For a number of weeks now, large swaths of Nigeria have been inundated by massive amounts of water, which has cost the lives of more than 600 people, and affected two million others, as the nation grapples with the worst flooding witnessed in a decade. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouq, who gave these chilling figures during the update on October 16, also said at least 110,000 hectares of farmland have been submerged in the flooding that has affected 33 out of the 36 states in the country, with at least 700,000 people being displaced in Bayelsa State alone.
Both the traditional and social media have been awash with different reports and video footage of houses and roads underwater, while people have been forced to turn to canoes as the only means of transportation, as roads have either been cut off or are under metres of water. It is heart wrenching watching videos of houses, some of them very imposing mansions, swamped by floodwaters, which stretch for as far as the eyes can see. A friend even sent a video of someone swimming in the living room of a clearly well-to-do person in Bayelsa State, which is one of the most affected states.
My friend, who knows the affected party, said the owner of the mansion is at a loss at what to do, fearful of what the state of the house will be when the water finally recedes. This will be the fate of millions of others also directly caught up in the catastrophic flooding. Aerial shots show kilometres upon kilometres of water-swamped areas covering what were once roads, footpaths, farms, businesses, electricity pylons and other signs of civilisation. Weeks after the inundation began; the Federal Government finally waded in when President Muhammadu Buhari asked all the federal agencies to ramp up their rescue and disaster management response.
The President also ordered 12,000 metric tonnes of food from the country’s strategic reserve to be released to help the affected communities. Sadly, in typical Nigerian fashion, the blame game also kicked off when the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs said at a press conference last Sunday: “We are calling on the respective state governments, local government councils and communities to prepare for more flooding by evacuating people living on flood plains to high grounds, provide tents and relief materials, fresh water as well as medical supplies for a possible outbreak of water- borne diseases.”
She added that despite efforts and early warnings many states “did not prepare” for the flooding. Unfortunately, the government of which she is a minister also has to carry a large share of the blame for also failing to act promptly to the latest disaster and previous governments for not initiating efforts, which would have mitigated the current situation. According to reports, the current largescale flooding in the country is caused by the twin effects of heavy precipitation (largely blamed by experts on climate change) and the release of water from the Lagdo Dam located in neighbouring Cameroon.
The Lagdo Dam, which was started in 1977 and completed in 1982, was built to supply electricity to the northern part of the country and allow the irrigation of 15,000 hectares of crops downstream. Records indicate that Cameroon and Nigeria were supposed to build two dams at inception, such that the Nigerian dam, known as Dasin Hausa dam which was to be in Adamawa State, would contain water released from the Lagdo Dam at any point in time. The Dasin Hausa dam was supposed to be two and a half the size of the Lagdo dam. But sadly, the absence of dams to control the excesses from Cameroon’s dam has continued to cause serious consequences on frontline states and communities along the courses of rivers Niger and Benue.
In 2012, water released from the dam flooded areas including Adamawa State in Nigeria, resulting in more than 10 deaths and loss of properties worth thousands of dollars. A bigger effect of the flooding was at the lower Benue River region where more than 10,000 homes were submerged for more than two weeks.
This left more than 10,000 hectares of farmland flooded and the streets of Makurdi occupied by crocodiles and other dangerous creeping creatures. According to checks, the 2012 incident was not the first time it had occurred, but the government of Nigeria has still not found a way to prevent it – as is clearly evident with the current sorrow, tears and blood being experienced across many parts of the country. At the time of the last flooding a decade ago, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was the administration in power and the government of President Goodluck Jon-athan failed to kick off any major works which would have mitigated the present crisis.
The government then cannot claim to have been ignorant of the original plan to build the Dasin Hausa dam, which would have gone a long way in reducing the effects of the latest release from the Lagdo dam. I only chuckle when I come across some reports blaming Cameroon for the woes their neighbour is experiencing now because the Francophone country cannot be blamed in any way.
It is a given that from time-to-time dams must release water, which if they do not can cause the structure to collapse which will be more catastrophic than the regulated release. Besides, Cameroon did notify their Nigerian counterparts as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) acknowledged in a terse press statement on September 19 which said: “The Lagdo dam operators in the Republic of Cameroon have commenced the release of excess water from the reservoir by September 13, 2022.
“We are aware that the released water cascades down to Nigeria through River Benue and its tributaries thereby inundating communities that have already been impacted by heavy precipitation.” But in keeping to the tradition here nothing concrete was done to ensure the effects would be mitigated which meant that in the absence of dams to control the excesses from Cameroon’s dam have continued to cause serious consequences on frontline states and communities along the courses of rivers Niger and Benue.
However, things might change with the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Farouq saying Nigeria will “initiate a bilateral discussion with authorities in Cameroon next month (November 2022) on the periodic opening of the Lagdo Dam”. Only time will tell if we will not be going through the same harrowing experience again, in 10 years time!