By Tadaferua Ujorha, who was in Ibaji
The entire Ibaji local government of Kogi state has been under water for eight weeks now and the villagers say they have not received any form of help from either the state, local or federal governments. But they applaud a number of NGOs which visited and distributed food items and drugs. In September ,the federal government declared a national emergency over flooding that has affected four states,including Kogi, and three billion naira ($8.2 million) was allocated to provide medical and relief support to affected persons. But the people of Ibaji insist that exactly one month after the announcement, they have not felt the full impact of the declaration. Ibaji today looks just as it was six years ago when this reporter covered the flood of that year. Hunger looms as the farms have been submerged in a flood that came too early, freezing the economy of the area.
10 health facilities
The local government has ninety four health facilities,but only ten are functioning, confirms Ijala Gabriel, HOD Health, Ibaji in an interview with DAILY NIGERIAN. All the rest are under water or are in varying stages of decline, rot or collapse. He says that as a fallout of the flood, malnutrition is widespread “There is a major problem of malnutrition here. There is no food,and this affects nursing mothers , pregnant women ,the aged and the under 5.”
He tells DAILY NIGERIAN that all the wells in Ibaji have been submerged, and stresses that there is no pipe-borne water in the local government. There are motorised boreholes, he recalls, but makes the point that not all of them are working. The inhabitants have not lost the capacity to smile or to be positive, and there are more women than men in Ibaji, which means that women are hit much more than the men when upheavals in nature take place. Children giggle and play in the water, and canoes function like taxis everywhere, for all the roads and paths have become rivers. Women wade through the water to get to houses. Or they leave their rooms to go and cook on small platforms raised above the water, just a few metres from their dwellings. Sticks help to keep the pot in place, for it will be tragic if the pot of rice were to fall into the Niger, and the Niger itself doesn’t forgive, it swallows everything, covers everything, embraces all. Everyday life in Ibaji takes on the character of a film.
The flood waters recently breached the house where the late king of Ogwojibo lay buried, powerful waves exhumed the body of the departed one from the royal grave, and took it away, Peter Egwudah tells DAILY NIGERIAN.
Egwudah is doing his best to draw attention to the plight of this coastal community, which though located in the North Central, shares borders with Delta, Edo and Anambra states.
Ibaji is in the North, but it lies close to the South- South, and the South- East. Indeed huge yams from Ibaji are sold at the Onitsha market,but many erroneously refer to it as ‘Onitsha yam’. The Niger plays varying roles among the people, as it is now bathroom, toilet, fluid playground and contaminated source of drinking water for many.
On this, Dr. Shaye Onipinshaye of Living Spice Nature Cure Hospital, Abuja, states “One who lives in a dirty environment is susceptible to different kinds of diseases…drinking contaminated water can lead to water borne diseases such as cholera,typhoid,and worms infestation.It is very important and urgent that government intervenes to prevent an epidemic.”
It is regarded as a “bad flood” because it did not bring fish. In the people’s thinking, if a flood brings fish, then it is a good flood, if it doesn’t it is then a bad one. There was a massive flood in 1968/1969,another occurred in 2012 and then there is the current one. On the other hand, every year there are low level floods around Ibaji.
These do not cause any form of destruction, and such floods bring rich alluvial soil which explains the capacity of the area to grow rice in abundance, as well as yams, and a single yam will be as large as a human being when harvested. DAILY NIGERIAN is told that Ibaji has the largest size of yams in Nigeria, known locally as ‘Anyokwu’.
‘Ibaji under water’
Onu Ibaji Ajofe John Egwemi, the traditional head of Ibaji, compares this year’s flood with that of 2012 “The difference is that the flood of 2018 came much earlier, by way of the upsurge. That of 2012 came and covered the entire place, but it came much later. This one came in early July, and by August everyone was running helter skelter, and that didn’t give enough time for crops to mature.
“It came much earlier than that of 2012, though as time went by, the magnitude was of the same size.” He adds “The whole of Ibaji is under water.
“Onyedega is the headquarters, and our forefathers chose that place because they knew water will not easily affect it. If now Onyedega is flooded, you can imagine what other places will look like.”
Drawing attention to another matter confronting the farmers, he explains “So many farmers got loans. We complied with the new agenda of going back to the land. But with the flood how can we talk of getting enough to eat and to repay the loan? Some got two hundred thousand, while others received one hundred and fifty thousand.How will they repay the loan?”According to the royal father “NEMA and SEMA have visited, and they have done enumeration and taken photographs of the devastated areas.But that’s a different matter from bringing relief.No relief materials have come so far.They have done the monitoring,but so far nothing has come.”
