Blueprint senior correspondent, Uji Abdullahi Iliyasu, is one of the victims of the recent floods in Nasarawa state. In this interview with HELEN OJI, he is appealing to relevant authorities to assist him and other victims to resettle.
What was it that attracted you to this place?
By the time I was building the house by the time I parked it in 2014, there was no flooding in our neighbourhood, but I always wondered why the neighbourhood was called Oversea. My house, without the recent devastating flood, was a tourist delight. And I was working towards making it a kind of resort before the flood. Apart from the beautiful scenery the river provides, I had a beautiful garden at the back of my house where I and my visitors used to relax on weekends. If the river is coming at night, it rumbles like thunder during a storm. We became used to it. But the recent flooding was different. Even old people in town said they had never seen that before.
Why did you choose to live near a river?
You know I am a creative writer, so I get inspiration from river flows. I thought if I could not go to the Bahamas or Brazilian Beach, I would enjoy the scenery the river provides locally. I don’t regret building and living here. Even though it is painful to see many years of sweat going with the flood, I cannot question God. If I had rejected the plot nobody would have forced me to buy it. But I don’t regret building near the river, I love the water.
What is the level of damage here?
On the day of the last flood, I thought God was repeating the Biblical Noah’s flood, but here was no Noah or the Ark. Ancient buildings in Nasarawa town were destroyed as if there had been war. Old houses with brown zincs that stood for more than 200 years had been brought down. The Oversea Bridge leading to the Central Market was submerged. The bridge at Wood Deport linking Nasarawa Pilot Central School was submerged. The bridge connecting the town with Angwan Biri along Toto road was submerged and was shaking. When the information reached me from those who wanted to give me help, I thought the world was coming to an end. I went to pray and told God that if He could save humanity because of one good man, let Him save us because of the righteous among the victims. The river flooded fast. One of my neighbours and his wives and children were evacuated through the fence that leads to the next compound. They couldn’t park away earlier because the husband was doubting the power of the flood until the entrance to the house was no longer passable, so the family was trapped.
How many households were affected altogether?
I cannot quantify how many houses have been destroyed but all houses near the river have been submerged. My beautiful garden is gone, my library gone. My peripheral fence gone, the boy’s quarter gone. The main house is damaged and now uninhabitable. My backyard garden which I had earlier mentioned had Banana, mangoes, oranges, palm trees, coconut trees and medicinal herbs that benefit my neighbours. All the garden has been washed away. My once beautiful home has been washed away. Three compounds before my house have also been washed away. My media library which I have been building since I became a journalist in 2008, has been destroyed. My photocopy machine a desktop computer and other valuable effects were destroyed. It is not easy for someone who had lived in a flat to now share a single room with a wife and children in another man’s house. This is my plight.
What kind of intervention do you seek?
The state governor, Engr Abdullahi Sule, said he had ordered immediate evacuation of all houses on the fringes of the river. So, we are waiting for the government. There are two things the government or the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) can do to check the flood. The government can build two dikes along the river bank from Upper Oversea through the Pilot Central Primary School to the Abattoir, passing through the Muslim Cemetery at Mangoro Goma away from the town or assess our houses and give us compensations so that we can relocate to safer places. Though Governor Sule had provided relief materials, it is not food we need but compensation so that we relocate far from the river plains.
Has NEMA or the humanitarian ministry officials reached out to you for any succour or palliatives?
Not yet, maybe they have given reliefs to victims who are highly connected. Maybe they will not do anything. What we need is relocation. We need to be relocated. We who have seen the last flood don’t pray to see another one like it.
Going forward, what is your advice to the government?
My advice to the government is to build dikes along the river banks to check the annual river flooding. The river bank has expanded through constant flooding. If people along the river are evacuated without a dike, the solution is not yet found because the river has already developed several channels inland. That means Nasarawa will continue to move away as the river wreaks havoc yearly until only those on the hilltop will be safe. So, the best solution is for the government to erect dikes to check flooding. I am sure building dikes is cheaper than paying compensations to victims so that they can relocate. Now it is very dangerous for any family head to travel and leave his family at home because of the fear of a repeated flood.