Flood it was in September 2012. It was at the Confluence. The waters grew and kept growing, climbing high! Before I could bat an eyelid, the Niger, colluding with the Benue, began to forcefully spread its fluidic tentacles and wings. Whence comes this threatening deluge? Some said Cameroon released waters from Lagdo Dam. Others added that the floodgates of Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro dams were unlatched too. Whichever or whatever plays out strongly, like ninjas, the waters fought hard, and we could not but bow.
My people, many of them confronted us saying, “Keep calm, why are you running away? And where are you running to? You should wait and see what is chasing you, at least, before you take your flight.” Many pointed at us, as we headed for the hills, jeering, “See them, cowards!” We were no better than the Biblical Noah and his family moments before the Flood.
But, in no time, all that our jeerers were left with were rhetorical questions, questions no quester was relieved enough to supply the question marks at their end. Since when did Big Rivers develop a love for gate crashing? How did Rivers Niger and Benue learn to lead their waters out of and beyond banks? Into houses, offices, markets, shops, churches, mosques, schools, farms, garages, roads, nooks and crannies, the waters fled like a prey zebra running into a refuge of crags from the devouring fangs and clawed paws of a lion.
Rushing, the waters kept pouring in. Doors – wooden or steel – proved no match for the watery onslaught. Everywhere, everything in the way bowed. You know, I must tell you this: water is indomitable! Let me rephrase that: the formula for indomitability is H2O.
In Lokoja – the Confluence City, Spring 2012 brought with it the grimmest of woes and misery for a vast many of my people, thousands of them. Fortunately – or should I say unfortunately? – it was an episode of blessing and acrobatics for the ducks; everywhere became a swimming pool for them. I would have failed you if I did not point this out to you, that the million and one bats of Lokoja were largely unscathed—they are supra-terrestrial. In their upside-down roosting positions, they must have sneered at humanity as they watched the misfortune mankind, through commission and omission, brought on himself, fauna, flora and the earth. But as for the grain-seeking pigeons, it was a hard time, a tough time indeed. Landing at the cereal markets—their favourite gathering place—became impossible.
Several villages and settlements – Banda, Ganaja, Adankolo, Kabawa, many more – were rendered Atlantis for days. When night came, a grim darkness enveloped the town. Why not? When transformers have been submerged, and several electric poles lie prostrate in the waters.
For men, women, children, ladies, babies, dogs, hens, guinea fowls, goats, sheep, cows and so much more, it was a terrible ordeal. Which dog, drowning in a deluge, dared bark? Which cock had the peace of mind to reckon time and announce the coming of dawn with its intermittent crowing calls? Which man – brave or timid – chest-deep in the flood had the gumption to wait and wail? All that mattered to everyone and everything at that moment was high ground, somewhere above the rising water level.
1,704 houses, we were told, were destroyed. All that we saw of many houses – plush and shackles alike – were just from the lintel up. Everything below that line suddenly became foundations erected in water. In fact, just a couple of months after the Confluence Beach Hotel was completed, the waters almost literally completely buried it awhile. Sadly, it remains uncommissioned till this day.
Belongings swarm about, so much more submerged. Millions in man-hours, properties and lives – if not of humans, surely of animals – were wasted. People were displaced, places became unpeopled. The ecosystem was dishevelled. The destruction was massive, so much so that the Federal Government declared Kogi a “national disaster state”.
Commuters were stranded as the major highway that linked Northern and Southern Nigeria was severed. It was as though the flood was bent on undoing in Lokoja what Lord Lugard effected in Ikot Abasi some ninety-eight years earlier. Maybe the Niger Ninja flood was fighting a just secessionist cause, after all, both towns were favourite sanctuaries for the childless “Lord” and his party of colonisers, and have monuments known as the “Lugard House” still standing in them.
You remember osmosis and diffusion, right? Good. Maybe thanks to both processes, but the fact is that the hell of filth for which Kabawa slum is famed permeated everywhere. Worse still, fetid blood and faecal matter from the abattoirs and slaughterhouses skirted around. Used diapers and spent pads, and the vast mass on several dunghills kited in the waters. Damn it! It is an understatement to report that everywhere was messed up. Describing the situation as an eyesore is to be euphemistic, to embellish the fact. As an aside, though, I never knew rats were swimmers. Many of them showed off their stunts – butterfly stroke, breaststroke, sidestroke, even backstroke.
Here I am, left with ifs, with conditional clauses, with counterfactuals. I wonder, in hindsight, if only our government had had the foresight and been proactive enough to enter into a bipartite agreement with Cameroon as regards river basin/water volume and dam control, maybe the wanton losses would have been nipped in the bud. If only the authorities had been good enough to erect strong levees and embankments along the riverbank beforehand. If only our people took caution and headed for hills early on when the waters came greeting. If only geospatial and hazardscape vulnerability studies like Suleiman et al[i] had been made in advance – not in arrears – and their recommendations implemented. If only all hands had been on deck to avert the 2012 Niger Ninja in the Confluence City.
[i] Suleiman, Y. B. Et al (2014), “The Application of Geospatial Techniques in Flood Risk and Vulnerability Mapping for Disaster Management at Lokoja, Kogi State State, Nigeria”, Journal of Environment and Earth Science 4 (5): 54-61; Anunobi, A. I. (2014), “Informal Riverine Settlements and Flood Risk Management: A Study of Lokoja, Nigeria”, Journal of Environment and Earth Science 4 (12): 35-42; Nkwunonwo, U. C., Whitworth Malcolm and Baily Brian (2015), “Flooding and Flood Risk Reduction in Nigeria: Cardinal Gaps”, Journal of Geography and Natural Disaster 5 (1): 1-12; Dukiya, J. J. And Vimal Gahlot (2013), “Remote Sensing and GIS Based Assessment of Flood Vulnerability in Lokoja (Nigeria)”, Journal of Environmental Science and Sustainability 1 (3): 74-80.