MADAKI Yakubu Shuaibu wished he had done more to persuade three of his clan’s men when the floodwater started rising in the Ala-Akabe community.
He and several other residents had felt safe at the onset when the first drop of water landed at the community in Igalamela Local Government Area (LGA) of Kogi State. This cannot be as bad as the 2012 flood incident, though.
But he changed his mind, having realised his responsibility as the local chief was to keep his people safe.
The villagers left in droves, except three, who chose to stay back. They paid the ultimate price, though the deaths could have been avoided.
“They refused to leave,” Shuaibu told The ICIR, grieved.
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The deceased, he said, swore never to vacate their ancestral land for the rising flood that submerged the whole of Ala-Akabe, and other parts of Kogi in early October.
They built what appeared to be a raft on a tree and lived in it, hoping to return when the flood receded. But they never survived the experience.
“…when the flood became intense, the wooden house could no longer hold. It fell, and that was it,” Shuaibu said at his makeshift home in the forest, built with palm branches, a few kilometres from his original settlement.
It took The ICIR about 45 minutes on water to visit Ala Akabe, their original home, to measure the damage caused by the flood.
It was a similar experience in Ibaji, one of the affected LGAs.
The idea of living on a tree led to the death of another man, who had refused to vacate the area during the flood onset.
Ibaji, a littoral area, is sandwiched by four states – Delta, Edo, Anambra, and Enugu.
Ikojo Obiora, the Chairman of Ibaji LGA, said unlike the 2012 flooding when the state government notified residents of the imminent flood, the government failed this time.
He said the deceased was not buried in Ibaji due to the flooded area. The corps was later brought to Idah LGA, about 42 kilometres apart, and kept in a morgue pending when things returned to normalcy.
A day before The ICIR’s visit, around 8 p.m., Obiora received another call, over again, that a grown-up girl had died in flood. Unlike in 2012, multiple sources denied any prior notification.
These were the sordid accounts of flood victims in different parts of the state.
Incidentally, it is not peculiar to Kogi. Other states, such as Anambra, Kebbi, Delta, Jigawa, and Bayelsa, have recorded similar experiences. In total, about 33 states nationwide witnessed the recent flooding.
As of October 25, over 603 Nigerians have died from severe flooding, with about 1.3 million displaced nationwide.
Kogi is still counting its losses and has yet to come up with an official figure for fatalities.
The severe impacts of the flooding have remained public fear. Though not new, the flooding incident of 2012 destroyed over 70 000 homes in the state.
Nevertheless, multiple sources, including government officials, described the most recent flood as much more severe. Nigeria Meteorological Services (NIMET) had earlier predicted more than usual rainfall and flooding across 22 states.
The Kogi State Commissioner for Environment Victor Omofaiye, likened the incident to the first 1936 flood occurrence the state witnessed.
He told The ICIR it measured 13.8 metres.
While the 2012 flooding measured 12.8 metres, the recent flooding was 13.4 metres.
“We are still battling with the effect of the 2012 flooding, now this.”
The impact of the recent flood spread across communities, displaced thousands of Kogi residents, and destroyed properties worth billions and farmlands, not just in Ala Akabe but across 10 of the 21 LGAs in the state.
They include Idah, Ofu, Igalamela – Odolu, Lokoja, and Koton-Karfe. Others are Ibaji, Omala, Ajaokuta, Bassa and Kogi LGAs.
The ICIR can confirm Ibaji, for instance, recorded over 100 deaths, according to Obiora. Still, some have refused to leave the flooded terrain due to the same cultural beliefs.
Amidst the crises, Yahaya Bello, the state governor, raised the alarm, pleading with the Federal Government for support.
He called for a state of national disaster when the situation became unbearable, yet help never came until about a week later.
Displaced persons take refuge in houses built with palm branches
Housed at internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in schools and other makeshift homes, the people were left hanging without serious help from the governments.
Multiple sources at four LGAs visited – Idah, Igalamela-Odolu, Koton-Karfe, and Lokoja could not count all their losses.
