When is a place under emergency state? A state of emergency, the type contained in the Nigerian constitution, is defined only by the president. Whatever crisis an area faces is borne by the inhabitants alone, unless it gets the attention of the politicians.
That’s why Obasanjo woke up one day and declared a state of emergency in Plateau State because he wanted to get at a political opponent. He did the same in Ekiti State because of one man. In the First Republic, emergency rule was declared in the Western Region because there was a fight in the region’s legislature. But who would compare any of those situations to what we have today?
Emergencies are not all about politics. In fact, politics is the least of the emergencies that can confront a people or nation. But because everything else has been subsumed in politics here, nothing else matters to our leaders.
That’s why they have not noticed the emergencies in education, security, health, power, unemployment, corruption and poverty. Our sole idea of emergency is to flood an area with soldiers and curtail people’s right to freedom of movement – the sort declared on December 31, 2011, in 15 LGAs.
Right now, a large part of the country is in deep crisis. I’m not referring to Boko Haram-infested states. This one cuts across regions and religions: the flooding of communities near rivers Benue and Niger as well as those near a few dams. Parts of Adamawa, Taraba, Kano, Kwara, Niger, Kaduna, Kogi and Benue states are in trouble already. Many other states have had their fair share of the floods this year.
But the floods are continuing their incredible march towards parts of Delta, Anambra, Enugu and maybe Rivers states. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has performed well with its sensitisation programme. Early in the year, it warned of heavy rains and flooding. Now, its search and rescue team is overworked while it donates its widow’s mite to refugee camps.
NEMA attributes the current downpour to climate change. Heavy rains, it warns, will make rivers Benue and Niger overflow their banks. Dams will discharge water to avoid collapse; if any collapses, the tragedy will be unimaginable. When the Camerounian authorities opened the Lagdo dam, communities in Adamawa and Taraba were swept off.
With River Benue overflowing, lives and property have been endangered. I have put my brothers in Onitsha on notice: if the Kainji and Jebba dams are opened, River Niger may go on a rampage. Anyone who lives within 2km of either river’s shores – whether in Niger, Benue, Kogi, Anambra or Delta – should get set to vacate his home. Never mind the politicians’ assurances. They won’t help.
In other countries, presidents visit areas struck by tsunami, earthquakes and hurricanes. They make national broadcasts. Governors of the affected areas work with volunteers and agencies to assist victims. What do we see here? At the time the bodies of a woman and her baby strapped to her back were found at the bank of River Benue, the three tiers of government were sharing N571billion for the month of August.
Of course, a part of the money they shared was meant for preventing ecological disasters but, almost always, ecological funds are stolen. State governors (and local government chairmen) deal with ecological funds faster than they do security votes. Pre-emptive measures that would have headed off natural disasters like floods are not taken because ecological funds have been stolen.
Everything is left to NEMA, even though we know it has its limitations. I’m told that every state ought to have SEMA (State Emergency Management Agency) and every local government, LEMC (Local Emergency Management Committee), but you won’t find them in more than a dozen states. Despite NEMA’s warnings, the governments in flood-prone areas have carried on as usual: do nothing.
When inhabitants of disaster zones are told to move to higher ground, the implications are underestimated. Imagine moving your family and belongings to another town at very short notice. Imagine spending days and weeks and months with your family in a refugee camp – a dilapidated primary school or market stalls. Biafrans have not forgotten what they saw in the late 1960s: when families gathered to eat, a bomb would suddenly drop into the drum being used to cook food.
One dangerous trend that has come with civilian rule in this Fourth Republic is that we all are now at the mercy of politicians. [I’m tempted to believe that the “beast” foretold in the Bible book of Revelation is a politician: It speaks of a time when “nobody will buy or sell without the mark of the beast”.] State governments, for instance, would work if the residences of politicians were affected by the floods. I read about the house of Vice-president Namadi Sambo in Zaria getting flooded last week.
Then, that of the late ex-governor Moses Adasu in Makurdi. State and local governments in those areas must have responded. If Victoria Island, Ikoyi and Lekki in Lagos had been flooded, wouldn’t the residents be evacuated? A swarm of choppers would have been flying 24 hours daily around the areas – because the rich would be involved. Displaced people of Agatu and Kucha Utebe (Benue State), please be consoled!
The earlier we learn to be our brother’s keeper, the better for us all. Communities should learn to ignore the politicians and execute self-help projects like flood control. They could warn those who manage dams sited in their areas not to release water until they are relocated and rehabilitated.