“We have not seen flooding like it occurred this year,” said most victims of the recent flooding incident in the North-central part of Nigeria. The disaster is reported to have afflicted hundreds of thousands of Nigerians across different states, leaving many dead and many more displaced. For four days, The ICIR‘s ‘Kunle ADEBAJO visited Niger and Kogi states including the FCT, some of the worst-hit areas, to feel the pulse of the direct victims. In this two-part report, he shares how what is seen as an act of God coupled with the actions and inaction of government has driven various communities to starvation, homelessness and despair.
AT past three in the afternoon, after observing the Moslem Friday prayer, Shuaibu Sidi Alli rides through a vast expanse of farmland on his old, black Jincheng bike. The narrow, sometimes bushy, path leads to his village, Adabode, one of the over 60 communities affected by flood in Kogi Local Government Area.
With his home wrecked by the flooding incident of 2012, Alli no longer lives in Adabode, but he still farms in the small village until September. Now, his farm was among several hectares of rice and cassava plantation laid to waste by the recent flood.
During a visit to the village, one could see what used to be a delightful stretch of green crops, now a dull sight of brown, slender stems, wilting corn ears and collapsed sheds. “All these areas are cassava farms,” Alli said as we drove past a desolate piece of land. “The flood swept everything away,” he mutters.
The people of Adabode community, because of their closeness to the Niger River, are among the most affected whenever there is flooding. And they suffer neglect from the government when it comes to rehabilitation efforts.
After the 2012 flooding disaster which left 2.1 million Nigerians displaced, the local government guesthouse along Okparake Road, which was under construction at the time, was given to displaced persons as shelter. Some of the displaced, including Alli and the community chief, whose houses were destroyed decided to seek refuge in the guesthouse, while others went back home.
In September, when the waters swept across the town with greater force, the guesthouse once again became a place of refuge for most residents of Adabode. But not only is the space extremely insufficient; the government does not recognise the shelter as an IDP camp and therefore did not provide relief materials to the IDPs.
He said the people have never received anything from the government since the last flooding. Their farmlands have all been destroyed. And the shelter is inadequate to accommodate the displaced. “We are here suffering,” Alli laments.
The guesthouse, consisting of four bungalows with rooftops the colour of desert sand had no ceilings, doors or windows. The displaced persons occupying the buildings have had to cover it themselves using aluminium roofing sheets, wood and sacks. In the period immediately after the flood, as many as fifteen to twenty people could share a single room before dispersing at daybreak in search of food.
Asides the bungalows, the displaced people have also built a contraption made of wood, mats and palm fronds to serve as shelter. Women of varying ages were seen lounging around the open space as children appeared amused by the sight of a visitor.
“We have no food, money” — IDPs cry out, despite approved N3b
On September 16, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) announced that N3 billion has been released to it by the Federal Government to respond to flood disasters in many states.
According to Mustapha Maihaja, the agency’s Director General, the sum was approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for the first stages of preparedness and response disaster mitigation, and this has motivated NEMA to immediately swing into action.
About a week after this declaration, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo also paid Koton-Karfe a visit in September to sympathise with flood victims and assure them of the federal government’s support.
“I am here to look at what has gone wrong and what has happened,” he said. “Land and properties are underwater and after this period when the water recedes, that is really when the hard work begins because those who have lost farmlands need to be restored somehow and need to be compensated including those who have lost houses and property.”
He also said in the following weeks, the government should have been able to assist the victims in returning to their homes and farmlands, and added that it is the duty of the federal and state governments to ensure people are adequately catered for.
Nearly two months after this reassurance, the victims say the government has done very little to alleviate their pain. The need to survive forced many out of their various camps to the marketplace, begging for alms.
“We have many difficulties at the camp,” says Suleiman Musa, 72.
He spoke about accommodation and feeding problem. He said they are yet unable to harvest anything from their rice and maize farms, and as a result have no means to feed themselves or earn income.
“The flooding brought starvation for us … We are in hunger. Our children have all been sent away from school. No food, not to talk of school fees.”
Suleiman says though they hear on the radio that food items will be brought for flood victims; their community is always excluded while other villages get a share. He also recalls that the government promised, in 2012, to allocate land to occasionally house victims of the flood but nothing has been done about this till date, “that is why we are just hanging around.”