The ICIR saw children, women, and the elderly sacked by the flood living in temporary homes built with palm leaves in the forest, with little food and no healthcare. They battled with reptiles and slept on a bare floor.
For instance, residents of Ala-Obaje, Ala-Akabe and Efupo have converged at the same spot in the forest for almost a month with no help.
The need for their wards to visit schools was the least of their worries.
They just wanted to survive. Six of 10 wards in Idah were affected. They include Ugwoda, Ichala, Ogegele, Owoliapa, Ede and Ichejeba.
Eke Godspower was among the flood victims sacked from the Iwala community, Ejuluegebe, in Ibaji. It is not sure if it was the trauma from the flood incident, but the mother of three could not recall the age of her three boys. She had spent 25 days with the kids at the St. Michael IDP camp, Ofiji, in Idah, with no help.
She later struggled to remember using the previous flood events to confirm when the boys were born. Even with that, she could only remember the years, not the entire date.
She said Enemona Godspwer was born during the 2012 flood incident, and Rabojo Godspower, the last child, came to be during the 2016 flooding. Still, she could not recall when exactly Ojotule Godspower, her first son, was born.
“We just need help to survive,” she said in an act that craved empathy. “We have lost so much,” she told The ICIR through Aishat Adamu (Mrs), an interpreter and an assistant headmistress of St. Michael School (The IDP camp).
River Niger: Mixed reactions trail flooding incident, dredging contracts
Each time Kogi flooding is discussed, the dredging of the River Niger repeatedly comes to mind. In Lokoja, the River Niger and River Benue meet at a confluence.
This has raised different conversations on how best the water body can be utilised beyond dredging. Thus, the idea of creating seven additional ports came forth. The project, from Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration as the former president, is laced with controversies.
On September 10, 2009, the late Musa Umaru Yar’Adua, awarded the N36 billion contract for dredging the River Niger. It was officially announced at a ceremonial commencement of the project at the Lokoja Dockyard station of the Nigerian Inland Water Ways Authority (NIWA).
Seven inland ports components of the project were to be sited at Agenebode (Edo State), Idah (Kogi State), Yenagoa (Bayelsa), Baro (Niger), Lokoja (Kogi State), Aguta (Anambra State) and Ogbabe (Delta State).
The 572 kilometres project was to be dredged from Warri, in Delta, across Lokoja, Idah, in Kogi to Baro in Niger State. Ultimately, this was to help contain the water body. Alternatively, to enable easy water transportation on the River Niger all year round.
The contractors were Messrs Fung Tai Nigeria, Dredging International; William Boyd; and Van Oord.
According to reports, Van Oord, a Dutch marine firm that majored in dredging, was to execute the third and fourth Lots of the project, which came in five Lots. The “Bulk of the project is stretching from Onitsha in Anambra, through Idah and Jamata in Kogi.”
While the authorities claimed to have executed the projects, multiple sources across the affected communities claimed ignorance of the contract implementation. On Wednesday, October 26, The ICIR wrote to Van Oord, seeking clarification on the project delivery status, but as of the time of filing this report, no feedback yet.
However, the position was the same from the Palace of the Ata of Igala to the Idah local Government authorities, the State Ministry of Environment and the State Ministry of Information. The project was shrouded in uncertainty. Thus, the raging question was whether the flood impact would have been minimal if the project had been implemented successfully. Also, there must have been suitable business activities, they argued.
Joe Etubi is the Protocol Officer to the Ata of Igala, Mathew Alaji Opaluwa Oguche. The ICIR had visited the palace to seek the King’s reaction to the devastating flood. But Etubi referred the reporter to Abu Odoma, Idah LG chairman.
Etubi was an employee of Idah LGA. He recalled how the firm awarded the dredging job visited Idah regarding the project implementation years back but never returned to date.
“Go to the local government; they will provide you with the needed details. If need be, the chairman can come to the palace with you,” Etubi said as The ICIR took a walk down to the LGA, which was a few distances from the palace.
As of 9 a.m., the office of the LGA chairman was under lock and key. Shortly after, Odoma’s secretary arrived and referred the reporter to another official – Abdulahi Yakubu. He was the Desk Officer on flood and emergency issues. He could not speak much on the dredging except that the contractor once visited Idah. They brought their dredgers, but nothing happened thereafter.
