Flooding along the banks of River Benue has brought yearly disasters to the people of Benue State in north-central Nigeria, especially to the residents of Makurdi, Tarka, and Otukpo Local Government Areas of the state.
The Benue State Emergency Management Agency stated in 2022 that a total of 134,797 people were displaced by floods in the state, after 18,349 houses and farmlands were submerged.
The annual plight of the residents has largely been due to the failure of the government at the federal and state levels to control the floods or mitigate their impact on the people and the environment.
The federal government had allocated some flood control projects to the state that would have mitigated the impact of flooding, but the projects have failed to address the main issues despite millions spent. In Makurdi, the government, during the administration of Muhamadu Buhari, awarded contracts for the Idye Basin flood control project. at a cost of N700 million. But floods have continued whenever the rains are heavy in Makurdi.
In its 2022 budget, the Benue State Government also listed some projects it planned to execute to reduce the impact of climate change in the state, especially flooding. However, the government did not execute the projects, thus abandoning the residents to their misery.
According to the budget document, such projects include Erosion and Flood Control at Hudco Quarters, budgeted at N10,000,000; Ecological Projects at N1,210,000,000, with N13,113,249 released in 2021, Engineering, Design and Construction of Drainage N18,000,000 Water Pollution Prevention and Control: Solid Waste and Dumpsite Management, N51,905,600, was budgeted in 2022, while N5,651,900 was released in 2021 for the project. During the tour of Makurdi, Tarka, and Otukpo, which are highly affected by flooding in the state, no project was seen by the reporter
The 2021 budget shows that the state government paid N18,765,149 to contractors for different projects aimed at mitigating the flood disasters, while N1,289,905,600 was voted for similar projects in 2022.
The Idye Basin flood control project in Makurdi appeared to have worsened rather than reduced flooding. Before the construction of the flood protection drainage, the residents said water never flooded their households. But since the project was executed, water has always found its way into their houses and farmlands.
For Johnston Ejoga, 60, from Ohimini local government and a resident of Makurdi for the past ten years, the 2023 flood will always stick in his memory. He narrated how he woke up one day in July and found his room flooded by water.
Johnston explained how his home appliances, which he had brought in from the United States of America, were destroyed that night. He said the flood had destroyed the fence before entering the main compound of the house from the major road.
“It was a terrible experience. I woke at night when I discovered the water had reached my waist level. I was shocked because it had never happened like that before.
“I think the drainage built here is the worst anyone can imagine; when it rains, the whole road gets flooded, and when the water doesn’t see a road to pass through our houses, it becomes its refuge.”
The major areas that have flooding to contend with in the state are Hudco Quarters, Wurukum, Gyado Villa, Wadata, and Innongun.
In the 2021 budget, the Benue State government captured Hudco quarters but neglected other areas of the state capital which had witnessed severe flood incidents
Around Gyado Villa, despite the yearly flooding, the government failed to initiate a project to control the flood. The government’s negligence extends to Wurukum, where existing drainages were blocked while other areas in the settlement do not have drainage.
In Innongun Makurdi, water has always had its way into the houses of the residents, as it was mentioned that the constructed drainage was not able to accommodate the passing water that overflows to residential buildings, worship centers, and hospitals.
The major failure, according to the residents, was the government’s inability to construct drainages to take the heavy volume of water that flows around the community during rainfall.
A victim of the flood Grace Ogaba 60, from Ado, residing in Makurdi, said her health deteriorate after not having a place to sleep for more than two weeks when the flood took over her houhold
“When the incident happened, I moved my properties into one of the rooms and ran to safety. We stayed for more than two weeks there, and the worst that happened was not having a place to sleep or good food to eat.”
Grace said the cold she caught through sleeping on the ground has resulted in her health challenge, which has forced her to resign from her job.
“In my last visit to the hospital, I was told that I had gotten myself infected with pneumonia. When the incident happened, I was not able to carry any reasonable clothes when we ran to safety. Unfortunately, when we returned, my house was broken into, with almost all my belongings taken away. For now, I am waiting to feel better so I can start from square one.”
The Worst Hit in Makurdi
The 2022 Benue floods led to the loss of lives. The Idye Basin flood control project was initiated to control water flow in the Benue State capital to reduce the incidence of floods and the loss of life and properties.
But the failure of the project drove Mercy to the Tse Yandev IDP camp. “I have lived here for a few years now; there is nothing at home for me to return to. I will better stay here and feed on my cloth sewing skills until help comes.”
For physically challenged Yougha Yakubu, 65, who manages to farm as a resident of Hudco Quarters in Makurdi, escaping with her five children was tough. She narrated how the flood water soaked her food storage and swept off her farm.
“What I and my family survived with is the food storage we kept away from the house, and the small vegetable farm we had was washed off as well The experience I had was not one I would love to remember, but I thank the almighty that I’m alive.”
She explained that escaping to a secure environment before the flood disaster was difficult, despite government initiative.
“The government had asked us to move away from here, but it was not easy to leave the house to become a refugee in a camp. Even when the flood got worse and we left for safety, getting basic amenities like food and water was challenging.
Lamentations in Tarka
Tarka Local Government Area has benefited from projects worth N386 million from the federal government for flood and erosion control. But rather than stopping the situation, the residents have had a tough time dealing with rains in the local government headquarters, Wanune
The residents of Cach Mandela and Iorva Jime have been feeling the impact of the failed projects, with water running off the drainage and accumulating in their houses, which was not happening before the project execution.
When the reporter visited Wannune, it was noticed that the drainages constructed under the Amper Flood Hazard and Erosion Control project could not hold the water.
Climate change has posed a threat to education as well. Soundmind Secondary School in Tarka Local Government Area has had a difficult experience with students staying away for safety reasons when floods constantly take over their school during the rains.
Collins Duger, 28, a university student from the community, explained how he has seen academic activities put out for days because of heavy flooding in the community.
He explained that farmers have had their share of destruction with the concentration of water on farmlands after intensive rainfall. Collin explained that farmers have lost a reasonable amount of farm produce in the Wanune Community, while households have been affected by property losses
Narrating the ordeal, Terwase John, a 65-year old commercial farmer in Wanune, had his rice plantation washed off in Tarka Local government.
“When you work hard and there is nothing to show for it, it is always painful. I planted a large portion of rice, which has been my source of income for years. When the 2022 rains came, 90 per cent of the farm was washed off.
He said the disaster affected his income and the education of his three children, who almost lost a term in school.
Terdoo Aku, 55, a farmer in Guma, had his life turned into something he had not predicted. “My maize farm was destroyed,” he said
He explained how a better picture of the scenario could not be painted because of the time of the reporter’s visit, and he noted that the incident had given him the worst setback of his farming career, which dates back so many decades.
Terdoo explained how the portion of land has been cultivated for decades, while such an issue has never been experienced before.
The founder and executive director of Securecycle Environmental and Climate Change Initiative, Emmanuel Kilaso, has blamed government policies for the worsening climate change impact in the country. He explained that the numerous natural resources in the country have not yet been able to reflect on the growth rate.
“Nigeria, a nation endowed with abundant natural resources, is facing an increasing threat from the impacts of climate change. Unfortunately, the failure of the Nigerian government to address environmental issues effectively has exacerbated the challenges, leading to a ripple effect that affects the entire nation.”
“The absence of robust climate policies and effective implementation strategies has left Nigeria vulnerable to the intensifying impacts of climate change. Without comprehensive frameworks, there is insufficient guidance for sectors like agriculture, infrastructure, and health to adapt and mitigate the effects,” he said
Emmanuel blamed the climate crisis currently experienced in Nigeria on other issues such as deforestation and land degradation while emphasizing that the poverty level in the country has increased the practice of such practices, which are against sustainability.
“The government’s failure to address rampant deforestation and land degradation exacerbates climate-related challenges. The hardship and high cost of living will spur citizens to go back to the traditional source of energy for cooking because it is cheap and easily accessible. The loss of forests not only contributes to carbon emissions but also reduces the country’s resilience to climate impacts such as flooding, droughts, and soil erosion. This also impacts the amount of rainfall and the quality of air that we get.”
He suggested that the government can curb the current climate crisis in the country through investment in critical sectors, such as “adequate investment in infrastructure, including well-designed and maintained drainage systems, flood control measures, and resilient urban planning, is essential. A government with the right attitude would prioritize such infrastructure projects to reduce vulnerability to flooding.”
Millions Affected By Flood Impact
Data from the United Nations has revealed that floods in Nigeria have continued to impact a huge number of people in the country, with the 2022 incident killing 662 people while 3,174 were injured, displacing about 2.5 million, and destroying 200,000 houses.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency, the flood has affected a huge number of people in the country, with 159,157 affected while 48,168 have sought refuge in different camps. The figures were revealed by the director-general of NEMA, Mustapha Ahmed, in October 2023.
State Government Laments Failing to Give Spending Details
In October 2023, the state government, through the Commissioner for Works and Housing, Mr. Itiza Imojime, disclosed that the state authorities had given the go-ahead for the structures obstructing the passage of water to be demolished.
“The State Executive Council has approved the demolition of all illegal structures and those built on waterways in Makurdi,” he said.
As of December 2023, no structure built on waterways has been demolished by the state government, despite the October threat.
Despite the lamentation, a Freedom Of Information (FOI) letter sent to the Ministry of Water Resources in Benue State on December 12, 2023, for the complete details of projects and contractors plus the total amount released was not responded to.
This report was sponsored by the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development with funding support from the Public Diplomacy Section of the U.S. Embassy, Abuja.