Floods, Policy and Politics

THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE,   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

THE HORIZON BY KAYODE KOMOLAFE   kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com

A recent footage of the visit of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to one of the flood-affected areas in the country is instructive in many respects.

Of particular note is the link between the ravaging ecological problem and policy articulation as dictated by the quality of politics in the land. This connection is eminently demonstrable by Osinbajo’s prompt action and the constructive responses from the governments of the affected states.

For instance, there is a widely circulated picture taken at Otuocha in Anambra state of Osinbajo, Governor Willie Obiano and Labour Minister Chris Ngige wading through flood in a canoe. Similarly, reports indicate that in other states a synergy of purpose has been put on display by the federal and state governments in responding to the disasters caused by floods. The relevant agencies have gone into action visibly in various parts of the country.

Natural disasters do not seem to respect geo-political boundaries. Neither could environmental problems be defined in partisan terms. This is vividly evident in the grim expression on the faces of the poor victims of floods. In their distress, the displaced victims are not interested in the often-overplayed partisan differences among state and federal governments. The people simply expect outcomes of good governance.

Some lives have been tragically lost to floods. This makes flood disaster strategically a security issue.

Those who have lost their homes and farmlands legitimately seek succour from the federal and state governments. Thousands have been displaced. They are in need in need of shelter, food, water and healthcare. When you add the figures of the distressed (due to recent floods) to those of the victims of violence now in the camps of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the north east, Benue, Taraba, Zamfara and other places, the picture of humanitarian crisis in Nigeria becomes clearer.

It is remarkable that reliefs have been pouring in from governmental and non-governmental sources. Yet, those in desperate conditions need more reliefs. The compassion by officials and agencies is something to build up as the nation braces to up to the ecological challenges ahead. Remove the element of compassion from governance; what is left is a cynical use of power by political office holders. Governance should be done in the most humane manner possible. Leaders must be seen to empathise with the people when they are in distress. Doubtless, the symbolism is unpardonably negative when leaders seem not to care when the people are in tears and anguish.

According to the National Emergency Management Agency, 12 states are gravely at the risk of floods this month. The states on the watch list are Anambra, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Benue, Edo, Delta, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Rivers and Taraba. In fact, the agency has already declared disasters in Anambra, Delta, Kogi and Niger states. The scientific viewpoint of NEMA has been corroborated by that of the Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency, which has also reminded the nation that the magnitude of the problem at hand is almost comparable to disaster the nation witnessed five years ago. On September 29, 2012, the level of water at River Niger rose to 12.84 meters and 31, 692 cubic meters per second. This year, the water level has risen to 10.01meters and 21,731 cubic meters, which makes it quite alarming. There is also the fear that the situation might worsen if water is further discharged from the Lagdo Dam in the Cameroun.

While political leaders are seen to be in solidarity with those suffering devastation caused by floods and the technical agencies are putting in place contingency plans and emergency responses, floods and other environment issues should be put in the proper policy perspective.

The recent flood disasters constitute a chilling reminder that issues of the environment should be central to any strategy of development for it to be sustainable. Yes, some disasters could be natural. But governments should put in place policies that would minimise the vulnerabilities of the people and ensure safety and welfare of those at risk. The people should not be left helpless in the face of the elements.

Globally, there are emergent issues of the environment. However, some governments are more strategic and decisive than others in curbing the damage to the environment. For instance, the pollution of the oceans by plastics is being given attention by many governments around the world. During the celebration of the World Environment Day on June 5, Osinbajo announced that the federal ministry of environment has developed “a national strategy” to phase out non-biodegradable plastic products while waste-recycling plants were being built. Meanwhile, Kenya has gone beyond that in confronting the epidemic of plastic pollution. The east African country is commendably enforcing a national policy to restrict the use of plastic products. You cannot bring plastic bags into Kenya!

Only last year, the federal government approved a Revised National Policy on the Environment. The issues addressed in the policy include pollution, coastal erosion, desertification, land erosion and, course, the elephant in the room, climate change. While Nigeria rightly joined the rest of the world to sign the agreement on Climate Change in Paris in December 2014, nothing on the ground suggests a serious policy articulation to reduce carbon emission. The idea of renewable energy remains at the level of contemplation.

The environmental degradation caused by the reckless activities of oil companies in the Niger Delta remains an unsolved question. It has been described as open sore on the conscience of this nation. The restoration of the environment in the region remains a battle cry for justice and equity that the people of Niger Delta richly deserve.

Even what should be routine sanitation is still a big issue for state and local governments. Refuse disposal has become such a Herculean task in the hands of policymakers at the state levels. Many Nigerian cities brim with refuse. Drainages are blocked. Mansions are erected on waterways. So enforcement of environmental laws and basic rules of community hygiene is also a big problem.

The economics of whatever solution government may come up with to tackle ecological problems is very important. After all, embodied in the revised national policy are steps to take in funding the policy- implementation including partnership with the private sector. Questions must, therefore, be asked about the management of the ecological fund established 37 years ago as a first line charge to address the problems of the environment. Statutorily, a 2% deduction is made from the federal account for this purpose.

Unfortunately, for long the resources so pooled have largely become slush funds for successive federal and state governments. The judicious management of the ecological fund is so central to successful implementation of any policy on the environment that it can only be ignored at the peril of the nation. Perhaps, it might not be hyperbolic to suggest that henceforth the diversion of ecological funds be treated as a crime against humanity in view of the looming ecological disasters on the national horizon.

Environment should also be a focus of politics. Hardly is environment made an issue of elections. Politicians with a passion for the environment are not many on the landscape. Experts may write technically sound policy documents on the environment. The outcomes will eventually depend on the orientation of the political leadership regarding matters of the environment.