Flood Kills Over 600, Displaces 1.4m People

Why, and what is to be done?


Recent floods have killed more than 600 people across 27 states in Nigeria. The floods also destroyed almost 100,000 homes and rendered displaced over 1.4 million people. And yet another 1.1 million people have been adversely affected. This is the worst flood in Nigeria’s history, and things are likely to get worse unless we make drastic changes.

Before now, the 2012 flood was the most devastating the country had ever witnessed. The floods rocked 30 states that year, leaving between 363 and 431 people dead, from different accounts, and about 2 million people homeless, with massive destruction of homes and farmlands. Since then, there have been severe floods that claim the lives of scores of people and leave hundreds of thousands of people devastated every year!

There are two interrelated reasons for this annual ritual of the catastrophic, marked by the needless sacrifices of lives and livelihoods of the poor working people. These are the utter failure of governance by the Nigerian ruling class and its state, and the revenge of nature, which takes the shape of climate crisis and environmental emergency.

Floods, irresponsible governments, and corruption

The ruling class in Nigeria is noted for its “fantastically corrupt” nature, and contempt for strategic planning, be this in relation to the economy, social policy, or the environment. In relation to the perennial flooding, of which this year’s has been the worst, its shoddy sense of governance, even as capitalists can be seen on several levels.

Probably the most fundamental of these is the fact that ten years after the 2012 flooding, the Nigerian state still does not have a national flood management policy. As with the federal government, so is it with the states. Floods always caught even flood prone states on the country’s coastline and along the floodplains of the Niger River, Benue River, and other large rivers in the country off-guard. Their responses are always on ad-hoc bases, at the best. 

Equally fundamental is how the ecological funds meant for tackling flood and other ecological funds have not been used for this purpose. In the aftermath of the recent flood, the federal government has called out the states, asking them to account for allocations running well over N1 trillion that have been disbursed to them from the funds.

This is, however, a case of the federal government being clever by half. In a 2018 report, the International Center for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) described the Ecological Funds story as “A Tale of Corruption and Waste”, and showed that it has been a cesspool of thievery involving both federal and state governments officials, as well as businesspeople.

Using a myriad of front companies (including some that don’t even exist), contracts are issued for projects that never get implemented. These include projects that would have mitigated the impact of floods if they had taken place, including the channelization of rivers and their tributaries in several of the states now covered by flood waters.

A rather nauseating aspect of governments’ irresponsibility regarding utter contempt for the lives of the masses is that they have never taken concrete steps to save the lives of poor working-class people from floods. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) and Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) always provide flood alerts, every year, and ask people to “find their levels”, in a manner of speaking.

The rich people, many of whom also have houses in the Federal Capital Territory or other large capital cities where the floods cannot get to them. So, at worst, they lose some property but not their lives. And of course, they still have other properties and can always get still more or simply rebuild or rehabilitate their houses after the flood.

However, how and where does the government expect poor people in flooded places to move? These are people that barely eke a living in those areas as farmers, traders, fishermen and women, workers, and small-scale operators in the informal economy. These people make up the vast majority of people who are killed by floods.

They also have little or no hope of recovery from the devastations of their homes and means of livelihood. And that is why at least four of those who died in Kogi State during the 2012 floods were farmers who committed suicide after their farmlands were washed away.

As if this situation is not bad enough, when victims of floods end up as Internally Displaced Persons, their troubles continue. The ruling elites’ corruption has no respect for the sufferings of these people. Monies officially slated for their welfare end up in the pockets of top officials while the flood victims starve and live under inhumane conditions. Meanwhile, billionaires like Aliko Dangote who “donate” some millions of naira, ostensibly to support the IDP camps, walk away with billions of naira through tax holidays exchanged for their charity!

Interestingly, none of these issues are at the forefront of arguments that prioritize the federal government’s irresponsibility as the main reason for the persistent floods. Instead, the federal government’s so-called “outsourcing responsibility” to the Cameroonian government has been the prime target.

This story goes thus: flooding in Nigeria has largely been because of the Cameroonian government’s annual opening of the Lagdo dam in their own country. This dam was constructed between 1977 and 1982 as a reservoir on the Benue River. It plays a key role in Cameroon’s hydropower generation of electricity and for the irrigation of about 15,000 hectares of farmlands in the country.

In 1977, when Cameroon was starting the project, it signed an agreement with Nigeria for the latter to equally build a Dasin Hausa Dam, as a counter dam in today’s Adamawa state. This counter dam was actually meant to be two and a half times the size of the Lagdo dam. And it was expected to help generate at least 300 MW of hydropower for the national grid and irrigate about 150,000 hectares of farmland in present day Adamawa, Benue, and Taraba states.

