It is a normal occurrence in Bayelsa State every year. During the rainy season, some communities in the state are often flooded at different levels. In 2012 and 2018, flood was a major disaster in the state. In 2020, it was not as high as those two years, but the impact is telling on residents as PAULINE ONYIBE reports from Yenagoa
As usual, it came again this year. This time around, it came heavier than the normal perennial flood but a bit lighter than that of 2012 and 2018.
It was not still a good experience as the wicked visitor still sacked people from the comfort of their houses but this time, the flood victims were left to bear their crosses unlike the previous years when the government provided internally displaced camps, health services and food for the victims.
This year’s flood was something like “to your tent, oh Israel!” coupled with the Coronavirus pandemic that hit the whole world hard. The Duoye Diri-government since its inception, has been battling with financial hardship, which has actually made it difficult for the governor to pilot the affairs of the state smoothly.
That, however, affected the flood victims as he said during the 2020 Thanksgiving day that his boss, the immediate past Governor of the state, Seriake Dickson had left a very big shoe which he is finding very difficult to wear.
So for Diri, who has a lot of bottlenecks administratively bordering him, according to him, the flood victims may be the last thought on his mind.
Of course, the Bayelsa State chapter of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) revealed that no fewer than 138,000 residents of the state capital were rendered homeless by the 2020 flood.
Godknows Nathaniel, the state Chairman of the NITP, had told reporters in Yenagoa that 138,000 victims became Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) following the impact of the flood on over 23,000 buildings.
He said: “We made a projection of about 1.96 per cent growth rate of building of houses in Yenagoa to 2020, and we had over 23,000 buildings that were affected by the flood; over 5,000 buildings were built directly on flood plains.”
A trip to some affected communities by South South focus after the flood showed that although the flood water was gradually receding, it was not easy for the victims as they were still counting their losses. One of the victims at Igbogene community, Ebiere Kpun, 31,said: “They didn’t open IDP camp for people. Though the flood has gone down but it caused a lot of hardship for people. See these shops (pointing at some shops at her back) they have broken all of them and looted everything from the shops.”
Also another young man of about 33 years at Akenfa 1 community, Marvelous Abel, said: “I live with my elder brother. We were living inside the flood. We didn’t have anywhere to go. We didn’t have money to rent another house or hotel. We just constructed wood and stayed there.
“Every day, we experienced cold. As I’m talking with you, my body is shaking and I’m not feeling fine. We were cooking inside the flooded house like that but our gas is on top of wood. So, we were climbing on top of the wood to cook. It was God that helped us. We have five children but we sent them away to our grandmother.
“Government doesn’t know us. If they do, even this our bridge that is here, government is supposed to come and complete it. This our bridge is more important to us than this flood matter. Let them come and do this bridge for us and when they do the bridge, we will not have any flood disturbance again. “This bridge has been like this for many years now. Let them come and complete this bridge.
Let them stop opening the dam because the dam is disturbing us. We have many poor women in this community. Some don’t have money to buy food. Inside this Coronavirus era, more than 10 people died in this Akenfa 1 community. No camp was opened for us. Everybody used to manage and struggle on their own.”
Another lady of about 25 years, who was angry at this correspondent, saying that she has been sent by the government without coming with money, Preye Gift, said that the boat people charge N20 for canoe, adding that, “sometimes, we cross like 10 times. Sometime, the canoe cap- sizes. This canoe here was the canoe that capsized the other day.”
Francis Kelvin, a man of about 50 years, said that if the abandoned bridge was completed, there wouldn’t have been any deaths in the community as a result of flood. “The bridge project has been here since 2010. I learnt that the contractor abandoned it because of money. There was an amount they said they awarded the contract and some part of the money has been given to Them, about N400 million. “This is the work that they have done and they are waiting for more payment.
This is where I’m staying now (pointing at a wooden hut at is back). We have not seen a single thing from the government, no IDP camp. “Let them come and finish this bridge, so that people can have free access to go to their places. Like in 2012, we lost about four persons here. Under the previous government (Henry Dickson), he came here and promised that he was going to fix this bridge but he never did.
Let them do road with some drainages.” Pastor Fetunwa Marcus said: “If you are talking about how this flood will be addressed because it is a natural thing, it is to dig down this Epie creek, so that the tide will take away the debris that will stay here. It is not going to affect surrounding villages.
“Then again, when they are building houses, they needed to know that water has its own course. So, if you block the drainage system, definitely, you are inviting trouble and you cannot blame the individual. It is the government that has to be in charge of all of these things but they are not doing something that should be done.
That, I think, is one of the reasons why people suffer during flood seasons. “My younger brother occupies there while I occupy here.
My family is sent to the village. If we have people that are thinking for the masses definably even if it is going to come, it is not going to be this serious.
“As a Bayelsan, I will tell you that I’m disappointed at the way the government handled the flood victims. I don’t seem to think that there is a government in place because I think that the purpose of having a government is to take care of the people and so, I don’t seem to see that we have a government. “Definitely, in Nigeria we don’t understand that we don’t have leaders we have rulers.
You know that rulers confiscate from you but leaders think for you. But if somebody is said to be in government, then he has to be able to see from afar the problem that the people are expected to face.
“So, we don’t have government. My appeal to government is that the proper thing should be done in this state and at the federal. Even if you have somebody as governor, he has to be able to see that there are other people that are suffering but when you don’t try to carry them along, then I think that you are there for another purpose. Your purpose is to manipulate and get the resources of the people.”
However, the State Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr Ayibaina Duba, said the state government was looking at scientific approaches to proffer a lasting solution to the perennial flooding.
He said the State Executive Council raised a committee headed by the Secretary to the State Government, Konbowei Benson, to assess the impact of the flood on the people and advise the government on the next course of action.
Governor Douye Diri, while inspecting flooded communities in the state recently, lamented the devastating effect of the flood on the people and communities, and promised that his administration would not abandon affected persons.
He also promised that relief materials would be sent to victims of the disaster as a temporary measure. “I will continue with this visit to empathize and sympathize with our brothers and sisters. Let me assure all of them that as a state, we are with them.
“We also appeal to Mr. President to immediately come to our aid, particularly with respect to the ecological fund and all other funds available to ensure that our people are not neglected.
“I have directed the Vice Chancellor of the Niger Delta University to immediately explore and ensure that a department be created for erosion control in the institution, because government is working to proffer a permanent solution to the flooding challenge,” he said.
But the State Government, on Saturday November 14, 2020 after more than one month that the flood has ravaged that state, said it has commenced distribution of relief materials to victims of flood-ravaged communities in the eight local government areas of the state.
The distribution, it was learnt, was in fulfillment of Diri’s promise when he led top government functionaries on an on-the-spot assessment of flooded communities in the state.
A statement by his Chief Press Secretary, Daniel Alabrah, said the governor, who was represented by Secretary to the State Government, Konbowei Benson, noted that the distribution was the government’s own way of cushioning the negative impact of flooding on the people.
He said the government was not unaware of the devastating effects of the annual natural disaster on farmlands and the untold hardship on farmers. The statement also said that the distribution would be devoid of party interests.
The governor urged those responsible for supervising the distribution to reach out to internally displaced persons, the elderly and those whose property were damaged by the flood.
He also called for cooperation from the people as the relief materials get to them in order to achieve the purpose for its distribution. “The distribution of more relief materials continues with the other local government areas on a daily basis.” The statement read.