shocked the entire nation with the laughable claim that the Federal Government expended a whopping sum of N523.3million to feed school children who were confined to their homes with their parents and guardians during the COVID-19 lockdown. What a Minister! Notwithstanding, the power that be still kept her to perpetrate her unscrupulous, corrupt and disdainful activities to the pains of Nigeria and Nigerians’ ‘.
According to Okaba, the minister’s mindset and ethnic bias was responsible for the refusal of the Federal Government to show any concern and empathy towards Bayelsa and provide succour to ameliorate the sufferings of flood victims in the state since the natural calamity befell the state. He declared that Farouq’s public utterances on Bayelsa State have exposed her “hatred against Ijaw and indeed the Niger Delta people.”
Okaba noted that she is hiding under the canopy of the Federal Government to play an ethnic script written for her by the northern oligarchs who, in cahoots with the central government, are only interested in the oil and gas resources of Ijaw and Niger Delta people.
“The INC demands that the minister should withdraw her comments coated in ethnic sentiments, and apologise to the peace loving people of Bayelsa State. If she fails to tender an apology, President Buhari should remove her from office to restore public confidence in his administration whose conduct has been largely characterised by nepotistic considerations.
“The Federal Government of Nigeria should treat Bayelsa State fairly and respond adequately to the flood disaster in the state and assuage the plight of affected people. Or is Bayelsa State no longer part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria?
“The Federal Government should not only be interested in the oil and gas resources of Ijaw and Niger Delta communities while shirking its responsibilities to our people in their time of trouble such as the ravaging floods,” he said.
The spokesman for the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), Ebilade Erekefe stated that Ms Farouq comments have drawn the ire of Ijaw Youths.
Erekefe, who had earlier demanded the resignation of Ms Farouq, pointed out that the recent statement credited to Garba Shehu has invalidated the assertions of the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, by agreeing that Bayelsa happens to be the most affected state,
However he was quick to add that it has not solved the problems associated with the flood, “as most of our people are still currently internally displaced.”
“Up till this moment, no delegation from the federal government has visited the Niger Delta region, especially Bayelsa that is worst impacted to hear directly from the governor, sympathise with the people and make a commitment to support the state in the post-flood era. As you are aware, critical road infrastructure has been destroyed, especially the Sagbama/ Ekeremor road, Tombia/Amassoma road and many others. Our health system too is affected badly, as cholera and other associated diseases will spring up. All our farmlands have been washed away and we may witness drought and famine during the post-flood era. What we expect to hear from the president directly is steps the federal government will take to address this challenge and not for Garba Shehu to defend the Minister. We insist that she must voluntarily resign or be sacked for incompetence and lack of capacity to live up to the mandate of her office. She has failed and there’s no better way to put it.”
The spokesman of the INC, Mr Ezonebi Oyakemeagbegha also lent his voice to the barrage of criticism against Ms Farouq, accusing her of ignorance.
He disclosed that based on the Federal Government’ negligence, plans are underway to institute a legal action against the Federal Government over its failure to stop the perennial flooding by building the Dasin Hausa Dam which could have reduced the effect of the flooding in Bayelsa and other states where Ijaw people reside.
”How can she sit in the comfort of her office without a visit to any of the affected states and make an assertion, is that right?
“If the glaring devastation occasioned by the flooding in Bayelsa and other Ijaw Council Areas of Delta State could be twisted by Farouq, it shows her reflection of arrogance and callous disregard to issues about the Niger Delta region and its people, by the federal government.
“Since we view this as deliberate negligence and utter disregard for the lives of our citizens living in the lower Niger by the Federal Government of Nigeria, mere acceptance of the conventional relief materials, such as rice bags, and mattresses, that would not make any meaningful impact on these victims is absurd and unacceptable. We will approach the court for compensation” he said.