Friday, June 10, 2022 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu
Let us confess straightaway from the outset to borrowing today’s title from the inimitable literate bard, NiyiOsundare’s popular poem taken from his poetry volume entitled The Eye of the Earth. In the poem under reference, the environmentally-conscious poet dramatically highlights some of the fun activities that people indulge in, particularly romantic rendezvous, dalliances of love which an intrusive “baseje” rain sometimes ruins.
Consider, for a moment, the contrastive conjunction “But” in the title. By virtue of its position in the sentence structure, it draws attention to its importance in signifying a paradigm shift in a normative regime; a disjunctive interruption to a plateau of equilibrium. Things fall apart, however unremarkably. In the context of the poetic ecosystem or its conceptual space, the poet-environmentalist panegyrises laudatory the beneficial attributes of rain, namely: as a source of life; sustainer of human earthly existence through the provision of water on which earth’s denizens depend. Obviously, we as homo sapiens living on planet Earth cannot exist without water.
Thus rain replenishes all the repositories of water – streams, rivulets, rivers, ponds, seas and oceans. Again, imagine for a moment a rainless universe, a cosmos bereft of trees and plants; an ecosystem threatened in the main by shrinking bodies of terrestrial water; of dying and decaying fauna; of humans losing body-mass and oomph due to starvation and Biblical famine brought about by rainlessness (permit the neologism). Rain is Nature’s gift to itself. Small wonder, immortal Fela sings:“Water no get enemy… water, e no get enemy, if you fight am, unless you wan die…”
But it is said that anything that has a positive side equally has a negative one. So also is rain. Rain is at once boon and bane, a blessing and a curse. In our country of endless forced errors and human-induced disasters, rain has been a curse rather than a blessing as God intended it to be for all of creation. This “resource curse” called rain is particularly irksome and unbearable in Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, Nigeria’s “Centre of Excellence” itself: Lagos. Eko or Lagos, as they say, is the microcosm of the Nigerian nation. When Lagos sneezes, Nigeria catches a cold. But it doesn’t rain in Lagos, it pours. Rain has so much messed up the city by the Lagoon that its motto “Centre of Excellence” now sounds like a wicked act of self-ridiculing.
Over time, many public-spirited, concerned citizens, commentators and columnists have commented on the deleterious after-effects of rain, sometimes torrential downpour, in Lagos especially and the country generally, suggesting in the process a welter of how to positively harness its benefits and curb its destructive tendencies. It is, however, difficult to see any demonstrable evidence to show that such counsel has been taken to heart by the relevant authorities, especially the various States’ Ministries of Environment. You get the feeling that those charged with maintaining our physical environment are either hamstrung by lack of adequate funding, absence of state-of-the-art equipment, lack of proper motivation or they have abandoned their statutory brief as a result of the collective malaise of citizen antipathy.
These days when the thunder rumbles, bringing dark and dreary auguries of yet another round of sorrow, tears and blood to hapless and beleaguered Nigerians, everyone, rich and poor, loses their cool as they anticipate largely human-induced chaos and calamity. Social media is awash with amateur video clips, thanks to citizen journalism, showing a heartrending kaleidoscope of flash-flooding and resultant gully erosion. In Lagos, for instance, the Marina, the Lekki – Epe corridor, the Bar Beach axis of Victoria Island are bad news whenever it rains. Who can forget that iconic image of a white man ferrying desperately-trapped Lagosians on his kayak in front of Silverbird Galleria on Sir Ahmadu Bello Way?
To be certain, Herbert Macaulay Way, Yaba, Ketu-Ojota, Ikorodu area, notably Agura-Gberigbe suburb, Satellite Town, Festac Town, Agege and even Ikeja, the seat of power in Lagos State are all usually submerged in rain-water whenever it rains. As a matter of fact, there is hardly any single road in the Lagos metropolis (and one supposes in most villages, towns and cities in Nigeria) that is not ridden with pot-holes and craters. This rutted dirt (death?) roads, formerly well-paved macadamized beauties, are now a shadow of their old selves. Prior warnings regarding storm drains and canal clearance always fall on deaf ears. Who cares about Motherland? Na my papa get Lagos? Now, a little “pimple”, a little “boil” has transmogrified into a malignant “whitlow”! By the same token, a spittle of rain now usually results in a life-threatening deluge. Indeed, “The rain. The rain/ The rain is onibanbantiba/ The rain is onibanbantiba´(NiyiOsundare, Waiting Laughters). Life has been lost to floods in Lagos and in other parts of Nigeria. Not just kids, but even adults have been reportedly drowned or carried away in fast-flowing floods. Houses, homes, streets and other valuable items have been destroyed by rain.
