Onyekachukwu Ibezim, Deputy Governor of Anambra State, told PREMIUM TIMES the disaster afforded the government an opportunity to render medical treatments to a larger population at various IDP camps in the state.
Edwin Eze sat idly in front of his shop, grimacing slightly. It was in the last week of October, and the waters that submerged his shop had receded. He looked around to estimate the level of destruction recorded after floods submerged his shop and ravaged sections of the Onitsha Main Market in Anambra State, Nigeria’s South-east. Regarded as one of the largest markets in West Africa, Onitsha Main Market sits at the bank of River Niger. But in September, the market was submerged in water.
“It took us by surprise,” Mr Eze recalled the flood incident. “Before we got here, the flood had entered all our shops and destroyed our goods.”
Mr Eze said he was not alone, as numerous other market traders shared the ugly experience.
Shop owners who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES said that the damaged goods were disposed of while some of the goods slightly destroyed by the flood would be auctioned.
In the aftermath of the flood incident, many of the traders were forced to stay at home for over a month as their shops were submerged in water.
“We were living from hand to mouth for over one month,” said Mr Eze, a father of five. “I lost goods worth over N2.1 million to the flood.”
Mr Eze added, however, that support from the government hadn’t been forthcoming. He argued further that the state government ought to compensate the business people in the market for their losses, especially because they pay multiple levies to the government.
“They can compensate in another way by exempting us from paying most of the taxes so that we would make up for our losses here,” he said.
Ifeanyi Ochomma, another shop owner, could not put the figure of his losses. For nearly one month, he said his shop was submerged in water.
“Hunger nearly killed us and our children,” said Mr Ochomma.
In Zone 3, one of the areas worst hit by the flood in the market, shop owners lamented that their goods were completely destroyed.
John Ojinnika, a shop owner who sells second-hand clothes, told PREMIUM TIMES in October that most of the goods affected were the ones being stored for the forthcoming Christmas sales season. He added that he lost over N500 000 to the flood incident.
Innocent Ezennia, the Chairman of the market, told PREMIUM TIMES that the flood destroyed goods worth millions of naira in several sections of the market.
“About 700 shops were affected by the flood,” he said.
For Kenneth Onyeka, the immediate past chairman of the market, the flood has caused hunger in many families.
“This year’s flood is higher than the 2012 flood. It affected us so much,” Mr Onyeka said.
“It displaced many business people from their shops for weeks. It was too disastrous for us.”
When the flood waters came, major entry points to the market were flooded, forcing those whose shops were in the upper land to bear the brunt of the disaster as buyers stayed away from the market.
“It brought more hardship on us, because we eat only when we sell goods,” said Mr Onyeka, who sells clothes. He explained that although some officials of the state government visited to assess the gravity of the destruction, nothing has been heard from them ever since.
Flooded Industrial Hub
Apart from the Onitsha Main Market, the Onitsha Industrial Harbour Layout was equally affected by the flood, raising fears of massive job loss. Located on the bank of River Niger in Anambra, the Onitsha Industrial Harbour Layout is a cluster of manufacturing companies. It is believed to be the biggest industrial hub in the South-east and one of the largest in Nigeria.
But when the waters submerged the harbour, many of the companies were flooded, forcing them to shut down operations for weeks.
“We suffered a lot of destruction here because the whole of this place was covered with water,” Emmanuel Obi, a director in one of the companies, told PREMIUM TIMES.
Although the flood water had receded when this reporter visited in October, the director said the situation forced the industry to shut down operations for about one month. “A lot of our machines, worth millions of naira, were destroyed completely,” he said.
He added that the company had to lay off some of its staff members due to the devastating impact of the flood. “Many (staffers) were dropped, but we are considering taking them back since the flood is receding,” Mr Obi said.
Chidi Nwafor, an engineer in the company, told PREMIUM TIMES that the staff members had not been paid since the flood impacted the company’s operations.
Mr Obi blamed the government for its “silence” since the flood occurred. He also claimed that the Bank of Industry, where industrialists would have gone for loans to revive their companies, do not respond to loan requests from “ordinary Nigerians.”
At Portico Best International Limited, a company that manufactures lubricants and plastics, staff members lamented how the company was also completely submerged by water for more than one month.
“Some of our materials inside the store were swallowed by the flood,” said Emmanuel Ezejiofor, the production manager at the industry.
Although the company quickly moved some machines to safe places when the flood surged, many of the other machinery was left in flooded water.
“So, the flood also swallowed them,” Mr Ezejiofor said, adding that the industry was hoping to repair some of them as soon as the flood completely disappears.
“We shut down operations for one month at the peak of the flood because the production floor was covered with water,” the production manager said.
