Lagosians faced the most severe flooding in years in July. About the same time, the federal government also issued a flood alert to 28 states. But this is just the beginning. In an interview on the 5 August This Day, Tunji Bello, the Lagos State Commissioner for Environment asked Lagosians to brace up for even worse flooding by September.
This was shortly after Clement Nze, Director General of the National Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA), “warned Nigerians to expect heavy flooding this year, listing Lagos and Osun states as likely to experience more flood-related disasters”. Such disasters have already started in other regions as well. More than 300 homes were damaged or destroyed by flood in Jalingo, Taraba state, in the second week of July. About 5,000 people were displaced.
Speaking at the end of July, Nze said, “as of today flood disasters have occurred in many states, notable in Lagos councils of Mushin, Shomolu, Victoria Island, Lekki, Marina”. But Bello argues that “Lagos was not flooded in July as some persons were saying. What we experienced when it rained that Friday in July in Lagos was a flash flood.”
For hundreds of thousands of poor people who lost personal property, including their homes, this technicality and the fact that worse is still to come is not comforting. Their concern is why has flooding become a recurring menace, dislocating their lives every year, and what can be we do to stop this?
Tunji Bello’s immediate response is that “climate change is real, and it is better for our people to understand it”. He further lauds the efforts of the state government, banks, and other corporations to address the problem. These seemingly laudable efforts include the planting of trees, beautification, and landscaping of some areas, which are mainly in rich people’s parts of the state.
He also claims that the state regularly clears drainage channels. But the irony is that everyone knows that the drainage system in the state is grossly inadequate to support the size of the Lagos population. Building something on almost nothing is hardly helpful.
Working-class people do understand that there is a climate crisis, and it is getting worse. We also understand what is at the root of it all. It is capitalist exploitation of natural resources without concern for the poor people or the planet.
We can also see that governments have been putting forward nothing but useless solutions when they are bothered even to present any. All the efforts listed by Bello, for example, amount to mere “greenwashing” without addressing the crux of the matter. The federal government is as culpable as Lagos state in this regard.
Over the last decade, flooding has become a regular occurrence in the country, during the rainy season. The great floods of 2012 signaled the beginning of this wrathful phase of the revenge of nature.
7.7 million people across 32 states were affected by that flood. About 600,000 houses and vast acres of farmlands with crops were destroyed. The recorded number of people killed was 363, and 2.1 million were internally displaced.
Every year since then, we have witnessed a predictable and tragic drama of the absurd. Governments will issue flood alerts and advise people to relocate. Nothing is done to relocate people or take measures taken to mitigate the impact.
The floods come, sweep away homes and kill poor people. Thereafter governments blame the victims for sticking around till they were caught up by the disaster. Of course, the rich can and do readily relocate and are spared. But how can people that can hardly go by living from hand-to-mouth relocate themselves?
While a handful of rich people have several mansions and estates that they could shuttle between, most people live in overcrowded living quarters. This is not because they are happy to live in such conditions. It is due to poverty, which is increasing at an alarming rate.
The claim by Tunji Bello that Lagos has been planning since January and is “ready for the September flood” is a blatant lie. No provision has been made for relocating poor people at risk from the fault lines of flooding. And the experiences of thousands of people affected by the July “flash floods”, particularly in working-class areas like Mushin and Shomolu, show that government does not care for the poor people.
In fact, the Lagos state government and big capitalists associated with it are contributing to the severity of floods in the state with the construction of the Eko Atlantic City for billionaires. This city for the rich within the megacity of Lagos is being built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. Tons of sand are being heaped to construct it.
Ever since 2017, activists and other residents have correctly pointed accusing fingers at this so-called “Nigeria International Commerce City”. But the Eko Atlantic management continually rebuffs the justified accusations. This is typical of capitalist corporations who do everything they can to subvert the science of climate crisis and if they cannot get away with that, to blur the perspective of how their exploitative activities drive it.
The climate crisis puts the earth in peril. Nigeria, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) points out, is a climate change “hot spot”. We, the poor masses are the most affected in a double manner. The consequences of climate change, such as flooding hit us badly. And the for-profit activities of capitalists and their governments which drive this existential crisis also impoverish us.
The only way to put a stop to the climate crisis is to overthrow the system of capitalist relations which drive it. This cannot be abstractly seen as a long-term project. Our environment is dying. For example, experts have warned that Lagos “may soon be unlivable” if these perennial floods continue.
Drastic situations require drastic action. We must make radical demands to defend our lives. The trade unions, civil society, and socialist movement need to take more concrete and decisive actions for “system change, not climate change”.
As the September floods loom, NLC, TUC, and their affiliates, nationally and in all 28 states identified as being susceptible to the coming flood, must speak out now. They must demand that governments take action to make sure poor people are protected. Condemnation after the floods have come will be like crying after the head has been cut off.
Relocation of working-class people in the areas that will be affected must be done now by the federal and states governments. Decent housing for all must also be demanded as a right at this juncture. Overcrowding contributes significantly to the adverse impact of flooding.
Potable drinking water must also be made available to everybody. The lack of this is a primary reason why “pure water” has become so common, particularly in urban centers. Plastic from this sachet water that people buy because they do not have potable water contributes to the clogging of drainage channels. Drainage systems also need to be built or expanded to meet the growing population of cities like Lagos. And such land reclamation schemes as the Eko Atlantic City have to be stopped with mass mobilization.
The global nature of the climate crisis is yet another pointer to the fact that system change has to be global. That is why SWL is affiliated with the International Socialist Tendency. Join us today to fight for protecting working people and youth from the floods, linking this with the global struggle to stop the climate crisis and build a new world order where emancipated humankind lives in harmony with nature.
by Muda OGIDAN