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August Floods: Have We Learnt Any Lesson?
The story of how Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, was ravaged by a devastating flood on August 26, last year, is no longer news. But what could be news is if the government and the ordinary people who mostly suffered great losses had learned from the incident after the deluge.
Ibadan people are special breeds. As obstinate as anyone may want to think they are, they are wont to follow good examples when they find one. Hence, when Oyo State government introduced the weekly sanitation exercise a week after the deluge that claimed generations of families as well as submerging properties that were erected with hard-earned money, it was not difficult for an average resident of the ancient city to comply with sanitation regulations with little or no persuasion.
On a weekly basis, on Thursdays, the exercise of clearing waterways and drainages in streets was palpable, as both old and young were engrossed in seeing the exercise recording success. In fact, some were seen then, monitoring the clearing of gutters and drainages in their surroundings, while warning whoever cared to listen to beware and not to throw refuse in canals and water ways. At Agbowo and its environs, where Environment Watch did some monitoring, shops were usually under lock and key. Trucks carting away the refuse stationed at roadsides were usually expected with great anxiousness with some civil servants even waiting to get rid of their garbage before resuming at work.
In some instances, uniformed officers, in brown khaki trousers and white tops were usually seen supervising the exercise, warning shop owners to clear their drainages or be fined. True to type, their orders were never violated because an Ibadan man is believed to loathe parting with money frivolously.
But the tables turned, as observed, immediately after the fuel subsidy removal debacle that rocked the nation in early January. Before then, the activities of refuse collectors were obviously on the wane. The law of diminishing returns suddenly set in, such that people would wait for long, sometimes in vain, before their arrival. There and then, people’s interest started to nose dive.
The strike action embarked upon by the organised labour and its attendant street protests seemed to suggest to the people that it was a time to break loose from rules including those keeping their health under watch. Youths took advantage of the situation to go wild, dragging and burning tyres on tarred roads for days while refuse were piled up for non-coming collectors. Venting their anger, the rising profile of good neighbourliness and sanitation broke down and went with the winds. Today, the interest to keep the environment clean has disappeared.
However, with the rains taking some rest since November last year, one had expected that the governnment of Oyo State would take the advantage to commence quick work on all the waterways and bridges that overflowed their banks and destroyed lives and properties worth millions of naira. For instance, the structures found obstructing water ways and marked for demolition have not been attended to as residents of such structures still inhabit them.
At Agbowo, where this serial report is taking off, the marked houses, which were almost jettisoned during the August deluge, were still being inhabited as of the time of filing this report.
Some dilapidated houses along the canal that runs from Bodija abattoir down to Orogun are not only being refenced, but also inhabited. At a particular building that was terribly flooded and subsequently deserted, a couple with their little children were seen still living in the high rise Boys Quarter of the two-storey building, while the muddy rooms of the main building have become an abode for swine.
It is recalled that a grandfather and his four grandchildren, who had just broken their Ramadam fast, were drowned in the flood that almost swallowed the entire building in the area. But today, residents have begun in earnest to dump garbage where ever they deem fit. Every bridge is a ready recipient of refuse and stinking pool of water from people who seem not to have learnt learn from their past experience.
The interior parts of Agbowo, especially Adewumi, Oyesola, Omotara, Ile-Eja, Major Salawu, Ajetomobi and Adeoye streets, among others, are places human beings should inhabit in saner climes. At Omotara street for instance, the bridge linking it with Adewumi harbours a pool of water that stinks more than a decaying cadaver.
However, a reconstruction work on a bridge at Oyesola Street, which was overwhelmed by the last August’s flood, has been completed with some metres of dredging done on both sides of the canal.
It was observed that despite the respite, some residents have yet dumped a bag of garbage in the canal that was just dredged a few days ago.
A resident, Pastor Bola Ogunjimi, who frowned at the bestial attitude of some these inhabitants, showered praises on the Ibadan North Local Government for the reconstruction work, saying that much time should not be wasted before the road was tarred for motorability.
“Our people don’t want to learn from the past; despite the fact that the government is trying to change the trend, the people are not just ready to comply with government directives,” Sefinatu Omodara, another resident, stated.
From the attitude of people of the area towards sanitation, going by the level of refuse dumped on top and under Ile-Eja bridge, at Agbowo, no lesson has been learnt from the August’s flood disaster.
