*End the blame game, tackle emergency–Groups tell FG, States
*Probe trillions of ecological funds spending now, SERAP tells Buhari
*INC will seek compensation from FG
*Rivers LG bosses bemoan FG’s absence, explain why some victims remain in flooded areas
By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South, Festus Ahon, Sam Oyandongha, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Egufe Yafugborhi, Chioma Onuegbu, Emem Idio & Ochuko Akuopha, ASABA
INSTEAD of responding to the challenge of accounting for the ecological fund allocated to them, Akwa Ibom and Delta state governments, weekend, chided the Federal Government for blaming states over the flood ravaging most parts of the country, admonishing it not to play politics with the worsening disaster.
Last week, the Presidency challenged states to give an account of how they spent amounts in excess of N1 trillion, allocated to them from the Ecological Fund to tackle floods and other ecological problems.
Several states, including Benue and Kogi in the North-Central; Bayelsa, Rivers and Delta in the South-South, had cried out to the Federal Government for help as they battled to provide succour for victims of flood.
Presidential spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, in response to enquiries from Vanguard on the states, made reference to a comprehensive statement he issued on the subject in August, where said: “Each of the three tiers, the local government, the state government and the Federal Government has a sizeable budget at its disposal, allocated monthly precisely for dealing with these state-level natural emergencies, as well as federal agencies dedicated to doing the same.
“It is not clear why some of the state governments in question are not already drawing upon those funds to tackle the current emergency, and the general population is misguidedly calling on the Federal Government to intervene in all situations.
“If those sums of money are, for whatever reason, no longer available, the affected states and local councils must immediately contact the relevant authorities to explain what has happened to those funds.”
The Federal Government gave the impression that flooding in the country was not caused by the supposed opening of a dam in Cameroon as widely speculated, but by lack of preparation by the state governments and others.
Indeed, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, yesterday, urged President Buhari to investigate the spending of ecological funds by governments at all levels from the federal, state and local governments spanning 2001 till date and ensure that “perpetrators of corruption and mismanagement face prosecution, and any missing public funds fully recovered.”
FG should be ashamed—Ememobong
Faulting Presidency’s position, Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Ini Ememobong, said the All Progressives Congress, APC-led Federal Government should be ashamed of its ‘poor capacity’ to manage the emergency.
“The current Federal Government should not politicise emergency management. It should be ashamed of its poor capacity to manage the emergency. Ask them the information management strategy put in place for this. Did this just happen? Was there no warning?
“They now blame the state governments. Pakistan is under water but the government is not trading blames. What management procedures did the Federal Government do in terms of communication?
“As we speak there is no federal policy on crisis management communication. In Akwa Ibom State, you could see the flood control projects that the governor did. It could be worse because there are both internal and external forces.
“Human beings do not control the volume of rain. In Akwa Ibom state, the governor has done extremely well in that regard. You know what happened on IBB Road. You know what happened in Oron and other places.
“And we are taking steps to ensure that every road constructed must have side drains and outfall drains. Therefore, it is irresponsible to trade blames and play politics with emergency management. Human lives are involved.
“Who is playing politics with the flood in Pakistan? Who is playing politics with the flood in Florida? However, the current Federal Government is still behaving like an opposition party; they still carry that mentality of an opposition party, where it blames someone for everything.
“Governance is a very serious business, where people in government must take responsibility. In Akwa Ibom state, we take responsibility, we took out flood water passing 18 communities and evacuating at the same point.”
Not time to blame anyone–Aniagwu
Commissioner for Information, Delta State, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, in a chat with Vanguard said what Garba Shehu meant was not clear.
“The flood we are having today is not a flash flood, where you say maybe because there is too much rain in one state; several states have been dealing with such ecological challenges, according to their strength.
“But for us to deal with the flood that covers over 30 states in the country, it will require the Federal Government to take a holistic decision. Is it the state governments that will dam the River Benue and River Niger, or is it the state governments that will dredge the River Niger and River Benue to carry more water?
“Sometimes it is not good to play politics, I expect that those who lead us or those who speak for those who lead us to come out clean on several issues so that we can make progress.
“The Federal Government is not an individual; the Federal Government is our government, so this idea of always looking for regime protection cannot take us anywhere.
“Let all of us come together and discuss how we can solve a problem that has become common to all of us, rather than look for who to blame,” he said.
Okowa, Diri on new dams
The governor of Delta State and vice-presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, and his Bayelsa counterpart, Senator Douye Diri, had beseeched the Federal Government, earlier, on separate occasions, to build new dams and dredge major Rivers, including River Niger and River Benue, to check flood, especially when neighbouring countries opened their dams.
There was however, no direct response by the Bayelsa State Government. The Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Hon Ayibaina Duba, speaking at the Oxbow Lake IDP camp said: “We call on the Federal Government to do something about this flooding. They said the dam in Cameroon is causing it; let them contain the water when Cameroon releases the water. If they are to build reservoirs, let them build, because we realise that all the water empties on us.”
