Emmanuel Addeh writes on the plight of some communities in Bayelsa State which are currently ravaged and displaced by perennial flooding in the area
Literally speaking, Bayelsa is a state under water. Due to perennial rises in water levels every year, residents of many coastal areas of the state live in constant fear of massive flooding, which in the main, basically alters their normal way of life.
Going by expert reports, the state is believed to be about 70 per cent water with just about 30 per cent of its people and businesses taking place on land. Most communities in the state are located close to rivers, creeks and canals, making them susceptible to massive flooding on a yearly basis.
When the floods come, they take over the farmlands, sack homes, displace businesses, destroy livestock and leave the inhabitants high and dry, ironically.
While many countries of the world have succeeded in conquering nature, or at least, containing its many vicissitudes, some communities in the state are still largely at the mercy of mother nature’s anger which reflects in the form of floods and mudslides.
In fact, many incidents of flooding occasioned sometimes by the several rivers overflowing their banks bring in their wake communicable diseases, one of which is the current monkey pox viral ailment which is suspected to have been contracted through animals that were displaced from their natural habitats by severe flooding in the bushes.
On many occasions, the Bayelsa State Government has made public its helplessness in the face of these seeming disasters, for what it terms huge capital and technical capacity needed to tackle the problem.
So, like what has become a yearly appeal, many communities in Ogbia, Bayelsa State, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s hometown, displaced by the massive flooding in the area this year, have called on the federal as well as state governments to come to their aid.
From Emadike to Epebu, from Ologoghe to Otuobhi, the story of devastation and the hardship that follows are palpable.
Indeed, the paramount ruler of Ogbia Kingdom, King Dumaro Charles-Owaba, who should know about the pains of residents, says that the situation of the people living in the affected communities has almost become hopeless.
The first-class monarch who spoke when Dr. Azibapu Eruani, a Bayelsa businessman and President, Azikel Group of Companies, visited the areas affected by the floods, in Anyama clan, said if not remedied, the community might go into extinction given the sheer effect of the flooding.
King Charles-Owaba who said he was deeply touched by the plight of the communities, told Eruani that his council of traditional leaders was in the process of making recommendations to the presidency on ways to redress the situation.
He said many of his subjects were currently displaced by the massive flooding, including some government institutions like the Customary Court in Anyama clan.
The Obanobhan lamented the huge loss and displacement of children, youths, mothers, fathers, and the aged who have now moved to neighbouring towns as refugees as a result of the tidal flood that devastated no fewer than five communities on the coastline in his domain.
“I am shocked and pained that my people are going through pains,
losses and many are displaced. Schools have been shut down as a result of high current flooding of communities in my domain.
“We need immediate relief for many displaced families. The
state and National Emergency Management Board (NEMA) should swing into action to mitigate and proffer lasting solution to the perennial flooding in Ogbia coastline communities.
“The effort by the Azikel Group President is highly commendable, but
the sand-filling, reclamation and regeneration of land to return the
people to their ancestral communities is beyond the purview of an
individual; and so the presidency and state government must support
humanitarian efforts by the private sector drivers,” he said.
In his response, the billionaire businessman who was accompanied by top management of his company, vowed to replicate his reclamation efforts in combating flood disasters in Rivers State, stressing that working with his group, he was prepared to re-enact the feat in Bayelsa and other affected states.
He added that the perennial flooding ravaging the coastal states of the Niger Delta will continue until government partners the private sector to embark on massive land reclamation, sand filling, embankment and other strategic initiatives.
Eruani, who also visited Emadike, Epebu and Ologoghe, all in Ogbia Local Government, noted that the communities have suffered severe economic hardship as properties have been destroyed and the people forced out of their ancestral homes to take refuge in neighbouring towns.
He said: “It’s regrettable that flood has continued to wreak havoc in Anyama clan, and government at all levels must act fast, just as I do know that the cure for flooding is massive reclamation and sand filling of the affected areas.”
Noting that the process of resettling the communities cannot be handled by any single individual alone, he assured that he would do his best to redress the problem and called on the monarch to use his office as the traditional head to draw the attention of government to the pitiable plight of the Ogbia people.
“To put it on record, my strength will not be enough. That’s why I have come to tell the Obanobhan (king) to inform the government at the state and national levels of the humanitarian emergency in Anyama clan, particularly in Emadike, Epebu, Ologoghe and Otuobhi communities of Ogbia in Bayelsa State.”
A resident, Azibalua Famous, a native of Otuobhi in Anyama, noted that the community has continued to suffer the adverse effect of the yearly flooding which usually comes with economic losses, while many are displaced to neighbouring communities.
He commended the resolve of the President of Azikel Group to mitigate the plight of the affected communities and called on the government to support the private sector towards massive sand-filling, reclamation and regeneration of lost landmass to the flood.
Gibson Obaguo, a native of Ologoghe, who said he had lost all his belongings to the flood, told THISDAY that flooding in the community has become a yearly occurrence.
“We have prayed that government should understand our plight and begin the process of embankment to prevent flood from sacking the community always, yet nothing is done, except now that we are seeing Dr. Eruani, who is a private person,” he lamented.
Obaguo called on government officials at all levels who have sworn to an oath to ensure the welfare and well-being of the citizenry to support the private towards the reclamation and sand-filling of lost their ancestral land.
In her remarks, Mrs. Rose Otuakeme, a native of Epebu, in Anyama clan, who could not fight back her tears over some property lost to the yearly flood, said the community was always in fear each time the rainy season approaches.
But speaking last week in an interview on the plight of several communities affected by the flooding, Governor Seriake Dickson, said he had travelled many of the areas, noting that the assistance of the federal government had been elusive.
“Let me sympathise with property owners whose lives have been adversely affected by the flood. I have been going round, I even drove to Aleibiri and I saw the havoc the flood is already causing the people.
“I have driven to a number of other communities including my own community. By the way, we are used to flooding but this year’s flood is terrible and it is becoming very unbearable.
“Remember what happened in 2012, most of our communities were almost evacuated. Unfortunately, we have not seen much from the federal government, I have not been told of anything the federal government is doing or has done.”
The governor added that with the peculiar situation of Bayelsa State which is mainly under water, the government at the centre should intervene when it is necessary.
“Bayelsa is actually one of the states that should regularly get support from the federal government through the federal Ministry of Environment and through the Ecological Trust Fund, particularly because of our terrain.
“Last week, I received the team from the Ecological Trust Fund, but unfortunately we haven’t really seen anything from the federal in this government. I hope and pray that the situation changes but I am reporting the situation as it is up till this moment.
“I will be seeing the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) next week to get a report of the flooding situation, I know they are working very hard, I believe they are in closer contact with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
“The last report they gave to me was that nothing has been sent and they have not received anything. When I hear from them next week we will be abreast but I sympathise with all of you in all the affected areas.
“These are always flashpoints, very swampy and one of the first areas to get flooded together with other communities along the River Nun and Forcados. I sympathise with the community and affected persons,” he said.