“With our operations being stopped, we dropped some of our workers. But we will start calling them back gradually, depending on how fast we resume operations.”
At Pokobros Group West African Limited, another industry heavily hit by the disaster, frustrated workers lamented how operations have become problematic since the flooding incident.
Chuks Ezejelue, the company’s procurement manager, struggled to hold back his tears as he took this reporter around to show the level of destruction in the industry.
“It came in full force (in early October). Everywhere was flooded,” Mr Ezejelue recalled.
“It affected us seriously. A lot of things were damaged, and raw materials were swept away. Our machines too. I just don’t know how we are going to cope because a lot of things were damaged.”
He said officials of the state government have not visited the industrialists to sympathise with them over the “massive loss.”
At the milling section of the company, several bags of rice were left in water, with the foul smell of the damaged rice pervading the atmosphere.
Samuel Nnamani, the manager of the rice milling section, told PREMIUM TIMES that the company was disturbed that bags of rice belonging to their customers were also destroyed by the flood.
“Both rice and machines were completely inside the water before. We are now pushing the water outside with pumping machines,” Mr Nnamani said.
Flood in Anambra
Anambra, like several other states in the country, experienced devastating floods between September and October. The flood incidents affected seven of the 21 local government areas in the state.
PREMIUM TIMES observed that the flood that led to the destruction of farmlands in the state was caused by the heavy overflow of water from major rivers around the state.
Some of the major rivers are River Niger (covering Ogbaru, Onitsha South and Onitsha North LGAs) and Omabala River (covering Anambra West and Anambra East LGAs).
The Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Paul Odenigbo, told PREMIUM TIMES that 561,000 persons were affected by the flood while a total of 41,000 persons were displaced in Anambra State.
Mr Odenigbo said although the flood victims had been in IDP camps for several weeks, some were already returning to their houses following the gradual receding of the flood. The affected council areas include Onitsha South, Ayamelum, Ogbaru, Anambra East, Anambra West, Awka North and Onitsha North, he said.
During a visit to the state in late October, PREMIUM TIMES observed that many houses, industries, and several farmlands had been destroyed. Also, the floods washed off roads and bridges, linking communities.
Like many other farmers in Anambra, Uche Ugwuoke had great plans to expand his farmlands for increased productivity. A resident of Aguleri, a community in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State, Mr Ugwuoke had invested his life savings in planting yams and cassava on two hectares of land. Beyond expanding his farmland, the father of six said he also planned to build his first house from about N2.8 million he hoped to make from the proceeds of his farm produce.
But his hopes were dashed when the flood swept off the farmlands in late September, he told PREMIUM TIMES. Mr Ugwuoke, who resided in a farm settlement, said he hurriedly left the place when the flood forced its way into the area and destroyed his makeshift home.
“My yam farmland, about 18 plots, was swept away. Even my cassava farmland, about 15 plots of land, the same fate befell it,” he said.
Besides cassava and yam farmlands, Mr Ugwuoke also planted tomatoes, maize and okra, among others.
“But all those things were washed away by the flood,” he said.
Although other farmers stayed in various camps for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the 38-year-old resorted to the motorcycle business in the area in order to survive.
“If not that I have a motorcycle, I would have been begging for food, like others,” he said, referring to the IDPs.
For Mr Ugwuoke, the flood has had an instant impact on food security in the area, with signs indicating it could worsen next year.
“As flood spoiled everything now, prices of food items have increased. A very small tuber of yam I bought yesterday was sold at N600. Before, you could get that size of yam at N150 or N200,” he said.
In all the camps visited by this reporter, all the IDPs were farmers, indicating that they are the worst hit by the flood across the communities.
The farmers said although they have been experiencing flooding in the area, the recent flood ravaged the communities more than ever before.
Ifeanyi Nwankwo, the traditional ruler of Anibeze, one of the communities in Ogbaru affected by the flood, told PREMIUM TIMES he had to abandon his palace when it was submerged in early October.
“The destruction was monumental,” he began. “It was yesterday night that I came back from where I ran to.”
He said he relied on a canoe to ferry himself in and out of the palace in the early stages of the flood. But when the flood increased and submerged his palace, he took to his heels and sought refuge in another community. The monarch, also a farmer, lamented that the flood had completely washed off his yam farmland.
“The yams that we are supposed to eat next year, all of them have spoiled,” he said, adding that the state government was yet to respond to the disaster.
“Sometimes, the government would warn us about the impending flood, but they didn’t provide any place for us to stay. Where do we run to?” Mr Nwankwo stated.
