Months after flood ransacked villages and towns in Rivers state, the residents of affected areas are still struggling to recover. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) has predicted a more lethal flood crisis that would sting harder should the state authority fail to implement a prevention plan.
In this report, Beloved John examines the state’s government preparedness level.
DORNEM Blessing, 45, snorts at the vague remark of imminent flooding in her community from a woman waiting in line to buy smoked fish in Mbiama, a small town in Ahoada West LGA, Rivers state. Her arms jiggle as she twists each fish into a circle, stitching the tail to the head with a toothpick before dropping them in a black bowl.
There’s a mud-stained purple umbrella above her head, a broker between the shimmering sun and her brown-toned skin. On the left, fresh fish lined on a metal grid above burning woods roast to black. Smoke twirls towards the sky, leaving the air with a charred taste and in Dornem’s eyes, a burning sensation.
She repeatedly rubs the back of her palm across her face as she attends to her customers.
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“The one we had last year, are we done suffering for it?” she blurts, speaking directly to no one. She pauses, wipes her eyes with the edge of her blouse. “I haven’t even gotten enough money to buy the things I lost. And I work all day. Please, I don’t want this talk in my shop.”
Dornem’s face tightens as she speaks. Since the last flood crisis, her days have been consumed by hardship and she is hardly alone in this.
Residents of Mbiama who spoke to The ICIR say they are rebuilding with the scattered pieces of their lives, and a recurrence of the crisis might destroy them.
“Why, is there another flood? Who said it? How?” Dornem asks with a blend of curiosity and confusion. There is an eerie silence. The four women waiting in line exchange glances. Each understands that neither of them has the answer to her questions or enough information to provide the clarity the others desire.
These could only signal low awareness of the imminent flooding predicted by NIMET and other relevant government authorities.
Flooding in Nigeria
Climate change is increasingly driving extreme weather in Nigeria, causing intense rainfall that makes rivers overflow their boundaries and submerge communities, destroying hundreds of homes and lives.
Reports say the 2022 flood crisis was worsened by the government’s failure to build the Dasin Hausa dam. This dam accommodates the water from Lagdo, a Cameroonian dam.
Over 600 people died in the flood, and 2.5 million others were adversely affected. The United Nations described it as Nigeria’s worst flooding. According to the Rivers state government, the incident affected about 200 communities in four LGA.
This tragedy will likely reoccur as the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMET) has predicted a high possibility of flooding in 2023. A report published in January predicted an early onset of rainfall, followed by heavy flooding beyond the 2022 experience.
NiMET projected that the flood would affect 35 states and 314 local government areas. Rivers State, a place made up of several coastal lowlands, is one state at the top of the list.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) confirmed, months later, that the flooding was highly probable as the country had begun to witness other weather predictions like early rainfall across the states.
To mitigate the impact, the Agency released a flood prevention plan, advising state governments to be sensitive and relocate people in flood-prone areas, open refugee camps, clear drainages and speed up the provision of mitigating factors.
Absence of temporary accommodation
Agnes Thankgod, 47, is sitting on a log of wood outside her home, in Ikata, a tight-knit community of farmers nestled in a corner of the state, under Ahoada East local government area.
Her home, a mud brick house has fallen into disrepair, with broken walls and a zinc roof full of holes. Sadness is etched on her face as she stares, reminiscing on the nights her family ate and played together. What is left of this is a damaged mud house and a deafening silence.
Her husband drowned in the flood, while her sons are under the care of different relatives.
The absence of an IDP camp in the state worsens her condition. She says she has to live amidst the pile of debris while she works hard to rebuild. Relocation comes at a cost she cannot afford.
“I just have to manage this small corner,” she says.” Even though I wish to move from here, I don’t have the money.”
During the flood, most locals lived in uncompleted buildings and schools until the water receded. And some became stranded afterwards. They now squat with distant relatives or live in makeshift shelters beside their crumbled buildings due to the absence of an IDP camp.
“None of us here know of any camp that can acomodate us. I haven’t heard of anything like that anywhere either. I still live in my hut, although it is mostly broken,” Esan Alan, another resdient in Ikata, tells The ICIR, each sentence followed by a pause and deep sigh.
“Yes, I think the flood can come here again. I don’t know when but I worry. Where will I go? What will I do? I can’t even afford a good meal as it is. Relocating is bigger than my pocket.”
He says, “If there is another flood this year, we will go to the roadside or find uncompleted story buildings like we did last year. Those that will survive, will survive.”
Misinformation in flood-prone communities
The ICIR also observed that residents’ awareness of the predicted flooding in Rivers is low as residents are yet to be sensitised about NiMET’s prediction and the importance of controlling the impact.
Faith Precious, a 45-year-old widow, who was forced to retreat to the safety of her parent’s house in Edeoha, a village in Ahoada East LGA, after the floodwaters crushed down her home, believes the next flood would mostly occur after ten years.
She says, “another flood cannot come now, maybe until 2032. That’s what I heard. you know that the last was in 2012. We will be ready for it by then.”
Another resident, Ogbo Ike, is certain that the village would not have such experience within the next ten years.
