Vincent Omowe, 83, a resident of Osomegbe village, Ekperi in Etsakor Central Local government area of Edo State, is at the moment homeless as floods have sacked him and his family members from their home. He is weak and does not have the strength to struggle with house-hold property as floods came pouring into the village. He had to be carried by his relatives to a make-shift camp at the centre of the village which is a high ground yet to be submerged in the raging floods.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that the recent floods were a new development in the area. He had witnessed many floods since he was born, none had removed them from the land, until 2012 when flooding began to take a new dimension. He said the situation had become an annual ritual where they had to run for safety every time the rains come.
“The flooding that we used to see when I was born is not what we are seeing today,” he said in Ekperi language in a lamentable voice.
“The floods would come but we will be able to safeguard our properties and food, but today, the floods would carry away the houses and we will only be struggling to stay alive.
“Houses are now falling, and people are running for their lives. We are suffering now, it is becoming an annual event, it has come again to drive us away from the village and we are all in a place like refugees.”
The people of Osomogbe are mostly rice farmers. They are famous for producing the Osomegbe rice, which is well priced in many Edo markets. This is because of the regular deposits of alluvia which are left behind on the flood planes after a rise in River Niger, and overflowing into the communities. Years before the disaster, the overflow was a blessing, as the waters come in with a lot of fishes. The people are also fishers. With the land fertile for growing rice, many residents find it convenient to turn their compounds to rice farms. The prosperity of the village is powered by rice production.
Today, prospects are gloomy as the farms have been washed off, and their yearly prosperity have vanished with the raging waters.
The Ekperi communities had suffered the major floods of March 2012, a serious flooding event in Nigeria which killed over 430 people and displaced about 566,466.
The most affected areas were Kogi, Benue States and Edo States. The areas in Edo suffered the overflow of the River Niger, flowing from Ida, in Kogi, through Agenebode, and then to other parts of Ekperi. The 2012 flooding was attributed to two major factors, including a very heavy rainfall locally and the release of excess water from the Lagto Dam which is in the neighboring country of Cameroon.
The current flooding in the Etsakor Central communities began on the September 29, and the inflow had gradually worsened and created a huge humanitarian crisis in the area.
The communities now battling with water include Anegbette, Udaba, and several Ekperi communities including Osomegbe.
Most of the residents in the affected areas, particularly Osomegbe, had fled to the Leventis Farm, a large expanse of land owned by the company and leased out to the rice farmers in the area. Leventis farms is not badly affected and is providing a temporary succour for the fleeing communities.
The federal government through the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) had warned that Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Nasarawa, Kogi, Anambra, Delta, Edo, Rivers and Bayelsa States which are contiguous to River Niger would experience severe flooding in September.
Such warnings hardly make sense to local communities who are only focused on their communal activities which is their only source of livelihood and survival, until the disaster becomes imminent.
After the 2012 disaster, the government had talked about relocating the communities, but nothing has been done in that regard, even though the people were reluctant in moving out of their ancestral lands.
This year’s flood came to the village so suddenly and did not give any warning signs. Many had gone to their farms in faraway locations and would often not return until the season was getting to its end. But the floods had washed away crops, leaving the population with no harvest for the year. Only a few had managed to gather out some rice harvest, much of the harvest was still expected before the floods came.
“The floods came rather late,” said Mr Omowe. “Our crops are yet to mature and we were thinking we had passed the danger, but it came upon us suddenly and everyone started running. The government should come to our aid so that we can have shelter and warmth.”
The people have been living in a poorly managed area of the village where there is no toilet or other facilities that could protect the people from any outbreak of diseases. The people are yet to receive any help from the state or federal government.
Simon Okhime, a community leader and pastor of the Church of God Rays of Truth, told PREMIUM TIMES that an official of the National Emergency Management Agency had visited to do some enumeration, and besides that the people are still expecting help, not knowing when the water would recede.
Azegbeobor Kadiri, is a local chief in the Osomegbe community, he described the situation of the residents as pathetic. He said, “We have all run to the top of the hill in Osomegbe. We all in the village are gathered in one place, we cannot live separately.
“We are calling on the government to come to our aid, we are suffering and hungry, because the floods have destroyed our farms, no fish to catch, we have no food to eat.
“Nowhere to go to the toilet, as there is water everywhere. The water is polluted, no drinking water.”
