Virtually all parts of Niger State have witnessed one disaster or the other as a result of floods this year, writes Laleye Dipo
Forty-three year-old Abubakar Saadu has been in the news in recent times albeit negatively because he was the man that lost six children and two wives to the flood that ravaged Suleja town in Niger State recently.
Saadu was able to escape with his life intact but his children who clung to him as he spirited himself to safety didn’t because the father preferred to implement the Yoruba proverb that if inferno engulfs one and the child, the first thing to do was to battle to save one’s life first.
Saadu, a tea seller had retired home from his shop to the warm embrace of his family members but a few hours after everyone went to sleep tragedy struck.
Heavy rains which started at about 10p.m. and lasted over five hours accompanied by floods had first brought down one of the rooms behind thereby allowing water to rush into other parts of the building.
By the time Saadu realised what was happening the whole house had been overtaken by water leaving him with the option of struggling to save his life.
Saadu who said he built the house from the income he made from his tea selling business and moved into its completed part last January after working on the project for three years, said he could not know that his wives and children had died until the floodwater had receded and could not trace any member of the family.
His motorcycle was also washed off by the floodwater.
Saadu now in a state of total dejection as a result of the incident to the extent that Islamic scholars had to be engaged to assist him with prayers for him to come back to normal life added “I don’t know what to do next, how will I live without other members of my family.”
One of his two wives that died Suebat was said to have been washed away by the flood with her baby strapped to her back. The second wife who had just delivered also lost her life with the baby. Their bodies were recovered at about 10a.m. while the remains of other members of the family were yet to be found.
The entire building was in ruins with only the debris as sign that there was ever a house there.
The story surrounding the death of 25-year-old Abdullahi Kura was not very clear.
While one eyewitness said the deceased saw a floating corpse on the river and tried to recover it, another explained that Kura dived into the river to take what looked like a mattress but unfortunately hit his head on the rock making him to lose consciousness resulting in his death.
Nineteen-year-old Shehu Usman who had just finished his senior secondary school examination was also among those that died as a result of the flood.
He was said to be involved in rescue operation when his legs slipped resulting in his being washed away by the water.
Another middle aged man was washed from an unknown place to Suleja, but for a tree which stopped him from going further down he would have also died.
Good Samaritans threw a rope to the almost lifeless man which he managed to tie to the tree.
With the rope some young boys were able to rescue the man who was then taken to the hospital for medical attention.
The velocity of the flood was so high that two bodies were recovered from the river in Gwagwalada town several kilometres from Suleja.
According to officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) the two bodies were found floating on the river when the attention of the agency was drawn to it that they could have been from the Suleja flood disaster.
In neighboring Tafa Local Government Area, two lives were reported to have been lost to the flood.
As at the last count according to the state Director of the National Emergency Management Agency, Alhaji Ibrahim Inga, 18 lives have been lost while eight others have been declared missing.
Inga said five others were still in the hospital receiving treatment.
In Suleja town alone about 50 houses were completely destroyed while not less than 90 buildings were damaged in Tafa Local Government Area.
Several kilometres of rice field and maize farms were also washed off in addition to cars and other vehicles that were submerged by the flood.
The loss in human lives and destruction of buildings was colossal because most of the houses were built not more than 20 metres from the bank of the river.
The intensity of the flood was also said to have been aggravated by water from the Bwari Dam which discharged excess water to the river.
The vice chairman of Tafa Local Government Area, Mr. Samuel Yakwoe who corroborated this said the Bwari Dam had impounded more than enough water and had to discharge it one way or the other.
The State Police Command Public Relations Officer, DSP Bala Elkana speaking in similar vein said the Police Force believe that water from one dam must have been responsible for the flood.
As a result of the disaster, hundreds of refugees have emerged with some staying in schools while others hibernate with their relations.
The Suleja and Tafa local government areas incidents were the height of disaster occasioned by flood and rainstorm in Niger State since the 2017 rainy season started.
The rains which commenced early around mid May has already taken its toll on several communities in the state the most recent being in Minna, the state capital last Thursday after about three hours of down pour. Many houses along the river path, shops and vehicles were destroyed. The most affected areas were Gbanganu, Dutsen- Kura Gwari and some parts of Barakin Sale. It was the second time that rain will wreak havoc in the state capital this year.
But for the construction of drainage around Minna the state capital by the military administration of former military president general Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida this year’s early rain and flood would have swept off most houses in the state capital. This notwithstanding, the bridges and culverts linking several communities especially the one at old Mypa School Road and another one in Bosso have collapsed while four others are under threat if the rains continue with its present intensity.
“We must thank General Babangida for what he has done, the entire residents of Minna should appreciate him because but for the construction of this drainage the story would have been different.
“The present administration of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello has continued from where General Babangida stopped, by the next rainy season the people of Minna will have little or nothing to fear about flood because this job costing the administration several millions of Naira would have been completed,” Mr Vatsa said.
Though the casualty as far as loss of human lives is concerned has not been high compared to the Suleja incident the loss of property and destruction of infrastructure within the short period the rains started has been colossal.
The first sign that this year’s rain will bring with it tears and sorrows came early May when torrential rains wreaked havoc in two local government areas, Edati and Mokwa.
