From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa, Paul Osuyi, Asaba and Tony John, Port Harcourt
In many states in the country, raging floodwaters have sacked communities and farmlands, displacing people and destroying property worth billions of naira.
The flooding seems most pronounced in parts of the South-East and some Niger Delta states. In Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers State, the situation is dire.
Flood victims narrates tales of woes as Bayelsa battles humanitarian crisis
Since the creation of Bayelsa State in 1996, it has not suffered anything near the current humanitarian crisis triggered by the 2022 flood. The crisis of the 1998 Kaiama Declaration, the Odi crisis of 1999 and the 2012 flood cannot be compared to what residents of the oil-rich state are currently passing through. No one is left out. The rich, poor, old, young, male, female, educated and unlettered are all affected.
A sombre Governor Douye Diri in a broadcast to the people of the state captured the unfolding humanitarian crisis succinctly, “From my personal assessment, the situation is dire. Nearly a million people in over 300 communities in the state have been internally displaced. Unfortunately, some deaths have been reported. The narrative is the same across Sagbama, Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Ogbia, Yenagoa, Nembe and Kolokuma/ Opokuma Local Government Areas. Businesses have been shut, property lost and farmlands destroyed. We have a humanitarian crisis.
“As I make this address, Bayelsa State is completely severed from the rest of the country as portions of the strategic East-West Road, the sole access to and from the state, between Ughelli and Patani in Delta State as well as Okogbe and Ahoada in Rivers State have collapsed with a high volume of floodwater occupying the stretch. Economic hardship has set in, as food, medical provisions and energy are now in short supply. The situation is desperate and getting worse.”
Governor Diri was not exaggerating. In Yenagoa, the state capital, almost every family is affected. Major streets have been taken over by water. Residents of Yenagoa now use canoes to access their homes. Most transformers taken over by water have been switched off, plunging the state into utter darkness. There is acute fuel scarcity as a litre of fuel is sold for N800 and out of reach of many. Due to the destruction of the East/West road from the Delta State axis, foodstuffs can no longer be brought into the state, causing prices of food to skyrocket with hunger staring many families in the face.
A resident of Agilobi Street, Agadama- Epie, where the Nigeria Law School is located, Harrison Gimie lamented the situation of things for residents of the area. “We risk through this water on a daily basis with no idea of what is inside the depth of the water to get to where we are going and even buy things within the street. The situation is so pathetic,” he said.
Several residents of Yenagoa metropolis who are flood victims have heaped the blame of the tragedy that has visited them at the doorsteps of the Commissioner for Environment and Chairman of the Task Force on Flood Mitigation and Management, Mr Iselema Gbaranbiri. He has been accused of not being proactive enough to open the natural canals and blocked drainages to prepare for the flood, unlike his Education counterpart, Dr Gentle Emelah who had ordered all schools in the state to proceed on a six- week flood break since September 30. “The end result is what we are all witnessing,” said Mr Yibefa Brodrick, a resident of Amarata, one of the most affected areas in Yenagoa.
To mitigate the effect of the flood, Diri had approved N450 million which according to him is for the “relocation of persons displaced by flooding across the state to higher grounds and for provision of relief materials”. Though he had followed up with on the spot assessment visits, his intervention had not been greatly felt, especially at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps. More so, the approach being adopted by the flood committee for flood victims which instructed them to visit the various camps at their various local government headquarters and write down their names, has been heavily criticised.
Morris Alagoa, an environmentalist whose house at Samphino road, Yenagoa was also affected, said the method being adopted is a recipe for chaos.
“Instead of getting real volunteers to go out to flood victims in the communities and evacuate them, requesting victims to go to local government headquarters and special locations to put down their names as flood victims with the excuse of getting them relief materials is a very unfortunate, sad and old lazy pattern of government action, ” he said.
Measures put in place by the Flood Committee and the Bayelsa State Emergency Management Committee to identify actual flood victims seems not to be working as some of the camps are overwhelmed.
