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Mitigating the devastating effects of floods

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That Nigeria lost no fewer than 603 human lives, 2,407 others injured and over 1.3 million persons displaced internally by devastating floods so far, aptly reflects the abysmal response of government at all levels to adequately tackle the perennial overflow of water due to torrential downpours nationwide over the years.

We demand that the federal, state and local governments as well as public-spirited individuals and organizations should immediately rise to the challenge of ameliorating the suffering of all victims of this natural disaster that has also adversely affected 2,504,095 persons, inundated 108,392 hectares of farmland, and 82,053 homes going by the latest figures released by the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

We also sympathized with all those who have lost people to the devastating floods that had ravaged at least 27 out of 36 states and the FCT with Anambra, Delta, Cross River, Rivers, Bayelsa and Benue the worst hit and properties valued at hundreds of billions of Naira consumed including roads, bridges and schools. A further warning by Nigeria’s meteorological agencies that these affected states even face the risk of experiencing floods up till the end of November should be taken seriously by the relevant authorities and appropriate measures deployed.

Sadly, the scale of this year’s devastation by flooding though predicted is comparable only to the 2012 disaster with the country’s agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, and public health sectors also negatively impacted while farmlands growing rice, maize,  cotton, sesame, yam and other crops completely submerged by flood water thus prompting fears of imminent food insecurity and further escalation of poverty and hunger.

Unfortunately, all levels of government were unprepared to intervene the moment flooding began even though the natural disaster was long foretold and also failed to judiciously deploy the Ecological Fund meant to mitigate the incidents of environmental degradation and such disaster at their disposal.

Specifically, we recall that just before the onset of the 2022 rainy season, which usually lasts from April to September in the northern part of the country and March to November in the south, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) and the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) had raised the alarm predicting that flooding was imminent in most states and that the volume of water across Nigeria would increase due to “excessive rainfalls and contributions from external flows”.

Similarly, apart from Climate Change, the tragedy had been blamed on the release of water from the Cameroonian Lagdo dam, which ravages parts of Nigeria annually, because of her lack of an adequate flood control system including the aborted Dasin Hausa dam that would have been built some decades ago envisaged to cushion the devastating effects of excess water coming from Lagdo, “a lack of respect for science and leadership problems,” the indiscriminate dumping of refuse inside drainages and canals as well as government’s obvious inability to regularly clear blocked drainages.

It is disappointing and very curious that governments which have been receiving huge allocations from Ecological Fund since its inception in 1985 have in our estimation, not done much in terms of provision of concrete drainages where desirable, regular clearing of blocked canals, dredging of rivers and other projects geared toward a sustainable environment. The indiscriminate dumping of waste on drainage channels by citizens had also compounded the situation. Money disbursed from the fund is statutorily solely devoted to the funding of projects to mitigate serious ecological problems.

For instance, the audit of the Ecological Fund Office carried out by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, (NEITI), revealed that the total amount allocated and received by the fund from December 2011 to November 2016 was N277 billion” while “the operations of the Fund from 2012 to 2016 reportedly showed that some of the disbursements were not utilised for the purpose for which it was established. During these periods, N74.2billion was released to state governments to solve ecological problems in their areas.”

Besides, in 2021, the Federal Executive Council, FEC announced that it approved N16.04 billion in ecological fund projects across 12 states in the Federation including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for soil erosion/flood and pollution control interventions while in January 2022,  the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, further hinted that 14 ecological project contracts were approved for N15.1 billion for flood control in the six geo-political zones.

It is also noteworthy that  ecological funds are shared across the three tiers of government, and emergency management agencies such as the National Emergency Agency, NEMA while the funds are under the direct supervision of the federal government. Consequently, it is clear to all  that the devastating consequences of this year’s floods which claimed hundreds of lives and humongous properties destroyed would have been largely minimal and perhaps more bearable if governments had judiciously applied the funds for the purposes they were meant.

However, we welcome ongoing relief efforts by the federal and state governments, some of the presidential candidates of the leading parties including Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, APC and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in alleviating the suffering of victims of the flood disaster.

Towards this end also, NEMA recently begun the distribution of 12,000 metric tonnes of food and non-food items across the flood disaster areas to complement the unimpressive relief measures hitherto put in place by state governments for the victims. It is however a truism that more efforts are needed to mitigate the flooding that has wreaked serious havoc on the country’s food supply chain.

Further assurances by Nigeria’s humanitarian affairs minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq that the federal government is committed to providing succour to all people in communities affected by the flood and renewed commitment by relevant agencies to strengthen their efforts in “reaching out to the victims and bringing relief to them,” though belated is commendable

The proposed National Emergency Flood Preparedness and Response Plans for Nigeria, a roadmap to prevent and control flooding in the country which  includes the immediate, short, and long-term plans is also a positive step in the right direction. It came on the heels of the inauguration of the National Council on Climate Change by President Muhammadu Buhari designed to “strengthen national response to Climate Change and accelerate the implementation of decisive actions to reduce its impacts on the people and economy.”

Climate Change according to experts, apart from its potential to exacerbate existing threats to human rights in the country, rising global temperatures will also “jeopardise many people’s livelihoods, increasing their vulnerability to poverty and social deprivation.”

Since it is clear to all and sundry that Nigerians have been shortchanged been successive administrations at all levels in the execution of ecological projects, we totally agree with recent demand by Lagos based legal practitioner, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should probe the spending of ecological funds amid the devastating flooding experienced in parts of the country and described the mismanagement of ecological fund as a “crime against humanity because it is responsible for the loss of many lives, displacement of millions of people, and destruction of properties worth trillions of Naira,”.

Such investigation in our view, will further expose public office holders and their collaborators who rather than judiciously implement various ecological projects that would have direct positive impact on +-riverine communities prone to flooding helped themselves with the commonwealth which had resulted in avoidable deaths and massive destruction of properties. This is unacceptable and perpetrators must therefore be made to face justice and stolen funds fully recovered.

Past experiences across the states revealed that all is not well with the disbursement of the funds. For instance a former governor of Plateau state, Joshua Dariye, was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2018 for diverting N1.162 billion in state ecological funds while he was governor between 1999 and 2007. Dariye, 65, was recently granted state pardon after spending only four years of the sentence by President Buhari.

More importantly, governments should devote serious attention to the immediate, medium and long term effects of the submergence of farmlands in local food production and come up with appropriate policies to address the anticipated imminent food shortage. With Nigeria’s food inflation hitting a record 20.77 per cent in September 2022, it is anticipated that prices of foodstuffs will further increase in the coming months as a result of the flooding, which is why it is imperative for the federal and state governments as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN through implementation of its Anchor Borrowers’ Programme should come to the aid of farmers warming up for dry season farming. No effort should be spared to avert the looming hunger in the land.

 

 

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