Nigeria’s Perennial Flood: Happening of preventable disaster, by Prof MK Othman
Deep Thoughts with Othman
In our lackadaisical manner as a developing nation, we ignore almost every imminent disaster until it happens, then our leaders begin to shed crocodile tears and before you pronounce “Jack”, an investigation panel would have been put in place, if the disaster is big enough. In most cases, the hidden aim of the panel is to avoid asking embarrassing questions about the preventable incidence. By the time, the panel report is submitted, if ever done, the euphoria of the incident would have gone, the victims of the disaster; the dead were buried, and the injured and property losers would have accepted their fate as part of their destiny, and the nation will move on waiting for another circle of disaster to occur.
These disasters range from plane crashes, road mishaps, and fire incidents to banditry activities. Sometimes, the bandits/insurgents are bold enough to announce their visit to communities, but little or nothing would be done until they came, caused havoc without resistance, and left. Then, security agents will rush to the scene of the incident harassing passersby and innocent residents. Can we break this recurrence circle of calamity? A perennial flood disaster is one of such calamitous occurrences with devastating unquantifiable losses of lives and properties.
In 2018, the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) of ABU Zaria conducted a study to evaluate the impact of the 2018 wet season flood on five major crops in nine selected states. The states were Adamawa, Bayelsa, Delta, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Niger, and Rivers. The result indicated that the flood in nine states submerged and destroyed rice worth N54 billion, cassava worth N144 billion, maize worth N46 billion, sorghum worth N4 billion, and yam worth N347 billion. These were in addition to the losses of lives, properties, houses, roads, and unquantifiable man-hours to millions of hapless and resource-poor citizens. Nine states only, what of the rest of the nation? The story was similar almost every year especially in 2019 when the rainfall session was delayed by more than three weeks in the northern part of the country. So much havoc was caused by the cession delay.
A similar occurrence was repeated in 2020. In July 2020, during the COVID-19 lockdown, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) predicted a risk of heavy flooding in 102 Local Governments Areas of 28 states for the year 2020. According to the Agency, the flood projections would vary from moderate to severe floods in most parts of the country. That prediction came to pass. The losses of lives and properties in 2020 were unprecedented, according to the Premium Times (online paper) of September 30th, forty deaths and the destruction of over 100,000 hectares of rice caused by the flood were recorded in Hadejia and environs in Jigawa state. In the same year, NAERLS reported the submergence of over 450,000 hectares of rice plantation; another 50,000 hectares of crops including millet, sorghum, maize, and sugarcane were affected in Kebbi and Jigawa States. Kebbi State, one of the major rice-growing states lost about 25% of the rice planted in 2020 to flooding.
I wrote an article in this column, on 16th October 2020, titled “Perennial Flood in Nigeria: Hadejia, others where hopes are dashed”. The article was written after my brief odyssey to Agubu, a suburb area of Hadjia, 3 km away on Kano Road. The people of Agubu camped in an open space without camping facilities at a filling station located opposite their submerged houses and were looking stupendously disturbed and dejected. The flood devastatingly shattered the hopes and aspirations of the Agubu people of having a bumper harvest and regaining their livelihoods after passing a 4-month lockdown and movement restriction caused by Covid-19. How can they gather pieces of their lives and move on? Agubu was one village among several communities along the rivers that were devastatingly affected by the flood in 2020.
In the year, 2021, the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) made a public presentation of the 2021 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO). AFO reviewed the 2020 prediction and reported that 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), 349 Local Government Areas (LGAs) within the 36 states were affected by flood and over 2,353,647 people were displaced and recorded 69 deaths of people in 2020. Sounding like prophets of doom, the 2021 AFO flood predictions indicated that parts of 121 LGAs in 27 states and the FCT would be affected by the flood as they were within the “highly probable flood risk areas”, while parts of 302 LGAs in all 36 states of the federation including the FCT would be moderately flooded as they were within the “moderately probable flood risk” areas. The parts of the remaining 351 LGAs were within the “low probable flood risk areas”.
Similarly, NiMet also presented 2021 seasonal climate predictions that covered rainfall and drought predictions among others across the nation. Both NiMet and NIHSA quite correctly predicted the looming flood and called on the relevant stakeholders to take note of the flood early warnings and information and put in place mitigation measures. An inter-ministerial committee was set up for the development of a National/Multi-Sectorial Flood Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan. The committee gathered relevant stakeholders in Abuja and brainstormed on the emergency response plan to effectively manage floods using multi-sectoral expertise. The committee’s effort to address the flood tragedy was too slow as it could not complete its assignment and thus, the nation lost 70 people to flooding with over 200,000 people displaced during the 2021 flood. While the committee was still dragging its feet due to bureaucratic bottleneck, the 2022 flood incidences occurred with catastrophic severity.
Already, over 600 people were reported killed by the flood with millions of people displaced in addition to losses of properties and farmland across the nation. Perhaps, this calamity gingered the federal government to speedily act on the committee’s assignment. Last month, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Dr Nasir Sani-Gwarzo, announced the federal government’s approval of the emergency management plans to mitigate the impact of the flood nationwide. This is a serious irony for us as a nation, we failed to act on a foretold disaster until it is happening. What are the causes of flood disasters in Nigeria? What are the mitigating measures? To be discussed next week.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.