How flood disaster proved Nigerian musician wrong in Anambra

How flood disaster proved Nigerian musician wrong in Anambra

‘The most painful and devastating case of the flood disaster in the state remained the recent boat mishap that claimed scores of lives’

When afrobeat legend, Fela Aníkúlápó Kuti was composing his popular song, “water e no get enemy…” 47 years ago, little did he factor in the negative tendencies of water. The same essential commodity he was eulogizing has become a source of agony and pain to many Nigerians, particularly those affected by the current ravaging flood disaster across the country. Apart from destruction of property, many lives have been lost to this peculiar kind of water, which, as it were, supposed to be a blessing from God.

From Kogi, Nasarawa, Gombe, Delta, Imo to Bayelsa, Rivers, Anambra, just to mention but a few states, it has been tales of tragedy and woes. Floods has continued to wreak havoc on homes, farms and businesses. Several communities are reeling from the impact of floods, with its attendant economic consequences assuming greater dimension on daily basis. Just last week, reports had it that about 25 per cent of the country’s rice needs was lost in one fell swoop in Nasarawa state. Other damages were infrastructure like dykes, canals, and drainage worth $8 million.

Though the scourge has been largely attributed to increase in rainfall and the release of water from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon, among other factors, but the victims, especially those living in the riverine communities would definitely not agree with Fela, nor join him in chanting that particular song. For them, water is their number one enemy which must “die”!

In Anambra State, out of the 21 local government areas that make up the state, no fewer than eight of them are currently under siege, no thanks to flood disaster. Though most residents of the area, predominantly fishermen, are not alien to water, but the current situation is obviously overwhelming. Undoubtedly, this year’s flood is not the first of its kind in the state. But what makes its unique, particularly when compared with that of 2012, is the scores of lives it had claimed, aside the usual destruction of property, including crops, farmlands and drowning residential houses.

According to a resident of Ayamelum Local Government Area of the State, Mr Sunday Ibe, “We are not afraid of water, infact, the farmers and fishermen among us practically live in water, as most of them prefer to live in farm settlements, where they farm and fish, only coming into the communities when their products are due for sale, or at weekend. What is different about this year’s (2012) is that, even though we are used to our farm settlements being submerged, and some houses around the area too, this year’s flood spanned through every part of the community, submerging it.”

In Ayamelum, all eight communities that make up the Council Area are currently under water, while residents sacked from their abode are now taking refuge in school facilities, which have been converted to Internally Displaced Persons IDP camps.

A House of Representatives candidate of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) for Oyi/Ayamelum Federal Constituency, Dr Amaechi Nwachukwu, during a visit to one of the camps l at Igbakwu, raised alarm after meeting with the flood victims. A renowned orthopedic surgeon, Nwachukwu said there was need for government and individuals to assist the refugees through provision of basic needs, but also that urgent steps must be taken to provide the people with health needs, to avoid outbreak of diseases.

Nwachukwu who donated relief materials as well as mobilised for the erection of an emergency health centre in the camp to check the health of the IDPs, and also administer free drugs, said: “The devastating effect of the flood especially on the social and economic lives of members of this community is enormous. It is a moral responsibility upon me and every other well-to-do person to assist the victims of flood in Anambra State, considering the number of disease outbreaks that can emanate from the flood. With domestic and farm products lost to the flood disaster, there is the tendency that after the flood, the people will commence life from scratch, so we need to help as much as we can. The medical services we are rendering to the people today is to prevent or treat diseases that may arise as a result of the flood such as malaria, typhoid, hypertension and other ailments.

“These flood victims that cut across several communities, urgently need relief materials and other assistance from government and its agencies, such as NEMA and SEMA. I therefore call on these agencies to rise up to its responsibility and bring urgent succour to the people of Ogbaru, who are currently besieged by flooding, so as to avert the outbreak of health challenges associated with such incident.”

In Anaku, headquarters of Ayamelum Local Government Area, flood submerged the entire secretariat, while motorists, residents and visitors to the area were also reportedly trapped, as there was no access way back to town. One of those trapped, Mr. Paul Nwauba described the deluge as an annual occurrence that needed permanent solution. He also called for assistance in the form of boats to rescue trapped people. “We have been experiencing such but it is worse now as it has submerged the Onitsha/Ayamelum road, thereby trapping those at the Local Government Area, especially Anaku. The Ezu river has been submerged too, and the river covered by flood, thereby making it impassable for travellers and residents,” he stated.