End blame game, ERA/FOEN, others tell FG, states
Meanwhile, the Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FOEN, and other civil society organizations, in the region, have asked both the Federal and state governments to stop trading blames and tackle the existential threat.
The Ijaw Professionals Association, IPA (Homeland Chapter, comprising Bayelsa Rivers and Delta), called on the Senate President, Senator Ahmad Lawan, to convene an emergency joint session of the National Assembly to consider special legislative measures, including quick passage of a budget to deal with the current flood.
NASS should hold a special flood session–IPA
IPA President, Mr Iniruo Wills said: “The failings of the Federal Government and the state governments caused the flood calamity. They have no right to trade blames and be insulting the suffering of millions of people
“They should immediately huddle together and institute a massive rehabilitation plan for all affected persons and communities, and promptly commission the best possible flood and erosion master plan with a statutorily dedicated multi-year funding plan.
“The Senate President should convene an emergency joint session of the National Assembly to consider special legislative measures too, including quick passage of a supplementary budget that the President should present specifically to address the disaster. These things are governance 101 and it is a wonder how Nigerian governments insist on repeatedly failing in it.”
FG should stop double speaking–ERA/FoEN
Environmentalist and Head, Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) Comrade Morris Alagoa, said: “It is most unfortunate that such doublespeak is coming from the Federal Government. It is common knowledge that the Nigerian government entered a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU with Cameroon after the 2012 flood, that it should alert Nigeria anytime water was to be released in Lagdo Dam in Cameroon.
“In 2018, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency queried why Cameroon did not inform Nigeria on time before releasing water. That year’s flood was of a monster magnitude. So, what are they saying?
“This is how they have been keeping secrets of oil theft until now that it is being blown open. The evidence are glaring and so, it would be mischievous to point at other reasons for this highly destructive elephantine, monster flood. If they were declaring war on the Niger Delta through the instrumentality of flood, then we would understand.”
CSOs may sue Bayelsa
Morris, also the secretary of the Civil Liberties Organization, CLO, Bayelsa State branch, said civil society organizations, CSOs, in the state might drag the state and local governments to court to account for the ecological funds, following the revelations by the Federal Government.
“It is coming as strange and shocking information and this secrecy of doing government business in Nigeria is also affecting us negatively, just as they announce each time they share funds in Federation Allocation Accounts Committee, FAAC, that is how they are supposed to disclose disbursement and payment of ecological funds to states.
“We have been crying for long, apart from oil companies-induced pollution, the second highest problem we have today is coastal erosion and flood, and we think that is where we expect the Ecological Fund.
“While we blame the Federal Government for not informing the public, we shift the blame to the state and local governments, if they have been receiving and not giving accounts, why are they not telling us they have been receiving Ecological Funds?
“I want to call on the state government to recount how much it received, and how and where it used the Ecological Funds in the past two years as alleged by the Federal Government. Otherwise, I believe some of the civil society groups like the CLO, may join up with organizations like the Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, to take the government to court.”
Probe trillions of ecological funds spending now, SERAP tells Buhari
As part of measures to combat the flood, the SERAP urged President Buhari to investigate the spending of ecological funds by governments at all levels—federal, state and local governments from 2001 to date; prosecute those who mismanaged or looted the funds, and recover the looted funds.
SERAP therefore, urged Buhari to direct the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, and appropriate anti-corruption agencies to promptly and thoroughly investigate the spending of the Ecological Funds till date.
In the letter to President Buhari, dated October 22, 2022 by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “trillions of Ecological Funds have allegedly gone down the drain. The resulting human costs directly threaten human rights – rights to life and to a place to live – rights that your government has an obligation to protect.
“Irrespective of the cause of a threat to human rights, your government still has positive obligations to use all the means within its disposal to uphold the human rights of those affected.”
SERAP also said, “Although Ecological Funds are shared across the three tiers of government, and emergency management agencies, the funds are managed and supervised by the Federal Government.”
The letter read in part: “Your government has the legal obligations to hold all tiers of government and emergency management agencies to account, and to trace, find, and recover any missing ecological funds…
“SERAP is seriously concerned that years of allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the spending of Ecological Funds and entrenched impunity of perpetrators have undermined the ability of governments at all levels and emergency management agencies to prevent the impact of flooding on the human rights of socio-economically vulnerable Nigerians, and to effectively respond to the problem.
“SERAP also urges you to direct Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Federal Government to publish details of allocations from the Ecological Fund to the Federal Government, the 36 state governments, Abuja, the 774 local government areas of the country, and the National Emergency Management Agency, as well as states emergency management agency between 2001 to date.
“SERAP urges you to instruct the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to jointly track and monitor the spending of Ecological Fund by the 36 state governors, the 774 local government areas, as well as all emergency management agencies across the country funded through the Ecological Fund.”
INC will seek for compensation from FG
In like manner, Ijaw Socio-cultural group, the Ijaw National Congress, INC, said that it would institute measures to seek compensation for flood victims from Federal Government, over its failure over the years to build dams to contain excess flood waters from Cameron’s Lagdo Dam, which has brought disastrous consequences on Nigerians.
