Over 1,000 houses and farmlands have been destroyed by floods in Etsako Central and East local government areas of Edo State in the last few weeks, reports Adibe Emenyonu, in Benin City
The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) had recently warned about torrential rains and flooding in some parts of the country, but the people of Etsako Central Local Government Area of Edo State certainly did not envisage the magnitude of floods and destruction that occurred in about seven communities in the council area in the last few weeks. The flooding, which occurred because of the upsurge from River Niger, affected communities like Udaba, Ofukpo, Agbaburu, Osomegbe, Ukpeko, Ugochi and Anegbette. Apart from houses that were destroyed by the ravaging flood, farmlands with crops such as cassava, yam, rice, maize, and groundnut, were not spared, as the flood washed all away.
Blast from the Past
It was not the first time a disaster of such magnitude would happen in those communities on the banks of River Niger. In 2012, a similar occurrence took place and the devastation it left was yet to heal because the communities were neglected. The people say government had not been sincere with them as they have refused to construct roads in the communities, which would make it easier for them to access upland communities in the locality in case of such emergencies. This sentiment was re-echoed by the Village Head of Udaba, Chief David Inetape, who said over the years, government at all levels had not been favourable to them.
Inetape said they could not relocate from the place due to lack of access roads, as the major roads in the communities were already flooded, adding that they now use ferry boats and canoes to access their houses.
When the recent flood came, it came with a lot of fury, sparing nothing on its way. The effect was all the more devastating because there was no suspicion before the sudden water upsurge flooded the communities.
For crop farmers in the community, it was a double tragedy. They lost their farmlands where they invested a lot of money in acquiring seedlings and fertilisers. Some had even borrowed money for the planting season. With the flood, the anticipation of a bountiful harvest was ruined as their farmlands were submerged totally, forcing some of them to carry out premature harvest of their crops to avoid total loss.
THISDAY checks around the affected communities revealed how the residents were trying what they could to ameliorate their suffering, with little government assistance. In some of the communities, children were seen in the dirty flood water taking advantage of the situation to swim, while the farmers embarked on premature harvest of their crops to avoid total loss.
Meanwhile, it is pertinent to note that the state capital was also not spared. While the flood in the two Etsako local government areas was as a result of River Niger overflowing its banks, that of Benin City was occasioned by heavy rains.
Worst hit were some residential buildings, where residents had to bail out water from their houses each time it rained.
The state headquarters of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) was not left out. Over 3,700 card readers were destroyed at the office. The Edo INEC headquarters had in the past three weeks been ravaged by flood, making workers to run out of their offices whenever there is heavy downpour to avoid being trapped inside.
Chairman, INEC Standing Committee on Estate and Works, Abubakar Nahuche, who spoke to journalists after assessing the damage caused by the flood, said several electoral materials were destroyed, including ICT equipment. He, however, stated that the damage caused by the flood would not affect preparation for the 2019 general election.
Nahuche appealed to state government to tackle the menace of flood in the Ikpoba-Hill area where the Edo INEC headquarters is located, adding that the national headquarters of the commission was considering relocating the state headquarters to another place.
Edo Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Emmanuel Alex-Hart, said he was yet to quantify what was lost to the flood. “The flooding has paralysed activities at the INEC headquarters in Edo. Where the office is situated is a valley and when it rains, you have surface run-off water from all the areas to that place,” he said.
Meanwhile, as an emergency measure, the Etsako Central Local Government Authority has cleaned up the Oghomere resettlement camp with the aim of relocating the flood victims in the area. The chairman of Etsako Central Local Government Area, Mr. John Akhigbe, said the council was doing all it could to relocate the victims after the proper cleaning of the building and fumigation is completed.
He said: “We are going to the affected communities with speed boats to evacuate victims of the flood disaster so that whatever the government and individuals will be bringing, they will benefit from it in the camp. As you can see, the borehole is set and the rooms are being tidied up to ensure that it is conducive. We shall also bring a very big generating set to ensure regular supply in the camp, so that the displaced persons can feel at home.”
Similarly, at Etsako East, a sister local government, more than 20,000 hectares of farmland and houses were ravaged. In Etsako East, affected communities include Okpekpe, Ebelle, Okpekpe, Ukhomedokhai, Amugbe and Ekpeli, all in Okpekpe Kingdom. Over 2,000 were rendered homeless in those six communities.
A similar development occurred in Etsako Central, as the roads leading to the flooded communities in Etsako East were washed away, thereby making access to the communities nearly impossible.
All over the affected communities, it was a tale of groaning, as they spoke of the perennial pain they went through yearly. Some of the affected persons, who spoke, said their means of livelihood had been affected and appealed for assistance form relevant government agencies.
Mrs. Rose Akinabor, a farmer in Osomegbe community said: “The flood destroyed my life savings because I took loan to farm this season, not knowing that my labour was going to be in vain. I call on the government to assist those of us that were affected by the flood so that we can live normal lives again.”
According to Mr. Nigeria Afomede, “If we don’t harvest our crops now, as you can see, they will spoil and we will suffer. So, we decided to harvest our six-months-old cassava. You know we don’t have any farm that is up to a year now because the flood of last year also destroyed our farmlands.”
He disclosed that the reason why they refused to relocate to the Federal Government Resettlement, built by the flood committee in the last administration, was because they have no access road to Oghomere where the camp is located. Besides, Afomede said they had no sign before the sudden rise in water level.
Tony Enike, a farmer, who said his 10 hectares of yam and cassava farm were affected by the flood, said, “I am confused and do not know what to do as I speak with you. I just want help to come to us as fast as possible because we are suffering.”
Also, David Omozufo, who lost his building to the flood, said, “Only until few days ago, I was a landlord, but now I am a homeless man. I really do not know where to start from.”
Chairman of Etsako council area, Mr. Aremiyau Aligamhe, who went round the communities, appealed for immediate assistance to the affected communities and the people. He noted that with the level of destruction caused by the flood, there was little or nothing the council could do to ameliorate the suffering of the persons affected.
While appealing for calm from the affected, Aligamhe however said the state government was not unaware of what has happened. He said: “I share in your pains at the particular time of this natural disaster. The council has already made representations to the state government to see how respite can come to the affected people and communities.”
Also, the Clan Head of Okpekpe Kingdom, Chief Peter Osigbemeh, while appealing for help to assist the ravaged communities, said he was deeply saddened with what has happened.
The state government says it is trying to find a lasting solution to the perennial flooding. According to the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor, Mr. Sixtus Omokhagbor, the government will do as that is to be done to take care of the affected people.
While confirming that the government has been duly notified on the disaster, through his special adviser on special duties, he said on his own, he has taken census of the affected.
He said: “As I speak with you, the displaced have been sheltered, while we await the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). If the case is beyond SEMA, then the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), will be invited.”