Ifeoma Nwananan stood beside an old apartment she now resides in after floods submerged her house near a farm settlement in Umukwocha, a community in Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State. Earlier in September, she had left her house for a burial of her relative in a neighbouring community only to return to a house submerged in waters.
“Water covered everywhere—–my farmland, house and properties,” she told PREMIUM TIMES in a low voice, struggling to hold back tears.
“I seriously need financial assistance to resume farming when the flood recedes, but my greatest worry is how to repay the loan this December.”
The mother of eight said she borrowed over N200, 000 from a village association which she used to cultivate her cassava farmland, with the hope that she would harvest the produce, recoup her money and pay back the debt. But the flood disaster wiped off the entire investment efforts, leaving her debt-burdened.
But Mrs Nwananan was not the only victim of the ugly flood disaster in her community.
Ignatius Ogbonna, another farmer, whose farmland was destroyed, could not hide his pain and frustration.
“It took us unawares. We didn’t know when the flood was everywhere,” he said.
When the floods submerged farmlands, Mr Ogbonna said that those who had canoes attempted to save some of their farm produce by harvesting crops prematurely and dropping them on dry land. But it did not take long before the flood swept the crops away again, from the hitherto dry land.
“We are suffering so much. I lost over N3 million worth of crops,” Mr Ogbonna said.
“For now, we don’t have food. We can cultivate in November if the floods recede completely. But to cultivate again, we need maybe a loan to revive our farming.”
Aside from officials of Imo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (ISOPADEC), who visited with relief materials for the victims in the council area, the state government has made no efforts to assist them, according to the residents.
PREMIUM TIMES observed that the destruction of farmlands in the state was caused by heavy overflow of water from major rivers around the state as communities worst hit were those at the bank of the major rivers.
Disastrous floods in Imo
Imo, like many other states in the country, recorded devastating floods around September 2022, believed to be the worst in recent years.
The Executive Secretary of the State Management Emergency Agency, Agnes Ajoko, told PREMIUM TIMES that the statistics of persons who were displaced and killed by the floods were still unavailable.
“Not yet. We don’t have the figure right now,” Mrs Ajoko said when asked to confirm the number of people affected by the floods in the state in October. “But the number is so much because the whole of Ohaji-Egbema and Oguta (Council Areas) were affected,” she said. Mrs Ajoko noted that the two local government areas were worst hit by the flood in the state.
In the Ohaji-Egbema Council Area, almost all the 13 communities in Egbema Clan were affected. But the worst hit were Abacheke, Obiakpu and Mmahu Communities as the three communities were still flooded when this reporter visited them. Majority of residents in the agrarian communities are farmers and fishermen.
Fidelis Okoronkwo, like other farmers, suffered losses after his farmland was washed off by the floods. He told PREMIUM TIMES that farmers must be assisted with cassava stems, yams seedlings and funds to go back to farming in order to avoid famine next year.
“All our crops were destroyed. Everyone will suffer food scarcity in the coming years,” he said.
“It (food scarcity) has even started now. Here, the price of fufu (a Nigerian delicacy usually made out of cassava dough) tripled almost immediately as the flood destroyed our farmlands. So, there is no cassava again here.”
Mr Okonkwo and other farmers complained of poor access to information, arguing that they did not hear of any flood forecast because they did not have access to radio and television sets in their farm settlements.
Tales of woes for fishermen
Aside from farming, residents of Oguta Local Government Area of Imo State also heavily engage in fishing as a major source of livelihood.
But the flood disasters have come with grief and biting hardship for fishermen in the council area. For weeks, their fishing activities were stalled since the recent flood disaster hit their communities.
“Our nets have been lost since the flooding started,” said Emmanuel Ogbue, a fisherman, who added that he would need to buy some nets and fishing baskets to resume fishing whenever the floods recede.
“We are no longer fishing now. It is only when the flood goes down that you can catch any fish. We are currently planning to construct or buy new baskets and nets for fishing when the flood disappears,” Mr Ogbue stated.
