Sunday, November 13, 2022 12:01 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
It is scary the way floods entered homes, rendered businesses inactive and displaced people in many states in Nigeria. The situation reminds one of the movie, Waterworld, a 1995 American post-apocalyptic action film directed by Kevin Reynolds and co-written by Peter Rader and David Twohy.
The setting of the film is in the distant future. The polar ice cap has completely melted, and the sea level has risen over 7,600 m (25,000 ft), covering nearly all of the land. The plot of the film centres on an otherwise nameless antihero, “The Mariner”, a drifter who sails the Earth in his trimaran.
Janine Pourroy in the 1995 essay, The Making of Waterworld, puts the time setting as the year 2500. As a result of the sea levels rising over 7,600 metres (24,900 ft), every continent on Earth is now underwater. The remains of human civilization live on rugged, floating communities known as atolls, having long forgotten about living on land. It is believed that a mythological “Dryland” exists somewhere in the endless ocean.
“The Mariner, a lone drifter, arrives at an atoll on his trimaran (A trimaran is a multihull boat that comprises a main hull and two smaller outrigger hulls which are attached to the main hull with lateral beams) to trade dirt, a rare commodity, for other supplies. When the atoll’s residents see that the Mariner is a mutant, with gills and webbed feet, they decide to “recycle” him by drowning him in a pit of organic sludge. Suddenly, the atoll is attacked by the Smokers, a gang of pirates seeking a girl named Enola.” The story goes on but shows that dry land is a rare commodity.
We present the views of two experts. First is the former Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and Pro-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ambassador Godknows Igali, who proposed that like South Korea, Nigeria Needs to do River Training to Avert Flood Disasters. There is also Austin Avuru, the Founder and Executive Chairman of AA Holdings.
In his interview, Like South Korea, Nigeria Needs to do River Training to Avert Flood Disaster, Ambassador Godknows Igali, said:
“The impact of this year’s flooding has been massive. Just like it happened about 10 years ago, not only the East-West Road, the link Road from PortHarcourt to Bayelsa has been taking off, the link Road from Delta to Bayelsa state has been taken off due to flooding. You have been a major player in this country. Are you not worried?
l am very worried because I was supposed to go home to Bayelsa. If I am lucky to get a friend with a private jet and I fly by air to Bayelsa, I will still not be able to leave the airport because the road that links the airport to the capital city is broken into two. If I now fly a normal commercial flight and land in Port-Harcourt, the road at Ahoda that links Bayelsa is broken into two. If I say let me go to Asaba, the road connecting Bayelsa at Ughelli is broken into two. So Bayelsa right now is completely inaccessible. The only way I can get to Bayelsa is if I get to Lagos, I go by boat and it will take me to my village. It is a serious matter. As you know, Bayelsa is the last state in the country. We are the last local government, most riverine, most coastal so it is a very big challenge.
We have lived with floods for thousands of years but the difference is that with climate change, the flood water is becoming bigger than what our forefathers used to experience because we are in a flood plain, we are in a wetland, the last state all the water ends up in Bayelsa state. You know River Niger travelled from Futajelon and it is from our state that the water enters the Atlantic Ocean. So we are used to this, and every year, we prepare for it.
You don’t hear much noise from Bayelsa because we are born into flood and we have been living with it. This morning they called me, the ground floor of my house has been completely overtaken up to the level of the windows and they moved everything up to the upper floor. So we shall remain like that for up to a month until the water goes down. It is a terrible situation; a lot of people have been displaced and people like me can run away to Port Harcourt or Abuja but a lot of villagers are held back in that place.
But I want to bare my mind on this flooding issue. I was the permanent Secretary ministry of water resources when the 2012 flooding took place under my eyes.
When the flooding took place 10 years ago, we had a series of workshops. I canvassed it and the Minister agreed and we brought in all the experts into Nigeria. We brought in Nigerian professors of Geoscience, Geophysics, Hydrology, Hydro physics, and whatever related discipline, we brought them from all over the world and we sat for a whole week and deliberated on solutions to permanent flooding in Nigeria. We should look at those reports and bring them up.
