Addressing Post-Flood Challenges of many communities in Nigeria

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Widespread Flooding in Nigeria

Widespread Flooding in Nigeria

Unprecedented amounts of rainfall have brought misery to many communities in Nigeria. River banks have overflowed, causing many deaths and displacing people and destroying livelihoods. Surging floods have also killed livestock and submerged homes. Farmlands have either lost soils or crops swept away. The Nigerian Red Cross says 148 people have been killed by floods in 21 states.

Officials of the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) have since disclosed that flood alert warnings that the agency gave to state governors in letters were apparently either ignored or not acted upon with despatch and effective preventive measures. A more alarming failure is that by legislators at local, state and federal levels, who despite the benefit of television pictures in local and international media of the devastation caused by floods in Pakistan, China, Kenya, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, and more recently, Senegal, took no notice and failed to alert relevant authorities to develop preventive initiatives. At the federal level, National Assembly members have opportunistically exploited the current situation by adopting a variety of gestures, including: decrying inaction by the military, carrying television cameras to flood sites to record themselves riding as passengers on motorcycles ploughing through piles of water, and denouncing alleged inaction by emergency response agencies.

While even these belated gestures by legislators do have the merit of showing flood victims and the general public that politicians do have a sense of empathy with their plight, there is still the larger worry about an apparent absence to date of a tradition in Nigeria’s officialdom of building scenarios about potential security challenges. The possibility of a major road that links the capital city to the southern section of the country was apparently never been anticipated. The import of hundreds of lives and millions of man-hours lost annually each time travellers pile up to travel home for holiday events have remained mere objects of lamentation; and not fired imaginations of security chiefs. What makes this situation most perplexing is that books written about various wars fought in the Twentieth Century emphasize the art of “scenario building” as tools for limiting surprises and plugging security loopholes.

Departments of government that should be active in scenario-building are ministries or agencies in charge of lands, housing and urban development. A large proportion of victims have been those who built homes and whole communities and towns on waterfronts and waterways. That lessons were not taken of the harrowing pictures of tsunamis devastating lives and physical infrastructures in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Japan, is most deplorable. It is hoped that instead of merely this lapse feeding a fashionable mindset of building pyramids of Nigeria’s woes, an explosion of creative building of capacities would become part of Nigeria’s culture of governance.

It is noteworthy that the army last week announced the creation of a “Think Tank”. This measure must be matched by one set up by the National Assembly as a civilian agency to avoid a repeat of past experiences of the military upgrading the intellectual capacity of its leadership while politicians became increasingly illiterate. However even the military’s think thank is coming late to help the current flood victims. We are surprised not to see the military involved in helping the communities, a gesture that could have helped them win hearts and minds of the many Nigerians at the receiving end of military brutality.

NEMA deserves to be commended for echoing the early warnings of potential flood disasters issued by Nigeria Metreological office, NIMET. The bitter lesson NEMA has learnt must urge its management to focus on putting more emphasis on reaching and animating the public. The agency must recall the old practice establishing weather monitoring skills on school compounds, and using school teachers to measure water levels under bridges. Such awareness programmes could have limited the sad occurrence in Adamawa State in which communities ignored warnings by officials for communities to vacate their homes due to anticipated floods. As communities bury their dead and families struggle to rebuild lost fortunes, political authorities at all levels of government must be seen rolling up their trousers and sleeves to work with communities, as well as devise new measures for a collective national relief measure that involves participation by the public, and creating a culture of volunteers and relief platoons. The military must also learn from what other countries like China and the U.S. have been doing to combat damage done by earthquakes and floods and other disasters.

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