Gari, coconut diet
By means of a speedboat DAILY NIGERIAN visited a number of communities in Ibaji, including Onyedega. When it rains most of the 200,000 inhabitants of the flooded areas are unable to cook. This means that everyone, including the sick, children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, turn to gari, unripe coconuts and other fruits and nuts, for their daily meal.
At Ogwojibo, DAILY NIGERIAN witnessed fifteen men engaging in a friendly tussle over unripe coconuts. Speaking on the impact of the gari diet on pregnant women, Dr. Onipinshaye explains, “It is even worse for a pregnant mother who at that stage needs varieties of natural products for the proper development of the developing body in her womb. Adding sugar to the gari even makes the whole matter worse as the refined sugar will definitely adulterate the natural radiations in the gari.”
Joshua Augustine who is in Ibaji to do an assessment for the Ibaji Unity Forum, describes the situation: “What I observed so far, is better left to the imagination. There is complete devastation. Livelihoods have been destroyed, and farmlands have been washed off. There is one hundred per cent devastation, and there’s nobody in Ibaji who won’t have one sad tale or the other to narrate about the flood.”
But the people of Ibaji are not keen on relocating to Idah, despite the call of the government for them to move to ‘higher ground.’ Egwemi declares “The experience of 2012 was so bad that nobody really would like to move out of his home. If you move out of your home,there is danger of theft, because you cannot take everything with you.”
Egwudah who is the National Programme Coordinator, Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Eradication, CISCOPE, sheds light on why the people are not keen on moving “Ibaji people are predominantly farmers and fishermen. They are used to feeding well on their own. But once you are in the camp,your food is rationed and regulated by whoever is coordinating the camp. Many people from Ibaji suffered more harm as a result of moving to Idah at that point in time, compared to some of their siblings who moved to Edo state, or those who moved to Anambra. Infact, the Ibaji people who moved to Edo and Anambra states, benefitted more than the ones who moved to Idah in Kogi state.”
He states further that “the people are saying in their own way that they can survive within their own natural environment, and they started improvising on their own, without the aid of government, to remain where they find themselves. It’s better for you to stay at home with the little you can salvage, than going to another man’s land where your daughters will be raped or your items will be stolen.”
The people soon came up with an idea, which was to create a platform of sorts made of bamboo sticks and rope in their houses, where they would live. They moved to higher ground in a sense, but this is a movement within their houses. It is called ‘Akpata’ in Igala, and refers to a structure or platform built above the water, and this is common in riverine or coastal communities. With a base or support in the water, the platform itself lies at a considerable height upon which a family can live. It can be located inside a house, or it could be constructed outside a dwelling. There are different types of platforms, and these are widely used throughout the local government.
DAILY NIGERIAN came across one at Ogwojibo which was quite high, and has a series of steps which are used to access it. The women we met there mentioned that the bedroom created upon it, could accommodate sixty persons at night. To the right of the platform is a spot where lunch was being prepared at the time of the visit.This is how the people of Ibaji have remained inside their flooded houses,and the platform shows a people’s capacity to endure and to survive, despite the odds.
How simple people live
Egwudah continues: “Akpata in Igala is more or less a platform. You can even use Akpata to mean a local bridge that you can walk on. It can be a platform where you can keep items.
“But it has to be above the ground or above the water. The idea of the platform came from their local knowledge and intuition. They decided to build it, and stay on top of the river because they don’t want to move away from their homeland.
“There’s no higher ground in Ibaji, so the platform became the only higher ground. That is where the aged, sick, pregnant women, and children, live, that’s where they keep them.
“People sleep on the platform, and they also play games there. I think we owe them a commendation for even using what is within their environment, to mitigate the impact of the flood on their lives. It’s a lesson for anybody in government to come to these rural folks to see how they have been able to cope, using local engineering.”
Architecture as protest
He describes the widespread use of the platform as a protest. “It is a protest in the sense that government is asking people to move to higher ground, and you have not created an environment for them. So,the people build the platform as a way of resisting the call to go to higher ground. You ask me to go to Idah and there is no camp there. A typical camp is supposed to have security, shelter, water, latrines and light, beddings, mosquito nets and basic supplies, together with a functional clinic manned by a professional. There is nowhere in Ibaji,Idah and Igalamela, where you will find such facility.”
Ojogbane Adama , a farmer, has constructed one of such platforms where he lives with his wife and two children in Atikor village. It is made of bamboo, wood, grass and rope, he says, stressing that he constructed it within two weeks.
Another type of platform, usually found within a room, can be built within a day. Adama’s platform is about a third of an average boys’ quarter room, and it is taller than most of the surrounding dwellings. It has a small door or opening and from there Adama looks upon the world. It is amazing that his tall frame can pass a night in the little space, alongside a wife and two children.
He tells DAILY NIGERIAN: “My entire water yam crop was destroyed by the flood. I lost about one hundred thousand Naira worth of foodstuff.”