School, business, churches soaked
Another resident, Osilamah, who had his rice mill flooded, noted that the community was witnessing flooding yearly since the first major flood in 2012. According to him, the disaster had left many homeless and denied any source of livelihood.
“We witnessed in 2012 a serious flood that sacked the entire village. We received some assistance to cushion the effects. We are expecting the government to come to our aid this time. There are collapsed buildings and flooding everywhere,” he said.
The floods did not spare the only public primary school in the village. It also affected churches such as the Church of God Rays of Truth and the St Maristella Catholic Church, Auchi Diocese.
The the catholic priest, Peter Nwanchukwu, lamented that he had to access his residence which is a story building using a canoe and a ladder. “The flood has carried all the places. The surrounding is flooded so that the Rector cannot enter his house without using a ladder. See his canoe in front of the house and the suffering here has been very great,” he said.
“This has continued on a yearly basis since 2012. The front of the house is a rice farm, and the flood has washed it off. After planting, harvesting becomes a problem. If you are unable to harvest before the floods come, you lose all your produce and that is what the community is suffering and we need the help of the government.
“To enter into the village, there is nobody remaining. Everybody has moved into a little piece of land remaining, cassava and rice farms carried by the floods, everybody is living by the mercy of one another.
“Help is needed so that the people can sustain their lives. Government needs to dredge the River Niger. If not for the missionary work, people like me would have run away. But because of God we have to be with the people.
“I have not seen such a thing before. This is the second time I am witnessing it. This year’s own is worse than last year’s, the depth of water could cover me when I enter into it. We pray to God to help us, but the government should help us too.”
Situation at the Leventis Farm
One of the leaders at the Leventis camp, Abdullahi Agonor, explained that some of them were at the Leventis farmland to cultivate rice, but when the flood came, those affected at Osomegbe had to flee the floods to the farm.
He said there is poor accommodation because most of the buildings were thatched houses and were not proper buildings as well. He said the situation had made life unbearable because there is not enough food to eat.
“The people here are from Osomegbe, who fled their village to be in Leventis. We came here to farm and the houses are not good enough accommodation,” he complained.
“As you can see, the houses are thatched houses and the people who came to join us here had nothing with them, because the floods had washed away their farms, their livestock and their belongings.
“We will need to help of well-meaning Nigerians and the governments in attending to our pressing needs of food, clothes and other things that would enable us resettle our lives.”
The National Emergency Management Agency(NEMA) says it has taken proactive steps through its zonal officers to provide temporary succor to the affected areas.
Ezekiel Manzo, the spokesman for the agency, told PREMIUM TIMES in a telephone interview that the first steps were to help the people to evacuate affected areas to safety and provide them with basic needs. He said NEMA’s zonal office in Edo had taken steps to actualise the said goals.
He, however, noted that the agency was dealing with the situation in Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and some parts of Cross River States where floods had caused some displacement and efforts were underway to provide relief for those suffering.
Mr Manzo noted that the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency(NIMET) had issued warnings earlier in the year that the people living in the flood prone areas should give way to the floods during the period.
“It is unfortunate, this is not the time for issuing blames, because this is a natural disaster,” he said. “As I speak to you, our officers have been mobilised to give support to the people.
“They are on their way right now to reinforce the efforts of our zonal officers.”
He added that in addition to what NEMA is doing, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs is also making efforts to ensure the directive of the President to quickly bring relief materials to the affected areas was executed.
Edo Government Speaks
The Commissioner for Environment, Alex Aleije, said the Edo State Government had set a committee to look into the plight of the affected communities and would soon begin to send palliatives and compensations across to them.
Mr Aleije told PREMIUM TIMES that the issue of flooding was a global problem that would need a long term planning to bring under control.
He, however, said it was necessary for proper verification to be done on those affected before adequate compensations could be computed and paid to the communities.
“We have put a machinery in motion to see that these areas affected are taken care of, and as we speak we have directed all our directors on erosion and flooding to assess the areas after which, by His grace, we will start work immediately,” Mr Aleije said.
“The state government is also working out modalities to compensate those who lost their properties and palliatives would be sent to them to see that they smile once again, because we are not happy that the flooding of a thing is disturbing them.”
When asked how soon it would take the government to respond to the plight of the people, given that they have been suffering since the last three weeks, Mr Aleije said it would not be long, since documentations and enumerations had commenced.