Flooding, Citizenship, and Democratic Governance: Reconnecting the Dots -By Precious Onyinyechi Odika

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |

Makurdi, Benue flood


Flooding and coastal erosion have been prevalent along the meandering axis of the Atlantic Ocean, River Niger, River Benue and Deltaic regions of Nigeria. It has become a yearly occurrence seeing a large number of lands, families, property and businesses being displaced and or swallowed up by floods and or disappearing under the menace of erosion.

Flooding and erosion have affected considerable populations and drastically metamorphosed the natural geologic settings of most of the affected areas. Unfortunately, the impacts of erosion and flooding in Nigeria are rapidly growing beyond small-scale magnitudes.

For over three decades, the Nanka-Agulu erosion menace, for instance has resulted in the loss of lands, lives, roads, trees and several millions of naira worth of property and local businesses. Between 2011 and 2012, Anambra State suffered terrible food supply shortages as its northern parts (which happen to be the state’s food basket) were submerged in flooding. It took several months for the surviving indigenes (who suffered terrible hunger and lack of shelter) to clean up the remnant of their belongings. And of course, the majority of their property were lost, making it difficult for some to get back to normal life.

Although one may classify Anambra State as one of the medium-size spaces in Nigeria, it faces flooding challenges in the same way big spaces, such as Lagos, do. There are also cases of flooding in Niger and Benue States, especially in Makurdi where, year after year, flooding keeps gobbling up homesteads, dismantling and dissolving everything in the coastal path, salinating the areas, circling in and ultimately leaving indigenous people bereft of immobile belongings, and rendering them homeless and landless. It has also set populations on the move (triggering the consequences of migration).

In that regard, it could be said that ‘water’ does not discriminate between the rich and the poor, or between the developed and developing countries. Since nature connects people, water therefore connects everyone in a positive or negative way.

Flooding and erosion affected areas will always have profound implications for everyday government relations. In Nigeria, the state and local governments are oftentimes held responsible for the contingency measures for flood victims and homes. The provision of relief materials and poverty alleviation schemes are often the sole point of engagement with state authorities.

A recent example is the case of the Benue State government, with 24 flood affected areas (covering about 110,000 displaced people and 3,000 destroyed homes). The flood victims are said to be receiving relief materials from the Benue State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), the Benue We Deserve Foundation (BENDEF) and other NGOs and volunteers.

Despite these efforts, the flood and erosion affected areas in Nigeria are mostly characterised by governmental neglect and developmental apathy. The absence of development in these places has been conveniently excused by either pointing to the difficult environmental conditions of some of the regions or by portraying the human population as being out of place in other regions. In addition, citizenship rights and demands are rendered uncertain in practice. Considering Nigeria’s complex governance system, one is left with concern over the influence of environmental degradation on already volatile political conditions. Are the ability of citizens to make claims on the government being affected by environmental changes?

Although there are natural environmental change factors, over the decades human-induced factors have accelerated environmental change challenges. Some of these include the negative impacts of flooding and erosion, such as the disruption of people networks, the destruction of spaces and infrastructure and the waste of time and human power. Efficient tackling of these challenges and meeting up with associated claims are not easily achieved at the state level and demands are difficult to realise by the victims. The affected areas hardly experience government’s developmental influence. They are mostly abandoned and left desolate, which usually results in a continual encroachment on saved lands.

The reason for government’s inability to cope with the claims and demands associated with environmental change challenges is mostly based on the existing polity, history, self and constitutions that lack adequate climate change appraisals. Therefore, there is need to develop pertinent methods, instruments, approaches and social ideologies that acknowledge and live with environmental change challenges.

A reworking of the political sphere that fully addresses the challenges of survival and well-being in the present rapidly degrading ecosystems is urgently needed. Although there is not likely to be a complete stable political sphere that answers exact climate challenges, flood and erosion victims should have a sense of factuality and legitimacy from redress given by the governments.

This should be a form of the citizen’s right of protection, but the practice of claiming this right has remained muddled, wherein bureaucratic practice leads to the structural exclusion of and indifference towards the poor. In Makurdi, Niger, Anambra, Abia, Lagos and other flooding and erosion prone States, the sufferings of flood and erosion victims have remained uncatered to, and accepted as a normal condition. Some of the relief-material networks and or foundations, and their modes of operation remain obscure and usually lack accountability. Most times, officials remain unaccountable and inaccessible: legal provisions are clouded and processes corrupted.

A practical struggle of tapping into state-sponsored poverty alleviation programmes via the development of material conditions and infrastructural interventions will not only provide the necessary health, well-being and dignity of the citizens, but will also ensure the needed inclusion into the practice of legitimate politics. The provision of clean water, building of adequate waste treatment systems and erosion embankments, oil spill land remediation and restoration, air pollution and dust forensic infrastructures etcetera are ways of meeting citizens’ environmental demands and rights.

A critical question is: To what extent are situations of environmental degradation depriving Nigerians of good democratic governance?

Odika Precious Onyinyechi is a British Chevening Scholar at the University of Portsmouth, UK; Email: [email protected] @PreciousOdika.