To Curtail Flooding, Nigeria Needs National Drainage Architecture

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ATIKU BAGUDU

Kebbi State is one of the poorest state in Nigeria; it is an agrarian and civil service state, with a paltry N81 billion as its annual budget. With over 500,000 children in its primary schools and the World Bank recommendation of $700 for the most basic primary education per child annually, the state requires N120 billion to achieve that. The state was recently devastated by massive flooding that affected 15 of the 21 LGAs in the state. The state governor, Sen. Atiku Bagudu, in a chat with Eromosele Abiodun says, only a national drainage architecture can solve flooding problem in Nigeria. He expresses the need for Nigeria to deemphasise corruption and focus on how to generate revenue to increase its budget to $200 billion annually. Bagudu, who also speaks the controversial water resource bill and a master plan being worked on by the federal government to solve flooding problem permanently, says flooding should be taken seriously as a national problem that requires partnership

Your state has been ravaged by massive flooding with people left without homes and means of livelihood. What, in your opinion, is responsible for this disaster?

Flooding is an international issue, and indeed it is. One of the sources of this flooding is the River Niger, which we share with four countries, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria.

Nigeria, starting from Kebbi, Niger, Kogi, Anambra, Edo, Rivers, all share the challenge of water coming downstream from as far as Guinea. So, describing it as an international issue is quite understanding, and it’s really necessary for us to understand.

Secondly, in Kebbi, we also have water coming from the North, Goroyu dam in Sokoto, and a little bit further, Bakalori dam in Zamfara, where it comes to Kebbi that has a flood plain of about 300 kilometers, which is the River Rima flood plain, which is the rice producing plane. And we have River Zamfara also pumping water from other parts of the state. So first is to establish that, flooding is not a state problem. It can affect state, but all of us in Nigeria should realise that we are dealing with a national challenge affecting many states, and certainly affecting everyone.

In Kebbi, because of the length of the FADAMA plain, the rice producing belt, which like I said, the River Rima, the north to south, where the River Rima joins river Niger is about 312km, and on both sides of it are rice with other crops, and all of it is flooded.

In then, the River Niger we have flood plains also from Dolekaina where the river starts in Kebbi to Kainji Lake, is over 250km. Again both sides have rivers, and other places that are not on this river banks like Jega and Aliero that are taking water from River Zamfara are also affected. Crops, animal lives are lost, fishing grounds are destroyed, homes and infrastructure is damaged.

So in terms of food production, it’s significant. But like I said, it’s not only Kebbi, as it is now finishing Kebbi and going into Niger state. Niger state will be under water; it’s already under water. And then, when it finishes in Niger, it would move down to some parts of Kwara, Kogi, and it’s going to the Niger/Delta. So, this is a big one. This level of water has not been seen since 2012, which is what distinguishes it from 2018 flooding.

Fortunately again, flooding are things that we pray for sometimes because, about two months ago, we were in churches and mosques praying for rain. And now, rain has come, we can’t but thank God as a nation. What is important is to mobilise, support each other, whether in the communities, across states or whether as a nation. Just like we are trying to draw attention to it, so that we can deal with it. But to even know that there is this scale of challenge, so that we support in different ways.

It’s a human story. You will see people by the roadside determining what, in their households, they need to save. Is it my harvest? Is it my children? Is it my poultry? It’s an emotional story and it’s happening across the country.

What are the immediate needs of the affected communities and the long-term solutions to flooding in Kebbi State?

The immediate need is collective appreciation. I can as well sit here and just talk on behalf of Kebbi, but let our humanity come into play. Challenge is happening across Nigeria. There are people across Nigeria today where fresh water is the biggest commodity you can give them.

Because what happens always with flood is that, there are dead bodies, carcasses of animals, toilets are all washed into the floodwater. So sometimes, heating the water does not majorly work. So the first thing in flood support is that there has to be drinking water from day one, we have to be there within the minute, state emergency services, philanthropic organisations, all of us and individuals should be there as first responders.

Then secondly, when somebody loses his home to flood, you know that there is no cooking facility. So even if you give him dry food, there is no place to cook it. So again, I think we need to understand as a nation that food support particularly for nearby communities. Let every organisation that supports and all of us provide food that can be eaten, cooked food to the victims.

Then shelter. Luckily we shelters like in primary schools, secondary schools, churches and mosques, but the immediate issue in moving people there is to ensure that there are toilet facilities. Because, sometimes we just felt moving to a primary or secondary schools without assessing the hygiene of the place.

