Floods: How NASS is chasing the wind
Reports that the House of Representatives recently elected to probe the Lagos and Suleja floods is laughable. What are they going to probe? The move is akin to chasing the wind, in the words of King Solomon, and it will come to naught. Maybe the honourable members have a different thing in mind, which they ought to state clearly. Nobody can probe flood, rain, storm, or any other force of nature. Reason is that no human being has control over these natural phenomena.
The best anybody could do is to assess the damage caused by the floods with a view to assisting the victims and probably coming up with legislation to reduce damage in future. But as for whether the floods would recur is certain. What is not certain is when the next floods would occur. Also, where the next floods would occur is uncertain. Today it is Suleja, tomorrow, it could be elsewhere.
Except there is a well-established and functional weather monitoring system, through which data on climatic parameters are collected on a regular basis, upon which forecast could be made, it would be almost impossible to predict when and where the next floods would occur. I am not sure there is any such station in Nigeria where climatic data is systematically collected.
I am aware that the Nigerian Meteorological Service (NIMET), exists, but I don’t know if it is anything better than our universities and research institutes that are starved of funds, such that they lack even the basic instruments for weather observation. I know universities that graduate meteorologists without having simple thermometer, hygrometer or a weather station.
The fundamental question to ask about the Suleja floods is whether the rains were measured. What volume of rainfall fell that generated the floods? Are there precedents or was it a lone event? What was the hydrographic measurement of the streams that overflowed their banks?
Is there a record of weather observation data in Suleja that could be used to assess the climatic trend of the area? Except there are such simple but critical information, it would make no sense probing the flood there. Or, are the reps out to probe why the rain fell and what caused the floods?
Is there a regional plan for Suleja? What is the location of the destroyed buildings in relation to the river channel? If there is no plan why? As a suburb of the Abuja Federal Capital Territory (FCT), should Suleja not be planned? What environmental protection measures were integrated in the plan? Are they adhered to? If not, why?
In the case of Lagos, the odds are much more. The same fundamental questions apply. Was the rainfall measured? What volume of rainfall generated the floods? I am scandalised that the Nigerian Institute for Oceanography and Marine Research (NIOMR) is located right there on Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos is silent. Nothing is ever heard from the organisation when disasters like the floods or ocean surge occur. The institute is there just in the catalogue without any impact.
After a devastating flood in the Lekki-Ajah axis, NIOMR ought to have been showing on television or other mass media channels, statistics of the flood event; the amount of rainfall, the fluctuation of the Atlantic Ocean and the potential for a recurrence. But the institute has maintained a grave silence as if it does not exist.
Flooding and ocean surge are not new in Lagos. Every year, during the rainy season, severe floods ravage parts of Lagos. The demolition of the sprawling Maroko in July, 1990, partly followed a torrential downpour, which the then military government used as a ploy to demolish the area and took it over. Twenty-seven years after, what concrete actions have been taken to stem flooding in Lagos? Little or nothing has been done in that direction. Although, the Lagos State government has demonstrated its consciousness and concern for the environment, implementation of the needed measures has been rather slow and disjointed. This is responsible for the recurrent floods in the state.
The question to ask is whether Lagos has a master plan. If it has, has it been adhered to in the development of physical infrastructures? If not, why? These days, I see petrol stations being built in-between residential homes in densely populated areas of Lagos, which exposes innocent residents to danger of fire. Who gives approvals for these dangerous filling stations, for instance?
The Lekki-Ajah axis where the floods impacted mostly is a sensitive ecological complex. The area lies generally below sea level and so is prone to submergence. The unbridled reclamation of marshland by developers has put undue pressure on the narrow stretch of land sandwiched by the Lagos lagoon on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other side.
There ought to be a benchmark that must be met anywhere in Lekki before any structure is erected. But this is not the case. Developers are doing whatever they like in collusion with government officials. What plan is there for Lekki that is one of the fastest developing sectors of Lagos? What regional strategy is there to contain flooding and ocean surge?
Another strategic project that has the potential to induce ocean surge and aggravate flooding is the Eko Atlantic City project. The displacement of the Bar Beach through massive sand filling and reclamation has definitely disrupted the equilibrium of the Lagos coastline. The development must necessarily, create disequilibrium with new impacts. What strategies are there to contain the potential impacts in Lagos and adjacent coastlines?
If Nigeria is a country where there is serious governance, by now, there would have been structures in place to contain ocean surge and flooding in Lagos and elsewhere. It is not possible to deal with flooding without measuring the trend of weather events. You can’t build a bridge without knowledge of the highest water level at peak flood otherwise the bridge would be submerged.
Based on the foregoing, the House of Representatives should be clear on what it intends to probe. Maybe, they should look into the issue of ecological fund, which is meant to deal with environmental problems but which is shared into private pockets.
Every environmental challenge is local. The state and local government concerned should take the lead. The ecological fund is meant to assist local authorities tackle environmental problems in their area. The Federal Government could only intervene when there is emergency, in which case the local authority can no longer cope with the problem.