Showers of Sorrows

It was a new yam festival day. The people of Igodor in Ogoja, Cross Rivers State, were in a celebration mood. Pounded yam-filled mortars, bowls, and calabashes. And more was being pounded. Men, women, and children dashed about in frenzy, as the pulsating traditional rhythms filled the air, welcoming guests from far and near.Suddenly, a dark clumsy cloud floated and settled gloomily over the village skies. Before the first traditional rites and sacrifices could be offered to the gods of fertility, the clouds broke and torrential rain descended on the village. Calamity had come knocking. The crowd dashed for shelter. And for 48 hours, no one dared to set his foot outside, as the heavy and persistent rain led to flood which swept across Igodor and seven other villages in the Nkum clan.

Two bridges across the Aya River were submerged. Three kids and hundreds of domestic animals were swept off. Hundreds of hectares of rice and yam farmlands were washed away. Houses, schools, churches, clinics, roads, and economic trees were destroyed. For another four weeks, the 5,000 inhabitants of the area were cut off from the rest of the world. Igodor, one of the largest producers of yam and rice in Nigeria, stood drenched, virtually immersed, and submerged under water. As a result of the flood prices of yam and local rice took a leap. At least, in the last 10 years, this farming village has never seen such rainfall.

Rain, the heavenly showers generally regarded as the harbinger of good, is fast turning an agent of disaster, a paradoxical barrier to the desired self-sufficiency in food production, even in drought-prone northern Nigerian cities. Across the country, the intensity of rainfall in the past few weeks have left in its wake, massive destruction to life and property, aggravating in the process the encroachment rate of the gulley, marine, and sheet erosion.

Benue, Cross River, Rivers, Niger, Sokoto, and Ondo states are some of the worst affected states. Perhaps, unknown to governments and many Nigerians, is the severity of the disaster and the fact that many towns and villages in the country, stand a great risk of being completely buried by flood and erosion if a concerted effort is not made to combat the problem.

In Niger State alone, as the steady and heavy rainfalls continue to pound the roofs of villages for days, about 5,953 farmers have been thrown out of their homes and farms. In addition, a total of 65,366 acres of farmland cultivated with maize, guinea corn, yam, potatoes, cassava and vegetables have submerged by the flood. Though only four deaths have been officially acknowledged by government, the death toll is known to have been higher, as about 1,500 families in six local government areas (Luvun, Gbako, Chanchaga, Rafi, Agaie and Lapai) have been marooned by flood since mid-August. It is not possible to get in touch with some of these villages especially in Luvun, except by helicopter, used for dropping relief materials. Susan Suba, the chairman of the Niger State Emergency Relief Fund Committee told Newswatch, “the value of property destroyed so far is put conservatively at N20million.

The situation in Niger State which is believed to be aggravated by additional release of excess water from the Shiroro hydro-electric dam has defied meager relief efforts and resources of the Niger State government. As at the time of going to press, the plea for aid sent to the Federal Government about eight weeks ago is yet to receive any response. Newswatch’s reporters who went round four of the six local government areas by helicopter filed a stunning report of “grave disaster.”

Governor David Mark told Newswatch he first dispatched danger signals to Lagos on August 23. The governor followed up with another SOS signal on August 25 and 26 and then a personal visit to Lagos to report the situation. Nothing happened. Said governor Mark in an angry tone: “It is most surprising that it has taken Lagos so much time to react. Honestly, the way Lagos is reacting and the speed at which it is reacting tends to give the impression that this country cannot respond to or withstand any disaster. Imagine, since August 21, we reported the disaster and today is October 8, nothing is heard from Lagos.”

So far the State’s emergency relief committee has been able to supply only 1,000 bags of rice, 600 bags of salt, and 70 cartons of sugar to victims of flood in the State. Mark said the State needs at least N120 million “fast” to be able to rehabilitate the affected people. “We don’t have even one-tenth of the resources required to solve the problem,” the governor said.

Analysts say the rehabilitation program for the flooded villages of Niger and Cross River States may require more than salt and sugar. Government officials agree. Said Michael Ogar, Cross River State Commissioner for Information and chairman of the disaster relief committee, “the nature of relief needed by the affected farmers is not a token food supply. What is needed is the rehabilitation of their roads and bridges and the supply of farming equipment to help the farmers reactivate their farmlands.” Chief Ujoko, the village head of Igodor, supported this view when he said “let them give small and special loan preference to all affected farmers. Something should be done to avoid the repeat occurrence of flood and expansion of gulleys.”