Chidi Ogini, another fisherman, said the flood came in full force and chased him away in September.
“I ran away and the nets and the trapped fishes were swept away by the floods,” he said.
In Ohaji-Egbema, another local government area in Imo State, about 16 agrarian communities were submerged by the floods.
“The floods destroyed a lot of peoples’ farmlands. It was a colossal destruction,” Happiness Nwaga, a farmer in Abacheke, said. “People who don’t have cassava stems and yam seedlings are currently hopeless. I can even buy it if I see. But they are all destroyed by the floods in our place,” she said.
Apart from a few relief materials from a member of the House of Representatives, the government was yet to offer any assistance to the farmers, she said.
The traditional ruler of the community, Bright Ikeji, told PREMIUM TIMES that about 5,000 people were displaced in the community. However, most of them joined their relatives in other communities.
“The floods came in and devastated the whole place. It has been terrible (and) massive. The floods overtook the entire community,” he said.
“Our people farm a lot. All our farmlands were submerged and damaged. There will be hunger seriously this year and coming years.”
When the monarch began hearing forecasts on radio, earlier this year, indicating that there would be flood, he sent town criers to Ukada, a farm settlement where most of the farmers stay for their farming activities. Many of the farmers heeded the warning and relocated to dry lands in the community before the floods came, he said.
“That’s why we didn’t record any casualty. But their properties, houses and farmlands were destroyed,” he lamented.
“But this year’s flooding is the highest in history. It even exceeded that of 2012,” the monarch said.
In Obiakpu, said to be the largest community in Egbema Clan, farmers said their farmlands have been ruined by the floods.
Mark Obidike, a farmer in the community, had dismissed the initial warning that the flooding in neighbouring communities would get to Obiakpu, his community. The community had not been flooded before.
“Suddenly, the floods came and destroyed my yam and cassava farmlands. Even other peoples’ farmlands too,” he said.
“If you harvest any of the yams, only unpleasant odour emanating from it will chase you away. Cassava too” Mr Obidike said, shaking his head in disappointment.
Ulumma Agorue, another farmer, said both her house and farmlands were destroyed by the floods. She had cassava, yam and farmlands, but the floods covered all of them.
“I spent over N200, 000 to cultivate the farmlands alone,” she said. “We could not save anything. We ran away to save our lives first. Many people ran away from their houses too.”
When the floods came, Edwin Onuoha, the coordinator of Ojiji, a village in Obiakpu Community, had to send his wife and four children to his mother’s community for safety. However, he managed to sleep on top of a table when his house was flooded.
“This is higher than the 2012 flooding into two,” he said, adding that the 2012 floods did not wreak havoc on the community. To save lives, some youths set up canopies on a major road for some community members displaced by the floods.
“They stayed there, slept and did everything there, until the flood receded,” Mr Onuoha said.
The community members were yet to see the government’s response, despite being the worst hit in Egbema Clan, according to the community leader.
Submerged houses: Refuges in own land
Beyond farmlands, several residential houses were also submerged. Emeka Asonibe, one of the many residents whose houses were flooded in Oguta Local Government Area, has now become a tenant in another household alongside his family members.
“I come here, from time to time to check if the flood has receded,” the father of four said.
“As you can see, the whole place is still flooded.”
Like many other victims, he deployed a small canoe to ferry himself around his flooded house whenever he wanted to check if the floods had started receding.
Just opposite Mr Asonibe’s house, Nkechi Uzonwanne, a widow, recalled how the floods destroyed her provision shop. The widow also sells garri, rice and cowpea, among others.
“I lost so many things – garri, rice – all of them destroyed. I threw so many things away, even bread and crates of eggs,” Mrs Uzonwanne said.
Officials of the ISOPADEC visited the community with relief materials which were shared among the villagers, but they were too small and inadequate for the flood victims.
Similarly, commercial activities have been hindered in Oguta Community after the floods submerged a local market in the area. Frustrated, some market women filed out on a nearby street to sell their wares and foodstuff.
