Anambra State, in South East Nigeria has been reported as the worst hit area by the flood disaster that affected in the most devastating manner, the low plains of several states in Nigeria. The reason is that the disaster which reached its peak in mid-September and early October 2012 affected several local governments in Anambra State namely Anambra West, Anambra East, Ogbaru, Ayamelu, Oyi and Awka North Local Governments.
However, the Local Government that earned Anambra State the unenviable first position in the ranking of states devastated by the flood disaster is Anambra West Local Government Area. Two main factors account for this reason, first is the topography of the area and the perennial neglect meted out on the Area and its people by successive government in Anambra State.
First,Anambra West Local Government Area is without doubt the least developed local government in Anambra State yet the State derives her name from the area. It is on record that it is one of very fewor the only local government areawhose headquarter does not have power supply. Aside this unmistaken identity, the local government area is a story of ironies. With a population of over500,000 persons, the potentials of this beautiful peninsula are yet to be fully exploited. The area is the gate way of Anambra State to North Central State of Kogi State en route Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.It is located in low level plains of the Anambra or 'Omambala' River Basin.
The Area is blessed with one of the greatest hydrocarbon deposit in Nigeria which was hitherto unexploited until recently when President Jonathan flagged off the production by Orient Petroleum Resources Limited. Generally the area is poor and unrecognized. Anambra West is located on the bank of River Niger and now connotes a ‘group of people, their culture and territory’. The natural endowments are breathtaking; rivers and beautiful arable lands sandwiched by streams with different types of fish and aquatic life. Yet, the truth remains that the Local government Area been neglected over a long period of time. A discussion on politics of the development and infrastructural neglect is a subject of full discourse that needs not be done in hurry.
However, it is on record that the major road construction by the State started in 2010 when work commenced on the Umueze Anam - Mmita Anam (State) Road by Governor Peter Obi’s administration and Umueze Anam – Nzam- Kogi State (Federal) roads which was initiated during the tenure of Prince John Okechukwu Emeka as Minister for Transport. The only ‘access road’ the area before then was constructed by ELF and Shell Oil companies in early 80s’ to enable them reach the inner part of the local area for oil exploration purposes.
The current issue is the Flood Disaster and the conduct of the state government and expectation of the citizens of Anambra West and other areas in Anambra State from their government.
Anambra West Local Government Area is undoubtedlysusceptible to flooding and people live in dotted wetlands. Perennial flooding occasioning loss of perishable crops and farm produce costs hundreds of Millions of naira every year. Usually, there are no contingency plans for the flooding menace albeit as the flood recedes every year, it does so with the hope of the subsistence farmers who constitute the largest population. The result is that ‘riches’ from the arable farming never accrue to the hardworking people who are predominantly farmers. The people of the area have become used to flooding and have mastered the way of dealing with it. According to records, the last time major flooding was recorded in the area was at the end of the Civil War. As my people would say, the post civil war flood washed away the atrocities that were committed on the land during hostilities between the Federal Government and the seceding Republic of Biafra.
Then came the flood of 2012; an exceptional disaster. An elderly man in my community of Anam actually stated on record that ‘Nothing like this has ever happened’ before in Anam , a community which constitutes a large population of Anambra West. It was finally acknowledged by media and government that Anambra West is the only local government that is completely submerged in water as a result of the Flood. It has about seventeen (17) communities that stretch from the confluence of Anambra River and River Niger to Kogi State. The entire seventeen communities were devastated by Flood. At present, schools, churches, buildings, markets, entire communities are under water. In one community in Anam, three lives have been lost as a result of the flooding effect. This is a huge blow for people who have been enabled byenvironmental possibilismto cope with water and rivers where they derive their livelihood. There is no drinking water, elderly people have been trapped, and movement has been restricted to canoeing and swimming for the young and able bodied men.
