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Nigeria: Land of perennial flooding

By News Express on 26/09/2018

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On Friday, September 21, 2018 mainstream newspapers decorated their front pages with photograph of the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano paddling a canoe to inspect some communities in the South-east state submerged by huge floods.

This dramatic photograph of Prof Osinbajo, as well as other video recordings of the sad incidents of massive floods in most parts of Nigeria, paints Nigeria as a water-logged nation. As much as these political boat-riders put up appearances of dejection and wore mournful looks as they stroll around to see for themselves the direct impacts of this environmental disasters made worst by decades of poor planning and lack of sustainable flood defence, millions of Nigerians who are now internally displaced persons know that surely they may never receive any relief materials to cushion their losses. 

These political dignitaries from Abuja and Awka who wore protective jackets and reportedly took time to also interface with the local populace affected by these floods of overwhelming scale but who unfortunately are in a part of the World whereby the institutions of government mandated to play the role of first responders have often failed to effectively discharge their duties for which billions of tax payers’ money are sunk each year. As the vice-president toured the flood affected areas, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) under his control was nowhere near those areas of disaster. NEMA, the failing first-responder, has miniature opposites known in some states of the federation as the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). 

In the case of NEMA - which is directly under the supervisory purview of the Office of the Vice-President - the agency is swimming in the floods of managerial incompetence, contract scandals and corruption at the highest level, resulting in the alleged misuse of nearly N6 billion. 

The incompetence and inefficiency weighing down NEMA attracted the attention of the federal legislators. But, the newly-appointed political administrators of this hitherto efficiently administered agency are members of the untouchable class, with support from the powerful cabal running the Presidency in Abuja. With this political back-up, nothing good can come out of any oversight investigation of this rapidly-failing agency. The President has demonstrated a high level of disrespect for the institutions of the legislature and the judiciary. The tragedy is that Nigeria or much of Nigeria is under massive scale of floods, but the institutional mechanisms for mitigating the consequences of these natural disasters are not functioning optimally. The fact is that the heavens opened up and the rains have come down in torrents; and, because, riverine communities lack infrastructures to stave off consequences of these seemingly unceasing rainfalls, the poor populations are put at risk of death and the total destructions of their farm lands and housing assets.

The problem of flood disaster is not limited to Anambra, or Imo State where the governor, Rochas Okorocha, was credited with an unscientific statement that the Imo rains are acidic and have washed away all the roads his administration constructed in the last seven years.

But communities in Kogi, Niger, Katsina and Bauchi states have been equally devastated by the natural disaster, aided to inflict maximum consequences by the twin evils of political corruption and poor infrastructures. In the case of the communities in Niger State bordering the River Niger, the consequences extended to the health status of the inhabitants, because the floods have inflicted such health issues such as water-borne diseases to an extent that international broadcasters have flooded the communities to focus their reportage on the emerging health emergency. The World has also been put on notice that water-borne diseases are in a resurgen ce in Northern Nigeria. 

Global television stations operating fro m Unit ed Kingdom, China, Germany and the United States of America are known to have covered the health emergency in Niger State that resulted from the flood disaster. In a news-file from a correspondent, Mayeni Jones, the BBC reported that flood has destroyed homes and farm lands, adding that there is now a health-warning after the floods.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC), Federal Ministry of Health, was reported to have issued a warning against a number of water-borne diseases. A national disaster was declared in four states after over 100 people died from floods.

“With stagnant water in many of the affected sites, the authorities are concerned about the spread of diseases such as cholera and typhoid.”

The CDC, according to the BBC report, has issued a number of advisories, including avoiding using flood-water as drinking water, wash dishes or prepare food. But locals in Egagi village, Niger State, say they have little choice, but to use the flood water, as they have no other water source.”

In Katsina as well as Bauchi State, the floods swept off hundreds of houses just as dozens of people were killed. In all the 776 local government areas nationwide, getting potable water is a big deal, even as people rely on stagnant streams for their sources of drinking water and for other aspects of environmental sanitation. You keep imagining the essence of a national Water Resources and Rural Development ministry that gulps several billions to maintain yearly, yet much of Nigeria is without clean water. 

As one watched the ordeals of our fellow Nigerians swimming in the flood waters and facing imminent health emergency, the question that follows is: Why the institutions created to cater for the basic needs of agro-allied industry in the states, which is in the concurrent legislative list, have all but failed to carry out their duties. Again, you wonder what the Ecological Fund is used for. 

Reading through part two of the second schedule of the Constitution, and especially from section 18 of the second schedule which provides thus: “Subject to the provisions of this constitution, a House of Assembly may make laws for the state with respect to industrial, commercial, or agricultural development of the state.” Section 20 affirmed: “For the purposes of the foregoing paragraphs of this item, the word ‘agricultural’ includes fishery.”