“That’s what everyone is saying. I am already counting it. By 2032, we will be ready. I don’t know what to do yet but we will figure it out,” he tells The ICIR
This assumption is based on a misinformed speculation that if the last two heavy floods occurred 10 years apart, in 2012 and 2022, the next incident must be in 2032.
When The ICIR inquired from residents of flood-prone communities if there had been sensitisation programmes by the state government, they all replied to the contrary.
This is despite multiple calls for the increased sensitisation of residents in flood-prone areas.
Orashi River remains shallow
The government’s failure to dredge Orashi Rivers, an ancient water source that runs through several hamlets and waterways in the state, is exposing residents to more danger.
The river is a part of the lower Niger River Basin and a tributary of the Oguta Lake in Rivers. Last year, the water overflowed its banks, pummelling many nearby homes.
A few residents who spoke to The ICIR say the overflow of Orashi also caused the flooding in distant communities.
The water flowed out of Orashi because it is no longer deep and does not have enough space to accommodate much water, according to Aintini Opkuru, a resident at Mbiama community.
An environmental activist in Rivers state, Ebiaridor Kentebe, said the failure of the state authority to dredge the Orashi River puts residents at prone areas at a high risk of a devastating flooding crisis.
Kentebe, programme manager of the Environmental Rights Action friends of the Earth Nigeria, said, “the Orashi River has not been dredged and this has made flood-prone susceptible to another disaster.
He called for dredging and the clearing of waterways as measures to reduce flood impact.
There have been several calls for river dredging as a way to reduce flood impacts. Experts say river dredging could reduce river floods by removing these sediments and debris from river beds to improve the capacity of the rivers to hold and absorb more water.
However, Ebiaridor said “one has to be conscious on the impact of river dredging on the environment when doing this.”
Some of the drainages and waterways in Rivers communities are also in a similar situation. They are clogged by debris which restricts water flow.
In the 2023 approved budget, the Rivers state government budgeted N25 million for clearing drainages and another N20 million for flood and erosion control.
However, The ICIR visited communities in Ahoada East, Ahoada West and Onelga LGA that was severely affected by the previous flood but did not see any sign of drainage cleaning or repair.
According to the chairman of the Nigerian Institute of Environmental Engineers, Sesan Odukoya, shorelines can be protected by dredging rivers and clearing waterways. He said this will prevent a repeat of the flood disaster that ravaged many parts of the country in 2022.
The United Nations Children’s Funds (UNICEF) reports that river dredging and cleaning of community drainages and waterways in flood-prone communities are significant ways to minimise the impact of flooding.
Damaged road in Omoku
Omoku, a small town in Onelga LGA, was severely affected by the recent flood. It submerged houses, properties and made an already bad road even worse.
The ICIR observed that Omoku road is broken and eroded in different places, creating deep gullies that make navigation difficult.
Months have passed since the incident and the road is still largely unrepaired. Findings show that the Rivers Ministry of Work, in the 2023 budget, allocated N33 million to repair Omoku Internal Roads.
Also, information from Gov.Spend.ng shows that between 2021 and 2022, payment for the repair of Omoku Road was made to Adakhat Nigeria Limited multiple times.
The Federal Ministry of Works paid Adakhat Nigeria Limited N31 million in February and N34 million in October 2021. In July 2022, the Ministry paid Adakhat N12 million for the same road project.
Despite the state’s budget allocation and the repeated payment to Adakhat Nigeria, LTD, Omoku Road is still in terrible condition.
Public record search into the company’s profile on the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, verification page shows the company was registered in 2008. It is owned by Akkwaji Victor, Akkwaji Ungwueni, Akkwaji Iwali, and Akkwaji Toni — all directors of the company.
The ICIR attempted to visit Plot 551, Utako District, Abuja, listed by the CAC as the company’s address but could not locate the address. The location does not have a specific street address within the claimed Utako district.
“This address is a scam address. It is incomplete. You can’t find this place unless you are able to get the name of the street or additional information,” Deji Yusuf, a resident of Utako district, told The ICIR.
The firm also lacks an online presence, such as a functional website documenting its activities over the years.
Government officials decline to speak
A visit was paid to the Ministry of Works for clarification on the project and other issues on Friday, June 2, the permanent secretary, Ebere Dennis Emenike, declined to speak.
She directed a media official to inform The ICIR that the office of the commissioner of works is currently vacant due to a change in government administration. And as such, there was no one authorised to address the press.
The response was the same when The ICIR tried to speak with officials of the state Ministry of Information. The reporter was directed to the director of publication, Val Ugboma, from the office of the permanent secretary, Ibiwari Clapton Ogolo.
However, Ugboma refused to speak, saying he is unauthorised to speak in the commissioner’s absence.
Instead, he directed the reporter to the 2022 flood committee Chairman, who is now the Rivers head of Service, George Nweke.
The ICIR met Nweke outside his office at the Rivers state federal secretariat on Friday, June 2, but he asked to be contacted over the phone but did not respond to any of the phone calls and texts sent to him.
While the government ignores strategies for mitigation and its officials evade accountability, inhabitants of Rivers State remain at high risk of losing lives and property to the predicted flood.