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. Expert speaks 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 […]

By: Manasseh Mbachii  On the 15th of November, 2010, IDS Limited, a construction company, was contracted to design and to construct the Cancer Screening Centre for the Benue State Government for an initial contract sum of N111 Million naira and later revised to N138 Million naira due to delay by the government in honouring contract agreement.  The project which was to last for a duration of 12 months was supervised by the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. The contractor told this reporter that  a payment of 77 million naira, representing 70% mobilisation fund, was released between November 15, 2010 to March 2012 under the administration of Senator Gabriel Suswam.  However, the construction of the Cancer  Screening Centre was not completed due to delay in the payment of outstanding fees as agreed by the contractor and the Benue State Government.  In November, 2015 the wife of immediate past Benue State Governor, Mrs. Eunice Ortom announced that her husband, Samuel Ortom would complete the Cancer Screening Centre Project initiated by his predecessor. Mrs Ortom made this disclosure while speaking at the 2015 breast cancer awareness campaign held at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Makurdi. On the 16th of July, 2016, Mr Tahav Agerzua, who was at the time, Special Adviser to Mr Ortom on Media and ICT announced that the Ortom administration had released N80 million for the completion of the project.  Investigation by this reporter however revealed that out of the N80 million reported to have been released, only N34 million was paid to the contractor, IDS Limited. Details of the payment made available to this reporter shows that the contractor received N12 million naira on the 26 October, 2016, and N22 million naira on the 14th of June, 2019.  Terver Akase, media aide to former governor Samuel Ortom could not provide answers when questioned on the remaining N46 million released by the Ortom administration, after previously directing this reporter to contact the project contractor for details. The cancer project which was aimed at reducing medical tourism embarked upon yearly by citizens of the state has over the years received budgetary allocation from the Benue state government. For instance, in 2021 and 2022 the state budget, about N12 million was approved for the completion of the cancer project. Findings by this reporter however revealed that the approved N12 million naira was not released to the contractor. When this reporter visited Pauline Maka Women Development Centre, Jonah Jang Crescent, High Level Makurdi, where the cancer project is located, it was observed that the cancer centre is completed but not in use for the purpose it was built. This reporter observed that the project is now housing Family Worship Centre, a church owned by Pastor Sarah Omakwu. It was also observed that the cancer project is in a dilapidated state, having some of its windows fallen off and electrical appliances disconnected. When contacted, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development, Joy Adole said the project has not been handed over to the ministry. “The cancer centre has not been handed over to us. We have drawn the attention of the current administration to the project. The contractor however said the government is still owing him. And, until his outstanding balance is paid before handing over the project to the ministry,” she said.  When the contractor, Architect James Ugo was contacted, he explained he was contracted to design and to construct the Cancer Screening Centre for the Benue State Government under the Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development, on 15th November 2010.  He said, the contract was awarded for N111 Million, and revised to N138 Million naira due to delay by the government in honouring the contract agreement.  “Cancer Screening Centre is the project I was involved in from the inception. I was requested by the former First Lady, Yemisi Suswam to design and to construct. The initial contract sum was N111 million naira, and revised contract sum is N138 million naira. My outstanding balance from the contract sum is N15 million naira, and outstanding claims from the last time I calculated is N18 million naira due to delay in honouring valuation certificates as per contract agreement. In total, the government is owning me N33 million naira,” he said, adding that the balance keeps increasing. Mr James further revealed that he leased the cancer centre to Family Worship Centre, Makurdi Branch adding that the government should determine and honour outstanding claims amounting to N33 million as per agreement.  “Since dilapidation has set in due to non-use of the facility, the government should prepare a dilapidation schedule and re-award the contract as a renovation contract to us or any other Contractor. However, we give our word that, if paid our outstanding claims, we can go ahead and renovate the building at no additional cost to the government. When the government is ready, I will ask the people to leave, repaint, wash and clean. If there is anything that has fallen anywhere, I will just touch it and handover the keys,” he concluded. How Woman Dies in Benue From Cancer Sickness Mr James who lost his wife, Margaret Ugo, to endometrial cancer in 2021, said he never knew his wife would be a victim of cancer after he was commissioned to execute a cancer project adding that if cancer screening centre was in operation, it would have saved his wife’s life. “My wife, Margaret Ugo died of endometrial cancer in 2021, so I know the importance of cancer screening centre. Before this project was commissioned, there was a cancer awareness organised at Aminu Isa Kontagora. I never knew that I was going to be a victim of cancer after I was commissioned to execute a cancer project. The project that would have saved my wife’s life. By the time she was diagnosed with cancer, she was already bleeding,” he said. Cancer has remained top of the list of diseases that are indiscriminately reducing the welfare and wellness of persons across the world, particularly, in developing countries like Nigeria. Statistics provided by the World Health Organisation’s 2020 report shows that cancer tops the list of killer diseases with nearly 10 million deaths. Nigeria has one of the highest cancer mortality rates in the world, with approximately four out of five cases resulting in death, according to the Global Cancer Observatory. A cancer patient who did not want her name mentioned said it took months before she was diagnosed with cancer. She said there was no special cancer screening centre, so it was difficult to diagnose. “My husband never knew what was wrong with me. We moved from one hospital to another until I was diagnosed with cervical cancer in Abuja. I am now receiving treatment at Federal Medical Centre, Makurdi.”  He said. Chief Press Secretary to the Benue State Government, Tersoo Kula, said he would get back to this reporter on what the current government is doing to complete the centre. “We shall get back to you,” Mr Kula said but he hasn’t as of press time.   This report was produced under the UDEME project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID). Edited by Kemi Busari.

By: Manasseh Mbachii  Makurdi, the Benue state capital, is at risk of an epidemic outbreak due to poor waste management in the metropolis. This is in spite of the millions approved for environmental improvement by the Benue State government. Through the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, the state government in the 2021/2022 budget, approved 198.2million for the acquisition of land, waste containers, septic tanks, medical equipment, garbage trucks, payloader, and waste collection vehicles to remediate water pollution in the state capital. Despite budget approval to the Benue State Environmental and Sanitation Authority (BENSESA) to curb the menace of poor waste management in the state capital, very little progress has been made as Makurdi residents continue to face a growing waste management crisis due to poor waste collection in the state capital. Residents who spoke with this reporter shared a heartfelt story of painful diarrhea and persistent typhoid fever accompanied by bouts of severe stomach cramping and stooling caused by the regular consumption of contaminated water. In Wurukum, Makurdi South, a sinister sickness gripped the family of Terfa Comfort, a food vendor, with unfamiliar illnesses, primarily marked by diarrhea and typhoid fever. Mrs Terfa stated that open-dug wells in Wurukum are polluted, and reeked of the environment due to unapproved refuse dumpsites in an undeveloped commercial plot of land in the community. She further lamented that the obnoxious odor from the refuse site had negatively impacted her health and food business.  “This refuse site has been a health hazard to my family. My children are the ones mostly affected by typhoid due to improper waste disposal. I also experience low patronage due to the odor that takes over the atmosphere from the waste site,”she said. When this reporter visited the High Level Market in Makurdi, the center of the state capital, to assess the sanitation and hygiene of the people, It was observed that the community was littered with waste. Residents and shop owners adorned a section of JS Tarka Foundation with heaps of refuse. Gift Odo, who sells kitchen utensils at the High Level Market, stressed that the odor emanating from the refuse in the axis had exposed her to consistent stomach disorder. She lamented that the situation has chased customers from patronizing her. “You can see and smell things for yourself. From the odor, I have constant stomach cramping. Sometimes, customers would want to buy something but because of the odor, the person will just drive away. Nobody cares to come to pack the refuse, even though we paid taxes,” Ms Gift said. In Akpehe, a 48-year-old mother of four children, Akaayar Judith, said her children have been suffering unexplainable illnesses every time they drink water collected from an open-dug swell. “My children just started stooling, while the youngest was complaining of stomach pain. I bought medicine for them but nothing changed. When we went to the hospital, we were told that the water we were consuming was harmful. The doctor said waste contaminates groundwater as well as pollutes nearby open wells,” she said. Investigations by this reporter however showed that residents are in the habits of indiscriminate dumping of refuse in available spaces especially markets, drainages and open space in residential areas due to nonavailability of waste containers. Expert weigh in A clinical epidemiologist and public health expert at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Terkaa Bitto, explained that decay from uncollected waste infiltrates water sources through the overflow of septic tanks and sewage. He warned that viruses, bacteria and fungi from such waste are cataractogenesis, which could affect unborn children through mothers with cognitive defects. “When there is an overflow of septic tanks and sewages, the viruses could be easily washed into public open wells. Pathogens from the waste could be blown into the air and become airborne viruses and bacteria which humans can easily inhale. Some of these bacteria have short and long-term effects and can stay in the human system and cause neurological defects in children. The ramifications of improper waste disposals are huge,” he said. Doctor Bitto, said that the best measures for proper waste management are to create waste segregation and recycling centers. A professor of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at the Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi, Professor Ishaq Eneji, warned that there could be an epidemic outbreak if there is no immediate remediation to checkmate further contamination of water, especially in River Benue. “Most of the waste are hazardous chemicals and their possible health risk in the environment  can cause neurological and kidney damage while persistent organic pollutants can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer.” State government’s reaction The Benue state Ministry of Environment and Water Resources could not respond to questions on the multimillion naira waste management projects, after an official letter of enquiry was submitted to the ministry.  “Your letter is with us. When we look at it, if there is any reply we will get back to you”  Mr. Ali Efu, permanent secretary, ministry of environment and water resources, said. Several attempts to speak with the Benue State Environmental and Sanitation Authority (BENSESA) were not successful, as officials declined comments. However, a staff member who pleaded anonymity told this reporter that the agency does not have the funds to effectively manage waste in the state capital.  “When Gov. Hyacinth Alia came here and ordered the agency to clean up the town, the secretary borrowed money to fuel vehicles,” the staff said. This report was produced under the UDEME project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID). Edited by Kemi Busari.

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Jairus Awo

Jairus Awo is a Nigeiran Muiltimedia public interest journalist. He believes in the power of the media as a catalyst to development and societal growth. You can tip him an idea on [email protected]

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