Perhaps, the most painful and devastating case of the flood disaster in the state remained the recent boat mishap that claimed scores of lives, with several others missing in Umunnankwo community of Ogbaru Local Government Area of the State. Though there has been conflicting reports and figures from the incident, but the unfortunate incident still remained the worst scenario. Residents said the boat capsized as a result of the flood, which caused water level to exceed its limit, while also causing increase in the water’s tide.

While eye witnesses said the ill-fated boat, which took off from Onukwu Bridge and was heading to Nkwo market, Ogbakuba before it capsized, had about 85 persons on board, the sailor, Mr. Desmond Amaugo from Ogwu-aniocha, however refuted the report, saying the total number of passengers he ferried that fateful day were 48 and not 85 as alleged. He narrated how the market women besieged his house and persuaded him to sail them to Ogbakuba but they couldn’t make it due to the water waves. “The wave knocked the boat against the pillars of Umunnakwo-Ossomala bridge. All efforts made to stabilize the boat, failed because the wave was so severe,” he said.

One of the most hit in the ill-fated boat, perhaps was one Mr Bernard Achonu who lost his wife and three children, aged between two, four and six in the boat mishap. A native of Isiala Mbano in Imo State, but resides in Mputu community where they are engaged in farm activities, Achonu failed to be consoled by his relations who gathered to await the bodies of their other loved ones. 

The visibly devastated man narrated in tears, “My family was relocating to a safe place as the water has submerged almost all the communities in Ogbaru when the incident happened. I was told that the engine boat capsized due to dangerous waves.” Achonu was not alone, there were others who lost family members .They included Kenneth  Ezi, Mathew and Sabastine Umeorji, and Dominic Dala- Amuzie. They expressed grief and shock over the incident, saying most of those who died in the ill- fated  boat mishap were women and children.

Another life that was claimed by the deluge was that of a 70-year-old man, Mr Sunday Mesiobi, in Ogbe-Akpoma, Atani community of Ogbaru Local Government Area. Mesiobi was said to be the uncle of Mr Arinzechukwu Awogu, the immediate past Transition Committee Chairman of Ogbaru Council Area, who is also contesting for a seat in the House of Representatives, under All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), to represent Ogbaru Federal Constituency. 

According to report, the deceased had earlier evacuated his wife and children after which he decided to stay back to take care of the house. Though the cause of his death was not clear, but many were of the opinion that he might have been drowned by the surging flood while fast asleep in the night.

Awogu who revealed the septuagenarian’s death, said he was found in his room which was submerged by water, adding that the remains had since been deposited at the Atani morgue. He said, “It was not clear the exact time the incident happened but family sources said that his lifeless body was found when one of them came to check on him and discovered he was dead after calling his name repeatedly without response. They sighted his cloth floating on the water inside his room and when the cloth was pulled up it turned out that his body was under the water.” Awogu, a former local government chairman added: “It has gone beyond asking people to converge in a particular location. We need more of a community based approach where community leaders, the President General will have more direct contact with victims everywhere including holding camps.”

Worse still was a church building which collapsed in Iyiowa Odekpe community of Ogbaru Local Government Area of the State, with many reportedly dead. This happened barely 24 hours after the boat mishap. According to reports, the church, Madonna Catholic Church building collapsed as a result of heavy flooding that has eaten up many parts of the building and also caused many damages in the area.

Reacting to the boat mishap, former House of Representatives member, Hon. Victor Afam Ogene and current candidate of Labour Party (LP) expressed shock and deep sorrow over the development. He said, “This sad news of this terrible accident is numbing and painful to me as a person and must be very devastating, especially to the immediate families of the victims. This is a collective loss for Ogbaru as a whole and we are united in sorrow. My condolences go to the affected families and also Ogbaru people and communities, who have in recent times found themselves in the jaws of severe flood disaster that has practically submerged all our communities and displaced thousands of people.”

