Director-General, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, Mr Clement Nze, in this interview with EVEREST AMAEFULE, calls for more dams for adequate power supply, irrigation and flood control, among others
Very soon, your agency will be given predictions of how the year is going to be in terms of flooding. Why is Nigeria so prone to flooding? Is it nature or is it the result of human activities?
We intend to go public around April (before the onset of flooding) to alert the nation as to the level of flooding to expect in 2019. So we are already at the works to come up with the details. Usually, rainy season starts around March especially in the southern part of Nigeria. In the northern parts of the country, it is within the JAS months – July, August, and September.
As to why flooding has become incessant in Nigeria, it is partly nature and partly as a result of human activity – what we call anthropogenic activities of man.
Nigeria is precariously located downstream of all the rivers in nine countries. There are two major trans-boundary rivers that enter Nigeria. We have River Niger. It takes its course from the Fouta Djallon highlands in Guinea. From Guinea, it collects whatever water from other rivers.
It moves down to Mali, it picks whatever is in Mali in terms of rivers. From Mali it comes to Niger; from Niger it picks from rivers in Niger and the ones that are coming from Burkina Faso and enter into River Niger. The ones from Cote d’voire also enter into River Niger. It comes to Republic of Benin and then enters into Nigeria, somewhere in Kebbi State.
So, you can see the flow of rivers and the countries that are involved. It is a kind of basin. That is on the side of River Niger.
For the Benue from Cameroon coming down, there are so many rivers it collects from there as it moves into River Benue and the ones that are coming from Chad enter into River Benue and they all converge in Lokoja. From Lokoja, it begins to move down to Edo, Delta, Anambra, Bayelsa.
Now, this is nature. So, Nigeria is precariously located. If there is flooding in these countries, Nigeria must experience it. This is January. As we are talking today, we are expecting flood in Nigeria on the River Niger axis – what we call black flood.
We have black flood and white flood. White flood occurs July, August and September. Black flood occurs sometime from late December to January, February in Nigeria because this is the time that that the rainfall that had taken place at the upper catchment of river Niger is migrating to Nigeria.
It can only be seen by the operators of Kainji and Jebba dams. They see the reservoir rising in February or January when there is no rainfall in Nigeria. In our agency, we see it as coming from Niger and Republic of Benin. We alert the operators of Kainji to be expecting flood on so, so date.
That is what I meant by nature. The other aspect of it is man-made – anthropogenic activities.
What I had described to you is what is called river flooding. The other type is what is called flash flood. It happens in urban cities. It can come unannounced but that of river flood; you can predict it as you see the propagation as it is moving.
The flash flood occurs as the one that happened in Katsina last year; between two hours, by 11pm on 15th July (Sunday) and 1am on Monday 16th July, it had dried up. It was flash flood but it left on its trail devastation that would take about N13bn to rectify what happened. It happens because places had been built up, blockages here and there. People had put up their structures within the natural flood plain.
It also happened in Abeokuta on the 13th of same July last year between 4pm and 7pm – short period. That one, the devastation was quite enormous – more than what happened in Katsina. It happened in Anambra, in Obosi. In Kano also, several locations were devastated. Flash flood happens in urban cities mainly.
How has your agency been contending with both the flash and river flooding?
Our own approach to contending with these floods is more or less a software; software in the sense that we don’t go to construct physical structures in order to prevent or direct the movement of flood. We see it coming through the scientific approach and we send out alert ahead of time.
So, our agency has been living up to its billing by being proactive in the dissemination of information. Unfortunately, many state governments don’t take it seriously no matter what you tell them. I had an ugly experience in one of the states. I told the chairman of the state emergency agency that we wanted to come, he said we shouldn’t come.
When we do the predictions globally, the agency goes to the grassroots as much as it can where we ask to have interface with the local government areas, so that we can inform them what of what is ahead.
We inform the National Emergency Management Agency that has the muscle financially to do the needful so that they can stockpile materials in case what we predict come to pass. NEMA invites stakeholders to meetings on their own.
Last year, it was based on NIHSA predictions that NEMA had to declare national disaster in Lokoja on September 17. The Vice- President was there to declare that nine states that were contiguous to Rivers Niger and Benue were in national disaster. So, this is what we do. We inform them ahead of time.
There seems to be conflict between your agency and the Nigeria Metrological Services. There seems to be some conflicting mandates.
There is no conflict in the mandates of NIMET and NIHSA. NIMET is among other functions, saddled with atmospheric issues – precipitation, rainfall – it comes from up. NIMET’s function is to predict it.
On the 24th of this month, NIMET will go public to inform Nigerians and the international community – this is the date rainfall will start in so, so ad so city of Nigeria. That is the onset of rainfall. It will also predict when rainfall will cease. They will tell you the amount of rainfall. They will tell you the temperature. They predict all those atmospheric issues.
When they are doing the predictions, they will normally invite stakeholders. That is where it stops. However, our agency’s mandate has to do with surface and groundwater of Nigeria. We monitor all the rivers in Nigeria and these two trans-boundary rivers.
The River Niger is about 4200 kilometres from Fouta Djallon highlands in Guinea to the Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria. We monitor it. It doesn’t have anything to do with NIMET. So, the groundwater of Nigeria, where it occurs and the issue of saline water are our responsibilities. There is no conflict. We collaborate.