Nonetheless, relief has come albeit partially by Anambra State government in the last one week. It is imperative to state the present efforts of the state government will not obviate the need to state the fact the way it is: Anambra State Government failed in its approach and early intervention strategies hence the colossal loss of materials, assets and even lives in the area.
How it happened is not far-fetched. In early September, when the floods exceeded the normal level during flooding season, NEMA and Ministry of Environment published warnings on the coming floods and warned communities to evacuate. As a State with three local governments (Anambra West, Ogbaru and Anambra East) that are on the Niger River Bank, Governor Obi and his administration did not see any urgency in the calls or envisaged what is required. The early warning was there but how could seventeen communities evacuate its citizens without government support. It is on record that local government administration has been substituted by Town Union government system in Anambra State so no local government administration was in place to even do the least; publicize the information. Slowly, the flood was taking its toll on the hapless Anambrarians. An aerial survey of the local government would have given the State Government that has been withholding allocation from accruing to the area a firsthand assessment of the emerging flooding scenario. This is not asking much after all, it was done in Adamawa, Kogi and Delta States. Yet still, the government of the day in Anambra did not see the urgency though Ogbaru Local government got a fair publicity. Governor either undermined the disaster or poorly managed the incident. Suppression of facts has also been argued against the government.
Finally, when the government deemed it necessary to intervene, publicity stunts became the order of the day. The whole world saw Governor Obi‘walk in water’in Ogbaru Local Government and‘sat in a canoe’at Umueze Anam bridge head. A couple of lifeguards and bags of rice were also brought and dumped with politicians in upland without recourse to the teeming masses in waterlogged areas. While the stunts were going on, the Flood became merciless on the hapless citizens of the Area, sparing no one and destroying communities. People were reduced to basic from of living in a 21st century society. The people’s representatives at the federal legislature were no better and nowhere to be found while their colleagues like Smart Adeyemi of Kogi states were moving motion for FG’s intervention in the flood menace because it affected their States. About ten (10) senators were later to visit Governor Idris Wada.
The situation did not change until the 1st day of October 2012, when this writer alongside journalists and volunteers undertook a comprehensive tour of the local government. The intervention was borne out of the need to inform the public about what is happening in Anambra West, document whatever that can be done, disseminate information and get the government to sit up. It worked as it spurred Anambra government to action. Reliefs’ camps were set up in Umueri, Aguleri, Onitsha. There are complains about provisions at the relief camps but it must be stated that in refugee situations, comfort or adequacy is not a bench mark of success. However, it is appalling that the Government of Anambra State does not have records of the flood disaster in the Area.
So what next for Anambra State Government.
It is time for planning for post flooding season. A total coverage must be carried out now in order to plan for post flooding rehabilitation. The level of the damage must not be hinged on the number of Anambra west indigenes and others from affected local governments who made it to relief camps. It must be comprehensive and encompassing.
As a matter of fact, the coming weeks and months are going to be harder than the floodin period. There will be near famine, farm seedlings have destroyed, farms have been washed away, farmlands lands have been dislocated and buildings have been uprooted and those spared by flooding has been weakened, that most will not be safe for human habitation. Anambra State must adopt a flexible and multi level approach to ameliorating the suffering of the people. First, effective documentation is crucial and it must cover all the affected communities. For instance, there is no need estimating how many people are affected in Anambra West LGA. Everybody is affected because there was no patch of land that was not covered by flood. So the 2006 population census should be a yard stick to ascertaining the number of victims of the flood. Secondly, the Senate has requested for supplementary budget from the President to deal with the menace. Anambra must position itself to receive greater support due to the extent of the damage it has suffered. Experience shows that Gov. Obi has skills in accessing funds from the FG and donor agencies. It is expected that he will put the skill to good use. It is also important that Transparency in the management of the relief funds set up by the Governor is very important. Finally, the assistance of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture must be solicited in most effective way to provide farming loans and subsidized agricultural products and tools to the Area which is to a large extent the food basket of Anambra State.
Victor Nwakasiis a Lagos based lawyer and Development law Consultant.