The flood alert on Lagdo Dam

The alert to the authorities at the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on a possible flooding along the River Benue basin in a few days due to the imminent release of water from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon should be taken with all the seriousness it deserves in order to avert its cataclysmic effect.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued the alert in a letter dated August 21, signed by the director of African Affairs, Umar Salisu. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, East and Central African Division, in the letter, noted that it received a Note Verbale from the High Commission of the Republic of Cameroon indicating that Cameroon’s officials had resolved to open the flood gates of the Lagdo Dam on the Benue River.

The development, according to the letter addressed to the director general of NEMA, said it was due to increased rainfall in the dam’s catchment areas in Northern Cameroon. The letter urged NEMA to take all the necessary proactive steps and actions to mitigate and avoid the damage that the released water may cause along the River Benue basin in both Cameroon and Nigeria. It also urged the agency to sensitise the populace living in such areas to be vigilant and take all necessary precautions.

“According to the Note, it is pertinent to note that when the release of water becomes necessary, the authorities of the Lagdo Dam will be releasing only modulated variable small amount of water at a time in order to mitigate and avoid damage that the released water may cause along the River Benue basin in both Cameroon and in Nigeria,” it said.

However, NEMA said it has taken proactive and robust steps to contain floods in states in South-east Nigeria, especially those in riverine and lowland communities. The South-east coordinator of NEMA, Mrs Ngozi Echeazu, disclosed this in Enugu Sunday while fielding questions on NEMA’s practical steps to contain and reduce the impact of flooding in the zone. Echeazu said NEMA, in collaboration with relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), was also monitoring water levels in major rivers in states in the zone.

The NEMA coordinator said: “The practical steps taken by NEMA include monitoring the water level of major rivers, especially the River Niger. This is rightly done to determine when to commence evacuation, since we have already identified higher grounds or Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps for temporary shelter.

“NEMA has engaged in updating the public through media publicity on seasonal climate prediction and annual flood outlook, as well as sensitisation of riverine communities, in collaboration with the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), on the importance of clearing blocked drainage systems and removing structures on flood plains.”

She noted that there had been sensitisation on early planting and harvesting of farm produce to reduce huge losses associated with flooding, as well as the mass mobilisation of all available human and material resources to help save lives and properties. Echeazu said that the agency has concluded plans to get help and support for a quick response plan.

“There is an existing plan with other relevant agencies, including military/para-military, in the area of coordination/support, information management, resource mobilisation, and evacuation. They will also support NEMA in terms of security/intelligence, incident management, meteorological forecast, survival support, and media control, among others. The plans are also spelt out in the policy document of NEMA,” she said.

On the distribution of relief materials, Echeazu said NEMA has always been directly involved in the distribution of relief materials to beneficiaries. She said approved relief materials were usually distributed directly by NEMA and SEMA officials to the affected persons/communities, notwithstanding the ceremonial handing over of such materials to the state government.

“Whenever there is a reported case of disaster, NEMA, in collaboration with SEMA, conducts an assessment to confirm the level of the disaster. The assessment also ascertains the remote/immediate causes, the damage/needs of the affected people, list of the affected people, and makes appropriate recommendations.

“Relief materials are thereafter provided by NEMA for those who were affected by the disaster, whose names were captured, and not for the entire population,” she added.

It is instructive that over the years, there has been massive flooding in many states across the country attributed to the release of water from the Lagdo Dam. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2016 between Nigeria and Cameroon regarding the release of water from the dam, in which Cameroon will always inform Nigeria before it opens the gates to the dam.

However, in 2019, the dam was opened without prior notification, resulting in flooding in Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Kogi, and the Niger Delta regions during October and November of that year. There was also flood devastation in 2022 leading to the loss of lives and properties worth billions of naira.

Nigeria has over the last decade suffered perennial flooding with dire consequences on the loss of hundreds of lives and destruction of properties worth millions of naira. It is on this sordid backdrop that we urge NEMA to put proactive and pragmatic measures in place to avoid the impending flood disaster. Nigeria is already overburdened by multi-faceted challenges and cannot afford to compound its parlous situation.