The Upper Crust

While we fiddle, Makurdi is under water


With Uche Nnadozie

I will not stop saying it. Whenever we have serious governance problems, our elite have a way of changing the narrative and blaming our troubles on some phantom existential frailties. The talk about restructuring, I have repeated, is nothing more than political talk, it is what we normally hear when a faction of the elite feels sidelined and they stake a bold price to be heard. Unfortunately, the under-served, that is, the people always find a way to buy into this bogey. Because its strange to me how one single idea of restructuring will automatically solve all of Nigeria’s problems over night!

Now if our all-knowing elite or a faction of it thinks that this phenomenon of a word is the reason we are like this as a country, it does therefore mean that we should no longer ask questions of any bad behaviour or mis-governance. I mean since restructuring solves all of our problems why do we still waste time asking politicians for what they do with our money or what innovation they bring to the table? After all, some of the proponents say, you cannot put something on nothing, and I agree. However, for some of us who still believe that no structure is perfect must also continue to ask today’s leaders what’s in it for us?

This brings me to the carnage in Benue. The Benue River is the second most important of all our rivers in Nigeria. It is not for ‘nothing that a state is named after the mighty river. Probably had it been that Niger did not pass through our path, Nigeria may be “Benueria” today. Yet, we are not lost on the significance of the gigantic body of water. The lives and livelihoods that she has affected. That is why it is not surprising that Benue state is the capital of food production as at today in Nigeria. It is affectionately called, the food basket of Nigeria. If there was no Benue River, I also doubt if the quantum of flooding we have seen in parts of Makurdi and other parts of the state will be this bad.

Happening parallel to the Hurricane Harvey that has left parts of Texas and Louisiana states in the U.S flooded brought the dim comparison to pitiable level. How do you really compare tragedies? It is only those who feel it, know it. And the photos emanating from Benue speak of human and environmental destruction at its worst. Heard accounts of people from far and wide struggling to send relief. It can get that bad. Our emergency agency is not fit for purpose. It is run like a typical civil service environment. Or better put, it is run like a typical Nigerian public department. No taste, no lustre, no panache. Folks could not get the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA to fix any problem. Even to receive and respond to calls was stiff. NEMA officials say they were on Sallah break. Really?

The feedback from NEMA is in sharp contrast to the American version called FEMA. We have to be careful what we copy. Just as they ask us to now copy the American federal system hook, line and sinker, I say, NEMA was copied from FEMA yet it does not work. It certainly has not worked for the people of Makurdi. In fact, the agency had to wait until a presidential order before they got their butts out of wherever they stuck to go and set up some ramshackle IDP centres. How can an emergency outfit wait for a directive? Did they not see the tragedy in Makurdi? Since the flooding happened last week, I have not seen the state’s emergency management agency, I have not seen the local government chair nor have I seen the governor.

The ministers of environment, the Interior and Water Resources have not shown up. Neither the vice president nor the president has made a trip there. Up till now, no pronouncement has been made about assistance to victims and prayer for the community and its grieving members. I recall that some money was announced the last time floods ravaged parts of Lagos state. That intervention was extended to other parts of the country, nobody has raised that matter now. And the probability that the money released by the then acting president may not have reached the states is high. But this is an emergency, it should not take more than a whimper to get funds to troubled spots. The Makurdi carnage deserves even more. After all, over 120, 000 people have been displaced. Properties submerged and destroyed, businesses rendered comatose, including schools and radio stations and tens of lives lost.

The media should put the government on the spot on this one. The media should equally put Nigerians on the spot. It is a shared humanity, no doubt but charity begins at home, they say. Nigerians did not mock Texans and did not blame their government for the massive flooding and rescue challenge; so should not mock Makurdi residents (like they did Lekki) or begin to blame government agencies over the cause of the flood. Instead, we should point to what can be done. We should get ready to help. We should concern ourselves with saving lives rather than apportioning blames. There will be time for blame, but now is the time to mobilise help for the grieving.

The attitude we show during emergencies cannot be a function of “non restructuring”. we need to recover our value system as a people. We complain a lot, where we are supposed to help a lot. Our leaders too must learn empathy, optics matter. When any part of Nigeria is grieving, all parts must grieve. It is only national leaders that can bring that about. Let us join hands to pull Makurdi from under water.

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