He laments that no official of government has visited his community, saying “I have not even received pure water from government. Nobody has come to us.”
He emphasises that he will remain on the platform until the end of October when he hopes the flood would have receded. This is the lot of the people of Ibaji who have chosen to hunker down in their dwellings ,rather than move to Idah.
Onu Ibaji argues “The flood is a bad experience and government should not continue to ask us to move to higher ground.Let them build the dams,and dredge the Niger, we will be okay. The river will then be deep, and even if the flood comes, before it fills the river bank and affects the communities, it will take some time. Small Cameroon could build their dam in 1981 and then advise Nigeria to build one on the Benue, so that when theirs is full and threatens to collapse, they will open it and the waters will flow downstream. We need a dam and if they wish to dredge the Niger, it should be a sincere exercise.”
On the dredging of the Niger, Egwudah says “Ibaji is the only local government in Nigeria that is under water for eight weeks, apart from the ones in Bayelsa,and nobody is saying anything. The administration of Yar’Adua started dredging the river Niger. If that river is dredged and our rivers all have depth, we won’t have this problem. It is the quantum of rainfall in Nigeria this year that caused the flood,and it’s a disaster, but a self-inflicted disaster caused by the actions or inactions of people in government ,and the failure of regulatory bodies. Our not being able to dredge the Niger,and the major rivers is causing problems, because our rivers don’t have depth. When there is a little downpour it overflows immediately. We need buffer dams constructed in strategic locations across the country.”
Dam in Idah
Egwudah suggests: “For instance, there should be a dam in Idah. In a year when it does not rain, the dam can be opened. We are also encouraging the people to go into dry season farming as a mitigation strategy. They have water 24/7 compared to other parts of Nigeria which don’t have.
“The kind of crops which will do well in dry season farming should be crops that will span 90-120 days. If you plant maize in January, you can harvest same by April, and there’s no flood within that period.Its guaranteed. If I am a bank I will give loans for farming that will be done from November, December, through March rather than May,when there is rainfall, because you will have adequate water.”
Continuing, Egwudah reasons “We know that every year there must be a flood,and there are things government must put in place, so that such crises will be checked. But they have not done it ,and because they have not done it, people living in coastal areas like Ibaji will continue to suffer this injury, so long as these things are not put in place.”
“The most important thing is the construction of a dam across the river Benue,a sort of buffer to control the water coming from Cameroon, or the normal rainwater. But there’s a strong belief that this flood is caused by excessive rain,” opines Augustine. He speaks on other pressing matters “The people need to reconstruct their houses, they need to go to the farm, and they need seedlings. It’s a massive effort. We are appealing to as many organisations as possible to come in.”
NGOs to the rescue
A number of NGOs recently visited Ibaji. One of these is the Civil Society Coalition for Poverty Eradication, CISCOPE, which has done assessment in 18 communities, as part of the process of sourcing for funds and support for affected communities. CISCOPE is the local partner for the International Rescue Committee, IRC. The UN System in Nigeria has already indicated interest in the Ibaji flood ,as well as the International Federation of the Red Cross, IFRC. The IFRC, DAILY NIGERIAN gathers, has distributed food and non-food items to three hundred households across Ujeh, Ejule, Ojebe and Anocha. ActionAid has visited Itoduma in Ibaji, and given food to two hundred female headed households.
“So far that is the only intervention that has gone in”, says Egwudah, lamenting that “Ibaji has over one hundred communities scattered across ten wards, and it has a population of two hundred thousand. But only two hundred households have benefitted, and that’s not government effort. Government should have hit the ground running.They have food in their warehouses.What are they waiting for?”
NEMA speaks, SEMA silent
Fatima Kasim, Deputy Director, Special Duties, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA),and Team Leader, Kogi, informs DAILY NIGERIAN in a telephone interview that NEMA is currently profiling the IDPs in Ibaji and that by this week relief items would have been distributed to the affected persons. Her words “We are working on the logistics. We are trying to see how we can ferry goods to a central location in Ibaji, where people can converge to collect the items. Our wish is to do direct distribution.We want to start with Lokoja this weekend, and we will get to Ibaji by next weekend. We are working with the state SEMA and Ibaji local government in this effort.”
Kasim mentioned that NEMA has developed a food basket for each household of six persons. This will contain 12.5 kg of rice, 12.5 kg of beans, 12.5 kg of gari, 12.5 kg of maize, for each household. The basket will also include Maggi seasoning, ground nut oil, and tomato paste. She added that mats, mattresses, and clothes for both children, men and women are part of the items to be distributed.
Sanusi Usman Yahaya, Commissioner for Environment, Kogi state declined to speak when DAILY NIGERIAN contacted him for an interview on work the State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, has done so far in Ibaji.