I was informed this morning that I am still a member and I was never called for a meeting for some years now. I am also a member of a committee called the Dangote Committee on the 2012 flood and I was the chairman of the subcommittee on Flood Preparedness.
When I became chairman of that committee, I read a lot and discovered that South Korea has largely solved their flooding problems. Flooding must occur every year. South Korea has four rivers that end up in the ocean what they did is what is called a flood water train. Why does flood water stand, it is because estuaries are silted. We have two sources of water, coming down from the Niger, and coming down from the Benue system. By the time they come down, they meet at Lokoja, which is why Kogi state suffers from there they now go to Anambra then they go down to Delta state, the forcados as River null. From Delta it goes to Rivers state as an umbrella, it will now go and flood our communities and stand for like three weeks, and everywhere become covered by water but not big like this. This big one is obviously because of climate change. If not this big one comes like ones in a hundred years but this one is coming more regularly now, this is the third time since 2012.
So we need to do River training which is training the river so that when the water is coming, it just passes to the ocean. That was what they did in South Korea. They even have pumps that push the water as it is getting to the ocean so that it causes a minimal level of damage. We wrote our reports, so people have to look into them, study them very well,
There is something else that we have not done that we must do and I think that somebody should rise to this occasion. Lado dam in Cameroon was built same time when this problem was identified and we were told that we have to build two dams. One dam was to be in Cameroon called Lado dam, this dam was between 1979 and 1982, it has a big reservoir because there is a lot of rainfall, coming from the equatorial region of central Africa. Lado was built and is a huge dam of 500 to 600 square kilometres. On our side, we were supposed to build another dam on our side of the border called the Datsin Hausa Dam. When I was permanent secretary, there were several dams we were to build which we did not start. One of them is the Mambila dam, it has been designed completely but we did the other one called Kashimbilla. Kashimbilla was in case lake Huron erupted in Cameroon we completed that one and we did this dam in Niger state, We did two dams and the third one we were supposed to do is Datsin Hausa. So we were able to start two major dams and we said that the next two should take off, Mambilla and Datsin Hausa but in the middle of the whole thing, I was redeployed to somewhere else.
The idea is that Lado will release and our dam will now hold it and gradually release it for dry season farming. Kashimbilla which we have built takes its water from Benue if not it would have been even worse. We started Kashimbilla in 2010 now it is waiting for the President to go and inaugurate it. So this other dam, Datsin Hausa must be built.
When I was permanent secretary, we paid for some experts to go to Anambra to see where best to locate the dam even if it means using a canal to take the water because they said that the areas in Anambra that are flooded are lowland. So we said ok we can use a canal to go into some places in Anambra which has good geology to build a dam, a major reservoir that can hold water in the dry season and we now release this water to farmers. These things are not rocket science. Gadaffi built what he called man-made rivers in Libya in a desert. Libya under Gadaffi became a net exporter of agricultural products into the world. That is what I can say will solve this problem.
Why are we not building Datsin Hausa, why are we not doing river training? There is a lot of sedimentation, clear these sediments, and let the water be able to pass without destroying the ecology.
Also, in his essay, The Flooding Menace: When We Ignore the Root Causes, Austin Avuru advocates the need to fix our major inland waterways’ infrastructure.
In his words: “The flooding menace in Nigeria has now become an annual ritual. In September/October each year, whole towns, villages and communities are completely submerged in water. Deaths occur, valuables are lost, and farmlands are devastated while hundreds of thousands of persons are displaced.
Then the usual drama … government officials, politicians and sundry attention seekers queue up to display our deep sense of “compassion and philanthropy” by trooping to the various IDP Camps to donate toilet rolls, foodstuff, mattresses, etc. By mid-November, the flood waters would have receded, the victims count their losses and everyone returns to business as usual. We do nothing and remember nothing until the next 12 months when we repeat the annual ritual.