But the military junta led by Major General Muhammadu Buhari when took over power from the Second Republic government after orchestrating a coup d’état, stopped construction work on the Dasin Hausa Dam in 1984. It is instructive that this first coming of Buhari who is back in power as a supposedly civilian president also stopped the construction of the Metro-line project in Lagos state, which would have helped avoid the madness of transportation in that mega-city of 21 million people today. And till date, there has been no further work or even apparent intent to construct the Dasin Hausa Dam.

This is quiet damning and the need to take up the task of building the Dasin Hausa Dam cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, “the misfortune of over four decades of successive irresponsible government officials” as David Hundeyin puts is cause for grave concern, and yet another confirmation of why we need to kick out the knock-kneed capitalist ruling class in Nigeria.

Nigeria, the climate crisis and environmental emergency

To under-emphasize the centrality of the climate crisis and environmental emergency in understanding the perennial disasters of flooding, because we want to stress the irresponsibility of governments and the ruling class in Nigeria would be like cutting our nose to spite our face.

In September, Mustapha Ahmed, director-general of the National Emergency Agency (NEMA) subtly played the nationalist card, when it warned that the Lagdo dam opening would lead to heavy flooding in 13 states, up to the end of October. A month later, despite Ahmed’s earlier statement, Suleiman Adamu, the Minister of Water Resources took this chauvinistic play a notch further by claiming that the Cameroonian government did not inform Nigeria before opening the dam.

But between January and July already, more than 300 people had been killed in flash floods that had swept through 29 states and the FCT. 500 persons had also been “seriously wounded” and a further 100,000 people displaced. It is also instructive that the Cameroonian Lagdo opening is not the only flooding problem associated with dams. The Kainji, Shiroro, and Jebba dams in Nigeria are also expected to overflow, contributing to the flood of deaths, destruction, and despair.

Ahmed, the water resources minister, gave a clearer view of the real problem behind the floods, in a manner that would have been comic, if not for the tragedy of the situation, when in the second half of October, he said:

“The contribution of the Lagdo dam to flooding in this country is only one percent. Sometimes they release the water without notice and when they do that, it has impact on communities downstream.

“But it is not the main reason we have floods in this country — 80 percent of the floods in this country is water that we are blessed with from God from the sky.

“This year’s flood, I can assure you, we cannot blame it on Cameroon to be sincere. We’ll continue to have floods on the river Niger and Benue basins.”

We must stress the fact that changing rainfall patterns in the country, and other lands across the world, leading to floods, has absolutely nothing to do with the blessings or curses of any deity. These changing patterns that have resulted in “a drenched 2022 for many parts of the world” is “nature striking back” from Australia to Venezuela, Pakistan to Vietnam, and many more countries. It is a stark picture of the deepening global climate crisis, right there in our collective face.

Signs of climate change have been self-evident in Nigeria for decades and have become exacerbated and mutually reinforcing in the 21st century. This situation in the country, as it is globally, is driven by for-profit economic activities, and worsened in our case by our having an utterly irresponsible ruling class. Temperatures have been on the increase since the 1980s, with no serious policy response by the government. And vast lakes are drying up. Lake Chad, for example, which used to be one of the largest lakes in Africa, covering 25,000 square kilometers, shrunk by 90% since the late 1960s to a surface area of just 2,000 square kilometers today.

Meanwhile, sea levels have been rising. Instead of taking steps to mitigate this, we have seen governments, particularly in Lagos, prosecuting land reclamation projects to build elite neighborhoods like the planned Èkó Atlantic City for elites.

We have witnessed massive deforestation. Between 1990 and 2010, the country lost more than half of its forest cover. 14% of what was left as primary forests in the country has also been lost since 2014. In fact, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) noted that Nigeria has the highest rate of deforestation in the world. This of course further increases flooding risks in the country, as it has resulted in weakening of our soils water-retention capacity, which could help soak up rainfall water.

Desertification has affected 35% of the country’s total land mass, concentrated in eleven states in the north, with the loss of 350,000 hectares of land lost every year. Gully and coastal erosion from rapacious exploitation of oil and solid minerals and, because of poor urban planning, have led to displacement of people and further contribute to flooding.

System change, not climate change

The climate crisis is a global problem. It is caused by human activities, which are driven and largely shaped by the interest of a handful of rich and powerful capitalists and their corporations. At the heart of these activities, is the use of fossil fuels as energy to drive the accumulation of capital resulting in global heating.

The advanced capitalist countries in Europe and North America have been fossil-based capitalist development’s major drivers and beneficiaries. They thus have the greater responsibility to contribute to stopping this marching of life on earth to the precipice of destruction.

