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Nigeria: Flood Relief Fund or National Cake?

THE much anticipated reprieve finally came via the Tuesday morning (October 9) presidential broadcast that was nationally televised. President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan announced the release of N17.6 billion to assist states and communities that have been devastated by the unprecedented flood.

This put paid to the speculations on whether the President would succumb to some lawmakers’ suggestions that he forwards a supplementary budget in aid of the flood disaster areas.

Rather than channel the fund through a supplementary appropriation to the National Assembly, he opted to constitute a Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee with Aliko Dangote and Olisa Agbakoba as co-Chairmen and Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr as Chief Fund Mobilizer. Two of these gentlemen are highly respected business moguls with vast indigenous corporations that provide thousands of Nigerians with direct and indirect employments, while the third is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, former President of Nigerian Bar Association and Civil Liberty Organisation.

 

Some of us saw this deft move as a demonstration of Mr President’s commitment to deliver quick succour to the flood victims and avoid the quibbling that often times characterize and eventually bog down our National Assembly processes. And to show his determination in properly accounting for the funds to be raised, he picked men who are accomplished in their various callings to preside over the Committee.

The Committee which has one year to work is saddled with the task of raising funds to help government provide urgent reliefs for victims of the recent catastrophic floods across the country and also manage the post-impact rehabilitation of the affected persons and communities. The Committee is also expected to advise government on how to judiciously utilize the funds that it would raise.

One notices that everything about the President’s speech suggests that the relief and rehabilitation package is meant to mitigate the suffering and consequent hardship of the people and communities that have been dislodged by the angry flood. Even the brief he handed the Committee also had to do with the flood disaster and its victims that span across 18 states.

Out of the N17.6 billion voted for flood relief and rehabilitation, N13.3 billion was allocated to the states and N4.3 billion to Federal Government agencies. Since some states are more affected than the others by the flood, government rightly categorised them from A to D as well as the amount of money they received. The sharing formula seemed to be in agreement with common sense and fair play. A state that suffered greater flood and devastation naturally deserves greater assistance than the state that suffered less. Nobody quarrels with that logic but what miffs some us is the situation where the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory have all become flood disaster areas with huge chunks of money shared to them.

One then begins to wonder if the money is actually meant for relief and rehabilitation of flood victims or another “national cake” that is meant to be shared by everybody. Or could this be another “Federal Character” at play? If that is the case, it then means we have just carried the principle to a ludicrous height. We have become helpless hostages of a retrogressive doctrine.

THERE have been occasions in the past when some parts of this country were threatened by desertification and draught, and the Federal Government rushed to their rescue. States that were not affected did not benefit from those relief packages.

In fact, it would have been foolish for any unaffected state to have expected to share in that relief fund for draught and desertification. So, to have listed the entire 36 states and FCT as beneficiaries of the flood relief fund was ill-advised and inappropriate.

Even states whose floods, we all know, were caused by poor sanitation habits and near lack of waste management were all listed as victims of the natural flood disaster.

It seemed as if the President used a matter so serious to pay some political debts. If those who advised the President on the sharing formula felt it would make him look good, they better think again because it portrayed him as dithering and not sure footed.

It gives the impression of a President that is too eager to please everybody even when it is unnecessary to do so. It betrays a sense of vulnerability and trust our politicians to fully exploit this seeming weakness.

The implication of this warped and unjustified sharing formula is that those in dire need like my community, Atani in Ogbaru, Anambra State, would be under-rehabilitated.

With the receding flood we have been told to expect epidemic and famine resulting from the loss of farmlands and crops. Experts have also warned that some building structures would become suspects because they have been submerged under water for over a month and most of them would necessarily be rebuilt or reinforced.

With this grim prospects ahead, our government is distributing money to those who are not directly in the eye of the storm as if Father Christmas has come to town.

Huge sums of money were also allocated to Ministries of Works and Environment, NEMA, National Commission for Refugees and Technical Committee on Flood Impact Assessment. Apart from Ministry of Work, NEMA and Committee on Flood Impact Assessment, other allocation claims are doubtful.

NEMA’s intervention was concentrated on the confluence region and the Middle Belt axis as if they were not obliged to intervene in other parts of the country affected by the flood. In my local government area, we only heard of NEMA but we never saw any of them to provide the much needed professional advice on how to deal with the strange situation.

Ministry of Works got N2.6 billion from the latest appropriation and the President revealed during his broadcast that the Ministry has already spent N556 million on repairs of collapsed bridges and construction of bypasses. Aside from the much publicized Lokoja-Abuja bypass we are not aware of any other bypass that the Ministry has constructed. Same with bridges.

President also announced that Ministry of Environment spent N96 million on sundry and relief measures. Ogbaru has been in the thick of the disaster and nobody has come to say he/she is from the Ministry of Environment. So, where did they spend the money? Government has allocated another N350 million and we are keenly watching to see what they will do with the money because serious environmental and ecological issues are bound to surface when the flood recedes.

The National Commission for Refugees was allocated the sum of N150 million. Before the presidential broadcast most of us didn’t know an institution like this existed. This was probably because Nigerians never really had any need for it. But since the need for the Commission arose, we have not felt its impact.

Since the flood swallowed Ogbaru communities and the people temporarily relocated to Onitsha Army Barracks and a couple of dingy schools in town, nobody saw the Commission which should ideally be resettling these people who have suddenly assumed the status of refugees.

But for the Anambra State government’s humanitarian reliefs and the kind gestures from high-net worth Anambrarians, some of our people would have starved to death. Yet there is a Commission that would have provided them the mediating solace they badly needed before a proper arrangement could be made to rehabilitate them. It’s a shame!

We pray that the floods should continue to recede so that we will see what these agencies would do with the money that government has given them.

We also implore government to give the Dangote/ Agbakoba /Adenuga Committee the free hand to spend the money that they would raise directly on the affected areas. They will bring the efficiency and accountability of the private sector to bear on the relief and rehabilitation projects. Moreso, being high profile entrepreneurs, they would introduce emergent best practices into the relief and rehabilitation management.

With the reality of the consequences of climate change driven right into our homes, it has become absolutely necessary for affected state governments to legislate into existence their own local disaster/emergency management agencies as it is now obvious that in circumstances like this, NEMA is bound to be overwhelmed.

These state agencies should begin to develop their own structures and network with local and international humanitarian NGOs, philanthropic donors, faith based organisations and other institutions that are favourably disposed to assisting disaster victims so that in the event of an emergency situation they could begin to provide immediate palliative interventions to their contiguous communities before the national agencies will arrive with the big money

The Dangote Committee has only one year to work after which it may be dissolved. I am not a prophet of doom, but we must be futuristic and preemptive in our planning. Climate change is real.

 

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