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Nigeria's floods leave the country awash with stories. Most are cautionary.

Flooding in all 36 states puts climate and the need for a response, under the spotlight.


by Azu Ishiekwene for bird story agency

 

In the midst of the catastrophic floods that have submerged swathes of Nigeria in recent weeks, the answer of a leading politician to the climate change question, triggered a storm in the press. 

One of the three frontrunners in next year’s election and presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was asked what he thought of climate change.  

 

He answered with a question: “How do you prevent a church rat from eating poisoned communion?” 

 

This reply raised concerns in Nigeria’s volatile faith circles, with adherents calling out the politician for invoking sacred images. There were ripples outside faith circles, too. The response also stirred a debate about just how seriously the political elite takes climate change.  

 

Though Tinubu's handlers later pushed back, explaining that the metaphor of the church rat and the holy communion was only meant to highlight the case for climate justice, the wreckage caused by floods across Nigeria is hardly a metaphor.

 

Old Market Lokoja Flood Peak


As of October 14, flood-related disasters had left about 500 dead, 1.5 million (larger than the population of the Vatican City) displaced in 27 out of 36 states, and property worth billions of naira destroyed. Yet, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency

(NiMet), was still warning that the worst was yet to come.

 

Olam Farms, a private farm with large tracts of farmland in Nigeria’s North Central, reported a loss of over 8.7 billion naira (US$20 million) worth of assets in the flooding while hundreds of small-farm holders and businesses are still counting their losses.

 

Flooding in Kabawa Lakoja Kogi State, Nigeria. Photo : bird story agency


For days in early October, the main highways linking the country's north – the country’s major food basket – with the south, were cut off and supply chains were disrupted, leading to rises in prices of foodstuff and even petroleum products, as truckers were marooned. 

 

A number of camps hosting internally displaced persons were impacted; one news report chose rather to share the story of mothers who had just been delivered of new babies in the maelstrom. 

 

According to a report in LEADERSHIP, a trailer driver, Ismail Mohammed, who had spent three days on the Bida-Lapai-Suleja road, which was publicised as an alternative route to the main impacted highway, said, “The situation is so bad…you can see me slaughtering my cow, the tenth one in three days.”


Alerady reeling from the impact of global inflation and security issues in the north, this is not something the country can afford.

 

Yet the impact of floods has been felt in all 36 of Nigeria's states. In the same week, a woman who lives in Mpape, an Abuja suburb, shared this story on a WhatsApp group platform where I belong: “I’ve always read about and watched people’s houses flooded…they lose their stuff and become homeless, but I never thought I could experience it.

 

Aerial view of flooding in Kabawa, Lakoja Kogi State, Nigeria. Photo : bird story agency


“I left home to see a friend who came (to Abuja) for her father-in-law’s funeral this afternoon only to be told by my neighbours that I should start rushing home. The house behind mine collapsed, our gate uprooted and my house and stuff flooded. Just finished getting what I could now. Please if you know someone who has a BQ to let in Abuja...”


It's not certain how soon relief would come for the distressed woman and hundreds more in similar or worse situations. But those who said the war foretold does not take the crippled by surprise would themselves be surprised by the alarming state of unpreparedness of recent floods, wreaking havoc, in spite of repeated warnings.

 

In February, the weather watchdog issued warnings of impending floods in North-Central states and also in the South-Eastern and South-Western regions of the country.

 

The warnings went unheeded.  And not for the first time. Before climate problems compounded the situation along the Niger-Benue River, the tug-of-war between Nigeria and its eastern neighbour, Cameroon, over the latter’s Lagdo Dam, had been a clear and present danger. 

 

Whenever excess water is released from the Lagdo Dam as was the case in September, for example, at least eight Nigerian states are seriously impacted. In 2012, floods left over 300 dead and over two million displaced with collateral damage by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) estimated at N2.6 trillion (US$5.9 billion), the toll this time could be more when the final tally is taken.  

 

Aerial view of flooding in Kabawa, Lakoja Kogi State, Nigeria. Photo : bird story agency


After the 2012 floods, Nigeria was supposed to build a dam, the Dasin Hausa Dam (more than double the size of Lagdo), in Adamawa State, to absorb the overflow, generate 300 megawatts of electricity and irrigate thousands of hectares of land. Forty years later, the Dasin Dam is still uncompleted and changes in global weather patterns have piled on official negligence. 

 

Last week, Nigeria’s emergency management agency said tonnes of relief materials were underway to hundreds of stricken communities. Days after this promise was made in the press, however, flood victims in Koton-karfe, one of the worst affected communities in Lokoja, Kogi State, were still waiting for the supplies. 

 

Gabriel Segun, a carpenter in Koton-karfe, said on October 22: “We heard something like that. But up till now, we have not seen anything. My family and the small things I could gather from the floods are scattered. Only God knows when help will come.”

 

Segun added that although he knew that climate change was affecting the world, he hoped that the government could take advantage of early warning systems and be better prepared, in order to reduce the impact on people and the environment.

 

Apart from the direct impact of the floods, concerns about the outbreak of diseases such as cholera and dysentery and other risks from polluted water, continue to pose serious public health challenges in the affected communities.

 

With President Muhammadu Buhari's term coming to an end, public expectation for action before the next rains could well be shifting to the over a dozen presidential candidates wanting to take Buhari’s job. 

 

Yet climate change and its predations are hardly in their playbook. The campaigns have been dominated by religion, ethnicity and intra-party squabbles. Repeated calls for issues-based campaigns, amidst the multiple challenges confronting the country have so far, been largely ignored.

 

Apart from APC candidate Tinubu whose off-handed metaphor about church rats sparked criticisms, only the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, Peter Obi, paused his campaign to visit a flooded community in Benue State, about four hours from the

capital, Abuja.

 

And even on that tour, advertised by his campaign as exceptional proof of sensitivity, Obi still wore a vest emblazoned with his party’s logo and tagline!

 

As I once argued elsewhere, between rising incidents of natural disasters and human disasters in the arena of politics it can sometimes be hard to tell which one is more devastating.


But the timing of the floods may force a rethink - about climate and the importance of other key issues - as elections loom next year.

 

Ishiekwene is Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP. He wrote this article for bird story agency


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