IT is often said that the true hallmark of a modern society is its capacity to discipline nature and, within reason, bend it to human needs and aspirations. Nigeria’s continuing failure to measure up to this standard of modernity was again on full display last week as two days of steady rainfall precipitated flooding which brought commercial and vehicular activities to a halt in several parts of the country. In Lagos, the country’s commercial hub and aspirant to the status of a global mega city, many roads became virtually impassable both in upscale Victoria Island and other places on the mainland. Thousands of commuters were stranded at bus stops across the city, and in several unfortunate cases, hapless families could only watch as rising waterstook over their cherished living spaces. For those two days at least, Lagosians, rich and poor, shared a common fate as evidence of degradation of the infrastructure of Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan centre was starkly presented.
Lagos was hardly unique. In parts of Ekiti, Osun, Akwa Ibom, Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia, Oyo, Plateau, Sokoto, Edo and Bayelsa respectively, there were reports of flash floods which literally brought everyday life to a standstill and visited untold disaster on residents across many urban areas. In Suleja, Niger State, for instance,at least 18 people were reported to have been swept away in floods which laid waste to large parts of the city. All in all, it has been a bleak period in several parts of the country, and billions of naira may well have been lost in damage to private property, public infrastructure, and lost man-hours.
Given the grim situation, we are heartened by the speedy response of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who has directed the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, to release the sum of N1.6 billion from the Federal Government’s Ecological Fund for immediate disbursement to the affected states. Properly spent, such monies will go a long way in alleviating the damage done by the flood to individuals and private businesses. Yet, commendable as the Acting President’s gesture is, it goes without saying that the problem of flooding in the country transcends mere release of money, no matter how well-meaning. A ritual that is not necessarily driven by a clear apprehension of the problem, let alone integrated into a coherent policy framework is unlikely to address the roots of a problem which happens perennially across the country, yet seems to catch policy makers off guardeach time it occurs.
As far as the roots of the problem are concerned, a cursory look at Lagos, to take just one of the affected states, shows that flooding tends to be caused by poor planning and wanton violation of building regulations by both government and private entities. As the city has expanded in various directions, the strictures of city planning have succumbed to the exigencies of housing needs. On Victoria Island, horrendous planning appears to have been complicated by land reclamation for the Eko Atlantic City project.
Some immediate palliative measure are possible, for instance a conscious effort to educate people on the dangers of dumping waste in open drainages. The Federal Ministry of Environment should, in alliance with different states of the federation, take the lead on a campaign to increase public awareness. In the long term however, it is difficult to see how a recurrence can be prevented without a honest appraisal of the problem, and a commitment on the part of the Federal Government and individual states to commit resources to radical infrastructural improvement. Failing that, an encore of this year’s problems is certain during next year’s rainy season.