Because, these are the things that will compound the challenge, because people will fall Ill and sick, and then, the day after you begin to plan for how to assess whether some of the flooded areas can be returned to, or you need to relocate people on the permanent basis. All these things has to be hand in hand.

In terms of what do we need to do if a long-term, flooding happens everywhere? Place like Netherland would have been flooded into extinction, but even very rich countries like the United States, Pakistan etc, it’s also a challenge, and we need vast amount of money as a country to solve it. It’s not a localised issue. You can’t solve flooding in Kebbi alone. So as a nation, you have to think about National Drainage Architecture, because we have the Lake Chad region, we have the Sokoto Basin, we have the Atlantic East and Atlantic West.

So, these are all drainage systems that we need a national plan, and it costs a lot of money. Water is needed somewhere, we are not very rich in water in Nigeria. Particularly when you look at the cost.

Looking at it systematically and comprehensively, though expensive, will enable us put a national plan in place that would begin to get implemented. That might involve dredging, that might involve creation of more artificial storage, and it might involve diverting the water to other places Lake Chad that is losing its water.

It’s going to cost billions of dollars, and we have to be patient, work together, and appreciate that water is one of the biggest human endowment and blessings, that management, organising it and taking advantage of it by reducing the consequence of its activity cost a lot of money, and it’s money well spent.

Why isn’t there much of international presence in these communities to assist with their immediate needs and what is the state doing in this regard? Also, in what way will this affect your agric policy against the backdrop of climate change?

I think we have to all appreciate that whatever human endeavour we are into, a season can disappoint, something can happen. Some places in the country are witnessing drought, regrettably, we are witnessing an abundance of water.

Its effect on our agric policy is to appreciate that farming just as a company can come under challenge, animal husbandry or fishing can come under challenge temporarily; there can be a temporary setback like drought, so we need to work with our farmers, and those in the animal husbandry and fishing as if they are running companies.

Once a season disappoints, we help them. We encourage them to insure first, where it overwhelms insurance, we all come and support them. For example, most of the farmers today, what they need solely in addition to the immediate water and food to eat, is seedlings and fertilisers, so that they can plan with the dry season. Nigeria is a blessed nation that across the country, dry season farming can take place.

So, as devastating as it is, the resilience of our people must be appreciated. I am sure, when you go around, what is amazing is that, you would see people handling disasters with smile in their face. You would see people holding their chickens in their hands but are not complaining, but appreciative.

So we owe it to them to help them grow again, those in the animal husbandry, who lost their properties we have to support them, those who lost their fishing grounds, those whose life is otherwise disrupted; somebody who has borrowed money to buy a boat, to move people, today his life is disrupted. But, we understand that, yes this is a setback, but we should help them to bounce back.

And like you said, it is linked to climate change, it can happen again, but just like companies go down and they are supported, economic activity in agriculture value chain can also be faced with systematic risk or unforeseen disaster, but we also need to, as a populace, work with them, and it’s a necessary ingredient of our agricultural policies.

It happens elsewhere, and those are the mechanisms that are used to compensate them. In terms of international support, we welcome international support, but more than international support is what we can do for ourselves. Wherever I go, I tell the young boys in that community, even Okada riders, he can help in helping another person in that community, he can help in taking a child to the hospital. Many people can spare N200 to buy water and take to them.

Before we get international support, which we wish can get, it’s even important for ourselves, because it is easier for us. We are optimistic people with sympathy for each other. That is what motivates others. Beyond that, if something overwhelms us, we can demonstrate that togetherness.

But we have had support in some few international communities. Let’s also remember, this flooding, why it’s worse for us, it’s coming at a time when we are within the times of the Corona virus pandemic. People do not move easily, countries are overwhelmed with one challenge of the other. But I believe that in our capacity, we can help each other, and I have seen it in display. I am sure we would show it. That is what I’ll continue to urge. Many people are living in urban centres today; they don’t know that they can help. Many people have spare clothing in their house for their small children who have outgrown the cloths. So many of us can send in N20,000, N10,000, N5,000 to a fund. There are so many people who can even go on and visit. One of the things I enjoyed most with my children is taking them to see human needs like this. It is an opportunity. Some of us, we have children at home with video games, yet bored. But if you take them to these places, it will change their lives. They would now find out that they can help, and they wish to. So if you don’t teach them and expose them they would not know. That is what we need to do more, so that they can as always, be their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

We will like to know more about the River Rima and FADAMA project in details…

Birnin-Tudu is the first town in Kebbi from Sokoto, so that’s where our border is. That is the beginning of River Rima in Kebbi. From there to reach Tuba where River Rima joins River Niger, is about 350 to 312 kilometres. Sometimes you have seen points of it at Argungu, at Birnin-Kebbi. So it’s not a uniform width. Sometimes it’s as wide as 15kilometre, but all across the plain is rice, wheat, and other crop production.