Idris Musa Kareem, an IDP from Irenodu ward who spoke to The ICIR, says his ward is one of the worst-hit and cannot be accessed till date unless with the help of a boat. He says the residents have been unable to access relief materials meant for victims till date, also alleging discrimination.
Muhammad Adamu also confirms that there is an unequal treatment of communities in the local government as materials brought for distribution don’t ever go round.
“We need help,” he pleads. “The little government donated to us has finished. Now, we are in hunger. As we go, there is nothing like foodstuff. Nothing again, even on the farm.
“We are hungry. They should help us more so that when we are going for this dry season farming, we will be able to get something to last us. If we have something to manage till that time, we will be very happy.”
Muhammad also laments how some of the IDPs’ children have dropped out of school and their homes have fallen to ruins. He prays the government to assist with fishing nets so that they can feed their family.
Billions of farm products lost to the flood
The remote communities of Kogi Local Government are not the only places submerged in water while the flood lasted. The deluge also affected communities skirting the Lokoja-Abuja Highway where farmlands and houses are completely destroyed.
The principal of Government Science Secondary School in Koton-Karfe, Muhammed Usman Adamu, and an indigene of Akpako community showed the reporter around the area to observe the level of damage caused by the flood.
A vast pool of water left by the receding river could still be seen on the land surrounding the Murtala Muhammed Bridge. The land ordinarily serves as a farm for the planting of rice.
“This happened in six wards of the local government,” says Muhammed. “It’s happening also at South East, Girinya, up till the Muye Area. Most of the crops were not ready for harvest before the flood came; and the farmers lost billions of naira. This is just a segment. If you look at the other side, across the road, you’ll see another section of the farmland extending as far as you can see.”
Apart from farmlands, other properties such as houses and machines also were damaged by the flood.
Gimba Abdullahi, a security guard at one of the residences, tells The ICIR a motorcycle parked within the compound stopped working following the flood. For over a month, occupants had to move to the adjoining storey building.
Muhammed commends the governments for coming to the aid of IDPs, but expects more than what was offered. According to him, the government intervention during the 2012 flooding was better.
Relief items pocketed by local authorities?
One of the community leaders in Adabode, who prefers to remain anonymous for the fear of attack, tells The ICIR that the vice president donated a sum of money to Koton-Karfe during his September visit, which was not accounted for.
“Till this very moment, we have not heard anything from the local government administrator or the Emir about that money,” he says disappointedly.
“And when we even asked,” he continues, “they were deceiving us that Osinbajo packed phones inside two bags for us. They never disclosed it was money, but those who know the details, including a local chief close to the monarch, said it was money.”
He also says people were threatened with arrests should they report that Osinbajo came to the town empty-handed. According to him, unlike his predecessor, the incumbent Ohimegye of Igu Kingdom, AbdulRasaq Isa-Koto, has not treated the communities fairly.
The Ohimegye, he says, claims there are 66 affected communities in area though the total number is only 45 “so that the money they get will be for that number and the rest will be for them”. In one instance witnessed by him, he adds, His Royal Majesty directed that a Hilux vehicle be filled with relief materials and driven to the palace. According to him, a similar vehicle was also filled up for one Hajia Salamatu Iyami Tatu, a local women leader.
“The day before Osinbajo came,” the community leader further alleges, “we were mobilised to go and sleep there so that when he comes, he’ll see that we have made a camp. But these are people you do not care for until the day Osinbajo is to come so that you’ll exploit them, and that’s just what happened.
“Akpaku people refused to come there. There is a day the governor was passing by, he dropped for them N3 million. The local government administrator ordered the chief to give him the money, and that one yielded. That occurrence provoked the Akpaku community, and that’s why they refused to join others at the emergency camp. They said even if Osinbajo drops anything, they will not be considered for anything and it’s true.”
A philanthropist from Fidelity Bank also donated mosquito nets to the communities through the Emir, he narrates, but the nets were instead sold at a rate ranging from N1800 and N2000. One of those who bought the net at the latter price was his younger brother, who had attempted handing it to him after purchasing. “They said where is the evidence that said this thing is donated free.” He advises organisations and government agencies donating subsequently to deal directly with the people.