At the main IDP camp located at the Ox- Bow Lake Pavilion, Saturday Sun investigations revealed the living condition showed that it was hurriedly put in place. More worrying are complaints of lack of food and mattress to sleep. The Camp officials were also accused of practising favouritism. “I came here on Monday with my family. Before the morning food which was rice was shared, it was after 2 pm. The many children and young boys here did not allow coordinated sharing. We that were old were told to go and line up. We went up and waited for one to two hours but there was nobody to share the food and so we came back downstairs. Eventually few ate,” Mr Ayamasa Leandon said.
Leandon, who disclosed that his house was at Aeroplane Street before the flood sacked him, suggested that more security men should be deployed to ensure orderliness at the camp.
Mrs Agnes Karuna, a resident of Azikoro Road before the flood, appealed to the government to provide more food for the people. “I came here at about 12 pm on Monday and there was no food till Tuesday morning. We are hungry. People that have money bring their food and cook. Food is the problem. Government should feed us,” she said.
Her views were corroborated by Mrs Ogete Mary who complained bitterly about the living conditions and lack of empathy from camp officials. She also lamented the lack of medical personnel and supplies in case of emergency.
She said: “I came here Monday evening. It has not been easy here. As I came here, I told one of the camp officials that my daughter just had appendicitis operation and pleaded that I needed a foam for her to rest. I was told to wait. At about 11 pm foams were being shared but they were given only to people they know. At about 3am, a Good Samaritan lent me a mattress for my daughter to rest. We were told on Tuesday morning that there would be food but the food was not provided. They can give us raw food to eat if cooking is going to be a problem, that was why I brought my gas. Government should help with foodstuffs so that we can cook by ourselves. We also need drinking water.”
Also speaking on the living condition, Mrs Deborah Poki said she and her children had been sleeping on the bare floor since there was no mattress, noting that it had already affected her health. “Since Monday I have been here. My body is in pain because I slept on the floor. I came here with my children and foams were given to only those the officials know. My family only drank garri. I don’t have the strength to be rushing for foams. We were told to stay where we were sleeping and that foams would be provided. But none was provided.”
But an inmate, Pastor Adams Biriya urged people to exercise patience since the state found itself in an emergency situation. According to him, the measures being taken by the camp officials was to prevent unscrupulous people from taking advantage of the situation to cheat the system.
“I came here on Monday and we were given foams and bread was served in the morning. The officials made sure physical counting was carried out so that fictitious names are not captured. I came with my family of six children and we are treated as two households. Then you have to sleep here because that is the essence of the camp.”
Chairman of Bayelsa State Vigilante Force, Doubi Alagba who was on ground at the IDP camp in Ox- Bow Lake to provide security, weighed in on the condition at the camp in an interview with Saturday Sun. He debunked claims that the inmates of the camp did not have access to adequate food and mattresses.
“We have provided security for this IDP camp. If you go round all the IDP camps, we have provided security. The police, local vigilantes, the state vigilantes and other security apparatus are available.
“On food distribution, even in homes, children eat and still ask for more. This is an IDP camp and two square meals were provided. They were fed with bread for adults and biscuits for the children on Tuesday morning. In camps like this, people with five children would want all the five to have one plate each, sometimes it is good if the food given can be shared amongst them. The Bayelsa State Government is not playing politics with this and that is why Governor Douye Diri has instructed those in charge to manage this process. All those talks about food and foams are lies. Government has provided food,” Alagba stated.
Checks across Yenagoa metropolis indicated that victims unable to wait for the government to open a camp for them have turned schools into IDP camps. In one of such camps at Igbogene, one of the worst hit areas in Yenagoa, victims complained about neglect by the government. Ms Kate Ifisebe, who claimed she is the leader of the women, said the people are in desperate need of government attention.
Her words: “I have been in this camp for two weeks. The living condition here is bad because there are no food items, mosquito nets, no mattress for us to sleep. When we first came here due to lack of water, people were using the water from the uncompleted soak away to bathe. It was when the Commissioner for Water Resources, Ebitel Tonyon visited and saw our condition that he provided us the water from the tank. He has also being buying bags of pure water with a promise that he would take up our case with the Flood Committee. Government should please come and assist us.”
Governor Douye Diri, it was gathered, is wading in on several fronts to ease the pressure on Bayelsans. He has appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to help the state with special grants from the Stabilization Funds, Ecological Funds and Natural Resources Funds.
