From Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Director-general, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NHISA), Clement Nze, in Abuja, on February 4, 2020, advised all stakeholders to start preparing for the 2020 flood season to avoid the usual “fire brigade approach.” He said the 2020 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) released by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) early in January indicated that there might be “a longer period of rainfall, if the prediction goes true or things go on as predicted.”
So, by last week, when NHISA released the 2020 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO), it stated that no fewer than 102 local government areas in 28 states were at risk of flooding. Even though Imo was among the 28 states, investigations by Daily Sun showed that flooding in Owerri, the capital, has, over the years, defied predictions. In fact, it would be an understatement to say that Owerri has been synonymous with flood every rainy season.
Flooding in Owerri is better experienced than imagined; motorists and pedestrians shiver at the signs of rain the because of its adverse effects. Each time it rains, the whole city comes to a standstill. The roads are congested with heavy traffic as a result of the flood that sometimes completely engulf vehicles.
Some of the devastating floods in Owerri were recorded in 2019 when about 60 houses were submerged at once at Amakohia, Owerri North Local Government Area. One of the victims, Kelechi Uzoma, said the rain, which began at about 6pm that fateful day did not stop until 8:30pm. This happened at a time when construction was going on at the Standard Shoes Industry Road, leading to the Imo State University junction.
He had told Daily Sun then: “I was still on my way back home when the rain started and I stopped somewhere for the rain to subside. Unknown to me, the flood had covered my flat with my two children and 12-year-old sister in-law trapped inside. It was a fellow tenant who noticed I was not at home and rescued them.”
Another victim, Mrs. Juliet Dimgba of 13, Tetlow Road, lost all her goods stored in a warehouse on Tetlow Road to that flood in 2019: “As a petty trader dealing in foodstuffs, I was at the market when I was told that flood had completely taken over my warehouse, destroying all my crayfish and other perishable foods. Last year was hell for me, almost all my life savings were used to purchase the goods.”
A motorist at Weather Roundabout said he did not notice a big canal opposite the Government House roundabout due to the downpour, which caused serious flooding around the area. In the process, he plunged his car into the canal but survived by the whiskers. It took the intervention of some Good Samaritans to rescue him and his vehicle.
That was the situation last year, even as it was learnt that the ugly trend has remained a source of concern not only to residents of the state but also the successive administrations at the helm of Imo. The situation seemed to have gone beyond control and was already extending to neighbouring towns, despite efforts by the administrations to mitigate the development.
It was gathered that the Emeka Ihedioha-led administration put up some remedial measures. But the efforts were futile as they kept waiting for the rain to subside before embarking on any major construction work.
His predecessor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, in some of his visits to flood sites in Owerri, described the situation as embarrassing, promising to confront it, yet all to no avail.
Reasons have been adduced for the flooding in Owerri, chiefly among which was the altering of the master plan of the city. Okorocha’s demolition of shanties and expansion of the roads created more problems than solutions. In fact, the state’s branch of the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) alleged that Okorocha destroyed public utilities worth over N50 billion in the course of his administration’s urban renewal project.
Regardless, recent efforts by Governor Hope Uzodinma seem to be paying off by painstakingly studying the genesis of the flooding. The nightmare posed by flood to Owerrri residents has started disappearing, since government commenced dredging and maintenance of the Lake Nwaebere, identified to have been majorly responsible for the unabated flooding in Owerri.
Commissioner for Works, Ralph Nwosu, promised that the disappearance of flooding would be permanent. He said the project was premised on the “3Rs”, rehabilitation, reconstruction and recovery: “The project is so dear to His Excellency that he has ordered a thorough work to be done. He has promised to leave a lasting legacy on roads and good environment in the state; that is why you see the dredging going on without hindrance.
“Since we started dredging the Lake Nwaebere, the flooding in Owerri has stopped. Before now, we used to have a situation, whenever it rained, there would be flooding on Okigwe Road, Bank Road, Wetheral, Tetlow and Government House roundabout and it is not the case anymore.
“Whenever it rains, you will notice that the water will quickly disappear. We know people will be wondering the type of magic the governor has performed to sack flood in Owerri. There is no magic. What government has done is to identify the cause of the flooding and has started working on it.
“What the Lake Nwaebere does is to collect water from all the streets in Owerri and discharge it here and the streets of Owerri will be clean enough for people to move around. Good a thing is that we are taking this project phase by phase. We will move to the tunnels and begin the second phase to clean them up completely.”
Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Chief Declan Emelumba, added: “As we speak, various road projects are scattered all over the state nearing completion. The World Bank and Port Harcourt roads, which have been a pain in the neck of previous administrations, are all under construction with good drainage system. The drainage is to allow for free flow of the waters through various outlets provided for them and of course, we are distilling the gutters.”
A commercial vehicle driver, Obinna Madu, has been in the transport business in Owerri for 15 years. He said he was happy about the disappearance of flood in Owerri. Another bus driver, Kelechi Oparaugo, said he is particularly happy about the ease of flood on Douglas Road as a result of the on-going construction of roads and drainages.