The sidelined community of Adabode
Adabode is one of the communities in the local government which can still not be accessed except through a canoe. Though with an original population of close to a thousand, only a handful men presently live there. Others, explains Adams Alli, one of the few who remain, have gone to seek succour in Jamata.
“It is because of what to eat we ran back to this place,” Fatima Alli, Adams’ wife, adds.
Adabode is littered with several traces of what used to be complete buildings, now dilapidated.
In one of such cases, caused by past flooding, the owner of the destroyed structure, a family man with two wives and six children, decided to pick up the zinc roofing sheets and join them together for a temporary abode.
Leaders of the community complain about total inattention from the government. They host officials on a yearly basis but have never benefited from various rehabilitation attempts.
“This is not the first time our community will be flooded; but we don’t see anything,” Yinusa Mohammed laments. “Just as you’ve come, others have also come in the past; but nothing comes out after the visits. The government has done nothing for us. Nothing.”
“Look at where this man sleeps,” he adds, referring to Shuaibu Usman Dakko and pointing to a nearby tent made with torn fabric and sticks. “Even politics, all of us do it. There is no party without a presence in our village and we vote frequently, but we don’t get anything from the government.”
The village Madaki, Yusuf Kaisa, corroborates Yinusa’s observations, lamenting that members of the community no longer have sufficient food to eat.
“We need help,” he pleads. “Government should help us, because as we are now it is only God that can help us. There is no food; we don’t have anywhere we can look for food. Every five days we go to buy garri, elubo [yam flour]… after we have hustled and entered bush to hunt. Even money is difficult to get now. We need government to help us because of God … because of God.”
Fatima, who is also the village’s women leader, protests how the leaders and residents of urban areas took advantage of the community. “When disaster comes”, she says, “they’ll be crying for us, but the moment help comes, they’ll just hijack it. Before you get to town, they’ll say the materials have already been distributed.”
Ebagi: A border community no one bothers about
While Kogi may be the greatest loser to the tragedy of flooding due to its geographic location, losses are not exclusive to the state. An hour drive away from Koton-Karfe is the area council of Abaji which welcomes travellers into the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Buried deeply in this local government is a community known as Ebagi, roughly 10 kilometres away from Pandagi. It has a population of close to 2000; and it is one of the oldest communities around according to residents, as people, most of them full-time farmers, have lived there for many decades.
The community has a health centre, which conducts periodic immunisation for children, a primary school, and a litter of houses, mostly built using mud bricks. The flooding incident of 2018 has left their massive farmlands devastated. The volume of the water was such never before experienced by most adults.
At a meeting with twelve community leaders at the Etsu of Ebagi’s home, Shuaibu Lara who started school in 1976 says he has not seen flooding of this nature since his birth.
“This year’s flood is the worst,” Abdullahi Suleiman, a young man from the community, agrees.
“Because where the river used to come and stop, it didn’t stop there,” he explains. “We’ve never experienced something like this before. The river has finished all our properties.”
Muhammed Chado, one of the oldest in the room and the only one reclining on an armchair instead of a mat, is the village head. Speaking in a Nupe dialect, Chado appeals to the government to assist the community through the supply of food and building materials as the village is back to ground zero with the destruction of their crops.
Some of the buildings in the village, especially the mud houses, collapsed under the weight of this year’s downpour. Only a few brick buildings are left standing, some under construction, but the majority of the people cannot afford such a luxury.
“Most of our farms are by the riverbank, that’s why we’ve been greatly affected,” says Suleiman, who took this reporter on a tour of the village where the flood has wrecked havoc. “We could not pick anything. The farms were completely submerged for over a month between August and September.”
A spread of river sand is seen across several metres of land, formerly used for the planting of crops ranging from plantain, cassava to rice; and two middle-aged “irrigation farmers”, one of them holding a sack and manual trap, make efforts to manage the damage caused.
After a few minutes of walking, we come across a wooden store where harvested crops are temporarily kept by various farmers. Major cracks on the cement floor are the effect left by the deluge. But that’s not all; farm products including cassava, maize and plantain, stored in the shed before the flood were also destroyed. A ravaged canoe rests outside the store. According to Suleiman, there used to be two. The second had been swept away.
