From Rose Ejembi and Scholastica Onyeka
When he emerged on the fence of his house, using a ladder, Mr. Bemsen Mue could be mistaken for a burglar but he was only trying to leave his residence, which had been submerged by flood.
Bemsen and his neighbours, who are now counting their losses, hired boatmen to move their property out of their flooded homes.
Makurdi, the Benue State capital, has been bedeviled by flood disaster over the years. During the rainy season, most communities around the banks of the Benue River are flooded, with houses and farmlands washed away, leaving residents displaced.
In 2012, Benue witnessed what could be best described as the mother of all floods, when water was released from Ladgo Dam in Cameroun. That year, over one million persons were reportedly rendered homeless while over 600,000 houses were submerged in Makurdi alone. Farmers also said thousands of hectares of rice and yam farms were submerged in the flood, with property worth millions of naira also lost.
This time again, since the Cameroonian authorities opened the dam a few days back, communities around the River Benue have begun to witness flooding, with most houses submerged.
In Makurdi, from communities lying along the banks of River Benue, Kucha Utebe, Kilometre 4 areas, Gyado Villa, residential areas behind Redeemed Christian Church of God, all along the Makurdi-Gboko Road, as well as Rice Mill area, Inyongu, NKST Church in Wadata, the Abattoir Market by River Benue, Angwan Jukun area of Wurukum and part of Benue Links Motor Park, among many other places, it’s the same painful story of flooding, displacement leaving most residents in sorrow, tears and fears amid economic hardship.
When our correspondent went round the city, it was observed that most houses and farmlands along the coastline had been submerged and residents forced to run for their lives. Some businesses had also been closed down as their premises were taken over by flood.
Along the Makurdi-Gboko Road, Ejjah Hotels and Suites, a two-storey building, was submerged. At the time of the visit, the place could not be accessed as the water level had risen, almost covering the fence.
Descending from his ladder, Bemsen, who lived on the same street where the hotel was located, lamented that the flood had brought hardship to his life: “We are parking out but our gate is no longer passable because water has covered it. Since two weeks now, the house has been inside water. Earlier, the water was coming gradually but, starting from last Saturday, the water became too much and now it has overtaken the whole environment.
“My family is still inside the compound but we are parking. The situation is no longer bearable. As I speak, most of our household items are soaked with water but we are moving them out gradually.”
While insisting that it was the responsibility of government to take care of citizens, Bemsen said: “This water always comes here because the river is not deep. If the government will pack the sand from the river and make it deeper than it is, these places will not be flooded.”
Bemsen was not in that vicinity when the flood came in 2012 but he noted that his house was also flooded in 2019. Comparing 2019 and now, he said: “This time, water pass garri.”
Other residents who spoke to our correspondent also lamented that the water had also washed away foodstuff and farms.
A civil servant living behind Kucha Utebe, who didn’t want to be named, said it took the help of boatmen to save some of her property: “I had travelled to my village in Vandeikya when my neighbours called me that water had entered our house. I quickly told my friend where my certificates were and she forced the door open to remove them and my electronics.
“I thought it was not going to be much but before I came back the house was already inside water,” she lamented.
Daily Sun also found that part of Oracle Wildlife Park, a zoo belonging to Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom, was submerged.
The assistant manager, Matthew Tsavkaha, said: “Almost three-quarters of the park is submerged. The whole of this area to the back of the fence towards the river is our farmland. Why the whole place is not submerged for now is because of the fence. The water is coming up, once it covers the top of the fence, it will sack the park.”
He pointed at the maize and rice farms, which were also submerged. Our correspondent, who was conducted round the park, observed that the whole of the staff quarters and part of the building used for breeding had been completely submerged, as some of the staff were seen moving some of their items from the rooms.
“We are refugees now. Let me go and park the remaining items I left in the kitchen,” one of the staff said.
Tsavkaha said some of the animals in the park had been moved to safety when water seeped in through the gutters and water outlets.
He recalled the flood of 2012 and how it covered part of the area up to the main road, saying: “Now, they said they have opened the Ladgo Dam again and, this year, we don’t know the level at which it will disturb. We are trying to see that our animals are safe.”
On his part, chairman of All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Benue State chapter, Aondongu Saaku, lamented that the flood has reduced the production of Benue farmers by half.
He said: “The flood has severely affected our farmers. In fact, it has reduced our production to half. More than 2,000 hectares of land has been lost to the flood.
“It has been very difficult for our farmers to insure their farms because the expectation for the insurance is always high. It’s not helping our people much.”
He condemned some activities of residents on the river banks and plains as well as along the water channels, which have contributed in blocking the drains, and urged government to create access roads and water channels to help mitigate the flood.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Water Resources and Environment, Godwin Oyiwona, has called on residents living along the river banks to move to higher ground in Makurdi town for safety.
He explained that the water level was increasing because of the volume of water from a dam in Cameroon.
“We are encouraging people in the coastal areas to move to other parts of the town. The level of water now is 11.1. In 2012, when there was massive flooding in Benue State here, it was 12 and now, it’s about .9 to get to that level 12.
“So, we want people to move from coastline to higher ground in Makurdi and we are going round the city and telling them. Some are moving,” he said.
The Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) has started profiling of flood victims in Achusa, Idye, Wurukum Market, Genabe, Industrial Layout, Demekpe, Wadata Market, Rice Mill, Inongun, Agbohough, Judges Quarters and Gyado Villa areas of Makurdi.
The executive secretary of the agency, Dr. Emmanuel Shior, who led some staff of the agency round the areas, said government was doing everything within its little resources to assist flood victims in the state
He advised residents living in swampy areas and river banks to evacuate to safer places, saying the agency would begin distribution of relief materials to victims soon.