Mr Daniel Iworiso- Markson, a former Commission for Information and Orientation in the state, has advised Governor Diri to approach the Bayelsa State House of Assembly for funds to mitigate the effect of the flood.
Iworiso-Markson who acknowledged the efforts so far made by the government urged the Federal Government to consider Bayelsa as a special case and step in to compliment the efforts of the Diri administration to cushion the effect of the ravaging flood disaster. He expressed worry over the looming health crisis that might be caused by waterborne and other communicable diseases, which may result after the outbreak of an epidemic in the state.
He said: “This is the time the governor needs to approach the State House of Assembly and ask for their permission to raise and spend more money on the victims.
“This has become inevitable because the affected communities need more money and I urge the governor to step up the flood relief funds because the one released recently is grossly inadequate. It is barely enough to sustain a family for more than two days and our people are suffering. They are devastated!”
In Delta, 19 communities overrun by flood
In neighbouring Delta State, the people are also passing through a gruelling period. Communities in 19 of the 25 local government areas of the state are terribly hit by ravaging flood resulting from the overflow of River Niger and its tributaries.
The flood has submerged the affected communities, displacing thousands of households. Official record by the state government puts the death toll at five.
Farmlands, crops, animals, churches, markets, private businesses such as hotels and other properties have been overwhelmed across the coastal communities by the devastating flood.
Besides, critical national and state infrastructure including schools, health centres and roads have gone under the deluge of water. Worst hit communities include Infant Jesus (Phase I and II), Otuogu, Oko, Abbi, Utchi, Aboh, Abala, Ikpide-Irri, Uzere, Ivrogbo-Irri, Araya, Aviara, Emede, Umeh, Iyede-Ame, Lagos-Iyede, Onogbokor, Ashaka, Ibrede, Eberedeni, Okpe, Ofagbe, Irri, Oyede, Bethel, Ukpudhe, Asaba-Ase, Ase, Kwale, Beneku, Camp 75, Abari, Akarai, Otuoku, Patani among others.
Residents who are trapped, are now also contending with dangerous reptiles released from the water bodies. Traditional ruler of Abala Kingdom and his council of chiefs in Ndokwa East were sacked. And they are presently taking refuge in Asaba. Even the council secretariat at Aboh as well as the skill acquisition centre proposed as holding camps for displaced persons went under the water, too.
In Ozoro, the administrative headquarter of Isoko North, the newly converted state University of Science and Technology was submerged, forcing the management to close the institution, in the meantime.
Critical national assets including roads connecting Delta to other parts of the country were cut off at several points, resulting in the use of local canoe and boats as means of transportation.
The Ughelli-Asaba Highway linking the East-West Road on one end and the Benin-Onitsha Highway on the other end, was encroached upon at seven different spots by the flood.
Ughelli axis of the East-West Road and the Asaba-Ugbolu road linking the state to Edo enroute Abuja via the Benin-Okene road is also flooded. It was further learnt that cars have lost their engines for daring to test the waters.
Speaking in Asaba, the displaced Igwe (King) of Abala Kingdom, Fredrick Egbunokonye described the 2022 flood as a case study. “The flood has been a major issue because the whole communities are submerged. On the other hand, most people are not eager to relocate because of their farm produce. We were able to evacuate those who wanted to relocate.
“The state government attempted to open IDP camp at Ashaka but the place was submerged by flood as well, so it did not take off at all. “The flood is really overwhelming, we need the federal and state governments to assist the council because the entire Ndokwa East is submerged by flood. Abala-Oshimili is the worst hit, the flood is at the roof level,” the monarch said.
Also speaking, Elder Chike Ugwunmadu, the Onowu of the kingdom said about 70 per cent of Abala-Oshimili was presently under water, while the youth leader of Abala, Ifeanyi Ogboli estimated the loss of crops and animals and other property in the region of N1 billion.
Also lamenting the loss, former President-General of Ikpide-Irri in Isoko South, Joseph Ubeleke whose property was affected, expressed fear that if immediate rescue of persona to a safer place does not come, scores of persons, young and old may lose their lives.
Another indigene of the agrarian community, who identified himself as Victor Idebesi, said the 2012 flood experience was a child’s play compared to the current one.