“Patronage has been very poor. Besides, our goods are spoiling due to the scorching sun,” said Felicia Udom, one of the market women.
Another market woman, Josephine Okwuolisa, told PREMIUM TIMES: “We are mainly traders. But hunger is dealing with us since our market was submerged. We are no longer seeing buyers. We are just suffering. Government should come to our rescue.”
Like in Oguta, local markets were also flooded in Abacheke and other neighbouring communities in Ohaji-Egbema, stalling commercial activities in the areas.
Students forced out of schools
At Community Secondary School, Abacheke, the foremost secondary school in Abacheke Community, the floods destroyed classrooms and major buildings.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered from residents that the school temporarily relocated to a primary school, some kilometers away, to continue their first term of the academic session.
“We begged the headmistress to accommodate us in some classrooms because of the flooding in our school,” said Peace Akwaeze, one of the teachers in the flooded secondary school.
The primary school management offered some classrooms to the displaced students and teachers, resulting in overcrowding of pupils in the school. Worse still, the secondary school students did not show up.
Many of the students, PREMIUM TIMES gathered, avoided school for fear that the floods could extend to the primary school. Others were busy assisting their parents to relocate to upper land and harvest crops from their devastated farmlands.
Similarly, in Akri, a farm settlement in Oguta, where many of the farmers live, all the schools – both primary and secondary – were shut down after the floods submerged the entire area. As a result of the disaster, many students were forced out of schools.
“Our children are no longer going to school because the whole place has been deserted since the flood overtook us,” Mr Nnamdi, a community leader said.
“We are talking about being alive first, not schooling.”
Again, although floods have almost receded in Obiakpu Technical Secondary School, and Town Primary School, Obiakpu – both students and teachers were not seen in the schools when PREMIUM TIMES visited in October.
“They suspended academic activities since the flood incident,” Ifeanyi Ulumma, a resident of the community, told PREMIUM TIMES.
In Oguta, residents said several community dwellers fell sick in the heat of the flooding in the area, while others had rashes on their legs. They were taken to hospitals by their relatives outside the communities, residents said.
“The water is contaminated by oil,” Mr Nnamdi, a community leader, noted.
“Many have even died,” he added, but unsure if they died of the diseases contracted as a result of the flooding.
Albert Oguegbe, a medical doctor, said the victims must have been suffering from a variety of diseases, given the varied symptoms.
“Poor nutrition and drinking of polluted water may have been responsible for the swollen stomachs,” Mr Oguegbe explained. “It can also cause skin irritation, and swelling,” he said of the crude oil.
The Head of Operations, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in Imo State, Ifeanyi Nnaji, told PREMIUM TIMES that agency was yet to distribute relief materials to the flood victims because some truck drivers from northern part of the country could not access the state due to bad roads and fear of rising insecurity in the South-east.
He, however, said some truck drivers conveying the materials had set off for Imo State as of the first week of November.
“We will hand over the relief materials to the state government for onward distribution to all the persons affected by the floods,” he said.
Mr Nnaji said President Muhammadu Buhari had directed NEMA to conduct a “flood damage and loss assessment” to identify the number of houses and farmlands submerged by the floods for assistance from the federal government.
The state government, on its part, said it has distributed relief materials to the flood victims.
“We sent relief materials- food and clothing items. And those who were badly affected, the government is trying to see if there will be any form of financial assistance,” Declan Emelumba, Commissioner for Information in Imo State, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Emelumba said the compensation for farmers who lost their farmlands to the flood was being considered by the government.
“When the flood has receded, there will be an assessment to know the level of damage and then the government will take a position on the compensation,” he said.
However, many residents of the state, including community leaders, suggested dredging of major surrounding rivers as the way forward.
“The simple thing to do to prevent reoccurrence of the flood is to dredge the River Orashi and join it to River Niger. And then two other small rivers close to us – Nwaobote-egbe and Mgbuji Rivers,” Mr Ikeji, the traditional ruler of Abacheke Community, said.
This investigation was completed with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development and the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Open Climate Reporting Initiative.
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