New Telegraph

Twists and turns of Bayelsa flooding

…the untold stories of victims from the eye of a journalist

Bayelsa State is no stranger to flooding, having been situated many feet below sea level and being surrounded by water. But, the 2022 flooding that hit many states of the country and all but one of the eight local governments of the state, left many devastated and disorganised. PAULINE ONYIBE, also a victim of the flooding, gives a firsthand account of what the people faced and what the state government and others did to ameliorate their sufferings

Ordinarily, perennial flooding on a yearly basis affects the people of Bayelsa State. Despite all the warnings by National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Bayelsans felt that nothing extra-ordinary would happen and it could not be more than that of 2012, but they were wrong as the 2022 flooding is even worse. It is believed that the flooding this year is the highest in the history of the state. During other flooding, especially that of 2012, the flood level was not as much as what happened in this 2022 as almost all parts of the metropolis was submerged, lives lost, properties destroyed and people displaced. And it came gradually, starting from the communities of Sagbama, Kolokuma Opokuma and entered Yenagoa Local Government, making its first sound hit at the Igbogene area of the state capital where this reporter witnessed a high current that killed a 16-year-old boy. Story had it that the boy was not experienced in swimming, yet he followed his friends that knows how to swim to jump into a high current flood and in the process he got drowned. His corpse was found two days later, along with another dead body.

The huge effect

Every local government of the state was flooded, except Brass Local Government and parts of Nembe. That was why the state governor, Douye Diri adduced that 95% of Bayelsans were displaced. Speaking when the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi visited the state to empathise with the government and other flood victims, he had asked the Federal Government and the international bodies to come to the aid of Bayelsa State. Diri noted that the monster flood has rendered Bayelsa residents homeless. The governor however called on the Federal Government to come to the rescue of the state, maintaining that the state produces the oil and gas which is used to feed the remaining states in the country. Diri said; “The last time I checked, Bayelsa State is still one of the federating units in Nigeria. “While Mr President has given us hope, I want to Thank you for still joining me to call on the Federal Government to show more empathy and love to the people of Bayelsa State from where oil and gas flow in this country, from where several others feed fat in the Federal Republic of Nigeria, from where our resources are taken to Abuja to be allocated to the 36 states of Nigeria. “And these people are undergoing this natural disaster. It is not caused by the Federal Government. We agree, neither by the state government, but because of the contribution of Bayelsa State to the Federal Government of Nigeria, we expect something better than what we are seeing. “This is the third week that Bayelsans have been displaced and that speaks volume. In other climes, not even up to one week, you are going to see an immediate response. We still believe in one Nigeria. Please don’t let us change our mind. This is beyond the capacity of Bayelsa government.

Personal experience

Then this reporter was reporting all the activities of the flood without knowing that the stronger landlord that drove the house landlords away will also come visiting her. That very day in the month of October, about the first week, this reporter had gone out that day and retired home from the day’s activity when boom, a heavy rain started. It fell for about four hours nonstop and in the morning, the whole area was like a big river without any difference between the land and the water again and my son had been urging me to take him to the place that was flooded and see the wicked visitor right inside the compound, along the street, in fact everywhere. The young man distempered into the street cum water to cruise the flood. He was catching fun, but little did we know that it was going to sack us from our home. The next morning instead of the water to go down, it was just increasing steadily. We will sleep and wake up to see the level gradually increasing. Meanwhile, two women that ran away from their homes to take refuge in my abode one with a four- month-old baby and another heavily pregnant were in the house and they were like running away from frying pan to fire. By the second day of that heavy rainfall, the whole area including churches, homes, schools, in fact everywhere was already submerged in water and it entered people’s houses including yours truly and the pains and sorrow began.

Double jeopardy

The heavily pregnant young woman (Blessing Philip), a lady of about 24 years with her two children, had taken refuge in my house when the water started increasing steadily and no doubt that may have triggered her labour pains, because I had asked of her expected date of delivery and she said first week of November, 2022, but all of a sudden as the water volume was increasing the baby was seriously looking for a way to also come into the flood water and on October 18, labour started and the brain of yours truly was like a tabular raser, because I couldn’t remember anything including where to take her to by 3am amidst the heavy water now both in and out of the house. I was just moving from one part of the flooded house to another, before an idea came into me that I should move out of the house and just enter the street. I did and went straight to neighbor whose husband drives a tricycle, the man was not around, but it was like an arranged action and she suggested we take her to a massaging woman whom she said helps her to deliver her babies. Please don’t blame me for taking her to a traditional birth attendant as I do not have any option again at the time than to accept with the intense prayers that nothing happens to the mother and child. Yes, just as the lady got to the place, the baby came and it was a sigh of relief for me, because there was just no way to take her to any hospital at that time of the morning, hence no vehicle around to do that, especially in the midst of the flood. And just when we thought that at least we are good to go with the birth of the baby girl, the remaining parts of the house; the kitchen, the parlour,the dinning including where my visitors put up submerged also. And we were left with no other option than to carry the new baby standing, because nowhere to sit or keep the baby anymore, with the whole place under water both in and out.

