In the past weeks, Lokoja, Kogi State capital which prides itself as the confluence state experienced flood disaster that has now caused untold hardship on residents and travelers. Shola Oyeyipo writes on the cause and effects of the flooding in the state
The flooding condition in Lokoja and several other parts of Kogi State and its consequential –untold hardship on the people of the state and passersby have been designated as a national disaster by the Federal Government (FG) and such evaluation is not by any means an under-estimation of the reality on the ground.
The Honourable Minister for Works, Architect Mike Onolemen who on Monday, September 24, 2012 led a fact finding committee of the government, which included the Minister for Environment, Hajia Hadiza Ibrahim Mailafia, Minister for Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochepe, the Executive National Secretary, Red Cross, Alhaji Bello Diram and chief executives of; Julius Berger, RCC, Dantata and Sagoye, categorically named the flooding in Kogi State a tragedy after assessing the devastating havoc it has wrecked across nine Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state.
The committee made no pretense about what the flood presented them with in Lokoja. They concluded that out of about 20 States that have been affected by flooding in Nigeria in recent time, Kogi is worst hit; being a recipient of the two major rivers in the nation.
“The level of water currently devastating the state has not been witnessed in the last 100 years. We have additional two metres rise in water level”, Onolemen said.
He expresses sympathy for the victims of the flood and the government of Kogi State, assuring the people that the Federal Government (FG) will provide support and immediate relief materials to urgently cushion the effect of the flood.
The flooding condition which started building up gradually about two weeks ago – suddenly turned destructive when the water level surged, over-flowed and submerged several thousands of houses, swept away farmlands and overtake the roads.
As a result of the excess water on the roads, several thousands of vehicles, especially long vehicles and travelers have been stranded in over 40 kilometre long queue in Lokoja. The hectic traffic situation has totally stopped vehicular movement from the north to either south or west and from the west or south to the north as the situation is also the same on the Abuja axis of the river, which overflows its banks with several hundreds of meters.
Men of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) who were on hand to minimize the effects of the unprecedented traffic gridlock around the state capital have advised motorists to use the Ajaokuta-Ankpa-Makurdi road as alternative road to access the north. Those that are not prepared to take the triply longer journey are compelled to use flying boats and canoes to cross to the other side of the river to proceed on their journey. Some bigger boats also ferry vehicles to a safe side where they can continue with their journey.
A Kano bound traveler, Mr. Femi Steven who left Lagos at the weekend and had to ferry his Toyota Siena across the river Tuesday morning after being stranded for four days told THISDAY that he begged profusely before the boat owners would agree for him to pay N23, 000 whereas each of the boats conveys three cars on a trip.
“I’m compelled to pay that much because I have no choice. I am travelling to Kano and Katsina states and it is obvious that the flooding is not going to abate soon. So my best bet is to pay and have the vehicle crossed over to the other side of the river so that I can have the advantage of using my car on the journey. It is only that one would have to opt for an alternative route when returning.
The Coordinator, North Central, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Ishaya Isah put the figure of persons already displaced by the flood at two million. He said this at St. Luke Primary school, Adankolo, Lokoja relief camp when Senator Smart Adeyemi representing Kogi West Senatorial District visited one of the three relief camps set up by the state government at the weekend.
While the flood has taken over several houses and roads in Lokoja, the state capital, Isah hinted that, “in all the nine local government areas affected about 350 communities have been affected by the flood”.
Traveling around the state, it is easy to identify the worst hit local government areas. They include; Lokoja, Kogi, Ibaji, Igalamela, Ajaokuta, Ofu, Omala, Olamaboro and Idah. Out of all the LGs, Ibaji could be said to be the most destroyed. All houses, schools, hospitals and other infrastructure have been overtaken by the raging water. The buildings – mud houses were pulled down. As a result of these, practically all the residents have been moved to neighbouring Idah LGA.
According to the NEMA Coordinator, the relief camps accommodating the victims of the flood have received over 350 bags of rice and other materials since it was opened. And as such, there are calls to corporate bodies and philanthropist to come to the assistance of the victims.
Earlier, a 21-member presidential committee on flooding comprising of United Nation, National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Red Cross and other foreign agencies had visited the state to also look at the quantum of damage caused by the flood.
The Director of Planning, Research and Forecasting, NEMA, Dr. Charles Agbo who lead the team to Lokoja, the state capital last week, on his own part, described the flooding situation in the state as “the worst in the last 29 years”.
He attributed the situation to heavy rainfall in Niger and Cameroon, which resulted to the release of 30% of water from the Kainji and Shiroro dams.
When the Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology led by its Chairman, Senator Bukola Saraki visited some of the flood ravaged parts of the state, it was noted that the effect of the flood is not a small one.
“The devastating effect of the flood in Kogi is more than what I could have imagined. Some of those whose houses have been affected would have lost everything. What would they be eating and how would they survive? It is true that we need immediate action to cushion the effects of the disaster”, Saraki said.
He also vowed to work with the executive arm of government to ensure that official bottlenecks are removed to facilitate the quick release of funds to the state and victims of the flood, stressing that the Ecological Funds is meant to address issues such as it is in Kogi State.
The Minister for Environment and Chairman, Presidential Committee on Flood Assessment, Hajia Mailafia however attributed the enormity of the destruction caused by the flood to the refusal of the people to always obey simple environmental laws, as a way to reducing environmental disasters.
“The reality is that it is an international phenomenon that is seen on international mass media. Our situation is worsened because we do not obey rules as it regards the use of the environment”, she indicated.
While noting that the flood disaster is of great magnitude, she said, “What we have seen is traumatizing. It is an enormous destruction of properties. It has been scary; farmland washed away and one part of the country is being dis-membered”.
Mailafia who said government intervention is urgent added that states and local government authority must ensure that they do not give out land in flood prone areas for residential buildings.
The state governor, Captain Idris Wada who described the disaster as: “A major human calamity and tragic experience for the people of Kogi State in the past days”, expressed gratitude to President Jonathan for the timely intervention: “The FG has shown that it is willing to share in the pains of the people”.
The Deputy Governor, Architect. Yomi Awoniyi, who received the Presidential team on behalf of the governor, said the state is happy because the FG is attaching seriousness to helping the people living in the state who are affected by the flooding of rivers Niger and Benue.
He noted that Kogi State is worst hit by the flooding. He said the development is worrisome and that it has negative impact on the socio - economic lives of the people. According to him, the state looks forward to the FG for special intervention.
Such intervention according to some of the victims who spoke with THISDAY should include provision of alternative resident and immediate feeding and health needs of the people.
One of the victims, Mr. Benjamin Agbo has been in the camp at Lokoja since September 16, 2012 said: “My family and I lived here at Adankolo but as I talk to you my house is now in the middle of water – you cannot even see the roof. I need government to help my family; my wife and my five children, so that we can get a more comfortable place to live. If government wants us to relocate, we would gladly comply. But we will hope that alternative housing will be provided for us”.
Likewise, Umar Zakari who was also formerly resident in Adankolo told THISDAY that the biggest plight of his family of nine – which includes his two wives and children, is accommodation.
While concern are being shown from every quarters over the damages already inflicted by the flood, fear is still high that the worst may not be over yet as the water level is seen to be constantly rising.