It appears that your agency does not have both the financial and human capacity to tackle the issue of flooding in the country?
I think the times we are in is not an easy one for the country to be able to meet the demands of each of the sectors in terms of funding as may be required. In this wise, the Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency is not immune to the issue of inadequate funding to tackle or prosecute its mandate and activities but with the resources that we have, the agency is doing its best.
In the aspect of manpower, the agency is doing its best and we should give kudos to the government because recently, the agency was able to recruit over 100 people. So, more manpower has been added to the agency to be able to carry on its mandate successfully. So, the issue of funding is there and as Oliver Twist, we will always ask for more to be able to have more spread.
One of the things that your agency advocates for tackling flood is the building of dams. There has been a report of so many dams that had been built and they are not in use. How do you justify the call for more dams in the light of this?
As of today, Nigeria does not have maybe more than 200 dams. About 50 or 56 are what we call large dams. Large dams are those that have heights of 15 metres and above. The ones that are below that height are called small dams. So, Nigeria does not have much dams going by Nigeria’s geographical size. Canada has 933 large dams. Maybe, you can compare the population and size with Canada. India, you will say is a large country, has over 23,000 large dams.
With what is happening around River Benue axis, Nigeria does not have any dam on River Benue. River Benue flows so fast. The gradient is so steep that whatever is happening in the upper catchment like Cameroon which we have no control, we are at the mercy of Cameroon, so to say because they will release their dam when it becomes so overwhelmed with the amount of water they have there and it will be gravity – under free flow – down to Nigeria.
In 2012, they informed Nigeria that their dam was getting filled – that they would be releasing water at so, so date. They gave us the date they would release water. Before that date came, the dam was overwhelmed. Three days to the date they gave to Nigeria, they had to open their gate. That was why we had such devastation in Nigeria because there is no single dam in Nigeria on River Benue to control the flood that was coming from that axis.
Nigeria was to have built what was to be called Dause Hausa Dam in a village called Dause Hausa in Adamawa State. Cameroon built their own on River Benue between 1977 and 1982. They advised Nigeria to build their own. Nigeria started designs and so on but we could not eventually build the dam.
The one that Nigeria proposed to build was twice the capacity of the one built by Cameroon. The reason is that even if Cameroon’s dam collapses (the worse scenario), Nigeria’s own will capture everything. But now, if they do ordinary operational release activity; it will result in flooding in Nigeria.
So that is why, no matter what people say, the solution remains having more dams in Nigeria for flood control, for irrigation, for power supply, for recreational activities. There are so many tributaries of River Benue within the Nigerian section – in Adamawa and Taraba – that if you build small dams there, you will reduce what is entering River Benue.
So, what you are still saying is that we need more dams?
Yes, we need more dams especially in these rivers.
You have not explained why we have so many dams that are not in use. The Ministry of Agriculture had given a list of so many dams that are not operational.
Currently, there is a programme of the Ministry of Water Resources – what is called TIMIN project. TIMIN stands for Transforming Irrigation Management in Nigeria. It is a World Bank -funded project of about $500m.
The aim of that project (it has gone far in implementation) is to see the extent of dams we have especially in the North-West and part of the North-East are put to proper use – to revamp these dams and expand the hectares for irrigation and agriculture. Eight large dams are involved.
Now, the ministry has been advocating that governments work in partnership with Federal Ministry of Water Resources to see that bodies of waters rested behind the dams are not left there lying low. There is a collaboration that needs to exist between the state governments and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources.
The issues about water resources in Nigeria are vested in the hands of the Minister of Water Resources. And there is a current bill before the National Assembly. This will address most of these issues about the non-utilisation of the water we have in our dams. If that bill is passed and signed into law, it will address so many challenges we are facing in the sector – having dams with water not being utilised as it ought to be.
Why are most these dams located in the northern part of the country?
I will approach that from two perspectives. In the northern part of the country, there is barely three months or four months of rains in a year. Therefore, you need the dams to impound water to enable you do year-round irrigated agriculture.
It is not so in the southern part of the country. In fact someone told me (either from Bayelsa or so); he said they have two seasons in Bayelsa or Brass – wet season and rainy season. This means that all-year round, they have water. Their land is wet which can promote agriculture. It is not so in the northern part of Nigeria. That is on one side. There is limited rainy season in the north compared to the south.
In 2016, I was in Owerri in a programme with the ministry under the auspices of the Niger Basin Authority; a similar question came up – why don’t we have many dams in the South? If you go to Tiga Dam in Kano, the space occupied by the dam is far more than Wuse and Garki.
The land it will occupy can be more than 100 kilometres – that is the command area. If a dam is here, it might take up to Airport Road. If it is impounding water, it can move to as far as Keffi. That is the command area.
You see that the southern part is choked in terms of land to be able to support this kind of dam I have mentioned. But there are small dams that are being proposed. Some are already built in the south but cannot be as gigantic as the ones in the north because of the large expanse of land required.
What is the outlook for 2019 like?
I don’t have answer for that. One, NIMET has not told us what to expect in terms of rainfall. Until they tell us and we put other things together; we will not be able to give you an answer. It is not magical.
Extracted from Punch NewsPaper Online
27 January, 2019