By Funmilola Ajala
At least for now, the gale of political implosions within Donald Trump’s White House and trading of diplomatic salvos between Washington and Moscow have taken the back seats. Attention has been hijacked by nature’s unpalatable visit to mankind and the attendant testimonies of woes by those directly affected.
Hurricanes, curried with some sweet names as Harvey and Irma, swept through parts of the United States and the Carribeans leaving behind unimaginable carnage and historic devastations. From Florida to Houston, Cuba to Bahamas, thousands were displaced as authorities tried – sometimes with little success – to limit the damage in the face of unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. At the last count, more than 4,000 were sheltering in makeshift abodes in Texas alone.
Perhaps, 2017 would go down as an assertion of the fact that the marriage between man and nature has gone even sourer, despite evident denials of the realities of climate change by some powerful individuals. Although western media helped to magnify the environmental disaster just foisted on the Americas; still, similar harrowing experience had been the lot of people in other parts of the globe in recent times. China, India, Pakistan, Italy have all suffered thousands in human casualty from floods, monsoon rains, and earthquake respectively, all in 2017. And in Africa, mudslide buried more than 400 souls in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in a fell swoop back in August.
As elsewhere in the globe, Nigeria is not immunized from nature’s angst, though hurricanes and earthquakes rarely transgress this land. Notwithstanding, Sun does shine not always, even here. Benue State, which prides itself as the ‘Food Basket of the Nation’, has suffered greatly in the past two years. From deadly clashes between Fulani herders and indigene farmers to politically-related assassinations of top government officials, the crises appear endless – I mean those manufactured by humans. Latest in the upheavals to hit Benue is the flood disaster of September 1, 2017, creeping into Makurdi life a thief in the night.
Although the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) had forecast unfriendly weather this year, ‘prophesying’ doom in 28 States of Nigeria, yet no one dreamt the magnitude of the tragedy currently playing out in Benue.
While Florida State Governor, Rick Scott seems to be in the know on how to reduce the resultant effects of Hurricane Irma by making sure that affected residents are provided with basic needs – in the time being -, same cannot be said of an apparently overwhelmed Samuel Ortom who, once again, had to beg Abuja to come to the rescue of Benue in the aftermath of the flood. Of course, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) got a marching order from Aso Rock to intervene in the crisis, nonetheless the displaced have continued to lament the hardship in their market-turned IDP camp in Makurdi.
That gravity of the situation calls for the usual intervention of international humanitarian bodies like the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Medicine San Frontieres (MSF) etc, which have become key actors working with the United Nations in emergency situations. The ability of the agencies to swiftly react to cries from Benue may have, sadly, been corrupted by recent suspicion raised by development elsewhere within Nigeria.
On August 11, 2017, in a theatrical garrison expedition, Nigerian soldiers raided a facility belonging to the UN in Maiduguri, on the pretext that it may be a hole for arms being used by suspected Boko Haram members. This incident, no doubt, ruptured the hitherto working relationship between the Army and the UN. Many feared that, not minding the fence-mending effort of Borno State Governor, Kashim Shettima, the event poses longterm negative implications, especially for the IDPs in the northeast region.
More than once, embarrassing news had emanated from Maiduguri depicting how soldiers and policemen openly engaged in gunfight over who takes what in the sharing of foodstuff originally earmarked for the displaced.
To add to that, NEMA is at the moment caught in the web of controversy directly related to the alleged mismanagement of a whopping 13billion naira Ecological Funds. It is alleged that a larger proportion of the fund was shared by public officials who smile to the bank at the expense of wretched locals. Nigerians also watched in awe as the Sani Shehu-led Senate Committee on Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE) opened a can of worms detailing how the now suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal got involved in the infamous ‘grass-cutting’ scandal in Adamawa State.
And that brings us to importance of corporate bodies and individuals in responding to the Benue calamity. Music star, Innocent Idibia (Tubaba) had spent time with the flood victims while actress Tonto Dike also launched an appeal for donations from fellow compatriots – towards the same purpose. Just as the likes of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner and co raised more than $60m through ‘We Are the World’, to help Africa escape famine in the 80s, it is hoped that Tubaba and his likes would seize this moment to have lasting impact on the affected.
Moreover, governments across board should be alive to the critical function of safeguarding people’s lives against dangers, both anticipated and unforeseen, through more accountability in public spending. Resuscitating that dearth or inactive synergy among key public establishments i.e NIMET, NEMA, and the National Orientation Agency (NOA) is equally pertinent in this direction with intensified social campaigns and sensitization of the populace to the inherent dangers in habits which degrade the environment.
And in the end, man’s sense of circumspection must be activated to appreciate that his lack of obedience to nature’s red lines can only be overt invitation to an inescapable apocalypse, which will ultimately blows no one no good.
Funmilola Ajala, a journalist, writes via firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @ajalatravel07