A few days ago, yours sincerely, who couldn’t use his car because of bad roads and the hellish Lagos traffic, was almost done in by rain which had made the derelict road impassable. The minibus, completely shorn of wipers and suffering from mechanical dysfunction, had broken down right amidst the eddying flood. We were all trapped, inmates of Lagos mobile gaol called danfo. And, one after another, we began to flee into the blinding, unrelenting showers of “blessing”! It was utter bedlam, as hapless Lagosians and ruinous rain sought to outwit one another. It was a bedraggled Sunday as Lagos yet again counted her losses, no thanks to a blessing-turned-curse.
This is not a localised incident but a state-wide, nay, a national calamity. But let’s stay with Lagos as a metonymic instantiation of our national cluelessness in spite of meliorative insights from science and technology. Take Badagry, for instance. Whenever it rains, Badagry, the idyllic Eden of coconut trees and the Atlantic, with its satellite villages and hamlets, is temporarily suspended from civilisation. Its denizens stay marooned to their homes for days on end to allow the level of rainwater to recede or abate before venturing outdoors, a situation poignantly reminiscent of the Biblical experience of Noah and his Ark.
As earlier highlighted, water (or rain) is a good thing. Farmers need it to grow their crops, failing which hunger and starvation will stalk our land. But too much of everything is bad. Too much rain is not good for crop production, or agricultural activities. It is, therefore, doubtful if farmers themselves always rejoice whenever the sky is misty and cloudy a la MajekFashek of “Send Down the Rain” fame.
Tillers of the earth know that rain sometimes ruins the footpaths to the farm; they know the neighbourhood is submerged under flood most of the time; they know excessive water can only destroy and ruin their crops, and they know that the advent of rain is bad news for all and sundry in our harried seasons. One does not, therefore, see the sense in touting the idea of “Greater Lagos” or Lagos Free Trade Zone or Lagos as a smart city when Lagos of today is rotting away right before our eyes. What is the point in swooning over in a cosy office computer-generated imagery of a futuristic Greater Lagos and being hit between the eyes by the gory sordidness of a rickety and wretched Lagos in the here-and-now? The joke on the street is that whenever it rains in Lagos, shantytowns and villas merge in liquid conjugality. This un/holy wedlock of common misery has become a leveller of sorts in the Centre of Excellence. The rich, indeed, also cry!
No paddy forLasgidi as rainwater equally buries exotic carapaces and the poor man’s jalopy in water graves that are Lagos roads. Let’s be clear: we cannot blame this malaise on the worldwide crisis of climate change. Even before the anthem of climate change became deafening, we have been held hostage seasonally by rain, red in tooth and claw.True enough, the United States and parts of Western Europe were recently inundated with flash-floods causing tremendous damage in human and physical terms. Their situation can truthfully be put at the doorstep of climate change. The same argument holds for the wildfires of Australia and California and Siberia. Even so, the governments of these affected nations are doing their level best to salvage the situation and prevent a recurrence, if possible. In the US, for instance, there is a season of hurricanes, and, as such, many countries, municipalities, and states have put in place levees and sundry barriers to stave off flood encroachments. However, due to the sheer ferocity of these seasonal storm systems and hurricanes, these preventive measures are overwhelmed by the monster storms wreaking havoc in their wake.
We recall, in this connection, Hurricane Ida which pummelled Louisiana, especially New Orleans (cf: Hurricane Katrina of 2005 that inspired Osundare’s poetry volume entitled City Without People: The Katrina Poems). Even after the storm made landfall and downgraded to mere gusts of wind, authorities still rally the people to rebuild their destroyed and devastated homes and lives. And you can bet on it, in a matter of weeks, everywhere would look paradisiacal again. And life would return to normal again.
The question, then, is: why not here in Nigeria? Why can’t we fix that little crack in the road before it becomes a death trap? Why can’t we revamp those collapsed storm drains and canals before they widen into gorges of mass entrapment? That threatened road artery; that cratered highway, whose business is it to repair it? The state or the Federal government? Do we leave innocent people to perish uselessly while states and federal governments bicker over spheres of influence? Yet, the states can start somewhere. Illegal structures such as unapproved buildings, abandoned vehicles, dilapidated and disused shops and kiosks, should be cleared off. These are the jobs of Ministries of Environment, Urban and Physical Planning, etc. We cannot afford to sit on our hands in helpless surrender in an attitude of fatalistic despair.
To resign to Fate is to be crippled fast, according to Ola Rotimi. Let’s remodel the landscape, especially in our urban environments. The way to go nowadays is re-greening or creating eco-friendly environments. And, maybe we ought to reactivate the monthly Environmental Sanitation Exercise in Lagos, while the National Orientation Agency (NOA) redoubles its effort in mobilising the citizenry towards greater environmental responsibility and awareness. The government needs to urgently devise ways and means of combatting flooding so as to guarantee the safety of life and property. By so doing, rain can be seen once again, not as a resource curse like our crude oil has become but as showers of blessing that God meant it to be.
Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos.