By Abdullah Abdulganiy
Sometime in July, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), a federal agency saddled with the responsibility of monitoring surface and ground waters in the country, warned of an imminent massive flooding. The massive flooding, it said, would occur between mid-August and September, and most parts of the country would be affected. Engr. Clement Nze, NIHSA Director-General notably said 102 local government areas across 28 states might be severely hit, with 275 others to also experience the disaster.
The agency further advised states to start making adequate preparations to mitigate and cushion the effects of the looming disaster. But it appears that advice fell on the deaf ears of many state governments as citizens have continued to count their losses across the country, courtesy of flooding and rainstorm. Pathetic! But that’s the typical Nigerian style. Always responsive than preparatory.
True to the words of the NIHSA, we have started witnessing the manifestations of its predictions across the country. It has been rain, rain. Downpours that come with torrent, fury and heavy storm. Lives have been lost. Property vanished. Families perished. Hopes dashed. And dreams killed. The list of the unspeakable consequences is long. And it seems to me that while Kebbi appears to be the epicenter of flooding, Kwara is taking the national medal for violent rainstorm and its accompanying destructions.
Meanwhile, efforts are being made to bring succor to the victims of rainstorm in Ilorin, the state capital; just as those affected by flooding up north of the state are being recompensed. I must, at this juncture, commend the strides of public-spirited individuals in this charitable sojourn. Laudable and timely! The government is not also left behind in the process. The Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq himself was in Abuja to, inter alia, relate the travails of the victims with the numero uno, President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking his quick support and intervention for what he called an “emergency situation”. Government delegations after delgations have also been to several locations for on-the-spot assessments, data collation and palliatives distribution. In fact, AbdulRazaq had, in person, visited some affected areas. These, for me, are great, gratifying responses to the disaster.
My misgiving, however, is that the Kwara State government demonstrated a very poor, shabby preparation move. I took a course in Criminology on ‘Disaster Management and Control’. One of the lessons was that there are different stages in disaster management. Preparation. Response. Recovery. Mitigation. Like that. According to the course facilitator, adequate preparation for disasters is, indeed, what demarcates the ‘West’ from the ‘rest’ (apologies to Niall Ferguson). In my assessment, the Kwara government performed below par in preparation which is the most important stage in disaster management.
The inkling had been out for so long that there would be massive flooding in the country, but the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) was nowhere to be found. In all of these, for instance, where is the Commissioner for Environment? Nowhere to be found! This is the result you get when you give portfolios to incapable hands who do not even know their roles in the first place. There are many commissioners and officials in this government, like I had at a time opined, who are not contributing any visible value to the administration. I expect the governor to show them the red card if the ‘Ise Ya’ mantra is no mere sloganeering. I pend the discussion for another day.
So, the preparation was not impressive at all. The publicity and actions prior to the tragedy were not enough from the end of the State Ministry of Environment. What they could have done better going forward is to step up public communication, enlightenment and education. For instance, the State Ministry of Environment and SEMA do not have active social media accounts. In this 21st century? I see this as too primitive. Both the traditional and new media should be deployed effectively for public communication by MDAs. On this aspect, I must give kudos to the Kwara State Fire Service. They never missed informing the public about their operations through the social media, and I am a witness. Enlightenment is very key in disaster management. The people were largely uninformed and unaware, and this reflected in how they got stuck in the middle of the tragedy.
Also, government officials in the State Ministry of Environment should have conducted a tour round the state to assess vulnerable buildings, and direct the occupants to leave temporarily after a short notice — most of the buildings affected are weak ones. Hence, loss of lives and valuables could have been avoided by taking such brilliant precaution. In doing this however, the SEMA would make provisions of public housing, where the vulnerable persons can migrate to along with their belongings for the meantime. Was this done? I don’t think so! Residents in flood-prone areas were left to themselves until the disaster came knocking.
I, however, must acknowledge the efforts of the government in dredging canals and drainages, especially in the state capital long before the unfortunate incident. Same should be replicated in other districts of the state, and construction of drainages should also be a priority. The long and short of it all is that while the response of the government to the disaster has been interesting, the preparation was not good enough.
More so, this is a period all hands must be on deck to find lasting solutions to the havoc wreaked by perennial flooding affecting the livelihood and businesses of our people. It interests me how some personalities rallied round the victims in this trying time. Everything should not be left to the government; private individuals and corporate bodies too should contribute to the process. This is why I find it perplexing that the Kwara State People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in her wisdom (or is it stupidity?), found no other day to play irresponsible politics than the moment of grief and sorrow.
In a press conference, Kola Shittu, State Chairman of the PDP, was at his very low with some of his reckless remarks. He was very boastful as if they did any better when in government. The fact that Kwara still battles flooding issues in this magnitude after 16 years under Saraki’s high-handed grip, both as Governor and later ‘Governor-General’ speaks volumes. It is a serious indictment on previous governments. I was even taken aback when one of the apologists of the Saraki camp pontifically said they were used to the flooding. This may mean that they did nothing to mitigate future recurrence but wait for another tragedy to happen to doll out palliatives and handouts. One then wonders that people who should bury their heads in shame if they have nothing tangible to offer are out trading blames.
The high-falutin Shittu was at the lowest when he called on President Buhari not to oblige the requests of Governor AbdulRazaq with respect to the recent disaster. His reason: The PDP doesn’t believe the government would utilise the support funds judiciously. But does this call for the illogical demand the PDP is making? The question is: If President Buhari fails to oblige the requests, will this affect the governor in any way? Verily not? It’s the masses who are the underdogs that would continue to wreath in pains. Is the PDP an enemy of the masses? A serious and people-loving party like its name suggests would have sought to partner the government to be part of the distribution process so as to enable efficiency. Not burning the whole house because of an imaginary lizard. Funny and irreverent opposition like this only portends danger to governance and development.
Going forward, the present government must chart ways to forestall future occurrences. Though flooding is a natural disaster, human actions and inactions could also aggravate it. Habits like dumping refuse in the drainages, building houses in the wrong places and with inferior materials. Like that. Checking these excesses is the duty of the Ministry of Environment. They should start working on assessing all the immediate and remote factors that can lead to or exaggerate flooding within the context of Kwara State. Thankfully, Governor AbdulRazaq has approved a new masterplan for Ilorin, the state capital, just as those of other areas are in the pipeline. I believe this will go a long way in mitigating the havoc wreaked by flooding and rainstorm. Many buildings are not well structured, planned and situated. We shouldn’t wait until catastrophes show up to do the needful. Prevention, they say, is better than cure.
Similarly, I want to urge the government to invest heavily in housing. Kwara is blessed with the land expanse to execute this project. Residents can always live in those houses at very cheap cost. And also in the face of predictions of terrible disasters like this, the vulnerable can always be camped in the public housing temporarily. It will go a long way in saving lives and property. So, instead of residents scouting for places to squat in these rare times, this public housing will provide an alternative.
It’s surely not the best of times for those struck by the disaster. The government should ensure an effective and efficient compensation process. This is not the time for some few individuals to benefit from the trials of the people. The palliatives should reach those who truly deserve them, and no opportunity should be given for diversion of these palliatives. Not so long ago, I read how public funded COVID-19 palliatives and relief materials meant for Benue State were being sold at a market in Kano State. This is an evidence that some nefarious individuals would stop at nothing to benefit from moments like this. And for Kwara, the resources are not even there in the first place, let alone, leaving a gap for misappropriation.
Essentially, the people should also take responsibility. The government will not do everything. If they can have their ways, some people will rather the government brushed their teeth for them. Waiting on the government for everything, especially in Nigeria, is outrageous. It may not come until the die is cast. So, the citizens should also do their bits in the prevention of disasters like this. Dump refuse in the proper place. Repair faulty rooftops, and replace them when needed. The battle is for all to prosecute without leaving anyone behind. Together, we shall rid Kwara of flooding and rainstorm havoc.