Chidi Nwachukwu was among a group of farmers who fled Obene Atani, another community in the Ogbaru area, when the flood began to wreak havoc in the area. Known for his expertise in yam and cocoyam farming, Mr Nwachukwu had planted 3,600 tubers of yam on his farm to make huge gains the next year, but the flood destroyed it all.
“I know how much I make from the farm each year. I also do cattle rearing. Last year, I made over N700 000 from the farmland,” he said.
“My pain is that the farmlands did better this year. We would have had bumper harvests. But everything has been destroyed, even my cattle. My children and I were almost caught by the flood before we escaped.”
Gertrude Ekwegide, another farmer, said when the flood receded in one of her cassava farmlands, she visited the place, but all the crops had been destroyed.
There are widespread complaints about poor amenities in all the camps visited by this reporter in the state. Although private individuals, churches and government officials provide foodstuff for flood victims in most camps, the victims said they are grossly inadequate.
At Chuchu Onyema camp in Ogbaru Council Area as well as Father Joseph Memorial High School, Aguleri, Anambra East Council Area, many flood victims sleep on bare floors due to the inadequacy of mattresses in the camp.
In other camps, such as Father Joseph Memorial High School, Aguleri, there were no mattresses for flood victims at all. Apart from mattresses, mosquito nets were also unavailable for many of the victims in several of the camps visited.
“None of the donors has ever given us mosquito nets. There aren’t enough mattresses here. Many are sleeping on the floor. Some of them are using mat,” said Israel Nduka, an official at Chuchu Onyema IDP camp.
Some of the flood victims at the camp accused the camp officials of hoarding relief materials brought by government officials and churches. But Mr Nduka, the camp official, denied it, insisting that relief materials brought to the camp were equitably shared with the victims.
Since the flood disaster hit the state, many primary and secondary schools have been converted to holding camps for flood victims, thereby disrupting academic activities in the schools.
Otumoye Primary School I is one of the schools in the Iyi-Owa Odekpe Community, Ogbaru Council Area, where displaced flood victims are occupied. The school management offered three classrooms as a temporary camp for the flood victims, but pupils and teachers bear the brunt of the situation.
Inside many classrooms, crowds of pupils were seen, apparently beyond the carrying capacity of the classrooms. Our reporter observed that teachers were struggling to teach due to noise from the pupils occasioned by the crowded classrooms.
“Thank God you have seen things with your own eyes. They (victims) are occupying three classrooms. So, we had to merge pupils in the remaining classes,” Anthonia Atunonu, the headmistress of the school, told PREMIUM TIMES.
“It is a sort of discomfort, we understand, but we are helping humanity,” she said.
Women, Children Most Affected
Across various IDP camps in Anambra State, PREMIUM TIMES observed that women and their children were the most affected by the flood disaster.
At Father Joseph Memorial High School, Aguleri, the camp manager, Chuks Kwazu, said that a total of 5,166 displaced persons from 1,861 households were taking refuge in the camp in October. Of the number, 1,429 (27.6%) were adult men; 1,731 (33.5%) were adult women, and 2,006 (38.9 %) were children.
Of the 1,731 adult women, 174 were pregnant, while 116 of them were nursing mothers.
Although the victims battle with inadequate facilities, the IDPs told PREMIUM TIMES that they are regularly being checked and treated by a team of doctors from the state government.
Onyekachukwu Ibezim, Deputy Governor of Anambra State, told PREMIUM TIMES that the healthcare services at the holding camps were part of the ongoing Anambra State Health Insurance Scheme. He said the flood disaster afforded the government an opportunity to render medical treatments to a larger population at various IDP camps in the state.
“Our own first intervention is to make sure that there is healthcare in the camps vis a vis prevention of diseases such as malaria and cholera,” he said.
Mr Ibezim, a medical doctor, said the initiative was considered necessary after a “minor cholera” outbreak occurred in the state, which was immediately tackled.
Beyond the medical services, Mr Ibezim said the state government had ensured the provision of foodstuff and other amenities for the flood victims in various camps.
“In the camps, the governor instructed that these people should be fed three times a day, provided mattresses and mosquito nets and a lot more,” he claimed.
“All sorts of animals – snakes and others- came in during the flood. So, we are fumigating the communities that they will be returning to.”
But PREMIUM TIMES observed that some of the flood victims lack mattresses in the camps visited by this newspaper. Mosquitos’ nets, though shared, were inadequate in many populated camps.
Reacting to the plight of farmers and industrialists who lost their livelihoods in the disaster, the deputy governor stressed that the state government would respond with interventions for those who suffered losses. He said the interventions would come after a “post-disaster assessment” in order to ascertain the number of victims.
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.
This story was first published in Premium Times.