31 August 2011

Nigeria: The Ibadan Flood Disaster

Nigeria Red Cross reports that floods in the southwest Nigerian city of Ibadan killed at least 98 people over the weekend. Nigeria suffers from ... ( Resource: Severe Flooding, Ocean Surge Cause Death and Destruction in Nigeria )


At about this same period in 1980, Ibadan, the capital city of Oyo state went under the waters with an unprecedented flood which killed hundreds of people and destroyed property of a whole generation of residents.

To memorialize that 'Omiyale' tragedy, many songs were rendered by leading fuji and juju artistes of the time while politicians bickered about whose responsibility it was to ensure it would never happen again. At the end, the Ogunpa River which overflew its banks and resulted in many of the deaths was channelized and many people believed a lasting solution had been found.

Unfortunately, there was a re-enactment of that tragedy last weekend after a torrential rainfall which uprooted cemeteries, damaged houses, destroyed bridges and made several roads impassable. As at the last count, no fewer than 50 people were unaccounted for while several families are still counting their losses both in human and material terms.

What was witnessed in Ibadan at the weekend, as we saw in Lagos last month, is principally a problem of urban planning, management and renewal. The peculiarity of Ibadan, however, results substantially from the historical interface of the city as an unplanned rural cosmopolitan settlement which evolved into the premier South Western political, social and commercial hub.

This conjunction which requires a planned and reasoned incorporation of the ancient into the modern has not been successfully resolved. Fortunately, the response by the state government to this tragedy was expeditious and dutiful. The governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, who was in Saudi Arabia for the lesser Hajj, took the next available flight back to Nigeria and has been involved in the efforts to mitigate the disaster. This is a commendable show of leadership.

The tragedy has, however, raised questions about the state of our nation as the impact of such disasters could be limited if we follow urban planning codes. In fact, some of the disasters are avoidable. We are increasingly at the mercy of nature, as incidents from all over the world show but how prepared are we? It is no secret that in major cities across the federation today, drainage and sewer networks are poorly maintained, insufficient or non-existent. There is also no culture of waste disposal as people dump refuse carelessly everywhere.

Then there is the question of our response to emergency. While we must commend the new leadership at the National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) which has brought vigour to the agency, questions must be asked of other institutions. We cannot, for instance, remember anyone being warned of possible flood in Ibadan yet the whole world knows about Hurricane Irene in the United States. Given that predicting weather is now almost an exact science, how come the Nigerian Metrological Agency (NIMET) had no inkling about the heavy rainfalls that wreaked havocs in Ibadan? Interestingly, all that NIMET has been doing in the last month, following the earlier deluge in Lagos, is to warn that there might be a repeat of such flood in the city, a prediction not rooted in any specificity and requires no rigour!

While we commiserate with the Governor and people of Oyo state, there are important lessons we must take away from the tragedy.

Since global data indicates that most of the South-west states are susceptible to flooding, there is an urgent need for the federal and state governments to carry out pre-emptive flooding susceptibility surveys and analyses instead of waiting for these disasters to occur while their very causes pile up before our very eyes. It is also very clear that NIMET has failed woefully. In civilized societies emergency action is more about prior action and knowledge-based advisory services, not about just distributing blankets after the fact. Finally, it is evident that this tragedy is beyond the capacity of Oyo state to manage.

While we urge President Goodluck Jonathan to take the Ibadan disaster as a national emergency, there is an urgent need to channelize Odo-ona and Eleyele Rivers which experts have identified as the major causes of Ibadan's perennial problem. This demands a proactive multi-lateral response from the local, state and federal governments in order to forestall another flood disaster if the heavens let loose again.

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