INC’s National Publicity Secretary, Engr. Ezonebi Oyakemeagbegha at an interactive session with newsmen, bemoaned the magnitude of destruction caused by the ravaging flood.
He disclosed that the entire communities of the Ijaw nation in Delta and Bayelsa states are completely submerged.
He lamented: “Our ancestral homes, worship centres, sacred lands, etc have all been devastated.
“Most worrisome is the fact that even those that are resting in peace are not allowed to rest. The flood excavated corpses, some mortuaries were submerged and dead bodies floating everywhere. Honestly, we have not seen such a thing like this in the history of Ijaw nation. Traditional rulers were forced to abandon their palaces to squat with either relatives or friends, can’t imagine the abomination.
“The provision of the conventional relief materials, such as rice, bags, mattresses that would not make any meaningful impact on these victims is absurd. Funny enough, even these trivial relief materials are hijacked mostly by the middle men. They hardly get to the victims.
Ndokwa nation submerged, save our people, NNU urges FG, others
A pan-Ndokwa socio-cultural group, Ndokwa Neku Union, NNU, has urged the Federal and state governments to declare emergency over the flood situation ravaging Ndokwaland in Delta State and swiftly step in to rescue the people.
President General of NNU, Brigadier General Mike Ndubisi, in a statement, lamented that efforts made to rescue victims of the flooding were not enough and challenged the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA and its state counterpart, SEMA to step up actions by sending relief materials including medicals to the victims at the various Internally Displaced Persons, IDP camps particularly those in the Technical College, Kwale premises and Uzomuku Primary School in Ashaka, Ndokwa West and East Local Governments respectively.
Ndokwaland from Afor, Ashaka, Aboh, Utchi through other communities in the worse hit Ndokwa East have been completely submerged by the surging flood which he noted may not recede soon due to its current momentum thereby endangering the lives of the people who he said are homeless.
LG chairmen bemoan FG’s absence
Authorities in Ahoada East and Ahoada West Local Government Areas, the localities worst hit by the 2022 floods in Rivers State, have cried out over lack of support and concern by the Federal Government.
Ben Eke, Chairman Ahoada East Local Government and his Ahoada West counterpart, Hope Ikiriko, who spoke to Vanguard, at the weekend, on stakeholders’ efforts to ease the pains of flood victims in their domains, explained why some residents have refused to be evacuated from their submerged communities.
Eke said: “This is the worst flood situation I have ever witnessed. Every community in Ahoada East is affected. We are talking of about over 54 communities. Right now you can’t even reach most of the communities.
“With respect to the 2022 flood, the Federal Government has not done anything. Only yesterday, my Chief of Staff told me somebody called to introduce himself as the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Coordinator in Rivers State. We’ve not got any contact. NEMA has not done anything to the best of my knowledge.”
Hope Ikiriko, Ahoada West LG boss said: “I can tell you that we are the worst hit. We have more than 70 communities, all of them severely impacted. We have both riverine and upland communities, both having their own flood challenge.
“Thanks to the state government that is supporting us enormously, but from the Federal Government, there is no support, nothing, no calls, no interface, no communication.”
On the level of intervention being made, Eke said, “In Ahoada East alone, we have about 18 IDP camps. Other communities already cut off are staying in health centres, town halls and sundry places. Working with my Ahoada West counterpart with immense support from the state government, we are doing our best to reduce the suffering of our people.
“As a council we have had to send boats and relief materials to them. The Governor (Nyesom Wike) has been so responsive, so supportive. He released the sum of N1billion and a committee set up over the flood situation by the state government.
“He’s doing his best, also supplying relief materials to the affected localities. We’re happy that a company like TotalEnergies has also come to sympathise with our people. This would go a long way in alleviating their suffering.”
Ikiriko (Ahoada West LG) said, “Because all the communities are affected, we can’t say we’re on top of our game because we don’t have the capacity to manage a crisis of such magnitude. This is not the first time we’re encountering this disaster. We had it in 2012, 2018, 2019, and 2020.
“So, we have reasonable experience on how to manage it the best way we can. We began by sending flood alerts to them through various channels, asking them to temporarily relocate upland and some to go to IDP camps closest to them.
“You know many didn’t heed to the alert totally. Some people in the high risk areas still stayed in their homes. And then there were calls for evacuation. We sent buses, also sent canoes. Then we set up the IDP camps, over 25 of them. Even at that, there are people still in their communities.”
Why some victims refused evacuation
“They use uncompleted storey buildings and remain there. We understand it’s not possible for every resident to leave the flooded communities because of instances where strangers move in to steal properties when affected residents are evacuated
“So in their own local arrangement they keep some persons to remain in the various flood overwhelmed communities. You have people who don’t want to come to the IDP camps, don’t have relatives elsewhere, so they remain there. To those, we have sent food items, and medicare to some in the IDP camps.”
Calls and text contacts made to Godwin Tepikor, Port Harcourt Zonal Coordinator of NEMA, to explain the agency’s interventions in the state were yet to be responded to at press time.