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40-Year-Old Disaster: Cameroon Dam Floods Nigeria Yet Again

Note: article was originally published on October 13, 2022

The release of excess water from Lagdo Dam in the Republic of Cameroon has once again caused devastating floods for inhabitants of its neighbouring country, Nigeria. The dam overflow coupled with the torrential rainfalls Nigeria is currently experiencing have left a dreadful impact on Nigerian citizens.

The floods have claimed the lives, homes and possessions of Nigerians in the northern and Niger-Delta states. Local Nigerian press report that the floods have displaced over 100,000 Nigerians, killed 300 and affected more than half a million in recent times. In Lokoja alone, 50,000 inhabitants have been displaced and 3 have died. Lives and livelihoods have gone on pause as businesses have closed and students have been forced to stay out of school.

Mustapha Ahmed, the Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), shared that the Lagdo Dam operators started releasing the excess water on 13th September. The water then moves through River Benue and its tributaries, overflowing to the surrounding communities.

Worse still, overflow from Nigeria’s own dams started last month and are expected to last till October ending.  “According to NIHSA (Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency), Kainji and Jebba dams have already started spilling excess water from their reservoirs. This will have serious consequences on frontline states and communities along the courses of rivers Niger and Benue,” shared Ahmed at an emergency technical meeting in Abuja on 19th September.

The affected states include Kogi, Benue, Niger, Adamawa, Taraba, Plateau, Anambra, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Cross River and so on.

This issue has been recurring since the dam was built in 1982, subsiding and then coming back with full force every few years. What’s worse? The Nigerian government has yet to seek solutions to put a stop to the flooding once and for all.

In this year’s episode, the floods have submerged homes, places of worship and business, farms and produce worth millions of naira, and animals, amongst other things. Lokoja city in Kogi State has seen the worst of the floods as it is the site where the Rivers Niger and Benue meet .

Roads have turned to expansive ‘rivers’ as residents have only been able to move themselves and their properties using canoes and boats. Devastatingly, some have had nowhere to relocate to and been forced to remain in their flooded houses.

Floods in Benue State, dubbed the ‘food basket of the nation’, have resulted in a looming food security disaster as at least 100,000 hectares of land have been wiped away.

Nigeria-based private commodities exchange AFEX estimates flooding, combined with some other factors, will cut maize and rice output by 12% and 21%, respectively. This will only compound Nigeria’s record high inflation of 23.12%. David Ibidapo, AFEX’s head of market data and research, dubbed the flood the worst the nation had experienced in the last decade, making reference to the similarly devastating 2012 floods. However, some have said this flood is tenfold worse.

Several pleas made to the government have largely gone unattended to, though, there has been some intervention.

The deputy national publicity secretary of the APC – the current ruling party – has donated N10 million ($22,960) to flood victims at Ibaji local government area in Kogi State.

Kogi State government has started working on select areas for Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps, where those who have lost their homes can stay temporarily. As of 27th September, a source informed PM News that about 50 rooms had been prepared for 10,000 victims at schools in the area.

Similar solutions have been provided in some other affected states, however, the Bayelsa State government has gone the extra mile by building flood barriers in some areas. Moses Teibowei, the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, has said the barriers will be replicated or improved on throughout the state after assessing the effectiveness of the already set-up barriers.

Some experts have also suggested the dredging of River Niger to increase its capacity.

Nonetheless, affected persons have called on the government to seek more permanent solutions and tackle the issue from the root.

A resident of Anambra State, Peter Okala lamented, “I swim to and from my house on daily basis with my family. This is not an ideal situation for the people. Unless a permanent solution is put in place, the residents will continue to suffer this every year.”

Anambra State Governor Chukwuma Charles Soludo has asked the Federal Government (FG) to dialogue with Cameroon on how to proffer a permanent solution. Soludo also suggested the FG construct dams or diversionary channels to mitigate the floods.

Back to the Beginning: A Solution Abandoned.

Since the Lagdo dam was built in 1982, nearby Nigerian communities have suffered for it. The dam is located in Cameroon’s Lagdo town, on the Adamawa Plateau which stretches from south-eastern Nigeria through north-central Cameroon to the Central African Republic. The Plateau is the source of the River Benue which courses through several north-eastern Nigerian states.

Every year when the water is released from the reservoir, it results in flooding in Nigerian states within the River Benue’s drainage basin. Sometimes, the flooding is exacerbated by adverse weather conditions in the region.

In 1980, both nations came to an agreement concerning the dam, which entailed the Nigerian government builiding its own dam along the course of the river to contain the overflow upstream from Lagdo Dam. This would help avert flooding and the resultant damage.

In 1981, a buffer dam, dubbed the ‘Dasin Hausa Dam’, was designed to not only cushion the impact of Lagdo Dam, but also to generate at least 300MW of electricity and irrigate about 150,000 hectares of land. This dam was would also provide jobs for thousands of people in Fufore Local Government Area, Adamawa State.

Unfortunately, the project never saw the light of day. It was completely discarded by the government, causing needless destruction of property and loss of lives over the course of four decades.

In 2012, the Dasin Hausa Dam idea was resurrected following the ravaging floods which claimed 363 lives, thousands of homes, business places and farmlands. The Cameroonian government insisted that they would continue to release excess water from the dam, otherwise the pressure would cause the dam to explode, which would be even more catastrophic.

Thus, the Nigerian Ministry of Water Resources devised to finally see the project through. Dr Emmanuel Adanu, the then Director of Dams at the ministry said the size of the Dasin Hausa dam designed in 1980 would take 36 months to finish.

Adanu admitted that the flooding was caused by the government’s inability to provide a means to contain the overflow from Lagdo Dam. He also explained that the Cameroonian government would always alert the Nigerian authorities whenever they wanted to release water from the dam, so they could evacuate people from vulnerable areas.

Adanu asserted that the fault was not with the Cameroonian government, saying, “They released water in a large amount to ensure that the dam remains in one piece. It was not like they were not professionally behaved; they knew exactly the danger. It is our own responsibility to contain the water.”

The project was estimated to cost the Federal Government about 17 billion naira as of 2012.

The then President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan – who hails from Bayelsa State, one of the affected states – promised that his administration would see the project through when he visited the site in 2012. However, 3 years later, when he handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari, no significant progress had been made on the project.

In Buhari’s administration, no mention of completing the project has been made. The only hope is that the coming administration in 2023 will put an end to the needless suffering of thousands of Nigerians year after year.

Sources: Sun News, Vanguard, Enviro News Nigeria.

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