Going by the extent of devastation caused by the current flooding in Ahoada West, Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni and parts of Ahoada East and Abua/Odua Local Government Area of Rivers State, one would better appreciate the remarks of the American playwright and novelist, Sylvia Plath, who in her famous poem entitled Conversation Among the Ruins asked: “Which such blight wrought on our bankrupt estate, what ceremony of words can patch the havoc?”
It is on record that at least five persons have died in Ahoada West alone while thousands have been displaced from their homes in about 71 communities that make up the local government area.
This is applicable to the three ethnic nations of Engene, Ekpeye and Ogbogolo of Ahoada West.
Similar death toll and displacement have been recorded in Ogba/Egbema and, in particular, Ndoni axis of the Local Government Area.
To this end, the means of livelihood of the rural folks have been destroyed, leaving them as destitutes in their communities
This is not to undermine water and sanitation and the associated health challenges, mandatory closure of schools and worship centres as churches, mosques, including juju shrines for other traditional worshippers.
Security matters have arisen in make-shift tents and displacement camps, dearth of cassava grinding machines to convert cassava to garri flour arising from uprooting premature cassava.
In Ahoada West, three camps have been established at Mbiama Townhall, Akinima and community Secondary School, Ukobe, among others.
Speaking in an interview with this writer, Chairman of Ahoada West Local Government Area, Hope Ikiriko, said his council informed stakeholders on how the flood will affect their farm lands.
He concluded thus: “In no distant time, we began to see the flood but I must confess that the flood got to Ahoada West earlier than envisaged.”
The paramount ruler of Akinima, Afuashi Belema Richard, and Chief Eniata Abieba, as well as Mr. Welcome Kelegbu and Gift Ade of Osusu Joinkrama condemned government attitude to disaster pointing out that they are now living as refugees in their land. Richard further remarked that those whose houses are not yet flooded stand the risk of being overtaken by the ravaging flood waters in the night while sleeping.
The situation is the same in Ekpeye communities of Odieke Igbuduya, Odiereke Ubie, Ikodu, Odiokwu Enito one and two, Olokuma, Ombo and Akalaolu.
Both Ikiriko and his ONELGA counterpart, Ifeanyi Odili, have commenced distribution of relief materials to internally displaced persons.
In fact, the former stated categorically that the challenges emanating from the flood disaster have become overwhelming beyond the capacity of the local government area alone.
On the other hand, while many displaced persons are dismayed at the response of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), its officials denied report of neglect and negligence, explaining that they conducted Need Assessment exercise early enough but new cases arose thereafter.
Head of Emergency Operations, NEMA South-South, Thickman Godwin, confirmed leading the Need Assessment exercise in Ahoada East and West and admitted that new cases arose thereafter.
Be that as it may, one major challenge that has arisen since the 2018 flood began is the challenge of data integrity and use of language, otherwise referred to as terminology in an earlier scientific report that heralded the flood.
For instance, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) had in May 2018 released its Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) for the 36 states of the country.
Accordingly, the outlook projected that Sokoto, Niger, Benue, Anambra, Ogun, Osun, Cross River and Yobe States would have high risk of “River Flooding.”
It also indicated that Lagos, Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta and Ondo states might experience “coastal flooding.”
Worse still, on September 18, 2018 the Federal Government, through the Head of NEMA, declared the ongoing flood in Kogi, Niger, Anambra and Delta as national disaster.
The Federal Government subsequently allocated N3 billion (three billion naira) to provide medical and relief support for persons affected in parts of the country.
Rivers State is not found in the list of states to benefit from the N3bn for medical and relief support for persons affected, a development that has attracted a motion from the Rivers State House of Assembly, condemning exclusion of the state from the list.
As if that was not enough, the European Union also donated three million pounds to Nigeria’s flood affected states for which Rivers State is also not among states NEMA listed for disbursement.
The non-inclusion of Rivers State as a beneficiary of the largesse meant for flood affected people has attracted divergent views.
Some attributed the non-inclusion to politically motivated factors which, according to those who share this sentiment, is a grand design to starve the state of any fund that the Governor Wike-led government might use to prosecute electioneering campaign.
There are those who described the attempt to starve the state of fund rather too simplistic and opine that the fault came from the report of NIHSA when in 2018 Annual Flood Outlook published in May it classified Rivers State under those that might experience coastal flooding and not river flooding.
A professor of Allied Meteorology and Environmental Management of the Institute of Geo Sciences and Space Technology, Rivers State University, Akuro Gobo, was taciturn in condemning terminology but stressed the need for professionals to be careful with the words they use in describing things.
“Is there a coast without a river and river without a coast? He asked.
In his words, an environmental manager, Mishak Uyi, outrightly described NIHSA’s report as erroneous by classifying Rivers State under coastal flooding instead of river flooding and called on NIHSA to immediately correct the misleading report; contending that Rivers State has had problems with river flooding arising from overflow of the Niger and its major tributaries like Orashi River as was the case in 2012 and this 2018.
Uyi emphasized: “I called it deliberate because it will be unheard of for any agency such as NIHSA to get its science wrong. It is a deliberate attempt to undo Rivers State. NIHSA go back and correct your mistake.”
Interestingly, NEMA had in the second week of October 2018 included Rivers State in the list of flood disaster states describing flood in the state as national disaster.
Should this be a polite way of correcting the mistake of NIHSA since NEMA relies on scientific report of NIHSA for planning?
Truly, the flood is here in Rivers State as it was in 2012 arising from the overflow of the Niger and its tributaries.
Believing that the non-inclusion of Rivers State in the list of states to benefit from the N3 billion support for flood victims in the affected states in the first instance is not politically motivated, it is pertinent for strategic organizations such as NIHSA to attach premium to data integrity and avoid improper and ambiguous terminologies in its scientific reports.
It is germane for flood prone states to have local government and state emergency management agencies to facilitate prompt emergency response by such agencies.
Gobo posited in an interview, there must be collaboration between Federal and State governments in desilting the waterways as well as synergy by different professionals in engineering, environmental and geo-sciences in the construction of roads and drainages.
Religious organizations such as churches and mosques must demonstrate love for humanity by leading in providing succor to flood victims.
As Nigerians prepare for 2019 general elections the electorate must task politicians on what their political parties would do to address the challenge of flooding in the state.
The time to act is now!
Sika is a public affairs analyst.