In 2011, if Mr. Olukunle Oke were told to predict his future, he would have imagined moving to his next house, buying another car, and attending his children's graduation. He would never have predicted the ravaging flood that took away his pregnant wife, four-month old baby, grandchild and four other children.
Similar stories swamp the media at regular intervals with little clarity on how the government will manage these concurrent flood outbreaks. In 2017, floods hit virtually every state in Nigeria; in Benue alone, over 100,000 people were displaced by flooding and the 72-hour rain led to the loss of property worth millions of Naira.
Has there been any progress in dealing with these floods? Well, it would be unfair to ignore some of the government's constructive efforts.
During Shegu Shagari’s tenure, the government established the Ecological Fund to address environmental issues such as flooding. A portion of the Federation Account – initially 1 percent, but increased to 2 percent in 1992 – is set aside for the fund each year.
Some notable projects have benefited from this fund, from the rehabilitation of the Kargo Dam in Kaduna State to the rehabilitation of the collapsed portion of the Lagos coastline along Bonny Camp. And as recently as May, the Nigerian Government announced a disbursement of ₦2 billion each to 19 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), in a ₦40 billion withdrawal from the fund.
But as spending is only the first step, our attention turns to how effective these efforts have been.
Between 2007 and 2015, a total of ₦431 billion was allocated to the Ecological Fund. What did we get for it? A 2016 survey revealed that at least eight projects were wasteful – ₦2.2 billion was paid to contractors for incomplete jobs. Meanwhile, the Ecological Fund Office (EFO) listed six of these as completed projects. A flood and erosion project in Ganye, Adamawa state gulped ₦427 million, yet floods still ravage the town.
The Ecological fund has served as a discretionary account from which funds can be obtained. From election campaigns to building shopping malls, money has been shared for non-ecological purposes. ₦94 billion out a ₦141 billion allocation to the fund between 2009 and 2011 was used to finance the government’s budget deficit.
In the meantime, Nigerians suffer the consequences of neglect.
Remember in 2015 when Benue State was hit with a six-hour downpour which submerged 150 houses? The state government made promises to tackle flooding, through the dredging of River Benue. In 2017, these same promises are resurfacing, with over 4000 houses immersed in water this time around.
Preparing for winter
With floodings, we must watch out for the risk factors such as poor waste management and bad drainages.
In 2016, research released by the World Health Organisation revealed that Onitsha was the most polluted city in the world. Aba, Kaduna, and Umuahia also featured in the worst 20 cities. These states recorded high levels of air pollution, blocked drainages, and waterlogged streets.
Despite these records, even in the recent election campaigns, little was said about environmental planning. Politicians are still missing the point, and we fail to demand basic human rights from them.
Proper waste management can prevent drains from being blocked and consequently reduce the spate of flooding in the country. The problem is that waste management has mostly been ignored in Nigeria. In Sweden, over 950,000 homes rely on electricity generated through waste. As at 2014, the country was importing over 800,000 tons of garbage because their local waste was not enough to meet their heating plants’ capacity. In Europe, more than 20 million people are provided with electricity through waste.
And in the United States alone, there are over 20,000 waste companies. Waste Management Company, the largest, has a market capitalisation of $35.6 billion.
Although our economy is much smaller than the United States', this just shows the potential of the waste industry in propelling development. As one company memorably puts it, “shit business is serious business".
The Federal Government developed a National Environment Sanitation Policy to create guidelines on how environmental sanitation can be managed. This policy has been only effective on paper.
But flooding has quickly become a severe national concern.
We need clear action plans and timelines on how flooding will be addressed. There needs to be synergy between all levels of government – playing the blame game on who is responsible for drainages will lead us nowhere. And as citizens, we need to get involved in the push to prevent future flooding. This means that Nigerians must become more responsible for their immediate environment.
I once met a taxi driver who had been coerced to pick up refuse from the floor while growing up. The result of this collective effort was a tidy neighbourhood. We need to put a stop to our habit of littering and work together to end this flooding menace.