Flood at Agwuagune in Cross River State
Sixteen coastal communities in Obubra Local Government Area of Cross River State submerged by flood are in pains, but succour is gradually coming their way, writes Jude Okwe
The rains are far from being over. When the raining season will cease finally this year is not certain. Not even the meteorologists can tell, given the unpredictable nature of the weather occasioned by the climate change. And even as the year is about to run its full course, heavy downpour continues, an indication that the attendant flood will continue too.
Coastal communities in the country are worse hit by this flood disaster. They are all in ruins with silt deposits all over. With houses submerged and destroyed, household items washed away, economic trees uprooted and means of livelihood gone, and life for those communities is no more lived on a roller coaster. It’s back to square one, a fresh start of adult life whose gestation period would take a longer time.
For Eja and 15 other communities located on the banks of the Cross River in Obubra Local Government Area of Cross River State, life no more holds any meaning to them. They barely exist, given that they lost everything to flood when the river overshot its banks. This is a typical agrarian and fishing settlement, but the recent flood has reduced the natives to refugees and beggars. What could be worse than seeing your life investment and achievements gone in one fell swoop?
The Cross River which takes its source from Mamfe in Cameroon Republic is fed by many other rivers and streams as it courses its way through Cross River Central and Cross River Southern Senatorial Districts down to the Atlantic Ocean. The name of the State is rightly derived from this river as many Local Government Areas are located on either side.
Obubra is a low land area. Unlike the Northern Senatorial District of the state that is surrounded by hills, Obubra is lying flat. This explains why the river easily overflows its banks as the edges are fringed by the same level of shoreline. Once it collects much water, it begins to flow everywhere causing panic among the residents.
Over the years this river has witnessed increased in volume of water occasionally overflowing its banks in some localities but have never recorded flood disaster of the current magnitude arising from persistent rainfall and the release of water from Cameroon dam. Biase and Boki Local Government Areas also suffered the rage of the floods.
For over a week, the 16 Mbembe speaking communities were sedated with water. The locals could no more tell which direction the water was flowing to. The overflow had stretched over two kilometers from the river banks. And the more the victims tried to salvage anything the more they were pursued. The flood went on rampage. The entire episode had put the swimming agility of the natives to the test. Canoes could not serve any useful purpose. Though the few canoes and speed boats rescued were available, they could not load all household items especially when the life of the paddler was at stake. Of course only the brave men ventured to swim within a limited distance in search of belongings.
The National Emergency Management Agency [NEMA] has said that 20 States in the federation have been affected by the disaster. The implication is that food crisis if not outright famine is imminent. States in the Middle Belt which is the bread basket of the country are adversely affected. Once those States sneeze in terms of food shortage, others catch cold. In Calabar, prices of yam, garri, beans, rice and other staples have hit the roof despite the harvest of new yam. Yet under the same period last year, prices of these food items were on the low side.
Obubra is known in Cross River for the production of yams, garri, cassava, potato, water yam, fruits and vegetables. Traders from Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Abia and other States go there to buy garri in sacks, and yams in trucks. Thus, every Saturday, all roads lead to Cross River Central for the purchase of fresh cheap food. Not even the deplorable condition of the Calabar-Ikom could deter them from traveling down to make purchase.
Though, the flood has receded, the 16 communities are yet to come to terms with its aftermath. This is because where they hitherto had as habitation had all gone with the flood, and even the houses that withstood the onslaught because of its concrete nature will need much renovation to make them habitable. Consequently, the natives are not different from Internally Displaced People. Like refugees, some of them are putting up with their kinsmen in other villages.
It was this plight of the communities that attracted the attention of a member of the House of Representatives for Obubra/Etung Federal Constituency, Hon. John Owan Enoh who also heard about the disaster. Accordingly, succour came the way of the 16 coastal communities when Enoh who is also the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Finance donated relief materials worth millions of naira to them.
Enoh whom on learning about the flood rushed down for an on the spot assessment and to sympathise with his constituents followed up by making available a trailer load of relief materials and N1million cash, which he explained were palliative measures meant to assuage their discomfort as the Federal Government was working on something big for all the victims of the recent flood nationwide. He sued for equitable distribution of the materials among the victims.
Items that were loaded inside the trailer at Ikom and donated include hundreds of blankets, cartons of sugar, cartons of bar soap, bags of salt, cartons of Maggi cube, fishing nets and hooks, bags of detergent [omo brand], bags of rice and beans, sacks of garri, insecticide treated mosquito nets, cash etc. These relief materials were emptied at a central point where some of the victims had gathered including government officials from Obubra Local Government Council. Rev. Chris Obase, the Local Government Council chairman led the team.
Moved by the plight of his constituents who appeared famished and haggard in their ancestral land, the lawmaker appealed to the victims not to worry themselves as plans were under way by both State and Federal Governments to donate more relief materials which would take care of their housing and farm needs. He said the Federal Government will set up a committee for the distribution of its relief materials including cash compensation to them as President Goodluck Jonathan was disturbed by the adverse effect of the flood on the social and economic life of those affected.
The lawmaker described the disaster as a national calamity noting that Eja Community and others have been battered by the flood which could be compared to an Armageddon of Noah’s days but advised that the people should not build houses or erect structures too close to the river as environmental experts have forecast that the nation would in the next two to five years experience more devastating disasters than the recent one. “A survey should be carried out before they could build so that the structure would not be affected by the vagaries of weather,”he added.
While consoling the people, the House of Representatives member urged them not to over bother themselves as all hands were on deck by the relevant agencies to ensure that they get rehabilitated and revealed that what he saw in States like Kogi and Benue was more devastating than that of Obubra. He urged them to be rather thankful to the Almighty God as lives were not lost unlike in the North Central geopolitical zone where the people are still counting their losses including death of their dear ones.
Chairman of Obubra Local Government council, Rev. Chris Obase who received the truck-load of items commended the lawmaker for coming to the aid of the displaced people noting that a sharing formula will be worked out for the distribution of the relief materials to the affected communities. He described Enoh as a true representative of the people as he quickly came to their aid on learning about the incident. He said Nigeria needs people like Enoh to be at the helm of affairs since they will always respond to their needs.
The council boss said even though the displaced people have received intervention from Senate Leader, Chief Victor Ndoma-Egba and Mr. Chris Agara, the people were still in need of assistance from well meaning Nigerians and public spirited individuals considering the number affected. The victims, he maintained, need zinc, wood for roofing, nails, cement, cloths, financial assistance to start business or farming again, food, school fees to be able to pay their children’s fees so that they don’t drop out of school.
Obase puts the cost of the destruction of houses and farms at over N100Million as thousands of yam farms, cassava, rice, water yam, melon yet to be harvested were washed away including houses built on the river banks. Some yam barns were not spared. The Clan Head for Osopong and village head of Ebiem, Chief Efon Irek lauded the law maker for his gesture and prompt response to their plight.
For the 16 communities of Obubra, the reality of the kind of life they never expected to live has dawned on them.
With no roof over their heads, food in short supply and source of income gone, they seem to be in a dream world. But democracy which is preferable to military rule is helping out. The relief materials so far donated by politicians to cushion the effect of the flood disaster add to the dividends of democracy now being enjoyed by the rural settlers.