The snakes were brought the flood in the area last year.
The devastating flood that ravaged most communities situated along the banks of River Benue in October 2012, when Cameroonian authorities released excess water from Lagdo Dam not only washed away houses and farmlands in Duguri district of Alkaleri Local Government Area of Bauchi State, but also brought with it some species of dangerous snakes which to date have killed more than 200 people in the district.
Duguri district is 136 kilometres away from Bauchi, the state capital, and is also 120 Km away from Alkaleri, the Local Government Headquarters.
Duguri is the district headquarters and is surrounded by villages such as Geji, Yuli, Shafa, Gamu, Dogon-Ruwa, Bogos, Rimi, Kukuri, Keffi, Talan, Geji-Gamu, Kunzum, Yalam, Sabonlayi, Kungimbar, Gyel, Anguwar-Gebi, Bunn, Sabon Gari, Yumi, Bayek, and Gobir.
According to the district head of Duguri, Adamu Mohammed, ‘’we have lost over two hundred people in this district since the floods of last year to date”.
In nearby Shafa Village, PREMIUM TIMES spoke with the village head, Adamu Abdullahi on Thursday to get an update on the snake invasion.
“Even yesterday, someone was bitten by a snake while working on his farm, and he died on the way to the hospital. In fact I also lost my daughter, Sadiqa, after she was bitten by a puff adder (an African viper specie) while sleeping in her room. She died in less than fifteen minutes after she was bitten. She was 14-years-old,” he said.
Abubakar Umar, a resident of Duguri, told PREMIUM TIMES that the snakes have killed and continue to kill residents of the affected villages. He added that the villagers have also intensified in their efforts to “haunt the snakes and kill them”.
He said they decided to confront the reptiles after realising that government help is not forth coming.
“The incident of snake bites has reduced a little, because we have intensified in killing them. The Cobra specie is the one that has been killing our people since last year, he said” adding that, “I can confidently tell you that over three hundred and sixty persons died from snake bites in Duguri and surrounding villages from last year to date. That is not forgetting those who lost their limps, – Hands and legs. Most of them were amputated at the General Hospital in Bauchi,” he said.
The Galadima of Duguri, Mallam Yusuf, also re-echoed what Mr. Umar said. He said over two hundred persons in Duguri alone lost either a hand or part of their leg.
The story is the same in all the villages in the district.
According to the district head of Shafa. “Since this disaster befell us, there is no family that has not lost a loved one to these snakes, and I am talking of about ten villages populated with over fourteen thousand people,” he said.
According to the district head of Shafa, whoever is bitten by the snakes and is lucky to survive for over 15 minutes is taken to the General Hospital in Kaltungo, Gombe state. The Hospital, he said, has a ward dedicated to the treatment of venomous snake bites.
“We take anyone bitten to Kaltungo for treatment, it is a journey of over two hundred kilometres and the road is very bad from here,” he said.
He also said it cost N20, 000 to chatter a vehicle to transport each person from Shafa to Kaltungo.
“Whoever is lucky to make it to Kaltungo, they get treated in only two days and then return home,” he said.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Umar from Duguri said they also pay N13, 000 to transport each person bitten by the snakes to Kaltungo.
“Snake bite patients are taken to Kaltungo for treatment, and we pay N13, 000 to transport each person. We also pay additional thirteen thousand for a dose of anti-snake venom if the ones provided by the government are out of stock,” he said.
Both the district head of Shafa, Mr. Mohammed and the Galadima of Duguri, Mr. Yusuf, told PREMIUM TIMES that the residents of the district are predominantly peasant farmers, and the snakes’ invasion has made it almost impossible for them to cultivate their farms.
According to Mr. Mohammed, “The issue of snake bite is so rampant here and has stopped our people from farming, and that is the only vocation we are engaged in”.
Mr. Yusuf also said “apart from the inability of our people to go to farm, we have also lost a lot of our cattle and other domestic animals to these snake bites”.
The flood which ravaged the villages through the Yuli River also destroyed lots of farms and houses last year.
When Dora Akunyuli led a presidential subcommittee on flood relief and rehabilitation to Duguri district in November last year, she promised the people that samples of the snakes would be taken to determine the appropriate anti-venom vaccines.
Mrs. Akunyuli had appealed to the villagers to exercise patience, assuring them that unless the samples of the snakes were taken to determine the appropriate anti-venom vaccines, the snakes would portend great danger to the people.
According to the Galadima of Duguri “we did not hear from the Federal Government till date and just like she said we are in danger now. The snakes have killed over two hundred of our people since her team left us”.
The community leaders also said that a team of officials from Bauchi State Ministry of Health again visited the area two weeks ago.
“A team of officials from the state government was sent to us by the Commissioner of Health here last week, we discussed elaborately with them, and they even saw some of the snakes. Even today, I killed three in my farm.
“When they told us they were coming to see the samples, we mobilised and caught, killed over fifty of the snakes for them to see. They came and saw them and even took away some samples. They promised us that within days, help will come, but as I speak to you, we are yet to hear from them,” Mr. Abdullahi told PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday.
On his part, Mr. Yusuf said, “Government officials came here and spoke with some of the victims of the snake bites whose arms and legs were amputated. After that they just left without saying or doing anything for them”.
All those who spoke appealed to the government to come to their aid by building a hospital dedicated to the treatment of snake bites in the area.
They said being poor peasants, very few of the families can afford the N13, 000 to N20, 000 required to transport each victim to Kaltungo for treatment.
“We have been putting pressure on the government since last year, to come and build a Hospital for us here, but so far there is no positive response,” said Mr. Yusuf.
Another Duguri resident, Abubakar Umar, said the only solution to this problem is for the government to set up a hospital and equip it with enough anti snake venom and staff, “otherwise our people will just continue to die”. He added that so far, only the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Bala Mohammed, who is from Duguri Village, has come to their aid.
We appeal to the state government to set up a hospital that specialises in the treatment of snake bites similar to the one in Kaltungo, said Mr. Abdullahi.
Repeated efforts made to speak to the Bauchi State Commissioner for Health, Sani Malami, were unsuccessful. After several calls and text messages for one week, Mr. Malami responded to a short message on Thursday, saying, “I am travelling from Abuja at the moment, will speak when I get to Bauchi”.
Several calls to his mobile phone since then have been unanswered.
Mrs. Akunyili’s committee has wound up and concluded its work. Efforts to get the Information Minister, Labaran Maku, to speak on possible action by government to prevent the avoidable death and injuries to Nigerians at Duguri were unsuccessful. Mr. Maku did not answer or return calls, nor did he respond to our short message.