By Anietie Akpan (Calabar) and Julius Osahon (Yenagoa)
With over 70 per cent of Bayelsa State’s landmass submerged under devastating floodwater, residents, especially farmers are counting their losses, which is running into billions of naira.
The flooding caused by overflow of water banks and tributaries of the Orashi and Niger rivers, has left many farmers in dire straits as almost all farmlands along these routes have been washed off.
The severity of the flood has also led to a situation, where some of the communities have been cut off by the increasing water level, which has got to window, and in some cases, lintel levels in residential environments.
When The Guardian visited riverside settlements along the water banks, it was observed that water levels have risen above tolerable limits. And like in the rest of the state, farmlands now only exist by name.
Latest reports from across the state indicate that communities like Egwe-ama in Brass Local Council; Imiringi, Ayama, Otuobhi in Ogbia Local Council; Edwarie in Southern Ijaw Local Council, and Trofani in Sagbama Local Council, have all taken a serious hit by the flood.
Other areas with predominantly farming communities that have been affected by the flood are Ekeremor main town, Abukoegede in Tamogbene, Ekeremor Local Council, Kaiama and Sampou in Kolokuma/Opokuma and Anibeze Community in Sagbama Local Council.
Some of the farmers who spoke to The Guardian lamented the devastating effects that flooding has brought on their farmlands and livestock. Some of them had to sell off their livestock, including chicken and pigs before maturity to avoid losing them to the flood.
The Chairman, Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria (RIFAN) in the state, Mr. Ezekiel Ogbianko, said his members numbering over 4, 000 lost over 400 hectares of rice farm worth millions of naira to the flood.
He said: “We planted 200 hectares of rice in Odunware and Opoduware, but right now the flood has taken everything from us.
We have been appealing to the national president of RIFAN before this time, but he did not believe that Bayelsa can produce rice.
We have the best land for rice, and we have spent a lot of money to cultivate this 400 hectares in each of these locations.
“We want the Federal Government to come to the aid of these over 4, 000 farmers that worked on the two farms because we are clusters and we’ve spent over N150m on these projects but all have been lost.”
Also speaking, the Chairman, Bayelsa State Central Agricultural Cooperative Association, Ebikiri Akpolu, described the flood as “devastating and terrible,” saying that the loses farmers in his cluster have suffered run into millions of naira.
He said: “It is very terrible, many farmers are affected. I alone have lost over 25, 000 chicken. I have to sell-off the chickens when the flood was fast approaching.
“We underestimated the flood and left our 11-month-old cassava to mature thinking that the place would not be flooded only to wake up one morning to see that the whole of our cassava farms have been washed away.
“I alone lost over 18 million livestock, and over six hectares of cassava.
Even if I tried to do emergency harvest, it would not have been possible because by the time we realised what was happening, the water was at sea level.
So, how many people can I pay to go and harvest in that difficult situation?
“Many other farmers are having the same problem in Bayelsa, where we have lost so much. In our cluster club, we have 3, 600 members, with each of them losing between N6m to N30m.
Unfortunately, the government is doing nothing, it is only interested in the villages that have been submerged and not farmers.
There will be hunger in Bayelsa State next year if the state government fails to come to our aid,” Akpolu said.
He added: “We want the Federal Government to release farm inputs for us next farming season because some of us cannot start again since our farms are not insured. We are not asking for money, but farm inputs and fertiliser.”
According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), no fewer than 150, 000 persons in the state have so far been displaced by flood water.
Coordinator, Emergency Operation Centre E, Rivers/Bayelsa Territory of NEMA, Mr Yakubu Suleiman, who made this disclosure said several homes, farmlands, schools and churches have been submerged in communities across the eight local councils of the state.
“We have carried an assessment, the ravaging flood has so far affected and displaced no fewer than 150, 000 persons and the number keeps growing because the water is rising daily.
Governor Seriake Dickson, while on a tour of the communities, called on the Federal Government to declare a flood emergency in the state.
The governor frowned that the coastal state, which is below sea level was omitted when the Federal Government declared emergency flood situation in Kogi, Niger, Delta and Anambra states, on September 18, 2018.
He argued that the flood situation in Bayelsa State was inevitable as the entire state is below sea level with all the major rivers and tributaries through which water flows from River Niger and Benue to the Atlantic Ocean.
He said that the state government had set up a special committee to manage the flood situation comprising top government officials and the security services under the leadership of the Deputy Governor, Rear Admiral Gboribiogha John Jonah (rtd).
Over the years, flooding has become a recurring decimal in Calabar, the state capital and other parts of Cross River State.
In the latest gale, even the Governor’s Office Complex was not spared as it had a taste of the fury offered by the rampaging floodwater.
The situation was so embarrassing this time that Governor Ben Ayade ordered an emergency de-silting of drainages along the Murtala Mohammed Highway and other flood prone areas in state capital.
Away from the state capital, farmers across the state are worried that if major steps are not taken to contain the floodwater, prices of food stuff would soon hit the roof.
According to Mr. Peter Ojar, a farmer in Agwagune, Biase Local Council, “flooding has been going on in our area for years even though government has made efforts to move us to higher locations.
But we have lost farmlands and our yield has dropped significantly.
So, we expect the Federal Government to ensure the completion of all the houses meant to accommodate the displaced persons that have been sacked from the flood prone areas.”
Farmers along the Offor-Ekokol axis of Mkpani Community in Yakurr Local Council River State have cried out to the government to act swiftly as floodwater has destroyed their crops and farmlands valued at millions of naira.
A prominent farmer in the area, Chief Stephen Nniga, said of the devastation: “Our farms are along the Ikom-Calabar Road, near Mkpani Junction.
Right now, all the farms are gone. The yam, cassava and all other food crops that we had there are all gone and the water has taken over the entire place.
If the uncertainty that greeted the devastation continues, that means all hopes have be lost.”
While expressing fears that there may be shortage of food in the state in the weeks and months to come, he added that all the farmers whose farmlands were washed off were in a state of despondency.
Said he: “All my efforts, and all the money spent there are wasted; all the farmers around there are affected; almost 100 farmers in the area are affected.
We don’t have any other means of survival, and as we speak, we need relief materials right now.
“The government, at the federal and state levels should also come and see what can be done to check the situation, and also help us. We have lost millions of naira.
For me and many others here, this farming is the only source of livelihood we have and if it is gone, I don’t know how we are going to survive.”
Another farmer in Ogoja Local Council, Mr. Ogar Odey said: “For now, we have not experienced any serious flooding yet, but we are pleading with the government to put measures in place to protect us and our farms because if Cameroon releases water from Lagdo Dam we may largely be affected.
“Last year, we lost so much due to flooding and we pray that this year nothing like that should happen to us because we are mainly farmers and we depend on our farms for survival.”
Director General of the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, John Inaku, said as part of efforts to check the situation as it affects farmers, large number of persons have been forced to move out of their homes just as many in the hinterlands who have been affected by the problem, have been forced to move to higher grounds for safety.
He said government was working towards ameliorating the situation for those affected across the state.