Simon Kolawole Live!: Email: email@example.com
Let’s be honest: something is fundamentally wrong with us in this country. One month ago, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) issued a statement warning about imminent flooding. The agency said the dams in the North had recorded their highest water levels in decades and asked for the immediate evacuation of those living along the Niger River. I can’t say if the warning served any purpose, but what we have witnessed in the last two weeks is a complete devastation of several states in the country. Hundreds of lives have been lost, including those of a traditional ruler and a whole family. Tens of thousands have been displaced. Property worth hundreds of millions of naira, belonging mainly to poor people, was washed away or destroyed.
Permit me to reproduce the NEMA press statement, signed by the head of public relations, Mr. Yushau Shuaib, and dated September 10, 2012: “The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has ordered an immediate evacuation of citizens living along the River Niger plains. This alert comes because the dams have attained their highest water levels in 29 years which is unprecedented in the history of Jebba and Kainji hydroelectric power dams. The threat has created a high risk of imminent flooding in the downstream of the river. The residents of the communities are urged to move to higher grounds for safety. The states at risk of the flood are Niger, Kogi, Kwara, Kebbi, Anambra and Delta.
“Already the agency has notified the affected states to take the necessary precautionary measures by relocating people from the flood prone areas and activated the National Contingency Plan as well as alerted all stakeholders to take necessary actions in line with their various mandates. The states are to ensure compliance with the threat in order to avert imminent loss of lives and properties that would certainly arise in the event of flooding. Furthermore, information available indicates that the gauge for monitoring the flow of water in the river has already exceeded the maximum height by over one meter. A rapid assessment team comprising officers of NEMA and the stakeholders has left for Jebba and Kainji to inspect the situation.”
To be sure, the events of the last couple of weeks are not that fresh. Before the NEMA warning, 137 persons had been reported killed and 120,000 persons displaced in the flooding that occurred between July and September this year across the country. I am not aware that any steps were taken to prevent further loss of lives. It would appear it is not the duty of government to prevent the loss of lives and property. What we have always witnessed in Nigeria is that government acts best after a disaster. By that, I mean government quickly releases money for settlements to be built and “relief materials” to be distributed. It is usually done in the full glare of the press, with impressive photo opportunities of boot-wearing governors showing sympathy by walking inside the flood.
I don’t mean to be rude, but after NEMA released the flood warning in September, what steps did the Federal Government, state governments and councils take to save lives and property? I am not talking about the distribution of mosquito nets and blankets AFTER the flood, but public enlightenment, relocation of potential victims and emergency plans BEFORE the disaster? This is a country that distributes ecological funds like cornflakes every year, yet the environmental problems that these huge budgets are meant to address continue to hamper human and economic activities. One of the biggest scandals rocking Nigeria, aside fuel subsidy, is ecological funds. It would be interesting to know how many states can convincingly account for the billions of naira collected over the years in the name of “ecological funds”.
Overall, there are three issues I want to raise over the flooding. The first is that it has become all too glaring that nobody cares about us in this country. The politicians and those we call our leaders devote too much of their energies to politicking than governance. The meetings in Abuja are always geared towards distribution of excess crude revenue, 2015 presidential election, increased allowances for members of the National Assembly and all that crap. When the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Nigerians are at stake, the attitude is always nonchalant. All over the world, global warming and climate change are issues taken seriously by governments, not just in terms of holding conferences but in applying practical steps to protect the lives of the citizens. The flooding is inevitable but loss of lives and property can be minimised or prevented altogether.
Two, it is becoming clear day and night that we are not in any way ready to manage disasters in this country. We should just continue to thank God that the country is not prone to earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes. I wonder if anything would be left. In 2002, there were bomb explosions at Ikeja Cantonment, Lagos. It was so poorly managed that more than a thousand persons lost their lives trying to run away. They ended up in a canal. The real explosions did not kill up to 10 persons! Japan had a tsunami that affected its nuclear plants last year. Imagine if it was Nigeria – we would have been wiped out completely.
Three, for those who think the latest flooding affects only the poor people, they are probably wrong. There is serious implication for food security. Farmlands have been destroyed along the Niger River. Some Nigerians just go to the markets; they don’t even know where the food comes from (some may think food falls from the skies, and I won’t be surprised). Vehicular traffic is affected, and this means a lot for commerce and transport. When the Lokoja-Abuja road was shut in the wake of the flood disaster, some travellers actually spent days on the road. Do the math for tonnes of rotten tomatoes.
This disaster affects everyone one way or the other, but even if it doesn’t affect everyone, those affected are also Nigerians. Every life is important. We may not be able to prevent a natural disaster, but we can show that we care – not just AFTER the disaster, but BEFORE it happens. Of what use is distributing mattresses and paddling canoe in the full glare of cameras to show that you care?
And Four Other Things...
Have things gone so bad in Nigeria that gunmen would just invade a polytechnic campus in Mubi, Adamawa State, and kill dozens of persons without a trace? The police were initially quoted as saying suspects had been arrested, but a rebuttal quickly followed, further compounding the mystery. It would have been easier to explain if it was a Boko Haram attack; at least, that is their stock-in-trade. But talks about students’ union elections and victims being called by name before being killed actually sent chills down my system. Hopefully, there would be no copycat crime in other campuses. It’s very scary.
Talking about copycat crimes, I think some Nigerians have taken their love for globalisation to the extreme, with the drugging, rape and murder of Miss Cynthia Osokogu, who was buried yesterday. The 25-year-old post-graduate student at the Nasarawa State University was allegedly killed by her facebook friends in a hotel room. This is the stuff you read in foreign newspapers and snigger, telling yourself it cannot happen in Nigeria. Well, it is happening here now and the law enforcement agencies must develop speciality in tackling this kind of crime. And Nigerians must wake up to the new reality.
LAST FLIGHT TO LONDON
To Lohnan Joseph, a 26-year-old Christian from Plateau State, all flights lead to London. He was recently arrested at the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport, Sokoto, as he tried to board an aircraft scheduled to convey Zamfara State pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. Quizzed by the police, he reportedly said: “My mission is to go to London, like Herbert Macaulay did. We are Nigerians and we are the same by birth and citizenship.” In his travelling bag were the defunct French francs (since replaced by the euro) and his credentials. No passport, no visa. No problem, then.
After admitting mouthing “f****** black c***” to Anton Ferdinand but only as a question, John Terry was set free by a Westminster magistrates court on the ground that the prosecution did not prove it beyond reasonable doubt that Terry meant it as a racial insult. The cowardly Terry got away, OJ Simpson-style, with a good lawyer. But the English FA has fined Terry £220,000 and suspended him for four matches for the same offence because his defence was “improbable, implausible and contrived”. The logic is simple. If Terry actually said the words as a question, he would have said: “Did you think I called you FBC?” Did he even need to repeat those words? Lies, lies, lies.