He said almost every community in the local government area was affected by the flood, but listed the most badly affected to include; Ogwu Ikpele, Akili Ogidi, Obeagwe, Ossomala, Ogwuaniocha, Umunankwo, Ogbakuba, Ochuche, Umuzu, Akili Ozizor, Atani, Ohita and Odekpe. Other areas devastated by the ravaging flood include Amiyi, Iyiowa, Ogbeukwu, Okoti and parts of Okpoko. He added, “It is pathetic. It is a terrible sight in Ogbaru as a result of the flood disaster. The human and environmental conditions here are absolutely pathetic and requires urgent action from government in order to alleviate the sufferings of the despondent victims, most of whom have lost all their belongings to the flood disaster.”

Transition Committee Chairman of Ogbaru Local Government Area, Mr Pascal Aniegbuna, who could not give a clear account of the number of persons that lost their lives in the incident, however said: “While some of the passengers were rescued, several others, unfortunately lost their lives.”

Soludo condoles with families of persons involved boat mishap

Meanwhile, Governor Chukwuma Soludo had condoled with the families of persons involved in a boat mishap. In a condolence message signed by his Chief Press Secretary, Christian Aburime, Soludo said his government just days before the tragic incident sent several interventions to the people of the flood ravaged area, who have all relocated to IDP camps for safety. He assured that government will continue to do its best to reduce the negative effects of the flood disaster in the state. He commiserated with the families of the bereaved, and Ogbaru people in general saying: “This development is still a shock to the government and good people of Anambra State. I sympathize with the families of people involved.”

Immediate former governor, Chief Willie Obiano has also commiserated with his successor and people of the State over boat mishap, Obiano, through his Publicist, Tony Nezianya urged state government to take steps to tackle the emergency head-on. He also called on Federal Government to ensure speedy release of ecological funds in supporting the state in tackling the emergency.

He said, “I sympathise with the Government and families of the victims of the accident. This incident has added to the ugly situation following the huge deadly flooding that has displaced people from their homelands, washing away houses and farmlands. The flooding has also wreaked havoc in Anambra East and West, Ayamelum as well as Ogbaru areas of the state.

‘’I have been informed that many have died as a result of displacements by the raging floodwaters, as well as farmlands, that have been washed away. I urge the Government to take steps to tackle the emergency head-on. I call on Federal Government to offer leadership at this point to mitigate the disaster by ensuring the speedy release of ecological funds in supporting the state in tackling the emergency.

‘’Diligent intervention by all stakeholders will no doubt reduce the burden imposed by this disaster,  while deliberate efforts must begin in the implementation of a permanent solution to the disaster. It is Climate change that has now combined to worsen this yearly disaster. I share the grief of victims of the emergency, who should endeavour to follow the Government’s wise counsel to evacuate to safety until the floodwaters recede.

‘’May we remember in our prayers all those that have so far died as a result of the flooding raving our state over the past couple of weeks. Apart from the Cameroonian Dam that releases excess water from its facility, other Nigerian Dams like Kainji also released their water.”

On his part, Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Onitsha, Most Rev. Valerian Okeke, while visiting the Holding camp at Crowther Memorial Primary School , Onitsha housing the affected persons, counseled the victims to bear their present situation with patience and hope in God for a better tomorrow. He noted that the church shares in their present ordeal, saying, “whatever affects them, also affects the entire people of God in Onitsha.

The Archbishop donated 150 tubers of yam, 30 bags of Rice, 5 bags of beans, 5 cartons of tomatoes, 5 bags of noodles, 50 litres of groundnut oil, 50 litres of palm oil,  10- pieces of sleeping mats, two bags of potatoes and assorted biscuits and toiletries to the victims, praying that the rampaging flood would not last long but recede soonest so that the people can return  to their homes and resume their normal lives. “We hope that more public spirited humanitarians will come to their aid and ameliorate their plight so that even toddlers among the displaced persons will not feel the impact of the devastating situation but be insulated from the harsh realities. We also pray that the inmates will not lack food and water and that there won’t be any outbreak of diseases at the camp until the present challenge fades away,” prayed the Archbishop who was accompanied by the Chancellor of the Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Prudentus Aroh and retinue of other priests.

