The rainy season this year in Bayelsa, a state which literally lies below the sea level, brings with it not so palatable stories for its residents, writes Emmanuel Addeh
Bayelsa State is peculiar in many respects, one of which is its topography. The state is located in the heart of the Niger Delta, South-south geographical zone of Nigeria and directly borders the Atlantic Ocean.
A lowland with just about 20 per cent land and 80 per cent water, the state experiences one of the heaviest rainfalls in the country, lasting between the months of March to the early part of November.
This year, the rains have started and the perennial problem of flooding in the city centre especially, has begun to take its toll on residents.
Like many urban areas in Nigeria, the initial Yenagoa Master plan which was drawn in 1984 by a team of town planners and reviewed in 2007 remains severely distorted.
Of course the situation has been made worse by rapid population growth which has culminated in indiscriminate construction in marshy terrain that is prone to flooding. Compliance and implementation of the original design remains a major challenge.
The result, compounded by poorly constructed and blocked drainages, worsened by residents’ habit of clogging the system have combined to aggravate the danger of flooding now manifest in Yenagoa.
Buildings have sprung up in designated green areas, floodplains as well as sewage points and when the rains do not find any space to empty their excess, they drain directly to residential areas.
And in very bad times, this could be worsened by the intermittent over-flowing of nearby rivers and its numerous tributaries.
So, though the rains are still in their early months, residents of Yenagoa may have started sleeping with one eye closed when the rains start in the night or become extremely anxious when it becomes cloudy in the day.
Several of such incidents have occurred this year alone, but by far the most impactful was last Tuesday’s downpour which disrupted life in Yenagoa for the entire period.
From Agudama-Epie to Tombia, from Yenegue to Opolo, from Okaka to Kpansia, from Ekeki to Amarata, the story of regret induced by the about nine-hour rain was the same.
Recall that earlier in the year, the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), led by Prof. Sani Mashi, had also predicted mass flooding in several states, including Bayelsa.
But residents have continued to count their losses after many homes were taken over while many of them worked round the clock to salvage what was left of their valuables after the last set of downpours.
Narrating his experience, Mr. Godbless Timi, a resident of Amarata told THISDAY that it was a terrible ordeal watching his belongings getting flooded and damaged.
“The whole house was filled up. The foams, the televisions were already soaked by the time I got inside while myself and some members of my family tried to ‘bail’ the water. But there was really nothing we could do.
“We moved the children to a neighbour’s apartment which was upstairs so we could salvage what was left of our property, but the rain came suddenly and after some hours of trying, we got tired and just allowed the water to take over,” he said.
He blamed the local governments for abandoning their primary duty of ensuring that gutters are not clogged, insisting that until the government wakes up from its slumber, such occurrences might even become deadlier.
On the other hand, Timi said the people who live in the city could not be exonerated from the repeated blocking of the drainages.
“The people who use the gutters as their refuse dumps should also take some of the blames. So also those who build on where they should not. The way forward is for the people to stop messing up the gutters and for government to stop shirking its responsibility,” he added.
Newspaper houses were not spared during the downpour as Punch Road and other adjoining streets which house some media houses were also affected. It took days before things began to return to normal.
A sales representative with one of the national newspapers on Imgbi Road, said the media house incurred some losses as a result of last week’s rains.
“I was sitting in the office here when it started raining around 12 in the afternoon. Then I noticed that it got heavier, but I still didn’t feel anything untoward was happening until I saw water near my feet.
“I wasn’t expecting it because even when our neighbours’ houses are soaked, ours is usually not affected because this office is a bit higher than theirs.
“When I noticed the rains coming in, I immediately locked the doors and the windows, alas, that was when the real thing started. After bailing water for more than three hours, I got tired and tried to save what I could. But most of the ‘unsold’ newspaper copies were already soaked and damaged,” he said.
Also affected by the torrential rains were Ekeki Housing Estate, along Azikoro Road in the heart of Yenagoa, either due to blocked or non-existent drainages.
Some residents of the area said they were already making efforts to relocate from their homes to avoid the kind of disaster that occurred in 2012 which led to the setting up of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps in some parts of the state.
But in a statement after the first major rain that also affected some schools, the Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, sympathised with victims of the flood that ravaged parts of the city, describing the incident as “sad and unfortunate.”
Dickson in a statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Iworiso-Markson, attributed the floods to the fact that the “entire state is resting below sea level and is surrounded by water.”
He advised Bayelsa people to observe environmental best practices by cleaning their surroundings always, particularly drainages so as to allow the free flow of water when it rains.
While calling on the people to also stop the indiscriminate dumping of refuse, the governor equally advised them to stop building on the right of ways.
The governor added that he had directed relevant agencies of government to clear the blocked areas arising from the flood and urged residents to bear with the government.
And a day after last Monday’s severe flooding, the state government said it had unfolded plans to checkmate incessant flooding in some parts of the state capital, Yenagoa and again warned residents against indiscriminate dumping of refuse, blockage of the drains and illegal structures.
The Chief of Staff, Government House, Mr. Talford Ongolo who led other government functionaries including the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Jonathan Obuebite, Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Mr. Lawrence Ehwrujakpor, Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Williams Alamini on an assessment to some areas ravaged by the floods said the administration was committed to putting an end to it.
The governor, according to him has set up an inter-ministerial committee to look into the issue and proffer a lasting solution, adding that relevant government agencies had commenced work on the clearing of drainages to ensure free flow of water.
He called for the collaborative efforts of the people of the state to ensure that the issue of flooding becomes a thing of the past.
Also, the state Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Ehwrujakpo said the government would adopt a short term measure of clearing the drainages and channeling them to a particular point.
However, he warned that any resident caught violating the state’s environmental law will be dealt with in accordance with the law.
According to him, some people build houses on canals, thereby impeding free flow of water in the natural channels and subsequently resulting into flooding in the affected areas.
“That the government will not hesitate to demolish houses that are blocking the canals,” he maintained.
But the fact is that it is still early days yet. The torrential rains are just starting. Flooding in the state capital is likely to get worse if agencies of government who have the responsibility to enforce the laws do not go beyond mere rhetorics.