Then you have the River Niger that crosses from Dolakaina, and our brothers in Benin Republic, and Niger Republic, to Kainji Lake. Many people do not even know that the bulk of Kainji Lake is in Kebbi. So because Kainji dam is not receiving water, then you have huge water coming, the dam is closed, hence it backflows.

What impact will this have on the country especially as it affects rice production in the state?

Tragedies are parts of life, especially when nature is at work, which occasionally it does. But it’s more of how you respond to it that is important. No doubt about the devastating loss of crops, but the dry season starts in a month, so to mobilise, to work, and ensure that all those areas are planted again is what we are looking for support from everyone, to ensure that we are able to do it.

And not just in Kebbi like I said. Tomorrow, it could be Niger state, it could be Anambra, Imo, Edo, Rivers, Delta, and these are all along River Niger. And then, we have the River Benue; it could be Adamawa, Benue, Kogi, and others that are not along these major rivers. Jigawa is already on that water, parts of Borno, Osun, and Ondo. But, what should be a deliberate and conscious efforts is what do we do, rather than lamenting the losses. The question now should be how do we ensure that we don’t miss the planting season, how do we start keeping various animals, how do we help fishing grounds that are lost. These are all important. These are all elements of our agriculture. Recognition is important, dealing with it is important. We have some experience. It’s not novel to us. Even in 2018, there was flooding that affected 14 states, the federal government intervened with N23 billion, seedlings and fertilisers input. Certainly, this scale is going to be bigger, but I believe with the right sensitisation many of us can support each other to ensure that its effect is minimal.

Are you aware of an organisation called Feed the Vulnerable Foundation, set up last week and claims to be giving aid to affected people? It has also set up a campaign to raise $17,000. Is there a concerted, statewide effort to organise fundraising so that this tragedy would not be exploited by fraudulent people?

There are many viewers in our system. The person who is there in his village now with his bicycle, or motorcycle, or truck, moving people to safety is as good as you who sent a million dollars.

When I move around, those are the people I energise. Not because we don’t welcome support. Many people would have told you, maybe in this flooding season alone, there are two times I have driven myself out of government house. Without any driver, drove out myself.

There is something you do, not for publicity; publicity is just necessary to draw attention to the people. On the other hand there are people, who are supporting with billions, but they don’t go to media castigating others, because the scale of the challenge is huge.

You can give money, but money hasn’t even reached somewhere. But how will you, out of self-glorification to criticise somebody? We are dealing with a disaster, and many people are out there helping and every help is important.

I don’t know who they are, you said they came into being last week, but like I said, for decades, some foundations, some philanthropist, some community leaders, some religious leaders, have been responding and helping, and you would not even hear their voices.

They are not doing it for media; they have never been in the press. And that is what we should always put our energy, so that that kicks in. I don’t want to say we have spent this or that amount of money on this disaster, it doesn’t matter. I want to talk about those people whom we can’t see, who do not have a voice, who are there doing it. And I am sure you have come across some of them doing it.

About the dam, first, there was no proposal to do Zauro dam, there is nothing like Zauro dam. When the River basin, Sokoto, River Wima Basin authority was designed, it was designed to have what we know as fixed holders not dams, six holders. So when the construction of the six holders initially took place, the one at Zauro and the one before it, there was supposed to be four additional holders, before the river joins into River Niger. Holders are elevated water storage facilities, but because of resource constraints, and prioritisation, those holders have not been constructed by the federal government.

There was a proposal a few years ago; that we should contribute money and do it, but it has not yet been done.

There are some certain issues in our dams. Remember during the Petroleum Trust Fund days that President Buhari actually wanted to dredge the River Niger and Benue, but unfortunately then, changes in government and resource constraint didn’t allow. Same President Jonathan. I hesitate from really pushing blame, but more importantly, to draw attention to the problem. Like I said, we need a national drainage system. Even if you solve the Kebbi problem, I don’t want just Kebbi to be solved. Regrettably, that is one of the things we need to understand with our water resources. It is a blessing, if every community appreciates its role in managing it and its impact on other communities, so that’s a valuable consideration. So the minister of water resources told us that they are working on a master plan. I am sure they would come up with a solution, because only that can solve the problem.

Some state roads and bridges have been affected by the flooding. Will you be seeking the help of the federal government to rebuild it, or whose responsibility is it to do so? Also, if you were to put a figure to what has been destroyed in worth of naira and Kobo, what would that be?