Responding to the Archbishop intervention, Transition Chairman of Anambra West Local Government Area, Felix Ikechi said government was already overstretched having put up several intervention programmes since the flood situation escalated one week ago  hence their excitement to receive support from external sources. He assured that the items brought by the archbishop will be judiciously utilised while some of the items will also be extended to other displaced persons from the area quartered at another camp in Aguleri.

Rights group berates Soludo

A rights group, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) has berated Anambra State Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo over the boat mishap. The group, in a statement by its board of trustees’ chairman, Emeka Umeagbalasi, said the governor did not handle the unfortunate incident with the desired expediency. It said such preventable and avoidable deaths would have been averted if the government had been alive to its responsibilities.

It argued that an incident were scores reportedly died was beyond mere statement of expression of sadness or shock and extension of condolences to the bereaved families as the Soludo-led government just did in the circumstance. According to the group, losing defenseless and law abiding citizens in a day was enough to fly flag at half mast or declare a state of mourning and public holiday if government was truly sensitive to the safety of the citizenry and conscious of the sanctity of human lives. It maintained that construction of some roads in the area would have provided alternative means of transportation in the area.

The statement reads in part, “It is the position of the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) that the tragic mass deaths on Friday, 7th Oct 2022 at Ossomal/Umunankwo area of Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State were beyond a mere “statement of expression of sadness or shock and extension of condolences to the bereaved families” by Prof Charles Chukwuma Soludo led Government of Anambra State. 

“Losing 81 defenseless and law abiding citizens of Anambra origin and residency in a day in such preventable or avoidable boat mishap is enough to fly flag at half mast or declare a state of mourning and public holiday if the authorities of the Government of Anambra State are truly sensitive to the safety of the citizenry and conscious of the sanctity of human lives. 

“The mass deaths also ought to invoke the setting up of the Government ‘Expert Enquiry’ (“Agidigbaoto Boat Mishap Expert Enquiry”) to expertly ascertain “what truly happened, how it happened, why it happened, where it happened, when it happened and who died and who survived.

“Such Expert Enquiry should further provide the accuracy of facts regarding the environmental circumstances that caused the boat mishaps including the functionality capacity or capability of the two boats involved and the individual, industrial and Government activities around the over-flown River Niger and its adjoining tributaries including the Urashi and the Iyiowa Rivers. 

“The activities to be expertly looked into must include waste management around the area such as dumping of refuse in drainages, gutters and other waterways; construction of buildings or other properties in waterways and criminal approvals granted by relevant past and present Government officials.  

“The Government of Anambra State is called upon to urgently commence rehabilitation of the all-important Atani-Ogwuikpele and the Atani-Ozubulu Roads so as to appease the death of 81 defenseless and law abiding citizens that died in the two boat mishaps. 

“This clarion call has become expedient because if the two important roads were in good condition, the lives of the 81 dead victims would have been saved or secured.

“The congested numbers of passengers recorded in the capsized “Agidigbaoto” Boat also strongly suggested that the passengers panicked and boarded the boat because they did not have a choice or another alternative means of movement.”

NEMA and Military begin Aeriel operations to rescue trapped Flood Victims

Meanwhile, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and Military, have begun Aeriel operations to rescue trapped Flood Victims in the State through the Disaster Response Unit (DRU). The Zonal Coordinator of NEMA in the Southeast, Mr Thickman Tanimu said the move would aid the airlifting of trapped persons in the affected communities.

According to him, “Search and Rescue (SAR Operations) has commenced. The Military DRU have engaged and have started ‘Air Recce’ or Aerial view to collect imagery intelligence of the affected communities. This will help to accertain displaced and trapped persons who need to be evacuated to pave the way for air lifting. The Presidency and the Director-General NEMA, Mustapha Ahmed-Habib, while commiserating with the state government and flood victims including the bereaved, approved the relief materials which would be presented directly to flood victims on Tuesday.

“The delay in arrival of the relief materials is due to the flood disaster that cut off Abuja – Lokoja road and also the security situation due to the Monday sit-at-home in the South East. The relief material will hopefully arrive on Tuesday and be ready for delivery directly to victims. These items are meant to complement the efforts of Anambra State Government in providing immediate succour to victims and aid their speedy rehabilitation,” NEMA boss added.

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