Search for dry land

With the whole place flooded, this reporter stepped out for a safe place for at least the new born baby and the four months old baby. Without remembering that I had not taken my bath, I moved into the street searching for a place, information had filtered in that one foundation, Gold Coast in partnership with Bayelsa State government had prepared for nursing mothers. I moved to Oxbow Lake where those that have left their homes were already camped, but it was a wrong direction, because they were camped along Bayelsa Palm Road and not at Ox Bow Lake. I moved and started the search for the particular place. After a search of about one hour or more with series of phone calls, I located the place, while at home they were just perching up and down with the baby inside the flooded house.

Evacuation of refugees

Having secured two chances for the two nursing mothers, I came back and moved them and their young children to the nursing mother’s home. I had to share my cooking utensils into two, cutleries, bathing buckets, food stuffs among other things for them to move with. Ironically, this young lady never knew she was going to give birth at Yenagoa, so she didn’t even prepare and most of the expenses was on us. Now for my immediate family of five, this reporter moved straight to a higher ground and moved into a private school with my kids, while their father stayed back because of those good boys that do breaking and entry.

Flood-related trauma

Moving out of my home was not a palatable experience as the impromptu movement attracted a lot of financial implications, both on the part of the nursing mothers and on my immediate family. We had to move the remaining cooking things, the food items and other small items having suspended our households on top of the dinning and having lifted our beddings with blocks so they don’t get soaked. Also, the situation disorganised me mentally, because I couldn’t concentrate to do anything, just anything. Of course, the whole situation was already draining me mentally and intellectually and I was almost going into depression, but I held on, because I knew that this too will pass. At the private school where I took refuge with my family however, the situation was not too sweet, because the number of mosquitos there were legion coupled with the water which has also eaten deep into the school compound, so the difference between my home and the school was just that the flood didn’t get into the rooms, but it also submerged the compound. Since no other option than to face the challenge at that time, I had to make do with what was available which was living inside the water like that until God knows when.

Government’s N450m donation

To give more succor to the flood victims, the Bayelsa State government approved additional N450m to the state flood mitigation and management taskforce. This is part of efforts to provide more relief materials such as food items and medical supplies to the increasing number of flood victims across the state. Making the disclosure, state Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Duba Ayibaina said that the additional amount of N450m would go a long way in procuring food items and medicals for distribution to citizens in the eight local government areas of the state who were running short of initial basic provisions and food supplied by state government. He assured that government will also sustain the effective management of the IDP camps with about 20,000 inmates. Already, more food items through the flood management and mitigation task force were brought in on Monday through the water ways conveyed with a wooden boat. Recall that since the coming of the monstrous flood, Bayelsa State was cut off from the rest of the country, both from Delta State and Rivers States axis. Taking delivery of the items which comprised 600 bags of garri, 600 bags of beans, 500 bags of rice and 677 twenty-five-litre cans of palm oil, the chairman of the flood management and mitigation task force, Iselema Gbarambiri said the relief materials were conveyed to the state through the waterways because of the inaccessibility of the state by land. The Commissioner said the state government was providing two square meals per day to displaced persons in various IDP camps in the state apart from providing medical services, water and other emergency aids. Gbaranbiri said; “So far, no relief materials have been received by the state government from the Federal Government to alleviate the plight of impacted local governments and communities in the state, pleading with the Federal Government to come to the aid of the flood victims. Earlier in the day, members of the task force had taken delivery of food items at the Bayelsa International Airport donated by the United Nigeria Airlines to host communities of the airport. The team was also at the Igbogene helipad where government in partnership with the Nigerian Airforce was airlifting food items into the state from Port Harcourt.

