Residents of Makurdi, Benue State capital, will not forget August 27, 2017, in a hurry. Indeed, many of them would wish the day had not come at all. Although they had been warned repeatedly of an impending flood disaster, not many took the warning seriously. Rather, they simply ignored the warnings and went about their normal businesses.
Then came a downpour in Markurdi and surrounding communities at about 12.30 am on August 27, which lasted till about 4 am. The following night, the rain continued, starting at about the same hour it had started the previous day and continuing till early morning. The development spelt disaster for residents of Makurdi and its environs.
Families went to bed only to wake up in the middle of the night to find themselves floating on water while their personal belongings were washed away. Vehicles were submerged while many people were rendered homeless. Traders lost goods worth millions of naira just as farmlands washed away to signal danger of imminent hunger in the land.
The most affected areas included Idye, Achussah, Wurukum Market, Low Level, Wadata Rice, Gyado Villa and Welfare Quarters, all in Makurdi. According to available records with the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), more than 100,000 persons were rendered homeless. Governor Samuel Ortom had to direct that the Makurdi International Market be temporarily converted into a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).
Those who moved into the camp and registered as IDPs are mostly women, children and the elderly as well as pregnant women and nursing mothers. The Nation investigation, however, revealed that for three days after they had moved into camps, the victims of the flood disaster had no food or water. There were also no mattresses, sleeping mats or toilets facilities.
It was not until five days later that UNICEF moved in and dug a borehole in the camp to solve water problems while some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) provided food for the IDPs pending when the state and federal governments would take over.
The medical personnel of the Nigeria Air Force (NAF) moved into the camp to take care of the people’s health needs. NAF deployed doctors, nurses and drugs for the treatment of common ailments.
We observed cases of open defecation in the camp, which was basically due to lack of toilet facilities, triggering fears of a cholera outbreak. But succour seemed to come the way of the IDPs when the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) intervened with seven trucks of relief materials.
Benue-born music star, Tuface Idibia, also visited and donated relief materials through his foundation. The Wife of the Governor of Benue State, Dr Eunice Ortom, through her NGO, Eunice Spring of Life Foundation (ESLF), also donated a set of relief materials.
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, arrived Makurdi and inspected the affected areas as well as the IDPs camp to assess the level of the disaster. Osinbajo assured the victims that government would look into the possibility of dredging River Benue to serve as a permanent solution to the flooding problem.
But despite what seems to look now like comfortable life in the IDPs camp, shortly after the Vice President and his team left, events took a new turn. The IDPs complained that officials no longer served them food as was the case before the visit of the Vice President.
A nursing mother with two children, Mrs Juliana Unande, said since the Vice President left, “my children and I have not seen the rice officials used to give us to cook and eat.
She said for two days, they had struggled to get cooked food only from NGOs and not from SEMA,” wondering what the bags of rice in their store were meant for when IDPs were dying of hunger.
Another IDP in the camp, Jonathan Amah, who said he was a farmer and all his crops had been washed away, accused camp officials of diverting relief materials to the detriment of the victims. The allegations were, however, denied by a SEMA official, who pleaded anonymity, saying that no relief material was missing.
It was gathered that even though water had taken over many homes, many of those affected were not keen to move into the camp for fear of the unknown.
There were reported cases of thieves using canoes to break into the houses of those who relocated away from their homes to steal their property.
Governor Samuel Ortom said government on its part would review the plot allocations and building plans in Makurdi. He also directed that any house built on water channels be pulled down.
Investigation revealed that not all the people in the IDPs camp were affected by the flood. Some lazy and unscrupulous elements took advantage of the distribution of free food to take refuge in Makurdi International Market to feed fat. Security agencies, including vigilante groups, are said to be on hand to checkmate such undesirable elements.