The gulleys have been expanding in Ankpa, Benue State. Ankpa town, the headquarters of Ankpa local government area, is facing the danger of being buried by flood and erosion. A heavy rainfall a few weeks ago swept through the town like a hurricane, hauling away and sweeping clean the Ankpa town market. Everything was emptied into the nearby River Umabolo where owners later combed for their wares. A boy of 20, who attempted to rescue his articles, was swept along with the articles. His body was later picked up at the bank of the river. There are five major gulleys in the town named after streets: Idah, Market, Mosque, Zaria, and Kano gulleys.

About seven houses have caved into the Idah gulley which has destroyed the whole Idah road. Many more houses are at the verge of collapsing into the gulley. The same gulley is threatening the Ankpa town stadium, standing only 20 meters away from the deep ravine. Contract for the reclamation and control of flood and erosion in Ankpa was awarded early in 1983 to Gyado-Steer Nigeria Limited. The contract was to be completed this year but not much has been done. Many inhabitants of the area believe the contractors are incapable of handling the job. Often, some of the completed portions of the project and heavy concrete slabs belonging to the contractors are swept away into the river. Said the district head, Onu of Ankpa, Halilu Sani: “The control project seems to worsen the situation. I do not understand what they (contractors) are doing. Government should take over the job and award it to a better contractor.”

The sole administrator of Ankpa local government area, Daniel Agogo confirmed that “work is not progressing at the rate we like.” However, the contractor’s spokesman and site engineer, George Okpor blamed the delay on “frequent change of government, delay in payment of contract fees and frequent breakdown of Gboko cement factory,” where the bulk of cement for reclamation work is obtained. But the engineer hoped the project will soon be completed.

There is no such hope in Cross River State where nearly all the local government areas are steadily being devastated by menacing marine, gulley, and sheet erosion. More than 70 “very serious” erosion sites and a hundred relatively minor but expanding sites have been documented. The worst hit area is Uyo, the second largest town in Cross River State. There is no more trace of the popular Uyo Stadium, as that area of the town is completely buried, leaving behind a gnawing ravine, spanning over two kilometers.

The Uyo gulley is expanding in all directions and is currently on the verge of swallowing the Cross River State University, standing impossibly by the side of the yawning ravine. The Palmwine Club of the University changed its branch name to “Ilya Ravine,” meaning the Ravine branch of the Palmwine Club. The St. Luke’s Hospital at Uyo, the prisons, barracks, and a nearby village, Ita Uruan, are just awaiting imminent collapse into the ravine.

Marine erosion has not spared Calabar, Ibeno, Oron, and James Town. In Calabar, the University Teaching Hospital is seriously threatened. The National Museum at Oron is about to collapse. Said Martins Usenekong, the Cross River State deputy chief information officer, “What the marine erosion areas require is not just reclamation from the sea, but the construction of embankment to effectively check further devastation.”

But the money to do that is not there. According to Ogar, the State needs about N70 million for erosion control in Calabar town alone and N300 million for the State. “Only the Federal Government can shoulder such responsibilities,” the commissioner said.

Eunan Ishabor, a school principal and native of Igodor, wants the Federal Government to take a serious look at these problems especially as some of the most affected areas are the country’s breadbasket.

Academics and experts in flood and erosion sciences say the ultimate solution to the flood and erosion problem lies in the attainment of zero runoff of rain water from each compound and farmland. Un-utilized areas of large compounds should be covered with grass or gardens. Rain water from roofs should be collected and piped into reservoirs for later use or disposed of through deep mud wells or pits. According to Sunday Oyegoke, a hydrologist at the University of Lagos, “people should be discouraged or at least made to realize the risk of setting up settlements within the flood range of a major river.

Governor Dan Archibong of Cross River State, a colonel in the Nigerian Army, has argued that “as a modern society, we have to prepare ourselves for emergencies. We have to guarantee succor to those afflicted and dispossessed through no fault of their own, particularly innocent women and children. We must ensure that in case of any disaster, we as a society will be amply equipped to give immediate relief to victims. This is invaluable social insurance.”

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