Emmanuel Oluserere, an undergraduate of the University of Ibadan Distance Learning Programme, was of the opinion that government should be blamed, adding that it was not yet ready to tackle the problem of sanitation and flooding headlong.
“Since they marked those houses blocking the free flow of water last year, what have they done about them? It is the same story all over again. They said they have earmarked N133 million to clear water ways. Are they just waking up since last year? When the rains are already here? My friend, give me some space to breathe; the truth is that the beautiful ones are not yet born in Oyo State,” Oluserere, a visibly angry indigene of Kwara State, querried.
Secretariat Road is a popular road that links Bodija market, U.I and Ojoo towards the north and Total Garden, Yemetu and Beere area towards the south. The bridge at Awolowo Junction, very close to the Oyo State Ministry of Environment, was ravaged by flood. When EW visited the spot during the week, work was yet to commence. Some lives and properties worth a fortune were allegedly lost to the floodings, despite the fact that it was dredged.
Two of the labourers, who earn their living as construction workers, did not hide their anger. From an obviously bottled-up anger, gaunt-looking Alarape Ajadi and Iya Saaki yelled in Yoruba simultaneously; “We have made a lot of noise concerning this place, but they won’t listen. The governor came; we told him but he did not listen. They are busy dredging where they should not dredge. This canal is usually flooded every year. They know it. The volume of water increases so much that vehicles can hardly wade through. The last flood swept away all our tools and implements that we use to earn our daily bread. They came to measure the bridge, yet nothing is in view. We voted for them with the belief that we would sing a new song. But today, it’s a different story. If the previous government had focused on reconstructing the bridge instead of building rails on the roadsides of Secretariat Road, we would not have this problem today.”
Alfa Kamardeen Gazali works on the other Ikolaba side of the bridge. According to him, “government, we were told, wanted to work on the canal. Those people moulding rings for well and bridges even moved their wares from the river banks to enable the people they said were coming to work on the canal to have enough space. But nothing has been done and you can see that the ring moulders are beginning to return to the banks of the canal.”
Jointly, the respondents advised the Oyo State government to pull down the present bridge and reconstruct another one that can contain larger volume of water.
“The rings under the bridge are narrow, that’s why a little water easily overflows it. If the bridge is raised on both sides with concrete and decked like that of Ajibode, with no rings, the high volume of water flowing down from Ikolaba would have enough space to pass freely without any hindrance,” Alfa Gazali submitted.
Head of the labourers, Pa Yenusa Akinwale, who related how the ravaging August flood left him and his colleagues with nothing but penury, called on the government to make the construction of the bridge its top priority.
While speaking on government’s effort in making the state safe for habitation, Commissioner of Environment, Alhaji Wasiu Oladimeji, said the government was trying its best but its bane was the not-ready-to-change attitude of the people of the state.
“Governnment is trying its best, but the attitude of our people here is nil. They won’t just want to comply to new instructions,” he stated, promising to jack up, from N1,000 to N5,000, the fee charged violators of environmental sanitation exercise regulations.
The commissioner also told EW that with N133 million already endorsed by the Senator Abiola Ajimobi-led government during the week, work would commence in about 23 streams in Ibadan and its environs which have been approved for clearing and dredging.
As regards structures earmarked for demolition after the last August’s flood disaster, the exercise, the commisioner said, while making reference to the ongoing demolition that started at Ringroad last year in which one of his vehicles was raised, would soon commence.
A government with the political will can begin somewhere, no matter how small, in addressing the renewal of native areas of Ibadan like Beere, Agbowo, Oje, Gege, Yemetu, Oja Oba, among other surburbs. These areas need modern mapping and proper street laying as well as doing away with the old structures for new ones which a people-minded government can do.
The slums can be earmarked into stages for a re-planning for a space of time. For instance, they can begin with the Agbowo axis, get experts (not politicians) to come up with a comprehensive survey and database of the people and environment that will be used to halt the systemic rot. Then, the government can seek help from the private sector including foreign donors to assist in the project of the urban renewal. But the government must show some sense of seriousness and accountability.
Former Governor Gbenga Daniel did something similar at Siun in Ogun State when he was dualising the Sagamu/Abeokuta road where cheap and easy-to-come-by bricks were used to build chalets for people evacuated from the area that was demolished.
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