The devastating flood that ravaged most communities along the banks of River Benue in October 2012, not only washed away houses and farmlands in Duguri district of Alkaleri local government area of Bauchi State, but also brought with it some species of dangerous snakes which to date have killed more than 200 people in the district.
Duguri district is 136 kilometres away from Bauchi, the state capital, and 120 kilometres from Alkaleri, the local government headquarters.
According to the district head of Duguri, which is surrounded by villages such as Geji, Yuli, Shafa, Gamu, Dogon-Ruwa, Bogos, Rimi, Kukuri, Keffi, Talan, Geji-Gamu, Kunzum, Yalam, Sabonlayi, Kungimbar, Gyel, Anguwar-Gebi, Bunn, Sabon Gari, Yumi, Bayek, and Gobir, Adamu Mohammed, "we have lost over 200 people in this district since the floods of last year to date."
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES last Thursday, the village head of nearby Shafa village, Adamu Abdullahi, said, "even yesterday, someone was bitten by a snake while working on his farm and he died on the way to the hospital. In fact I also lost my daughter, Sadiqa, after she was bitten by a puff adder (an African viper specie) while sleeping in her room. She died in less than 15 minutes after she was bitten. She was 14 years old."
A resident of Duguri, Abubakar Umar, told PREMIUM TIMES that the snakes have killed and continue to kill residents of the affected villages but added that the villagers have also intensified efforts to "hunt the snakes and kill them," after realising that government help is not forth coming.
"The incident of snake bites has reduced a little, because we have intensified in killing them. The Cobra specie is the one that has been killing our people since last year," he said, adding that, "I can confidently tell you that over 360 persons died from snake bites in Duguri and surrounding villages from last year to date. That is not forgetting those who lost their limbs. Most of them were amputated at the General Hospital, Bauchi," he said.
Speaking in similar vein, the Galadima of Duguri, Mallam Yusuf, said over 200 people in Duguri alone lost either a hand or part of their leg.
"The story is the same in all the villages in the district," he said.
According to the district head of Shafa, "Since this disaster befell us, there is no family that has not lost a loved one to these snakes and I am talking of about 10 villages with a population of over 14,000," he said.
According to the district head, victims of snake bite who survive are usually taken to the General Hospital in Kaltungo, Gombe State, where the hospital had dedicated a ward for the treatment of venomous snake bites.
"Whoever is lucky to make it to Kaltungo is treated in only two days and then they return home," he added.
The district head of Shafa, Mr. Mohammed and the Galadima of Duguri, Mr. Yusuf, told PREMIUM TIMES that the residents of the districts are predominantly peasant farmers and the snakes' invasion has made it almost impossible for them to cultivate their farms.
When former information minister, Dora Akunyuli led a presidential subcommittee on flood relief and rehabilitation to Duguri district in November last year, she promised the people that samples of the snakes would be taken to determine the appropriate anti-venom vaccines and appealed to the villagers to exercise patience but the Galadima of Duguri said, "we have not heard from the federal government till date and just like she said we are in danger now. The snakes have killed over 200 of our people since her team left us."
Repeated efforts made to speak to the Bauchi State Commissioner for Health, Sani Malami, were unsuccessful. After several calls and text messages for one week, Mr. Malami responded to a short message on Thursday, saying, "I am travelling from Abuja at the moment, will speak when I get to Bauchi".
Several calls to his mobile phone since then have been unanswered.