Growing Unhealthy Politics on Flooding: Where Perception is not Reality

Growing Unhealthy Politics on Flooding: Where Perception is not Reality

Despite a deluge of criticisms, including that of lack of empathy that have greeted President Buhari’s attitude towards the issue of floods that have ravaged at least 30 out of the 36 states of the federation, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development and, Sadiya Umar Farouq ruffled waters Thursday when she

Despite a deluge of criticisms, including that of lack of empathy that have greeted President Buhari’s attitude towards the issue of floods that have ravaged at least 30 out of the 36 states of the federation, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development and, Sadiya Umar Farouq ruffled waters Thursday when she said Bayelsa is not one of the ten most affected states.

Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister for Humanitarian Affairs

The Minister was ostensibly reacting to allegation of neglect from the Niger Delta elder statesman, Pa Edwin Clark who had called on the Federal Government to act fast to avert disasters in the Niger Delta following flooding in the region. In a statement, he accused the Federal Government of being nonchalant over the issue, calling on the Humanitarian Ministry and other agencies of government to urgently deplore relief materials to the areas.

Flooding in Bayelsa State

Said he: “For instance, in Bayelsa State, there is a palpable case of humanitarian crisis. Most communities of the State, including majority parts of Yenagoa, the State Capital, are under water. The people of the State, who do not have where to go to, have resorted to some crude accommodation of pinning sticks inside the water, with a platform which they use as a bed, made up of cellophane bags.

“There is starvation in the land, no water for the people to drink, the State is cut off from all sources that supply food to her, even electricity supply, has been cut off. It is a scary situation, as this exposes the people to danger. The Federal Government has not done anything to reduce the plight and suffering of the people.

“I enjoin Federal Government bodies to act fast and sincerely. And should ensure that if relief items are provided, they will reach the right people for whom it is meant,” he said.

It is disheartening that at least 600 Nigerians are dead, so far, and two million Nigerians displaced; over 103,393 hectares of farmlands partially destroyed, with 332,327 hectares totally damaged; 2,407 Nigerians injured, while partially damaged houses are in the region of 121,318, with 82,053 houses completely destroyed.

The foregoing pathetic situation has attracted international attention as the United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric during a press briefing at the UN headquarters in New York acknowledged that flooding in Nigeria affected more than 2.8 million men, women, and children.

The United Nations noted that no fewer than 195 people have been reportedly dead and while more than 322,000 were also affected by the flooding caused by torrential rain in Niger Republic. This year’s rainy season is said to be one of the deadliest in the West African country’s history.

The United Nations (UN) after an on-the-spot assessment described the flood disaster in Bayelsa State as a crisis of major proportion. The UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria and Representative of the Secretary General, Matthias Schmale, stated this on Saturday when he led a delegation comprising officials of the global body, the World Health Organisation and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources on a courtesy visit to Governor Douye Diri in Government House, Yenagoa.

Schmale noted that the cause of the present disaster was climate change and that it would be the responsibility of the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, to speak emphatically during this year’s Climate Conference in Egypt about the need to invest in mitigation and adaptation measures.

Governor Douye Diri said Bayelsa state is the worst hit by the flood. “From what you have said, it is very clear that you are satisfied with the fact that Bayelsa State is the most impacted state in this 2022 flooding in Nigeria.” He said the flood has affected Bayelsa in no small measure as almost a million people in over 300 communities in the state have been displaced while several deaths have also been recorded. There has also been damage to critical infrastructure like hospitals, roads, bridges and schools across different LGAs.

The Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouq has warned of the likely devastating consequences of the floods in some states such as Rivers, Cross River, Delta, Bayelsa and Anambra, particularly if inhabitants of the flood-prone areas and flood plains failed to relocate from such areas

In his early reaction President Buhari gave the Minister for Water Resources 90 days to come up with proposals on how to mitigate the effect of the flood as well as prevent its reoccurrence. Consequently, the Minister has gone ahead to inaugurate a technical working group and steering committee on the management of floods and disasters in Nigeria.

Chairman of the committee and Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, who spoke in Abuja Thursday, said in accordance with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive, he would coordinate teams from the relevant federal ministries, agencies and state governments to create action plans for preventing floods and disasters in Nigeria within 90 days.

Other members of the inter-ministerial committee also spoke; the Minister of Environment, Dr. Hassan Abdullahi, said that flooding was a result of human activity and urged states to heed early warning signs.He advised that building permits be strictly enforced by the governments to end the practice of building indiscriminately on flood planes.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, noted that the rise in global temperatures had led to predictions that the effects of climate change on people and the environment will worsen over the next years.

The Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Onyekachi Ibezim, lamented that his state had suffered huge losses from the 2022 floods, as it affected a third of its local government areas. He added that the formation of the committee came in good time as the state \ government was deliberating on using excess water from flooding for hydropower generation.

There are worrisome narratives on the havoc done by the flood, all over Nigeria and it was anticipated that the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs would embark on empathy visits to some if not all the affected states given the magnitude of the problem. But many Nigerians were jolted that the visits did not happen but felt irked when the Minister said Bayelsa is not among the top ten affected states in the country. This statement is not in agreement with the optics where more than half of Bayelsa state been shown on television as being submerged in the floods. It may as well be a case of perception differing from reality.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq stated that from assessment carried out so far by her ministry, Bayelsa State is not among the top ten most affected states by the recent floods. She was addressing State House correspondents at the weekly ministerial briefing on Thursday, the minister told Nigerians that instead, Jigawa is ranked number one most hit state.Flooding in Jigawa State

According to the ministry, the criteria used to arrive at the conclusion include: the number of deaths recorded and displaced persons per state, number of injuries, partially damaged, houses totally damaged, farmlands partially or totally damaged. Other details about how the information was sourced are scanty.

