During his visit to communities in his flood-ravaged home state (Benue), on Thursday, Senate president David Mark said nobody anticipated "this natural disaster". How wrong he was! The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has, since the beginning of the year, been warning of abnormal rainfall and the consequences of flooding in several parts of the country this year. It issued the alerts using the predictions of NIMET (Nigerian Meteorological Agency) and the findings of its own experts and other authorities.
True to NEMA's predictions, no fewer than 25 states of the country so far have witnessed the devastation of floods in the past five months. Not even semi-desert zones have been spared. And, as dams were threatened and discharged water to avoid collapse, River Benue, River Niger and other rivers overflowed their banks.
Hardest hit has been Lokoja, the Kogi State capital: overflowing River Niger has cut off southern Nigeria from the north. Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons - a euphemistic expression for "refugees" - are camped in primary schools nationwide. Hundreds have been killed. Houses have been swallowed up and property items have been lost. The fear of epidemics in several camps is real.
We give kudos to NEMA under the leadership of Alhaji Muhammad Sani-Sidi for its prophetic declarations and modest efforts to offer relief to victims of the flood disasters. The agency charged with managing disasters of every description has been overwhelmed partly because state and local governments have neither listened to its warnings nor taken pre-emptive measures.
As its name suggests, NEMA goes beyond issuing warnings about the weather and providing relief to, and resettling, flood victims; it is overburdened with other disasters like fire, windstorm and road accidents, yet everyone looks up to it. Where are the State Emergency Management agencies (SEMAs) and the Local Emergency Management committees (LEMCs)? Although every state is supposed to have its SEMA and every local government area its LEMC, we can't find them in 70 per cent of the 36 states and 774 LGAs in the country.
In view of the reality of climate change and its ruinous effects, all authorities concerned with protecting the environment should work together and save the country and its citizens, especially the poor. The River Basin Development authorities could manage dams better and build buffer dams.
Urban and regional planners are at liberty to punish city dwellers who dump refuse on water channels. The worst disaster of all that demands proper management is corruption that is eating away the present and future of Nigeria. In particular, public officers must change their attitude towards public funds and public property: ecological funds should be used to fight ecological disasters.
NEMA is one agency that works. Its impact has been felt by almost everyone and everywhere, at least in the past two years.
There is need to fund the agency better and strengthen it so it could perform even more responsively and effectively.