Meanwhile, he said since the onset of the flood; he has never set eyes on the LG chairman.
Both Obiora and Omofaiye challenged the federal government on the dredging project.
The Climate Change Angle – Ibaji residents displaced to four states
The whole of Ibaji was inundated, including the LGA headquarter in Onyedega. Ibaji has 10 wards, and none was excluded from the flooding.
The closest The ICIR could get by road in the LGA was Ichekene.
The flood cut off all roads. The area, thus, remained inaccessible, except by canoes and boats, which has also become a brisk business.
According to Ibaji Community Development Officer (CDO) Onalo Achimugu, who was found at Idah LGA Secretariat, over 400 communities were affected.
Theophilus Onallo, 32, a father of six, had lived in Ibaji for years before the flood sacked him. He temporarily resides with his family at the IDP within St. Kizito Seminary College, Igalamela LGA.
“I was lucky. Nothing happened to my children, but my farmland was flooded,” he said.
“This is worse than the 2012 flooding, and I can tell you the post-flood incident will be scarier,” Obiora told The ICIR, reacting to the disaster from his new home in Idah, where he took refuge. He was more worried about the post-flood incidents.
He recalled that the LGA lost many children to Diarrhoea due to the intake of polluted water during the 2012 flooding. However, he said that about a good per cent of the residents of Ibaji had migrated to different LGAs in five states bordering the LGA.
Those closer to Idah moved to Idah LGA and currently reside in schools serving as makeshift homes.
They included St. Michael Primary School, Opposite Federal Polytechnic, Idah; St. Kizito Seminary College, Igalamela LGA. And the third location, though in contention, is the Government Technical College, a short distance adjacent to the Idaji chairman’s residence.
The people lived in cold, harsh conditions. Some slept on the bare floor while others managed with wooden benches collapsed together. But, the chairman denied those at the technical college. He claimed they were scams and not genuinely displaced, unlike those at St. Kizito and St. Michael schools.
Others, according to him, had moved to Anambra, Edo, Enugu, and Delta states.
Omofaiye attributed the incident to climate change impact. This would mean excess rainfall, unusual precipitation pattern, drought, rising sea levels, etc., due to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet, the affected communities knew little or none about climate change and its effects. They remained ignorant and unaware of the relevant mitigation and adaptation strategies adaptable in the face of the global threat.
The World Health Organization (WHO) described it as the “single biggest health threat facing humanity…”. Its impact extends beyond environment to social issues ranging from clean air, secured accommodation, potable water and sufficient food.
“Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250 000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.”
Climate Change, in simple terms, is thus, known as the long-term shifts in weather conditions.
Nonetheless, the locals are most hit and often do not get immediate support. They are tucked into the most remote part of the state, as found in Ala-Akabe and Ala-Obaje.
This is unlike other affected communities that quickly got some levels of intervention in Koton-Karfe, and Lokoja, located along the Abuja-Lokoja highway.
Worse still, the state lacked a climate change mitigation or adaptation policy.
The commissioner told The ICIR, during a visit to his office, that the state was about to domesticate the National Policy on Climate Change, reviewed last year. It is a 10-year plan. This implied the state had none.
The policy documents actionable plans – short, medium and long term designed to build national resilience against climate change through mitigation and adaptation strategies.
At the federal level, some climate change adaptation projects include the Green Bond, the Great Green Wall initiative, the solar power Rural Electrification Project executed in schools and market clusters in the country, etc. But beyond Kogi, most states are yet to domesticate the national policy.
Ibaji got N12.4 million as relief
Ibaji LGA, through its chairman, has gotten N12.4 million as of the visit.
The donations came from philanthropists, majorly politicians. Yakubu Muri, a popular indigene of Idah, donated N10 million; Ojogbane Uchala, a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), donated N1 million.
The House of Representative member David Zacharia donated what others described as a meagre sum of N1 million. At the same time, Michael Eguda and Egbum Yusuf, from the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), contributed N200, 000 each. These amounted to N12.4 million.