Some Nigerians consider her statement ill-timed. Others wonder at would be its import and the motives. Rather than give succour to the affected homes, it has inflamed passion and anger. They are concerned on why the Minister would not be proffering preventive and long-lasting solution to the issue of floods, but instead regaling Nigerians to a theatre of the absurd by choosing an inappropriate time to grade who is more affected than the other.

The Minister’s reality through her grading of the 10 mostly affected states does not resonate with the public perception. This has given rise to conspiracy theories as it is being speculated that the sudden grading could be a pre-emptive step towards positioning some states for a big cut when the sharing of relief materials and funding from abroad for the recovery phase would commence. Those reliefs may be on their way sooner than expected.

More importantly, the level of devastation in Jigawa is not as much from the public perception to what obtains in Bayelsa state. Bayelsa state is not taking the Minister’s statement lying low. It has come out smoking and has lashed out at what it considers insensitive statement by the Minister. The state government described the Federal Government’s gesture to the state as unfair since the flooding also noted the comment of the minister as “disheartening but not surprising”. Analysts are of the opinion that what could end the war of words and the use of subjective criteria is for the government to engage the services of independent assessors to determine with empirical facts which state is worst hit by the flood disaster.

Bayelsa State Government Lashes Out at the Minister

The Bayelsa state government statement titled, “Flood: FG Abandons Its Responsibility In Bayelsa”, signed by the Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr Ayibaina Duba. reads in part: “from all indications, the minister was becoming part of the disaster she was appointed to handle as she sat in Abuja without visiting the state and relied on false data to draw her conclusions.

“The minister’s claim is disheartening but not surprising. The slow response to the humanitarian crisis arising from the flood despite the President’s directive for her to come to the aid of the state is indeed a confirmation of our belief that the Federal Ministry and its agencies have abandoned their responsibility and are not interested in managing the disaster.

“Indeed, the Minister is already turning into part of the disaster she was appointed to manage. She had earlier claimed that only four Local Government Areas of the state were impacted by the unprecedented flood.

“She was obviously relying on a bogus data in contradiction of the clear reality that every local government in the state is impacted by the flood in varying degrees. The way the minister has treated our state is so unfortunate that our people are beginning to doubt that we are part of Nigeria. She sat comfortably in Abuja to determine the most flooded!!!

“In fact, the minister’s bogus data with which she came to the conclusion that Bayelsa was not even one of the ten most impacted contradict basic science, common sense, concern and kindness. How can a state up-North, Jigawa, be worst impacted when indeed Bayelsa State has the unfortunate responsibility of receiving the flood water that ran through more than 15 states?

“The data used by the Federal ministry to arrive at the conclusion is suspicious and erroneous. How was it arrived at? By sitting in an office and conjuring figures? By the reality on ground, over 300 communities were impacted by the flood and almost a million people were displaced from their homes, many of them losing their livelihood in Bayelsa State. And no other state in the Federation is so impacted.

“If the minister is desirous of doing a good job, she should leave her cozy office in Abuja and come to Bayelsa State to ascertain the truth, even as the flood began to recede.”

It would appear politics is playing a role in the allegations and counter allegations as well as the grading of states in the way they may have been grade in terms of the flood impact.

Support from Abroad

Switzerland is very concerned about the situation that Nigeria and Chad are caught up in the throes of deadly floods which raises fears of increased food insecurity. It has decided to allocate CHF 750,000 as an emergency response to the crisis in Nigeria, and an additional CHF 300,000 for Chad.

The country notes that since June 2022, heavy rains have caused severe flooding in large parts of Nigeria and Chad, leaving hundreds of people dead, thousands injured and over a million displaced. In response to the appeal of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to help Nigeria, Switzerland has decided to allocate CHF 750,000 as an emergency response.

The floods, which have hit almost all of the country, have affected more than three million people to date. Over 600 people have died, 2,500 have been injured and 1.5 million have been displaced. Houses, infrastructure, and farmlands have been damaged or even destroyed, aggravating the existing food insecurity and malnutrition in the country: UN estimates place the total number of people already suffering from food insecurity at 19 million. The floods have also contaminated water sources, increasing the risk of disease.

The United Nations is also thinking of how to mobilise international agencies to support the recovery phase of the flood disaster. Its representative after a tour of the affected areas in Bayelsa said “I think the next would-be recovery and we will think through with United Nations team what we can do to advocate and mobilise resources for the recovery phase as people are able to get back to their normal lives.”

National Emergency Management Agency

According to information from NEMA, the federal government has sent the following relief materials to Bayelsa state. “In addition to the three (3) relief interventions approved and being delivered by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to Bayelsa State for distribution to flood affected persons, President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the release of 12,000 metric tons of assorted food items from National Strategic Grains Reserve to be delivered to the 36 states and FCT for distribution to vulnerable persons.

NEMA is an agency under the supervision of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs responsible for the delivery of the assorted food items from the silos to the states. The items for Bayelsa State, which are also on the way to state are:105 metric tons of maize; 88.7 metric tons of sorghum and 98.7 metric tons of garri.

Bayelsa Government Wants Recipient Named
The Bayelsa state does not seem to agree that the above items have been sent to its citizens affected by the flood and has asked: “Is it not curious that since the devastation occasioned by the flood occurred a month ago, no representative of the Federal Government has visited our state to assess the situation? The Federal Government has not shown the minutest of empathy since this monumental devastation hit our state. And we are asking, is Bayelsa State still part of Nigeria? Are we only important when it is time to exploit the resources in our land?”

The statement continued, “If the humanitarian minister is sincere, let her tell Nigerians the relief materials brought to the state and who received them. The minister and indeed the Federal Government are not fair to our people who have undergone trauma of losing loved ones, homes, and livelihood.

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Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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