While we acknowledge the government’s effort at taking action and providing “relief materials” and palliatives for affected people, how much more damage would the situation cause before we can take proactive action?
By Sybil Fekurumoh
On Saturday, the 15th of October, I set out from Nsukka to Yenagoa, in southern Nigeria. Only a day before, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) had just called off its eight-month-long strike action, and I had just finished a field research I continued at the University of Nigeria in spite of the strike. Under normal circumstances, and putting into account the situation of Nigerian roads, the journey would take about 7-8 hours, and in the worst-case scenario, 10 hours at most. But these weren’t the usual circumstances. The news all over the country was that the intersecting East-West roads into Yenagoa and largely, the whole of Bayelsa had been cut off on both ends: that is, the Ughelli-Patani Road, as well as Ahaoda-Mbiama road.
I, too, had seen the news, and also several updates via social media, but rumour had it that people still got through. This wasn’t my first rodeo with floods, and floods have become an endemic situation in many states in southern Nigeria since 2012. I needed, among other engagements, a quick relief before academic activities continued. A friend who had gone through from Port-Harcourt city to Yenagoa had said that amidst the cut-off roads, there was a way through, it would only cost more money, and involve boarding a tipper truck rather than a bus. I tried to scale from my friend’s report, how hard it would be to get through, and his response was, “No be Nigeria again?”
Of course, it would be a challenge. Living in Nigeria is getting used to difficulty each day, like frogs adjusting to heat in a kettle. This would be just another challenge to wade through and move on with. But nothing prepared me for the travesty that loomed on Ahaoda road. It would turn out to be the worst trip of my life, worse than sitting in a cramped bus for over 18 hours from Yenagoa to Funtua, in northern Nigeria, and more fear-gripping than the return trip in a bus that broke down in the middle of nowhere at about 8pm.
Boarding the tipper truck was only half the journey. To get to the truck, one had to wade through a body of water with an apoplectic current. One needed more bravery than physical strength to get through. You could pay a local to hold you across, or, halfway through, pay to hold on to a rope tied between two fuel trucks. I paid a local to hold my hands through the gushing torrent, and halfway through, held on to the rope. I held tightly to the rope with my right arm and to my guide with my left. When the water got to my waist level, I panicked. I do not imagine I ever called on God more times than I did in my entire life, not even in a hospital bed with a flaming abdomen.
There was shouting everywhere; the people behind me asking that I walked faster, and those in front of me asking that I move to the side. Eventually, I let go of the rope and only held on to the guide with both hands, till we reached the point where the water was less inundated. Then, I made my way to the tipper truck for the latter part of the trip. The truck moved slowly, to avoid portholes, further road cracks, and swirling water holes. I arrived at Mbiama at 7pm. Three hours were spent at a distance that was usually about 45 minutes.
The flooding in 2012 was unprecedented. When the floods started to take over communities in Bayelsa, my father took a daring decision to relocate the family out of the state to southwest Lagos. The water was taking over people’s residences, and for a week, every morning, we would observe, with concern, the canal behind the house, and rather than speculate, move out before the rising waters got to us. It did. In the beginning days of the deluge, just as now, the major roads were also cut off. The difference was that vehicles like cars and buses still got through, only that they had to be towed by heavy-duty vehicles.
Five years later, and every year since, when the floods come again, people braced themselves. We begin to mark it in our calendars as our new reality. The rainy season would peak again in October, and we would incline ourselves to a new pattern. Schools would take a necessary six-week flood break. In flood-prone areas, some would seek shelter elsewhere, and those in the villages that couldn’t relocate would design makeshift shelters in schools or inland roads. Those whose buildings were higher could stay back, but canoes would become the means of transportation. Others construct temporary wooden bridges. Electricity would be cut off in affected areas to avoid electrocution, and everyone begins to count the days to mid-November when the water would recede again.
