Now seems the right time to find a lasting solution to Anambra flood crisis before it snowballs to a magnitude that would divert Governor Obiano’s attention

Chris Egbuna

Governor of the old Imo State, the late Chief Samuel Onunaka Mbakwe (1929 – 2004), counts amongst the leaders, living or dead, East of the Niger that many Nigerians cannot forget in a hurry. Mbakwe was the Second Republic Governor of Imo State (1979-1983). He was re-elected for a second term in 1983, and was in office until the military putsch that scuttled civil rule in late December of that year.

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Like Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State today, Mbakwe was and is still acclaimed as one of the South-East leaders that dutifully accounted for his days in office, with several achievements so numerous to itemize here to his credit. However, Chief Mbakwe’s story cannot be complete without reference to the Ndiegoro flood disaster of 1980, viewed as one of the worst in the country’s recent history. Several days of continuous downpour and the accompanying flood disaster left Ndiegoro, a suburb of Aba in the present Abia State, in ruins. Indeed, the flooding got to roof top levels in some areas. This wasn’t a predicament Mbakwe felt he could bear alone as a state governor.

He invited the then President Shehu Shagari to come down to Ndiegoro and personally witness the extent of destruction the floods perpetrated. As he was conducting Shagari round the disaster area, Mbakwe’s emotion gave way because of the extent of damage the flood did to life and property; and he started shedding tears. That was what earned him the nickname of ‘Weeping Governor’. Mbakwe did not cry because he was a weak leader. Not at all! If anything, he was very vibrant and was also acclaimed as one of the most controversial governors of his era. He wept because of the intense passion he had for the well-being of Imo people. For, leadership, in the reckoning of British-American author, motivational speaker and organisational consultant, Simon Oliver Sinek, “is not being in charge. Leadership is taking care of those in your charge.”

This happens to be the screen play in Anambra State presently, where Governor Obiano has found himself in a similar situation as Mbakwe’s in 1980. Reports indicate that flood claimed four lives in the state between August and September this year. Among the latest victims was Okechukwu Osadebe, the 18-year-old son of the late highlife music maestro, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. Early in August, Obiano was in tears when he visited Umuria Village, Anaku in Ayamelum Local Government Area of the state to commiserate with the Achebe family of Umuezechi kindred, which lost a pregnant woman and her daughter to flood recently at the Coscharis Rice Farm, Anaku following a heavy downpour.

The governor personally got to the victims’ compound, where he presented the sum of N.5 million to the family of the deceased to help mitigate the pains of the loss. He then proceeded to the farm where the victims died, and where some irate members of the community destroyed property worth over N50 million in a feat of anger. Obiano also paid condolence visits to the families of the late Mr. Michael Ejimofor Okolie of Ubaru Village, Igbariam; and the late Mr. Godwin Ezinwa of Achalla-Uno, Nteje, both of whom died in a flash flood. Another victim was named as nine-year-old Benedict Izuchukwu, a primary three girl and student of Light International School, Okoti, in Ogbaru LGA.

Until the latest disaster, Anambra witnessed its last major flood crisis in October 2012, when flood sacked eight LGAs, with Anambra West and Ogbaru LGAs completely under water. Homes, farmlands and means of livelihood and productivity estimated at billions of naira perished, though the loss of lives was minimal with just four casualties reported. In the latest disaster, the homes and farms of victims were also submerged, and four people lost their lives. Ogbaru LGA seems the worst hit, as all the 16 communities in the council area were submerged and hundreds of people now displaced.

Because of the recurrence of flood disasters in Anambra, the state administration at the last count had set up 28 internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) centres. Within the confines of its resources, the Obiano administration has remained steadfast in the delivery of basic necessities to the camps. They include buckets, mattresses, mats, mosquito nets and blankets from the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). A 12-man Local Emergency Management Committee had equally been set up to ensure the effective rescue and coordination of victims, as well as the distribution of relief materials to those in IDP camps.

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Governor Obiano has asked those residing in flood-prone communities to relocate, following his government’s identification of LGAs like Ogbaru, Ayamelum, Anambra West and Anambra East as flash points. Indeed, at a point, all primary, post-primary and tertiary schools in Ogbaru LGA were temporarily shut on the orders of the governor in response to the flood disaster.

The state government, in addition, made arrangements for the effective and efficient evacuation of residents of the affected areas and their relocation to designated holding centres. The centres were provided with sanitary facilities, water boreholes, beds, cooking utensils, and foodstuffs. A number of water ambulances and other marine transport vehicles were on standby as well. But like the chairman of Ogbaru LGA, Mr. Arinze Awogu lamented lately, what had been provided as aide to the displaced persons was still a far cry from what was required.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo who was in Anambra State to see things for self said when he was in Umueze Anam, Anambra West Local Government Area: “I flew over those disaster areas and I witnessed the rise in water level… We have directed the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to continue to deploy relief materials to the Internally Displaced Persons’ camps and some homes where residents have refused to leave”. With the Vice President’s visit also came the report that the Federal Government had declared Anambra, Niger, Kogi, and Delta states as a National Disaster Zone, with Taraba, Adamawa, Kebbi, Edo, Rivers, Benue, Bayelsa and Kwara states on the fringes for NEMA’s close monitoring. Such a declaration demands that the FG keeps a close watch on the latest flood-torn areas and the affected victims.

The prompt presence of the VP in Anambra State to commiserate with the victims of flood shows the national government also cares. Perhaps, with its present classification of Anambra as one of the states that constitute the ‘National Disaster Zone’ the FG would now accord the state the urgent attention it deserves.

Governor Obiano, his government and the people of Anambra need immediate help to steer the state away from persistent flood-inflicted harm. A natural disaster like flooding requires effective and lasting containment measures, not recurring shedding of tears, showing of sympathy and catering for displaced persons. The national emergency manger, NEMA, says it has introduced ‘preventive disaster management operations’. The agency’s Director-General, Mustapha Maihaja, an engineer, when he addressed the 2017 general session of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in Cancun, Mexico, also indicated that “support from the political leadership in Nigeria has enabled a giant stride towards ensuring appropriate actions on reducing risks, disaster preparedness, mitigation and recovery in the country”; and that the FG “has empowered and equipped NEMA to comprehensively manage disasters in Nigeria, with a fully functional Department of Disaster Risk Reduction already created in the agency”. These lofty initiatives should be made to positively impact on grave threats posed by flooding today in parts of the country.

Working closely with Governor Obiano, for example, the FG needs to weigh the possibility of constructing dams across the state to absorb excess water and save flood-prone areas from disaster each time Rivers Niger and Benue overflow their banks. Now seems the right time to find a lasting solution to Anambra flood crisis before it snowballs to a magnitude that would divert Governor Obiano’s attention from the good works he is currently doing in the state.

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Egbuna, a Development Analyst, writes from Nnewi