But those contacted at St. Michael pry school denied ever receiving any support from the chairman.
The ICIR had to part with a financial donation when the assistant head teacher, Aishat, confirmed how she would often invite little children of the victims to join in the school’s free meal initiative, so they could get something to munch since help was not coming.
This reporter confronted the chairman with this revelation, but he denied it. “That is not possible,” he said. “They are not sincere.” But the reporter insisted on his independent findings.
He later offered to visit the displacement camps.
However, he said, N10 million was donated to the affected victims spread across the five states through the Ibaji Development Association (IDAs) and traditional rulers.
But, usually, at dawn, the flood victims moved out in droves in search of help for survival. They later return at noon to rest.
Dam constructions, regular dredging will check repeat of flood incidents – Govt
The locals asked the FG and state to partner and ensure more dams were built and the river Niger genuinely dredged.
Yakubu also advised the need for dialogue between the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments such that Nigeria is well notified each time the latter plans to open its dam. Those residing at the shoreline were also advised to relocate permanently to the uphill to avoid reoccurrence.
“Kogi has always been on the red alert,” Omofaiye reacted, acknowledging the Lagdo Dam contributed to the flooding.
He announced the dredging would have helped a lot. “It would have contained more water than it is now. The roads and bridges would n0t have been submerged.”
For three days, The ICIR attempted to see the state’s Commissioner for Information, Kingsley Fanwo, but he did not reply to calls, text and short messages to his phone number via the WhatsApp platform, even though it was read.
The Permanent Secretary of the state’s ministry of information, Adegbola Tajudeen, said he was newly promoted and could not speak on the controversial project. But he asked the FG to build dams, while residents should avoid building houses around water plains.
Omofaiye also called for the creation of retaining dams before Lokoja, adding that “a committee has been set up in that respect.” He told the ICIR that Bello was meeting President Muhammadu Buhari over the dredging project.
Experts react, profer solutions
Experts advised the implementation of the National Flood Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan to reduce and mitigate flood impacts across the country.
The Co-Founder International Climate Change Development Initiative, Olumide Idowu, questioned the Kogi state government for lack of proactiveness towards the flooding. He said 10 years was enough for the state to have prepared against another flooding incident.
“2012 to 2022 was a long time. Who knows if we will still have another flooding in 10 years?”
He said the Camerounian government should not be blamed, as the FG should have made proactive moves, and lawmakers from the state and federal should have interceeded to ensure a permanent solution.
“Cameroun made their dams work for them. Did we also put in place a preventive measure? Because there was a dialogue before the dam was built, and they knew it would flow someday.”
He, however, called for a meaningful and sustainable solution between the state and federal governments.
The Director, Centre for Climate Change and Development, Alex Ekwueme Federal University, a professor, Chuks Okereke, described climate change as a big threat to Nigeria’s economy that could cost the country $460 billion by 2050.
He said about 25 million people are at risk of flooding in the country, which could be worse in terms of unemployment, loss of assets, etc.
“As Africans, if we do not act, we are doomed. If we act in a way that is rash and not well thought-out, we will also be doomed…,” he disclosed during his presentation at the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID), Climate Change Media Summit held in Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari has, however, directed the Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, to lead the Ministry of Environment, Transport and the state governments to within 90 days develop another flood prevention plan in the country.
An environmentalist, Seyifunmi Adebote, reacting, described the move as “Medicine after death!” Beyond the said ministries, he advised that the ministry of works and housing budget and national planning should also be involved.
Flood Risk Consultant, Taiwo Ogunwumi, told The ICIR of the need for government to develop effective flood early warning mechanisms, especially through radio, farmer’s groups, and women groups. He advised the provision of river gauge and river discharge measurement instruments to keep the communities abreast of the changes in water levels.
“The Kogi communities need ecosystem-based solutions – planting trees along the river’s shoreline to complement other engineering defence systems such as dikes, levees, flood walls and dams.”
With these moves, Shuaibu and other local communities might need to worry less with the hope that the authorities would create dams and dredge the largest rivers with timely flood alerts to keep them safe.