By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Today’s (Friday September 21st 2018) mainstream newspapers competed amongst themselves on which should decorate their front pages with photograph of the vice president Professor Yemi Osinbanjo and the governor of Anambra state Chief Willie Obiano paddling a canoe to inspect some communities in Anambra state in South East Nigeria submerged by huge floods.
This dramatic photograph of Professor Osinbanjo as well as other video recordings of the sad incidents of massive floods in most parts of Nigeria paints Nigeria as a waterlogged nation. As much as these political boat riders put up appearances of dejection and wore mournful looks as they stroll around to see for themselves the direct impacts of this environmental disasters made worst by poor planning and lack of sustainable floods defences, the millions of Nigerians who are now internally displaced persons know that surely they may never receive any relief materials to cushion their loses.
These political dignitaries from Abuja and Awka who wore protective jackets and reportedly took time to also interface with the local populace affected by these floods of overwhelming scale but who unfortunately are in a part of the World whereby the institutions of government mandated to play the role of first responders have often failed to effectively discharge their duties for which billions of tax payers’ money are sunk each year. As Yemi Osinbanjo toured the floods affected areas, the national emergency management agency under his control was nowhere near those areas.
These failing first responders are the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and its miniature opposite known in some states of the federation as the State Emergency Management agency (SEMA).
In the case of NEMA, which is directly under the supervisory purview of the office of the Vice President, the agency is swimming in the floods of managerial incompetence, contract scandals and corruption at the highest level resulting in the alleged misuse of nearly N6 billion.
The incompetences and inefficiency weighing down the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) attracted the attention of the federal legislators but the newly appointed political administrators of this hitherto efficiently administered agency are members of the untouchable class with support from the powerful cabal running the Presidency in Abuja. With this political back up nothing good can come out of any oversight investigation of this rapidly failing agency. The current President has demonstrated a high disrespect for the institutions of the legislature and the judiciary. The tragedy is that Nigeria or much pf Nigeria is under massive scale of floods but the institutional mechanisms for mitigating the consequences of these natural disasters are not functioning optimally.
The dramatic fact is that the heavens has opened up and the rains have come down in torrents and because the riverine communities are such that lack infrastructures to stave off the consequences of these seemingly unceasing rainfalls, the poor populations are put at risk of death and the total destructions of their farm lands and housing assets.
The problem of flood disaster is not limited to Anambra or Imo state whereby the governor Mr. Rochas Okorocha was credited with an unscientific statement that the Imo rains are acidic and have washed away all the roads his administration constructed in the last seven years.
But such far and near communities found in Kogi, Niger, Katsina and Bauchi states have been devastated by the natural disaster aided to inflict maximum consequences by the twin evils of political corruption and poor infrastructures.
In the case of the communities in Niger State bordering the River Niger, the consequences extended to the health status of the inhabitants because the floods have inflicted such health issues such as waterborne diseases to an extent that international broadcasters have flooded the communities to focus their reportage on the emerging health emergency. The World has also been put on notice that waterborne diseases are in resurgence in Northern Nigeria.
Global television stations operating from United Kingdom, China, Germany and the United States of America are known to have covered the health emergency in Niger State that resulted from the flood disaster.
In a story filed in for BBC by a reporter Mayeni Jones, the BBC reports that floods has destroyed homes and farm land even as the reporter noted that there is now a health warning after the floods.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) of the Nigeria’s Ministry of health was reported to have issued a warning for a number of waterborne diseases. A national disaster was declared in four states after over 100 people died from floods.
“With stagnant water in many of the affected sites, the authorities are concerned about the spread of diseases such as cholera and typhoid”.
The CDC, according to BBC, has issued a number of advisories, including avoiding using flood water to drink, wash dishes or prepare food. But locals in Egagi Village, Niger state, say they have little choice but to use the flood water, as they have no other water source.”
In Katsina as well as Bauchi state, the floods swept off hundreds of houses just as dozens of persons were killed. In the 776 local government area councils getting clean drinking water is a big deal even as people rely on stagnant streams for their sources of drinking water and for such other environmental sanitations. You keep imagining the essence of a national water and rural development ministry that gulps several billions to maintain yearly but yet much of Nigeria is without clean drinking water.
As I watched the sad ordeals of our fellow humanity swimming in the flood waters and facing imminent health emergency, the question that follows is why the institutions created to cater for the basic needs of agro-allied industry within the states which is in the concurrent legislative list have all but failed to carry out their duties. You then asked what the Ecological fund is used for.
Reading through part two of the second schedule in the constitution, and especially from section 18 of the second schedule which provides thus: “Subject to the provisions of this constitution, a House of Assembly may make laws for the state with respect to industrial, commercial, or agricultural development of the state.” Section 20 then affirmed that “For the purposes of the foregoing paragraphs of this item, the word “agricultural” includes fishery.