People have been displaced from their homes and are either moving out of the community, taking refuge in the secondary school building, putting up with friends/relatives or sleeping by the road side. #FloodInBayelsa pic.twitter.com/W29QLqFcXd
— Seiyefa The Bayelsan (@NativePreacher_) October 14, 2022
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When flood season approaches, every Bayelsan becomes a meteorology expert, but 2012 is the yardstick to measure its extent and the impact of the damage. The consensus is that this year’s damage exceeds that of 2012 by a long margin, and it is not just a Bayelsa situation. The floods in 2022 have been considered one of the worst humanitarian crises in the past decade. Reports had it that the havoc of the floods spread across 31 of the 36 states in the country, up from northern Adamawa, Yobe, Jigawa, and Gombe, to the confluence areas of Kogi state, the communities that reside close to River Niger and Benue, and then, to the south-east and Delta regions; Anambra, Imo, Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, etc.
While we acknowledge the government’s effort at taking action and providing “relief materials” and palliatives for affected people, how much more damage would the situation cause before we can take proactive action? Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, approved the distribution of grains to flood-affected victims, and the Governor of Rivers State approved N1 million to support flood victims. In Bayelsa, Governor Douye Diri approved N450 million to flood victims. These actions are merely reactive rather than proactive.
We are left to the perils of situations that are avoidable, or at the very least, whose impact can be mitigated. While we point towards climate change and global warming as one of the leading causes of the floods, we also point inwards, to the government, and to ourselves, for our inadequacies. On one end, there is a lack of infrastructure to contain the situation.
Explainers have shown that the failure to complete the Zungeru and the Dasin Hausa Dams in Niger and Adamawa states contributes to the problem when neighbouring Cameroon releases the pressure of its Lagdo Dam. Predictions of an impending deluge were also sent to now-affected states by federal agencies such as the Nigeria Hydrological Services (NIHSA) and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet). Aside from these, poor waste disposal that blocks the waterways and poor urban planning also take up a fraction of the problem.
Over two million people are affected by this crisis, and there have been more than 600 recorded deaths, with the toll still rising. Over 200,000 homes are completely or partially damaged, and the loss of properties is, perhaps, immeasurable.
I consider it a lack of better judgement to have made the perilous trip to Yenagoa, and count myself lucky to have only lost a pair of slippers while trying to get through. But, there was also a businessman making his way from Owerri to save his shop wares, a young man whose goods delivery had been stuck at the other end for three days, and the market women who arrived at the cross points with truckloads of plantains, some hours after the roads split in two. To them, it was a risk worth taking. Only that day, four people were said to have been taken by the tides, one, trying to save his luggage. Days before, a post-graduate student heading to write an examination was swept away on the East-West road. In Yobe, a woman reportedly lost five children to the floods. Passengers have been lost to boat mishaps.
Aside from being trapped, there is still the looming starvation to contend with. Farms have been washed away, and trucks carrying food products like onions and tomatoes have their goods perishing. Livestock transporters stuck en route down south have reportedly begun slaughtering their animals in the gridlock in Lokoja caused by the floods, and fuel trucks are parked at the side of the road. At the expense of human welfare, the floods are also being used to score cheap political points, and to fuel underlining discord among political parties. It is turning into an avenue to further push existing tribal conflicts.
Nigeria 2012 v 2022
History repeating itself…
— Leah Harding (@LeahHardingAJE) October 14, 2022
Being in Bayelsa State at the moment is a dead end, with the East-West roads cut off. Amassoma road, one that leads to the local airport, has also become inaccessible. Fuel prices have exponentially increased, and the cost of transportation has doubled while food prices increase threefold. Prices will continue to skyrocket as the end of the year approaches.
The entrance to the Bayelsa International Airport on Amassoma Road has also been cut off and divided into 2 by the #FloodInBayelsa . That means the Airport is also inaccessible.
This is by far the worst humanitarian crisis to hit Bayelsa State. pic.twitter.com/owAyHBoR0S
— Fortune God'sSon Alfred ?? (@HRFKingFGA) October 16, 2022
In the coming weeks, as the flood recedes, those that still have homes would return to survey the extent of damage to their properties, others to a wreckage site. But life would go on; people would clean up their homes, rebuild or renovate, and continue again. They would have Thanksgiving services to celebrate having at least something to return to, and keep their fingers crossed for next October again. Till then, the people groan at the standstill.
Sybil Fekurumoh is a creative writer who writes for Afrocritik. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @toqueensaber.