Disorganised state

Since the flood seriously hit the state, prices of things including food items, petrol, even water that was everywhere became very expensive. The reason being that the East West road leading to Delta and Port Harcourt from the state was cut into two and things were not being brought into the state anymore. This practice is not strange in Bayelsa, they are always fond of that as they increase the prices of everything in the midst paucity of funds. The power situation in the state also became bad, because the people in charge had to put off electricity, especially in the most affected areas for fear of electrocution. So for fuel, Bayelsans bought as high as N800 per liter while a kilogram of gas was sold for as high as N1700. A custard rubber of rice was sold at N6,500 to N7000, while a rubber of beans was sold at N3000, garri that was being produced everywhere because farmers harvested their crops at the time sold for as high as N3000 per rubber and everywhere was in total chaos.

Donations pour in

As more people kept trooping into the Oxbow Lake and Igbogene camps, the state government approved another N450,000,000 to the state flood mitigation and management taskforce as part of efforts to provide more relief materials such as food items and medical supplies. This brought the total amount approved and released to the committee so far to nine hundred million naira. The Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Duba said that the additional amount of N450m would go a long way in procuring food and medicine for distribution to many citizens in the eight local government areas of the state who are running short of the initial basic provisions and food supplied by state government. Some other donations also came from good spirited individuals and governments like Emmanuel Udom of Cross River State that donated N100,000,000; Atiku Abubakar donated N50,000,000. Lagos State governor Babajide Sanwo Olu donated N50,000,000 among others, including those that donated food items and medical items.

The role of flood mitigation committee

As the flood continued to chase people out of their homes, the Bayelsa State taskforce on flood, mitigation and management headed by Iselema Gbaranbiri ensured that more relief materials purchased from Port-Harcourt, Rivers State, arrived to alleviate the suffering of the people. The committee made sure that items like garri, rice, beans and palm oil among others were received, Gbaranbiri who is also the Commissioner for Environment said the food items have to be transported through the sea due to the effect of the flood on the East/West road axis. According to him, aside the food items and two meals provided for those at the IDPs, camps, water, treated mosquito nets and medical services are also available to handle health challenges. Gbaranbiri informed that while Yenagoa, Kolokuma/ Opokuma, Ekeremor, Sagbama and Ogbia local government areas have received their portions of the items, presently, relief materials are sent to Southern Ijaw Local Government Area while Nembe and Brass will be the next to receive. Gbaranbiri reassured that the distribution of relief materials to impacted communities in the state is in continuity until Bayelsans are satisfied. The Commissioner said the state government is providing two meals per day to displaced persons in various IDP camps in the state apart from providing medical services, water and other emergency aids. The task force urged Bayelsans to trust the prosperity government of Douye Diri to bring succour to the people in this period of trial.

8,000 persons at Oxbow Lake Camp

At the Oxbow Lake Camp, the state government made sure that she fed the victims with good food. The Jolof rice was garnished with big lumps of chicken each time they were being served and they were fed two times daily. Those at the different internally displaced camps, the people living with disabilities were one of such groups visited at the weekend with lots of food items to relieve their pains. Presenting the items at the Women Affairs Premises, Ovom where about 1500 of them were camped, the state chairman of Flood Mitigation and Management Task Force, Iselemah Gbarambiri, assured them that the governor was aware of what they were passing through, the reason for bringing the relief materials. Gbarambiri continued, “The governor said that we should come to tell you that you are not left alone. He said for your sake, he will not even travel out until the battle of flood is won by all of us.

“It is on that note that the governor has graciously released these materials to the task force to hand over to you. “What the governor wants is more of this your comportment for more of what he has for you. If you can be more orderly than this, he will bring more things to you,” he assured them. Receiving the relief materials on behalf of others, Eric Ikilowei who is the chairman of Persons Living With Disabilities in the state, thanked the governor for his magnanimity. He said, “As the flood happened, the governor felt that we should be one of those persons to be helped. We thank him for coming to help us. This food items will go a very long way in helping us. “We have been here for close to a week and we have been encountering so many dangerous things, so we need medical facilities. We need even clothes, we need matrasses and foams, mosquito nets.

“I also call on the international donors, nongovernmental organisations and spirited individuals to come to our aid,” he begged. The items delivered to them were 10 bags of 100kg garri, 10 bags of beans and 10 bags of 50kg rice, including five 25 liters of palm oil, two 100 kg bags of onions among other items. The committee also visited other IDP camps to deliver food items. As at the time of filing this report, the flood had started receding slowly and the victims were still at different camps including non-government approved ones, although the flood committee made sure that almost all the IDPs were captured in relief material sharing. The government also assured the victims, especially those at Oxbow Lake and Igbogene camps that she will continue to take care of them until the flood recedes.

Read Previous

Reps query NPC over N1.9bn expenditure on presidential summit

Read Next

Abia, UN-Habitat begin Aba City structural redevelopment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular