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Atsar Terver
Public Commentator
Port Harcourt
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This flood has coincided with the release of the administration’s self-assessment score-card in which they gave themselves a pass-mark. That this government would rate itself very highly in the midst of so much suffering in the land, so much corruption, monumental collapse of public infrastructure, so much unemployment and rising violent crime as well as general threat to public security, means they are totally isolated from the realities on ground. This is the real tragedy that we face as a people, that our leaders build sound-proof castles around themselves, totally shielding them from the daily struggles of the citizens. So when we cry they don’t hear us, when we mourn, they can’t figure out why.

 

Nigeria at 52: A People Under Siege

Nigerians are living under a siege. We have been besieged from all corners by a compendium of forces that appear to have entered into a covenant, the sole objective of which is to ensure we live a miserable life. The conspiracy is between the Nigerian government (her agents) on one hand and Militant groups, as well as nature on the other. These three have built a water tight line of attack against the Nigerian citizen that leaves no room for escape. If you manage to survive Government brutality which comes in various shades like corruption, leading to denial of basic minimum infrastructure for the well being to the common man, deliberate negligence of duty and direct  acts of violence against the people, you will come face to face with organized criminal, ethnic, political and religious gangs who come to kill, steal and to destroy. And if you escape these, you are sure to face a natural disaster during which the government, again, will look the other way to enable nature complete what it (the government) started, that is, to finish you!

 

The Nigerian constitution stipulates the basic duty of the government at all levels as to work for the well being, protection and dignity of the citizens, but like every other law, our leaders interpret this provision upside down. They presume that the whole existence of government and perhaps the nation itself exists for the sole purpose of catering for the welfare of leaders, their families and friends.

They place upon the people the burden to feed them, protect them, reverence them and indeed worship them as gods! In a country where more than 70% of the population lives on less than one dollar per day, The President stashes aside a billion Naira for his feeding allowance outside his salary. In a nation where majority are unemployed, The President holds three jobs at the same time while his wife holds a key position in his home state in absentia! In a nation where thousands die from curable diseases due to lack of access to healthcare facilities, the President and his aides jet out to ‘choice’ hospitals in tourist destinations for petty aliments  and at public expense.

The dearth of public infrastructure is appalling, while the highways have become death traps, Airlines are operated with flying coffins, the water ways are full of pirates and the railway system is comatose, public officers fly in private jets and helicopters to their destinations. The government recently announced plans to build more airports terminals across the country the very same month that the only national carrier was grounded!

In the face of these atrocities, the President declared in June that we are too many as a people. He said he believed we needed to cut down on birthrate and adopt population reduction strategies. What this means is that whenever a Nigerian dies, Mr. President heaves a sigh of relief. This explains why he doesn’t give a damn whenever Boko Haram unleashes terror on innocent citizens, or when a plane goes down with hundreds on board, a multiple accident occurs or a natural disaster strikes.

It is when disasters like the flooding of the Benue River through with waters purged from the Jagdeo dam in Cameroun occur, that the absence of purposeful leadership become magnified. From the total silence from the Presidency to the sloppy response from emergency response agencies in the state one sees a glaring lack of preparedness and commitment to the saving of lives on the part of the government.

Yes, they issued warnings to the residents to evacuate harm’s way but where exactly were they supposed to evacuate to? Nothing was done to assist the people respond to this warning. No designated safe havens were created neither did the government provide any assistance in terms of logistics. To the residents of this area, packing out from their homes to no specific destination may be a scarier predicament than being caught in flooded apartments, hence their decision to stay put. Responsible governments don’t just tell their citizens to evacuate from a danger zone, they evacuate them. They don’t just evacuate them; they take them to alternative safe havens where their welfare becomes the full responsibility of government.

This flooding is not even a natural disaster because it is man-made. It ought not to have caught the authorities napping because the threat from this Dam has been identified decades ago while the release of water from the dam was actually announced a month ahead and similar damage has been done to other communities along the river basin in Taraba and Adamawa States. But apart from the usual rhetoric of some poorly trained, out of date, half-hearted and corrupt official, claiming to be ‘doing everything  possible’ or being ‘on top of the situation’ no effective measures were taken to mobilize the right equipment and personnel for intervention.

A NEMA official who was questioned on the site could only say they were assessing the damage in order to know the needs of the people! Jeez! What else do a displaced people need other than immediate rehabilitation? How would an Emergency Response official be so ignorant of exactly what to do in an emergency?

Characteristically, these officials would now concentrate on doing some ‘study’ of the situation, after which they will go back to their offices and submit a report. A committee will then be set up to study the report. This committee would have a Chairman, who would be nominated from among the PDP chieftains. They will be allocated funds to cater for sitting allowances, logistics, meals, and discomfort, contingency and all sort of fictitious subheads. It would then take weeks or months to study the report  and make further recommendations and then the Government would set up an implementation committee to carry out the recommendations of the review committee. By the time they are through with this bureaucracy, the victims would have either found their self-made solutions or died.

Responsible governments  do fight external aggressors on behalf of their citizens but the Nigerian government doesn’t. The freedom of Cameroun to build and operate a dam on the water course should not endanger the freedom of Nigerians downstream the river to also live their lives safely. There is enough room in  international regulatory framework (like the River Niger commission) to challenge and compel  the Cameroonian government  to bear some responsibility for the damage caused by the release of water downstream from their dam but when even the Nigerian Authorities are not concerned, how would the foreign country be bothered?

To be fair to the Cameroonian government however, it is important to note that they have to some great extent demonstrated some duty-of care by informing the Nigerian authorities’ every time they plan to purge the dam. I understand also that there was an agreement in which the Nigerian government was to build a Buffer Dam downstream to cushion the effects of sudden release of water from the Jagdeo dam but this has not been done. However this does not exonerate them from culpability for the damage which arose primarily from their project.

The Niger and Benue Rivers have been heavily silted leading to shallower water courses and increased tendency for flooding and erosion. While the River Niger which receives the water from the Benue River has been programmed for dredging for the past 43 years and over 36 billion Naira has been sunk into the project, there have been no tangible results. President Yar’Adua of blessed memory made serious and sincere progress in 2009 on the execution of this project but death joined the conspirators against Nigeria and snatched him away, thus returning us to square zero in the hands of charlatans who specialize in mouthing a largely phony transformation agenda without commensurate action to realize genuine transformation. If these rivers were dredged, their water holding and draining capacity would have increased considerably thus absorbing the shock from this sudden influx of water and lessening the impact of this flood.

This is not the first disaster that would affect the people of Benue and indeed other parts of the country without adequate intervention by the federal and state governments. We had similar floods in Nguru, Cross River, Lagos and Jos recently, however the negligence of Benue appears more deliberate. No word of comfort has come from the President who barley in March this year in Makurdi, among other fabulous promises, promised to dredge the River Benue and establish a Sea Port there. Not that one dared to take him seriously on this promise anyway, but just to highlight how coldhearted, insincere and deceptive this government has been to the people.

Catastrophes like these bring to the fore questions about the necessity of certain government organs. This government parades a multitude of agencies saddled with ecological protection. Aside from The Federal Ministry of Environment, NESREA, NOSDRA, we have the National Committee on Ecological Problems (The Ecological Fund Office) operating under the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation! How has funds under this organ been utilized in Benue State? A glance at their website shows that under projects, the content is empty with a notice:’ coming soon’, whereas the photo gallery is full of pictures of consultative meetings, Eco fairs and exhibitions, which is presumably all they have been doing!

This flood has coincided with the release of the administration’s self-assessment score-card in which they gave themselves a pass-mark. That this government would rate itself very highly in the midst of so much suffering in the land, so much corruption, monumental collapse of public infrastructure, so much unemployment and rising violent crime as well as general threat to public security, means they are totally isolated from the realities on ground. This is the real tragedy that we face as a people, that our leaders build sound-proof castles around themselves, totally shielding them from the daily struggles of the citizens. So when we cry they don’t hear us, when we mourn, they can’t figure out why.

 

 


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