The perennial floods that have swept all through the divergent states of Nigeria have adversely affected the fishery sub-sector.
Section 36, part 1 of the second schedule however exclusively states that the responsibilities for maintaining safety and security of the maritime area lies with the federal government. This means that the federal government needs to play pivotal role in ensuring that rural dwellers who live in riverine communities near the River Niger are protected from the devastating consequences of the floods.
This is what that second schedule, part 1, section 36 states: “Maritime shipping and navigation, including – shipping and navigation on tidal waters; shipping and navigation on the River Niger and its affluents and on any such other inland waterway as may be designated by the National Assembly to be an international waterway or to be an inter-state waterway; lighthouse, lightships, beacons and other provisions for the safety of shipping and navigation; such ports as may be declared by the National Assembly to be Federal ports (including the constitution and powers of port authorities for federal ports).”
What any careful observer will however decipher from watching the news item on the flood disaster in Nigeria as relayed to the world by British Broadcasting Corporation, is that millions of Nigerians are at the risk of suffering large scale waterborne diseases but sadly the federal and state governments have not made practical arrangement and have not put logistics in place to prevent the health disaster from becoming a full blown emergency. The health sector is facing a national emergency due to collapsing health facilities just as government officials travel to foreign jurisdictions at public costs for their healthcare and without any form of functional health insurance scheme in place in Nigeria, millions of Nigerians die for treatable diseases such as the waterborne diseases that have surfaced as a result of the massive floods.
If you compare the quality of responses you get from such nations in the Western societies such as the United States which usually suffers from major natural disasters and then look at how the victims of disasters in Nigeria are left to their cruel fate, you will then understand the import of classifying us who inhabit the Nigerian space as inhabitants of a third world country.
In the United States of America, there is a functional Federal Emergency Management Agency known as FEMA. Appointments into FEMA follows through global best practices and square pegs are put in square holes.
But in Nigeria, the National Emergency Management Agency is never seen as an institution whereby only experts with relevant compentences should administer but rather as jobs for the political stooges.
The difference shows whenever there are natural disasters simultaneously in U.S.A and Nigeria as it is now. We are poles apart.
We in Nigeria are left to wallow in agony as if we are in the era of Noah who constructed an arc for selected few in the Holy Bible whereas others were swept off by biblical floods.
In the United States, the institutional mechanisms are effectively activated to ferry to safety citizens who may be in harm’s way. Warnings are read out on major broadcast stations and emergency rescue workers are mobilized to physically bring out citizens from such flash points before the floods or typhoons arrives.
In Nigeria what you read on pages of newspapers are discordant tones emerging from different quarters warning rural people to find their ways to higher grounds.
These insensitive and irresponsible warnings from the Nigerian government deliberately fails to note that millions of Nigerian rural populace are too poor to read newspapers, watch televisions or listen to radios since electricity supply is next to zero to almost all rural areas.
Even those rural people who have the fortune of having people in the urban areas who would read about these warnings, these are very poor people who are unsure of how to evacuate themselves to higher grounds.
You then begin to ask what kind of misfortune is this, that you have a bunch of people in government who don’t care about your wellbeing but who will only show up for photo opportunities for the media for the purposes of propaganda.
Nigeria’s ecological fund is operated as a cesspool of corruption whereby the presidency officials use the fund to engage in political campaigns and care less about the citizens who would swim and perish in the floods that have become a yearly occurance. This is not how Western civilizations handle disaster relief responses.
In America, President Donald Trump is at the head of the teams that coordinate emergency rescue missions to assist citizens affected by natural disasters.
The center for American progress conducted an analysis and found that the federal government – which means taxpayers – spent $136 billion total from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2013 on disaster relief. This adds up to an average of $400 per household per year.
In America, the congress as a legislative and oversight institution monitoring public expenditure, it has operational and funding autonomy.
Under such tightly monitored atmosphere of transparency and accountability, there is no room for public office holders to steal from fund meant to cushion the effects of natural disasters. Americans just like British do also have functional health insurance schemes.
The Guardian of United Kingdom did a report it carried on Monday December 28th 2015, whereby it states that the cost of United Kingdom floods topped $5 billion British pounds.
Financial Times reported that in just one particular year, the government of U.K spent $735 million British pound on building new flood defences and maintaining old ones.
What then is the state of preparedness in Nigeria to respond to floods? Why do we have to wait until housing assets and human beings are swept away by floods before we throw money at such problems that we could have mitigated but chose to let it happen first? What is the role of states towards emergency management and the training of people of their respective states on measures to stay alive during emergency? Must Nigeria continue to exist like an epic story of the allegory of the waterlogged countrysides?
*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs @www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwanigeria.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.