Nigeria’s biggest river, the Niger, overflowed its banks after authorities released water from dams, submerging homes, farmlands and roads.
In central Kogi state, where the Benue River, the second-biggest, joins the Niger, water levels are still rising, with a third of its 21 local councils under water, Jacob Edi, a spokesman for Governor Idris Wada, said today by phone from Lokoja, the capital. “The situation is devastating and life-threatening,” he said. “It is clear some communities can’t return.”
Large swaths of farmland are being lost, threatening the country’s food security and creating “a national emergency,” Environment Minister Hadiza Mailafia told reporters yesterday in Abuja, the capital.
Agriculture contributes more than 40 percent of the gross domestic product of Africa’s top oil producer and employs more than 60 percent of its population of more than 160 million, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria. The floods have cut off the main highway from Abuja to the south of the country, including Lagos, the commercial capital, slowing the movement of goods and people, according to the minister.
Flooding worsened after hydropower dams on the Niger River opened sluice gates to let out water in order to prevent them from collapsing under pressure from heavy rains, Anthony Anuforo, director-general of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, told reporters yesterday in Abuja. “It became imperative to open the dams because of the high water level brought about by the high-intensity rains.”
At least 104 people have died and 3,800 homes destroyed by floods across north and central Nigeria, with 150,000 hectares of farmland washed away in the region that is a major food growing area in the past two months, said Abdulsalam Muhammed, an official with the National Emergency Management Agency, or NEMA, said yesterday by phone from the city of Jos. About 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes, he said.
Emergency workers with boats are still rescuing people trapped on rooftops and trees in central Kogi state, NEMA said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. The agency said communities near the path of the Niger River should evacuate to higher ground to avoid the floods. The highway south from Abuja was overtaken by as much as two meters (seven feet) of water near the city of Lokoja, according to the environment minister.
To reopen road access from Abuja to Lagos and other parts of the south, another route was constructed to bypass the flooded areas and cars and trucks can start using it today, Works and Housing Minister Mike Onolememe said on state-owned Radio Nigeria.
Crop damage was mitigated because farmers harvested a lot of them, including rice, corn, millet and sorghum, before the floods, Salisu Na’inna, director of information at the Ministry of Agriculture, said yesterday in an interview in Abuja. Some livestock were washed away and fish ponds along the banks of rivers are at risk, he said.
Flooding across Nigeria including parts of the cocoa-producing south is causing “anxiety” among the farmers concerned their crop may be affected, Robo Adhuze, a spokesman for the Cocoa Association of Nigeria, which groups farmers, buyers and processors, said by phone today from the southwestern city of Akure.
More “high-intensity” rains will probably continue in central and northern Nigeria through mid-October, and in the southern part through November, Anuforo of the Meteorological Office said today on Radio Nigeria. “As the rain is receding, it will come with violent winds,” he said.
Authorities didn’t take adequate steps to alert downstream communities that water would be released from the Jebba and Kainji dams, according to Nnimmo Bassey, executive director of Environmental Rights Action, the Nigerian affiliate of Friends of the Earth.
“The meteorological people have been giving some warnings, but those warnings hardly get down to people in villages,” Bassey said by phone today from Benin City, the capital of the southern Edo state. The government needs to put in place “permanent infrastructure” and “align water channels” to avert a re-occurrence, he said.
Environment Minister Mailafia denied that the government neglected its responsibility. “What we have done in the past couple of months is consistently to educate people, calling the attention of government and individuals to the need to move away from flood plains,” she said.