In an unexpected address to the nation on Tuesday, October 9, President Goodluck Jonathan gave worthy attention to the flood disasters that have killed more than 100 Nigerians, rendered up to one million homeless and destroyed property worth tens of billions of naira. The presidential broadcast came very late - months after an emergency ought to have been declared in at least 20 states of the country - but it's better late than never.
To "mitigate the impact of this natural disaster", the president said his government had voted N17.6billion to be shared by the affected states and government agencies: N13.3bn for the states and N4.3bn for government agencies. For good measure, President Jonathan classified the states into A, B, C and D who will receive between N500m and N250m each. The interesting thing is that no state was left out.
And the agencies were Ministry of Works (N2.6bn), NEMA (N1.1bn), Ministry of the Environment (N350m), National Commission for Refugees (N150m), and a technical committee on flood impact assessment (N100m). The president also created the "Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation" to be chaired by business mogul Aliko Dangote and lawyer Olisa Agbakoba while Chief Mike Adenuga will be the chief fund mobiliser. Altogether the panel has 43 members. At present, President Jonathan is touring some of the affected communities as he promised in the broadcast.
Although throwing N17.6bn at the problem should not be condemned, the president has lived up to his reputation as running a "government by committees". What happened to the ecological funds that all state governments access regularly? We have no doubt that a large chunk of the N13.3bn meant for the 36 states and the FCT will enter private pockets the same way ecological funds and the monthly allocations from the federation account are misused.
Eventually, the targeted beneficiaries - flood victims who have lost their homes, farmlands and sources of livelihood - will depend on NEMA, which issued several alerts early in the year and has been working round the clock to help the victims. The Dangote/Agbakoba panel may still raise more funds, but we doubt it will reach the victims early enough. Every day means a lot for the displaced people: hunger, disease and death stare them in the face.
The floods of 2012 have really exposed Nigeria's underbelly - corruption and lack of preparation for emergencies. Are there lessons to be learnt from this? A fraction of N17.6bn could have done a lot to head off the disaster through construction of buffer dams and clearing of drainage channels.
That both the rich and the poor have lost property to the floods is an indication that natural disasters spare nobody. So, if money has been voted for managing the environment, it should be used for that purpose. Those in leadership positions who loot public funds can now see that ill-gotten money doesn't solve every problem.