The perennial floods that have swept all through the divergent states of the federation have adversely affected the fishery sub-sector.

Section 36, part 1 of the second schedule however states that the Federal Government has exclusively responsibility to maintain safety and security of the maritime space. This means that the Federal Government needs to pla y pivot al role in ensuring that rural dwellers, who live in riverine communities near River Niger, are protected from the devastating consequences of floods.

The  second schedule, part 1, section 36 states: “Maritime shipping and navigation, including shipping and navigation on tidal waters; shipping and navigation on the River Niger and its effluents, and on any such other inland waterway as may be designated by the National Assembly to be an international waterway or to be an inter-state waterway; lighthouse, lightships, beacons and other provisions for the safety of shipping and navigation; such ports as may be declared by the National Assembly to be federal ports (including the constitution and powers of port authorities for federal ports).”

What any careful observer will, however, decipher from watching the news item on the flood disaster in Nigeria as relayed to the world by the British Broadcasting Corporation, is that millions of Nigerians are at the risk of suffering large-scale water-borne diseases. But, sadly, the federal and state governments have not made practical arrangements, and have not put necessary logistics in place to prevent the attendant health disaster from becoming a full-blown emergency. The health sector is facing a national emergency due to collapsing health facilities, even as government officials travel to foreign countries at public costs for their health-care. Meanwhile, there no functional health insurance scheme in place in Nigeria; millions of Nigerians die for treatable diseases such as the water-borne diseases that have surfaced because of the massive floods. 

If you compare the quality of responses you get from Western nations, such as the United States, which usually suffers from major natural disasters and then look at how the victims of disasters in Nigeria are left to their cruel fate, you will then understand the import of classifying Nigerians as inhabitants of a Third World country.

In the United States of America, there is a functional Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA. Appointments into FEMA follows through global best practices and square pegs are put in square holes. But in Nigeria, the National Emergency Management Agency is never seen as an institution where only experts with relevant competences should administer, but rather as jobs for the political stooges. 

The difference shows whenever there are natural disasters simultaneously in USA and Nigeria, as it is now. We are worlds apart. 

We, in Nigeria, are left to wallow in agony as if we are in the era of Noah, who constructed an arc for selected few in the Holy Bible, whereas others were swept off by the biblical floods. 

In the United States, the institutional mechanisms are effectively activated to ferry to safety citizens who may be in harm’s way. Warnings are read out on major broadcast stations, and emergency rescue workers are mobilised to physically bring out citizens from such flash points before the floods or typhoons arrive.

In Nigeria, what you read on pages of newspapers are discordant tones emerging from different quarters, warning rural people to find their ways to higher grounds. These insensitive and irresponsible warnings from the Nigerian government agencies deliberately fail to note that millions of Nigeria’s rural populace illiterate and too poor to afford newspapers, watch televisions or listen to r adio, since electricity supply is next to zero to almost all rural areas.

Even those rural people who have the fortune of having people in the urban areas who would read about these warnings, these are very poor people who are unsure of how to evacuate themselves to higher grounds. You then begin to ask what kind of misfortune is this: you have a bunch of people in government who don’t care about your wellbeing, but who will only show up for photo opportunities in the media for purposes of propaganda. 

Nigeria’s Ecological Fund is operated as a cesspool of corruption, where Presidency officials use the fund to engage in political campaigns, since they care less about the citizens who would swim and perish in the floods that have become a yearly occurrence. This is not how civilised nations handle disaster relief responses. 

In America, President Donald Trump is at the head of the teams that coordinate emergency rescue missions to assist citizens affected by natural disasters.

The centre for American progress conducted an analysis and found that the Federal Government – which means taxpayers – spent a total sum of $136 billion f rom fi scal year 2011 to fi scal year 2013 on disaster relief. This adds up to an average of $400 per household per year.

In America, the Congress - as a legislative and oversight institution monitoring public expenditure - has operational and funding autonomy. Under s uch tig htly monitored atmosphere of transparency and accountability, there is no room for public office-holders to steal from funds meant to cushion the effects of natural disasters. Americans, just like the British, also have functional health insurance schemes.

The Guardian of London, United Kingdom, did a report it carried on Mo nday December 28, 2015.  It stated that the cost of floods in the United Kingdom topped 5 billion (British) pounds sterling.

The Financial Times reported that in just one particular year, the government o f UK spent 735 million pounds sterling on building new flood defences and maintaining old ones.

What then is the state of preparedness in Nigeria to respond to floods? Why do we have to wait until housing assets and human beings are swept away by floods before we throw money at such problems that we could have mitigated, but chose to let it happen first? What is the role of states towards emergency management and training of people on measures to stay alive dur ing emerg ency? Must Nigeria continue to exist like an epic story of the allegory of the water-logged countrysides? 

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source News Express

Posted 26/09/2018 3:38:45 PM

 

 

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