This has been taken as the basis for unindustrialized countries like Nigeria to be less concerned about taking far-reaching steps to address the crisis. This is a common position of the ruling class, as confirmed by the candidates of their parties for the 2023 elections.

In the third week of October, Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressive Congress said:

“We are a poor nation… They said we need to plant more trees and they are not giving us money. We need to open our eyes, shine them and tell the West, “if you don’t guarantee our finances and work with us to stop this, we are not going to comply with your climate change.”

And earlier in September, the response of Peter Obi, the neoliberal candidate of Labour Party’s response to a question on climate change and industrialization was:

Quite frankly you know there has been a lot of talk about green energy and climate change and everything, I am not very vast….I’ve read about them….but quite frankly, I’m going to be aggressive in other areas than in some of the things that are coming out on the issue of climate change. We are going to deal with it, we are going to give it attention, but these things are not more important than securing the people, because you cannot be talking of climate change when people are taking cover from bombs.

These positions reflect dangerous ignorance of the interconnectedness of the environmental emergency with the social and economic crises. In the case of Tinubu, who has been one of the most successful looters of Nigeria in the 21st century, he conveniently fails to acknowledge the fact that the ruling class has itself been stealing domestic resources that could be used to mitigate the climate crisis.

Apart from his openly acknowledged shallowness to grasp the issues, Peter Obi on his part shows crass idiocy in failing to appreciate the interconnectedness of climate change and the dynamics of the worst genres of insecurity in the country today, such as herders-farmers conflicts and banditry. He obviously also cannot see the linkages between the climate crises on one hand and food shortages and sharp increases in the prices of foodstuffs.

The only party with an eco-socialist program and unflinching commitment to combat the climate crisis and fight for system change is the African Action Congress, which has Omoyele Sowore as its presidential candidate.

As working class and youth activists, in our unions and communities, we need to see the picture of planetary disaster and social-economic calamity in its entirety. We have to see the persistence of the worsening impact of floods as part of the series of ecological disasters which our society faces because of the logic of capitalist development. And we understand that the rabid corruption and ineffectiveness of the Nigerian ruling class are symptoms of capitalist ruling classes in neocolonial states such as Nigeria.

We can stop climate change and totally do away with corrupt, irresponsible, and irresponsive governance, only with the revolutionary overthrow of the decadent and obsolete system of capitalism. Our total liberation as working-class people, and marginalized youths, and saving life on earth from extinction are inextricably tied together.

And that is precisely why the aim of our struggle to stop climate change has to be to win system change. This is the only way we can rebuild Nigeria and the world at large based on the needs of we, the people, and the sustainability of the planet, instead of being a society based on the profit-making and wealth accumulation whims and caprices of a handful of elite capitalist billionaires and their corporations.

This does not mean that we do not put forward concrete demands to stem the tide of floods and mitigate the impact of the climate crises today. It essentially means that we should not be deceived that piecemeal changes that we force the ruling class to make will cause lasting change. It can only postpone the evil day.

It also means that we must put forward the most well-thought and far-reaching demands on every specific manifestation of the revenge of nature, such as flooding, while we build our forces and educate and join the mass of people in struggle, towards our collectively winning our self-emancipation and breathing renewed life into planet earth.

Thus, in light of the disastrous flood in Nigeria, we call for and urge you to ask your unions, communities and organizations to demand:

Specific policies have to be planned and necessary actions taken to help prevent flooding and mitigate the impact of floods when these take place. In this light, we demand:

  • The federal and states governments payment of compensation to the families of everybody killed in the flood, and to poor working-class people who lost properties and means of livelihood through an open and transparent process, to enable them to try to put their lives together.
  • Provision of adequate shelter and welfare for poor people that the flood has displaced. There are vast numbers of empty houses of rich people in all the major cities that are unaffected, which could be used for this purpose. Where emergency shelter must be used, Internally Displaced Persons must be treated with dignity and respect. Governments must transparently account for all public expenditures to ease the conditions of IDPs.
  • The development of a national flood management policy with the active involvement of communities, trade unions, informal workers’ organizations, and relevant civil society organizations in its formulation and implementation.
  • A four-year action plan based on the national flood management policy to rehabilitate and expand the drainage systems, including flood control channels in urban centers; build embarkments such as levees and dams (including the stalled Dasin Hausa Dam), where necessary to mitigate flooding.
  • Institute government’s pre-flood relocation of people living in flood-prone localities, that cannot afford to relocate on their own, at no cost to them, and compensation for properties they lose to floods.

by Baba AYE



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