Electric poles spanning over five kilometres were pulled down, schools, churches, mosques and health clinics had their roofs blown off even as several hectares of freshly cultivated farmlands were submerged by the flood that accompanied the rain.
The district head’s palace was destroyed along with the car parked in front of the house when an electric pole fell on both the house and the car.
No life was lost but the communities in the two local government areas are still counting their losses because no assistance has come their way either from the federal, state or local governments. Part of the burden the victims have to carry is to search for money to buy fresh seeds for planting and the reconstruction of their damaged houses.
The much the state and local governments could do so far was to visit the victims who have become refugees on their land and make promises of assistance which are yet to come.
The disaster also moved to another part of the state but in the same senatorial district where the bridge linking Lapai and Muye was washed off by flood that accompanied several hours of rainfall.
As a result, vehicular movements from this part of the state to either Abuja or Lokoja were disrupted for days until the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello directed the state Road Emergency Maintenance Agency to immediately move in to rescue the situation. Motorists plying the route had to seek alternatives to get to their destinations.
If the district head of Edati was lucky to be alive after the incident in his domain, the village head of Masama in the Duma district of Borgu Local Government Area, Malam Abdulmumuni Mohammed was unlucky because he lost his life when the roof of his palace collapsed on his head during the heavy rainfall. More than 20 of his subjects were said to have sustained various degrees of injuries resulting in their being hospitalised at the New Bussa General Hospital. These people and others also lost their houses and farmlands to the disaster. In nearby Mashegu Local Government Area and on the same day six people lost their lives to rainstorm. Flood was also reported to have swept off not less than 500 animals in addition to the destruction of many houses in the local government area.
The Mashegu Local Government chairman, Alhaji Shuaibu Kaboji had to rush to Minna to seek for assistance from the state government for the victims.
“The situation is serious, the loss in human lives and materials is enormous, it is beyond our control we need assistance,” Kaboji declared
The collapse of the bridges at Bokani and Tatabu in Mokwa Local Government Area were to follow within a spate of three days.
These bridges constructed on a Trunk A road linking the Northern and Southern parts of the country at this axis. Following the collapse of the bridges movement of men and vehicles to both sides of the country have been disrupted. A fuel tanker and another truck loaded with fruits heading for the northern part of the country were washed off the road by the flood. Several hectares of cultivated farmlands were submerged causing additional losses and expenses to the farmers who owned the farmlands.
People had to scoop the diesel which they either sold or converted to their personal use. Men of the underworld also took undue advantage of the situation by dispossessing travelers who went through the bush as alternative route to get to their destinations.
One Hadiza Mohammed was reported to have lost close to N100,000 when thieves waylaid her and others on the alternative route they plied.
An artificial border has been created because motorists conveying passengers to either the North or Southern part of the country discharge their passengers for the vehicles at the other end and therefore return to base.
Traders have been making brisk business by conveying soft drinks, sachet water or edibles like bread and cake to the river side which they sold to stranded travelers at exorbitant prices.
Some motorists going to the Southern part of the country now go by ferry from Nupeko in Niger State to burst out at Pategi in Kwara State a journey that lasts over one hour because there is only one ferry to transport men and goods to and fro.
In the past the cost of ferrying a car was N5,000 but as a result of the heavy traffic the amount has increased to N10,000.
Those who could not afford to go through Minna- Abuja – Lokoja to Ilorin route now spend days at Nupeko waiting for their turn to use the ferry.
Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo has however renewed the hope of the people that the access to both the North and the South will become possible within two weeks following his directive that alternative route be provided for motorists within the period.
Osinbajo brought back hope to hundreds of stranded motorists when he paid an on the spot inspection to the site of the damaged bridge.
Similarly and recently too, engineers of the Nigeria Railway Corporation have begun the movement of heavy equipment from Abuja to Tatabu to reconstruct the washed out portion of the rail track in this section.
Since the disaster, rail transportation between the North and South had been disrupted causing the NRC losses of several millions of Naira daily.
The collapse of the bridges at Tatabu and Bokani has again drawn attention to the terrible conditions of all federal roads in Niger State necessitating the call by the state government for the federal authorities to “declare an emergency on all federal roads in the state.”
The Commissioner for Information, Mr. Jonathan Tsado Vatsa after an on the spot inspection of the damaged bridges cried out to the federal government to immediately embark on the repair of the bridges and all federal roads in the state because their present state “is having negative effect on the economy of the state and its people.”
Vatsa also said the collapse of these bridges had resulted in heavy duty vehicles diverting to other roads in the state a situation that has now put “unnecessary pressure on these roads because they are not designed for these type of vehicles.”
Vatsa however said that losses as a result of the destructions across the state were beyond the financial capability of the state government.
“We want the federal government to release money to us from the ecological fund to enable us attend to the pressing demands of our people
“As a responsible and responsive government this is the most appropriate time for us to listen to the cries of the ordinary people so that they would feel the impact of government,” he noted.
The commissioner has however in the meantime advised those residing in the riverine areas of the state to move up land while those around the drainages in Minna should also vacate to “safer places because the period for heavy rains has not come.”
While the victims have been counting their losses, government has done little or nothing to bring them succour blaming lack of funds for the inaction.
Experts have however partly blamed the people for being responsible for the flood especially in Minna and other urban towns.