Sometimes, many people close to me and some that are not often wonder whether I am being shy in talking about my circumstance, because the first responsibility of a leader is more to give hope than lament.

Sometimes, I shy away from talking about scale of disaster because it’s like you are competing for resources. We are not competing for resources; we want these disasters to be understood for what they are. It is not about Kebbi, we are really dealing with disaster.

Valuation is always a funny subjective term. If I am to value a loss, should I compute the value of seed the farmer plant or the output that is expected from that crop? We are not drawing attention to what we have lost and we are competing with other states in terms of seeking support, but I am mentioning that we are seeking partnership that can help us compensate for the loss.

If I am to put numbers, it is certainly going to be a huge number, and it will be demoralising. We are not exaggerating when we said we are dealing with at least 600km of crops plains that has been washed. There is no one stretch left. It’s not that there were stretches that were not planted. Along all those riverbanks, there are villages, communities, today; all of them are leaving those communities.

And it’s the same thing with damage to infrastructures. We have significant damage to infrastructure, but we are cognisant of the challenge facing our nation. We are not putting it on anybody. Hence, what do we do; first, let’s see how much we can mobilise; secondly, maybe we can even challenge our assumption about our economy. Nigeria’s economy is small, and a small economy will disappoint everyone. We are country of about 200 million people. Our general budget is under $30 billion. The highest it has been is, may be, $33 billion under Jonathan in 2013. And the budget performance that year is less than 50 per cent.

Brazil, another country of 200 million has a budget of $659 billion, with budget performance in excess of 90 per cent. So obviously, the Nigerian President, no matter how kind or nationalistic he is, is constrained by the resources. What do we do in this circumstance?

Maybe that is why we should examine our notions about us not imputing enough of the resource limitations. We just assume that resources are been wasted, rather than its non-availability.

We don’t want to borrow; we are almost socialistic about it. We think we are over borrowing, which I don’t believe we are. Do we have confidence in the future? Because if you have confidence in the future, then you can borrow to invest today, but if you have no confidence in the future, then you cannot.

So these are the fundamental issues disasters like this brings. Why are we having the lowest debt to GDP ratio, relative to other countries? Why will Japan be having a debt to GDP ratio of over 229 per cent, and we at less than 30 per cent.

If you give me $1 billion loan, I know what to do with it in Kebbi. It would probably mitigate flooding, and that means I can pay in long term. I might lose some of it, but that’s life, but I will pay just like other countries have done it. So I think that is where we really need to focus on more than the short-term failing. This thing requires massive resources; our riverine areas have been dealing with this for a long time in different ways.

Can the National Drainage Architecture you spoke about play into the water resources bill if it is signed?

I hate to even mention the water resources bill because sometimes, we like sensationalisation. Water is a resource that is endowed by nature, a common heritage that wherever it is found must not be localised. Yes, management can be local, but water in your community, maybe going elsewhere.

If you dam it without regards there will be problem. For instance, if Nigeria makes the assumption that the River Niger belongs to us, it is a tragedy. When Kainji dam was being constructed, we sort permission of Niger Republic, which is why we are giving them some of the electricity.

If Niger decides to dam Kainji dam tomorrow, we are out of it. If Mali decides to dam, we are out of it, If Guinea where it comes from decides to dam, we are out of it. So if on Nigeria’s end, I think, River Niger portion of Kebbi belongs to Kebbi, and that of Delta belongs to Delta, that is a tragic way to think.

The well in your house is been fed by a water source that you are not seeing. For example in Kebbi, whenever people fish in the River Rima during the fishing, 30km down the road in places like, Aliero, Jega, when they take water from their well, they would have the smell of fish, this proves that their well is been fed by the river. This is God’s gift to mankind. Our responsibility is to take care of it, nurture it and see how everyone can benefit from it.

Lake Rice has practically disappeared in Lagos, what is happening with the MoU that you signed with the Lagos state government? What is the state government currently doing to alleviate the suffering of road users on Koko Bese area of the state?

When I learnt about what is happening on that road, I said, “we are suffering as always in Nigeria the consequence of intolerance and orderliness.” No matter how effective government is, there are situations in which you have to police yourself. People choose not to be respectful to the collective good. We are just experiencing the consequence of illogical thinking.

From Birnin-Kebbi to Yauri is less than 300km, but from Birnin-Kebbi to Yauri today could take five to six hours journey. Now, only a small portion of the road is bad. The construction company is there, mobilising, just for them to finish. All motorists need do is understand that there is that bad portion and that we need to help ourselves.