Suleiman says, are agricultural products running into tens of millions of naira as well as five months of hard work were lost to the disaster because the planting season had started sometime in April. A report has been sent to the government from the village and, in September, a delegate from the local government had been there to assess the damage.
“But up till now, we have not heard anything from them,” Suleiman confirms in a forlorn tone.
“You cannot see the Ohimegye”
One of the most influential rulers in the Koton-Karfe community is the Ohimegye of Igu, Abdulrazak Gambo Isa Koto, ruler of what is said to be one of the oldest kingdoms in North Central Nigeria and the cradle of Egbira civilisation.
His palace is fenced with tall, elaborately decorated walls and an iron gate. It is also protected by a number of palace guards wearing a traditional uniform of bright red and yellow colours. At the time of visit, a politically themed lecture, amplified with loud speakers, seemed to be ongoing.
After asking to see the Ohimegye and making it clear the visit is about the recent flooding, this reporter was asked to wait outside and was eventually told he could not.
“You didn’t inform us you were coming,” explains a middle-aged man dressed in an overflowing white kaftan.
“That is the way we do things here,” he continues. “You have to inform us formally. You would have written, then we would give you date. What if he is not prepared? Honestly, you have to inform us first. There has to be prior notice.
“You should have written us on your letter head so it will be on record. You understand; it is not a place that you can just walk in and say you want to see His Royal Highness. He will not allow that.”
“He will not welcome you,” he adds, repeating the statement twice for emphasis.
FEMA: We have not started distributing relief materials
A look through the website and social media accounts of the FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) appear to suggest that little or no action has been taken in reaction to incidents of flooding in the country’s capital territory.
The website has not been updated in 2018 except in September “as a result of earth shakings around some settlements in Abuja – FCT”. The only public statement released by FEMA and related to flooding is a tweet of September 11, acknowledging the death of one person and advising that people adhere to early warnings to avert loss of lives and property.
Some communities in the FCT were ravaged by flood disaster killing one person. We advised that people should strictly adhere to the early warning issued to avert loss of lives & Property. pic.twitter.com/kEUyoVvrwd
— FCT FEMA (@FctFema) September 12, 2018
FEMA Director-General, Abbas Idriss, declined comment on how the agency intends to rehabilitate flood victims in the FCT. Instead, he directed the reporter to meet with Rachael Alkali Y., the agency’s Director of Relief and Rehabilitation.
Alkali in turn asked that the reporter be taken to see another official of the agency, who said he does not know whether an assessment has been carried out in Abaji and called in yet another employee for possible answers.
“We are working on so many things now,” said the other employee, who declined to provide his name because he does not want to be quoted.
“I was there last Friday, in the area council. You know government thing is a process. There are so many things. So, we are on it. And you can see the proactiveness, I was there on Friday and that was where I did all my work,” he added with hesitancy.
He said though there are “so many interventions” that were supposed to take place, the communities have yet to receive any relief materials. He added that Kwali and Abaji are the two primarily affected area councils, with many smaller communities tucked under them.
He replied in the negative when our reporter asked if he knows how soon the distribution of materials will take place.
“When I’m not the government,” he said. “I work with them, that it is. I have a minister, a director-general, a director. It is their work I’m doing, and I have been proactive. There’s a push to get things done. When? I don’t know. How soon? I hope soonest because it is overdue.”
Meanwhile, a document sighted by The ICIR, signed by FEMA’s Social Welfare Officer, Shuaibu Usman, and written to the Director of Relief and Rehabilitation, provides what it calls a follow-up update assessment on flooding in the FCT.
The document, dated November 12 2018, confirms that IDPs in the capital territory need the distribution of relief materials and says most of them are unwilling to return to their home states because of safety concerns. It also states that there is a “visible presence of IDPs” at various settlements in Abaji, and recommends the provision of food and non-food relief materials to those affected.
Silence from VP, Kogi govt.
On November 6, The ICIR contacted Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Media and Publicity, to confirm how the federal government intends to keep the vice president’s promises made during his visit to Koton-Karfe.
He did not answer calls or reply to text message.
Likewise, Kingsley Fanwo, director-general on media and publicity to Yahaya Bello, governor of Kogi State, neither answered calls nor responded to texts sent to his phone on November 8.