But why does this disaster befall us every year? Some people have suggested climate change. I checked and the rainfall index in Nigeria, which stands at about 1295 has remained unchanged since 2001. So our rainfall intensity and pattern have been largely predictable over the last 20 years. So, what is the nature of this problem that has defied the solution?
All the communities that have been most badly affected by this menace have one thing in common. They are all situated along the banks of the Rivers Benue and Niger and tributaries of the Niger River.
The ease and ferocity with which these rivers overflow their banks and flood adjacent habitats call to question the real root causes of the perennial menace. While driving on the bridges across River Benue in Makurdi, or River Niger in Onitsha or Patani during the dry season, a quick look would show that the rivers are so silted up that you can practically walk across the river at some portions. What this means is that these rivers and their tributaries, which are supposed to be critical drainage channels now have near-zero carrying capacity. Any incidents of heavy, sustained rainfall or release of water from any of the upstream dams would have all the water simply overflowing the banks, resulting in massive flooding of adjacent communities. Again, because of the near-zero carrying capacity of these rivers, the flood waters would take days/weeks to gradually recede.
The Nile River, 6650km long and passing through nine African countries, has remained navigable all year round since biblical times. It is 26 to 36 feet deep with busy traffic of Cargo and Cruise ships. Cruises are a major tourist attraction on the Nile and in Egypt. A four-day cruise along the Nile can cost as much as $500 per person. Large tonnages of cargo … agricultural produce, timber and manufactured goods are moved through the Nile River every year. So, while others have turned their rivers into a major nexus of economic activity, from drainage to tourism to transportation, we have turned ours into a killing field for our hapless citizens and a source of economic devastation to our country.
Dredging the River Benue to Lokoja and the River Niger from Baro in Niger State to the Atlantic Ocean, to a minimum draught of 10 feet will transform both rivers to the same economic value as the Nile is to Egypt. From Baro to Onitsha by speed boat would be 90 minutes instead of nine hours. Imagine ferrying tons of yam and other farm produce from Makurdi to Onitsha on a self-propelled badge in three hours! Most importantly, these rivers and their tributaries would constitute the critical drainage channels to ensure that adjoining towns and villages remain safe while reaping the benefits of the fertile banks of these rivers.
So, why are we unable to do the simple things that other Countries of even smaller size do, as a matter of routine? Are we just wicked at heart, too corrupt to care or just incompetent?
In 2008, the Yar Adua administration awarded an N34.8 billion contract to dredge the River Niger from Baro to the Atlantic. The following year, another contract for the rebuilding of the Baro inland Port was awarded to complement other inland ports in Lokoja and Onitsha. The dredging did not happen. In 2011, the Jonathan administration revisited the project, revising the contract sum upwards to N49 Billion. The mantra then was that the River Niger would be navigable all year round from Baro to the Atlantic. But the Federal Ministry of Works and the Inland Waterways Authority would rather fight over the control of sand dredging rights in the Lagos Lagoon than serve this nation diligently to address key existential problems.
The state governments have not fared any better. Travel to Yenagoa in Bayelsa State or Ashaka/Aboh in Delta State and you realise that dredging and maintaining the River Niger tributaries that criss-cross the low-lying parts of these states to some minimum depth is more important than building roads. These tributaries ought to be the main arteries of well-engineered drainage master plans for these towns and villages. Until this is done, the roads we build in these towns can only wait to be washed away every rainy season.
We must start today to plan the execution of this major inland waterway infrastructure project, both at the Federal and State levels. It will take time and discipline to execute, starting from the Atlantic and working our way towards Baro and Makurdi. Maybe I am asking for too much, knowing that we have been working on the East-West Road for 40 years and are not done yet! But this is much more than infrastructure for transportation. Lives, whole communities, and food security will all depend on it. Failure to act is an existential threat.”