“Churches, markets, and schools have all been taken over by floodwater. In just few days, everywhere in the entire community has been taken over by the flood. And water keeps rushing from the River Niger into the community.
“Our agricultural produce such as cassava, plantain, vegetables, potatoes, groundnuts and others have been completely submerged by the devastating floods. Corpses have been exhumed from the ground by the flood. Schools have been shut down,” Idebese said.
An indigene of Ivrogbo-Irri community, who simply identified herself as Ajirioghene, lashed out at government officials for not providing succour to victims and abandoning them to their fate. Although the state government said ten Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps were opened at various locations, Ajirioghene insisted that the government was not proactive enough.
“Move around the affected communities, you can never find any government official unlike in 2012 when government officials were personally involved in the evacuation of people trapped,” she said.
In Oyede, a resident, Oghenekaro said a vehicle conveying three passengers including the driver was swept away, adding that it was only the driver that survived the ravaging waters
Meanwhile, the Isoko Monitoring Group (IMG) has taken a swipe at President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, and the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo and other relevant government officials over what they described as the “total neglect” of flood victims. The group, which carpeted the state governor for having his vice presidential ambition interest above every other interest and abandoning flood victims across the state, lamented the suffering and death of flood victims following the inability of government at all levels to come to their aid.
The group in a communique signed by its president, Oke Michael Aziakpono and the spokesman, Kingsley Oroh, shortly after an emergency meeting on Tuesday in Oleh, termed Buhari and Okowa’s governments as “total failure, insensitive and irresponsible.”
“Government assistance is greatly needed. The Federal Government needs to honour the agreement reached with the Cameroonian Government in 1977 by completing the Dasin Hausa dam in Adamawa State.
“While we await that, the two governments need to work together to find mitigation to this problem in the interest of their people. We are also calling on all sons and daughters of Isoko to come to the aid of their brothers and sisters affected by this flood,” they said. However, Okowa who is the running mate to the PDP president candidate, Atiku Abubakar, visited flood victims at Ogbe-Afor, Onneh and Ewulu camps where he also called on the Federal Government to construct dams and desilt the Rivers Niger and Benue.
Okowa who empathised with the victims, pledged that dredging the rivers and construction of dams would be priority should be the PDP win the February 2023 presidential election.
Before his visit, his wife, Edith, and other government officials including the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Sheriff Oborevwori had visited various camps across the state with relief materials.
Four local governments ravaged in Rivers
In Rivers State, four local governments – Abua/Odual, Ahoada East, Ahoada West and Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni, have been devastated by flooding. These areas in Orashi region are always early victims of flood surge in the state. About 80 per cent of communities in the area have been submerged by the flood.
It was gathered that the state governor, Nyesom Wike, was responsive to the predicament of the residents of the affected areas. He, however, budgeted N1 billion to cushion the effect of the devastation on the victims, even as he also set up Rivers State Flood Taskforce (Management). The committee was headed by George Nweke, a Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Secretary to the State Government.
Members of the committee visited all the affected areas to ascertain the level of havoc wreaked by the ravaging flood. The committee having received the first-hand report of the flood, later returned to the various Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps and distributed relief materials, in line with the promise by the state government to mitigate the hardship suffered by victims of flood in the state.
Some of the relief materials were a variety of food items and drugs. The state government also brought health and environmental officers, who were stationed at the camps to carry out medical checkups and attend to health needs of the victims.
Nweke disclosed that the provision of palliatives to the flood victims was a continuous process. He advised the camp coordinator to ensure the food items were evenly distributed among the victims and urged the people to live together peacefully.
When members of the committee visited the Oba of Ogbaland, Nwachukwu Nnam Obi, the monarch expressed delight at the governor’s responsiveness and humane disposition in tackling the ravaging effects of flood in Orashi region of Rivers State.
The traditional ruler said Federal Government agencies ought to have visited the affected areas to ascertain the extent of damage, and expressed their willingness to partner with Rivers government to achieve its mandate in cushioning the effect of the flood.
“If I say the Fedaral Government should come here, I am not sure I will be speaking too much. NEMA ought to be here, the Ministry of Humanitarian Service should be in this state to have a firsthand feel of what it is like here,” he said.