On the Lake rice, we have always said, when we entered into partnership with Lagos, we did not intend the two states to be selling rice, we did it do demonstrate that Nigerians produce good rice. To provide a platform where people would move it to the highest standard, so Nigerians would recognise the potentials we have, and have a great mindset about made in Nigeria rice.

We have achieved that objective, now across the nation, there is belief and confidence in Nigerian rice, whether it is from Abakaliki, Ogoni, Kebbi, Jigawa, Taraba, and across the country. That’s our first objective in that MoU.

But it hasn’t disappeared; it’s just that we haven’t grown it to replace the market. But there is place that has been constructed at Imota, courtesy of the Lake rice partnership, that is supposed to continue to support believe in the ‘Nigeria Can Do It Project’, because essentially, that is what the partnership is about.

Sir, regarding the national drainage system you talked about, in your own view as a leader, what form do you think it would take?

Hydrologically we have almost four distinct river systems in Nigeria. We have Sokoto River Basin System, We have the Lake Chad, and then we have the Atlantic East and Atlantic west-Osun and Ondo inclusive. All these river systems have connection with each other locally and with the national drainage system.

So, for us to enhance it, and find a way of utilising it in a common way so that we deal with the climate change issues that impact on them, we deal with the utilisation issue that impact on them, today, maybe a lot of our water bodies are clocked by sanitation. Sanitation affects how long our water remains after the remaining season, it affects how long you can find peace to stay in that area, it affects how long you can navigate the river, whether between Anambra state, Kogi or anywhere in the country.

So these are some holistic issues that we need to understand, and in order to unlock the benefits, you must appreciate the need, whether at community, state, or local government level, to understand the common heritage and relate with it as such.

Natural resources can be a burden, if people do not appreciate the common interest. Today, we are dealing with water crises in different places, “oh it’s our water, it’s our land, it’s our river”, and it won’t go away. We are not there yet with water resources, but there is need for a lot of investment, which we should all make the argument for, and it is not enough for us to solve the problem, it can only lead a problem to a problem somewhere.

As an economist, I will like you to tell our readers about resource availability and corruption because often time people think Nigeria has so much money and it is been stolen.

We must be mindful as a nation whether we have fallen into an imperialist argument. We should have laws as we do have to punish criminality, every society should have, but we should not be hoodwinked into thinking we are sufficient as a nation. Please, please, please we should not and Nigeria is not.

Do the numbers, I, as Governor of Kebbi state, the most money I have ever had as governor in a month is N7 billion. Is N7 billion big? We are not even there yet.

It is very easy for you to know and don’t even use the N7 billion ask yourself, ‘do we have any globally accepted index for example, for what it takes in four or five years to train a primary school child?’

If we do, how much can Kebbi state Governor spend? Will that N7 billion cater for that? Is there a global index for primary health care? There is! In OECD countries for example, it cost $5,400 to train a primary student through school. In China and other middle-income countries, it cost about $1,400. Because of that, the World Bank recommended $700 for the most basic primary education per child, per person annually. So if I have half a million children, do the arithmetic: 500,000 multiplied by $700, that is $350 million in naira that is N120 billion, what is Kebbi state budget, N81 billion.

Forget about primary health centres, forget about security, forget about infrastructure, even if I am to deploy all the money on education, it will not be enough and somebody will argue this still doesn’t matter. We have been hoodwinked to think all the money is been stolen. The problem is rooted in our educational system, media society, we are accustomed to sidestepping, because you need principle to make the logical arguments which are necessary to move the nation forward.

You can cost it, what is the minimum budget Nigeria need to have in other to be like Malaysia? It is not rocket science let us start that discourse.

What can be done to boost our revenue generation and educate Nigerians that the country is not rich?

If you ask me, and I have said it on numerous occasions, first we need to understand is that we are a very, very tiny economy. And tiny economy would continue to disappoint all of us. We would not have enough money for security services; we would not have enough money to include everyone. Go to any farm settlement in Nigeria, who in his right senses, would want his four-year-old child to follow an animal for 11km daily. Is it their choice? The Ijaw man, whose river has been overtaken by water hyacinth, pollution, and you are not thinking about how to train him to farm shrimp or something and you think we can ignore that? How much does it cost for us to include everyone? Because without inclusion, tragedies would continue to happen and there is a number to do that. Certainly, it is not the $30 billion budget of today; maybe we should be talking about $200 billion. We should start to deemphasise corruption; corruption is not Nigeria’s problem. When you have corruption case and it is proven, punish it, don’t squeeze the economy and say, “until we solve it we will do nothing more.”