Averting flood disasters in 2023

It now appears that the phenomenon of flooding has become a yearly occurrence in the country. In 2012, Nigeria witnessed its first flood disasters of high magnitude. However, last year’s catastrophe overshadowed the previous ones. If the trend continues, the catastrophe is likely going to overwhelm the areas that are known to prone to it.

Overwhelmed by the 2012 cataclysm, the then President Goodluck Jonathan had declared the flooding as a “national disaster” and established a National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation, headed by the business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, on October 9, 2012. He announced that the federal government was providing $110m in financial assistance.

However, the huge resources meant for the noble projects were mismanaged by corrupt public officials and politicians across the affected states. After the 2012 horrific experiences, the government went to sleep, hoping that such misfortunes would not resurface until after 50 years. But it has turned out to be a misplaced hope.

This year’s rainy season is setting in across the country and the rains will start pouring down in torrents almost on daily basis. What will naturally follow is heavy flooding that usually take over several communities located along waterways as well as the hinterlands. Several hundreds of thousands of Nigerians will face the danger of either been killed or rendered homeless to contend with dangerous animals like snakes when such phenomenon occurs. Also, their properties, farmlands and other valuables will be submerged or washed away. Roads and bridges will not be spared. Many communities will become isolated, causing serious humanitarian crisis and health challenges. Losses will run into trillions of naira. These are perennial but avoidable problems associated with flooding, especially in communities located along the nation’s two major rivers and their arteries.

We recall that in September 2009, about three years before the 2012 deluge, the federal government officially commissioned the herculean task of dredging River Niger. During a ceremony in Lokoja, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua vividly spoke of his seven-point agenda, saying that the project would help in the realisation of his regime’s Vision 20-2020 dreams.

There was a thunder clap from excited Nigerians, especially those whose communities are traversed by the river, as they welcomed the bold initiative. They also saw the task, when accomplished, as breaking a 43-year-old jinx. It was hoped that River Niger would experience an incursion – the kind it had not faced since the days of explorer Mungo Park.

As the then transport minister, Alhaji Ibrahim Bio, explained at the ceremony, 572km of the river would be dredged across eight states from Delta through Anambra to Niger, and some 152 communities. The project was to be executed within three or so years. The late Yar’Adua stated that the dredging would “provide unobtrusive, cheaper and safer means of haulage of goods and trading activities among adjoining communities and people of states neighbouring Lower River Niger.”

About nine months after the commencement of the dredging exercise, Yar’Adua passed on. And as it is typical of the mentality of our leaders, the project was pursued desultorily and later abandoned. As at 2009, the condition of the river was nowhere as terrible as it is today. Our leaders did not appreciate the dual benefits of the exercise – boost the water transportation and free flow of water along the course of the river. As if to punish us for handling the project with levity, three years later, Nigeria experienced perhaps the worst fury of flood along the river in 50 years, killing no fewer than 500 people. Economic life was halted and an estimated total of seven million people were affected, while damages and losses caused by the floods were put at N2.6 trillion in the 30 states affected.

Ironically, the disaster came calling in 2012 at the time the dredging exercise would have been completed and Nigeria would have been spared the yearly disasters. The late Yar’Adua saw the future!

We do not need a prophet of doom to drum it into our consciousness that River Niger and its partner, River Benue, have long been overdue for rehabilitation over the years. The two major rivers have had their waterways severely narrowed due to incursion of shrubs and vegetation from their banks. It is common to see trees sprouting from the middle of the rivers at various points. Many boat mishaps on our waterways in recent years have also been caused by undersurface barriers like fallen trees, etc.

Owing to the obstruction along their paths, sand dunes shaped like pyramids have also gradually surfaced. These barriers inhibit free flow of water. The clogging is responsible for the overflow of the rivers as the water would naturally find the paths of least resistance among adjoining communities, whose inhabitants help flooding by building along waterways and stuffing drainages with refuse. If the right thing had been done over the years, there would have been minimal effects of climate change consequences and the excess water released from the Ladgo Dam in Cameroon.

It is high time the federal government and those states that are always in the eye of the flood took the issue of dredging of the two major rivers as a matter of national emergency. The time has come for the government at all levels to pay equal attention to our waterways the way our roads are being rehabilitated and reconstructed.