Flood Of Tears For Benue Farmers, Others


Victims of the recent flood in Benue State are still trying to come to terms with their situation. JOHNSON BABAJIDE writes that the losses are not quantifiable and may take time to be recovered, despite promises of help from different quarters.

HEAPS of damaged properties are now common sight in major parts of Makurdi in Benue State as the recent flood has left many farmers regretting either going into farming, or for taking loans to embark on mechanised farming. Worrisome is the warning that more rains should be expected, not only in the state, but also nationwide.

Three weeks after the torrential rains that lasted seven days across Benue State, and which rendered many homeless, the unfortunate victims of the natural disaster are still counting their losses.

The state governor, Samuel Ortom, who had, in the midst of the incessant rainfall, raised the alarm of impending food scarcity in the country, going by the devastation caused by the flood on farmlands in 21 out of the 23 local government areas of the state, was also not spared. Ortom, who is one of the biggest farmers in the state, lost over 5,000 hectares of rice and yam farms to the flood at his country home in Guma Local Government Area.

Aside hundreds of homes in some communities that were submerged by the flood, the aftermath of the downpour has shown that farmers in the state are the worst hit. About 10,000 farmers had their crops washed away, translating to almost 300,000 hectares of farm lands that were completely submerged and damaged.

The state chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria, (AFAN), Mr Aondoana Hembe, who spoke with Sunday Tribune, revealed that rice, maize, yam and soya beans farmers, who are mostly into mechanised farming, are still counting their losses as the rain is yet to subside.

According to him, AFAN has just completed compiling the names of its members who were affected by the flood. “The devastating effect is unimaginable because it affected 21 local government areas of the state,” he affirmed, expatiating further that “over 90,000 farmers were affected, as their crops were completely buried in the water.

“You know Benue is one of the six largest producers of rice in the country. We also have comparative advantage in soya beans, sesame seed and yam production, but unfortunately, this advantage has been washed away as some of these crops were totally submerged and destroyed by the flood.”

After computing the losses of the farmers, he declared that crops worth over four billion Naira were washed away by flood from the farms. According to him, most of the affected farmers, including Governor Ortom, were mechanised farmers, who had taken loans from banks to invest in agriculture.

Although, the Executive Secretary, Benue State Emergency Management Agency, Mr Boniface Otese, confirmed to Sunday Tribune that the governor lost several hectares of farmland where he cultivated rice and yam to the flood, he said the cost of the loss suffered by the governor was yet to be fully ascertained as of the press time. But the hectares of farmland lost by Ortom to the flood, according to him are “in thousands, but we have just sent a team to assess the situation,” he said.

Just as the association continues to bemoan the disaster that befell its members, other subsistent farmers are also not left out. Most of them who spoke with Sunday Tribune claimed they are still in a state of shock over their losses, and are desperately seeking for ways to cover their losses.

Sixty-year-old female farmer, Mrs Oche, in Agatu Local Government Area of the state, who had earlier suffered great loss at the hands of herdsmen, having lost her husband three years ago in one of the gruesome herdsmen clashes, burst into tears when she said she had lost huge sum of money to the flood that ravaged the area. The prolonged downpour had affected Ayele, Ocholonya, Abugbe, Oshigbudu, Okokolo, Obihu, Utugolugwu, some parts of Obagaji, Enogaje, Enumgba communities, all in Agatu council area.

“I lost my husband, a retired soldier-turned farmer, to Fulani herdsmen attack three years ago when he went to work on the farm. Now, when I am trying to get over the loss, another disaster has washed away my hope, my farmland,” Mrs Oche lamented.

«I am one of the beneficiaries of CBN anchor borrower programme to develop agriculture on a large scale. I invested the money in 16,000 hectares of rice farm and yam farms. Apart from a joint farming business with nine other beneficiaries of the loan, I was able to procure another 250 hectares of rice farm. Unfortunately, the whole farmland was submerged, while half of the jointly owned farmland was washed away,” she told Sunday Tribune.

Another farmer, Chief Bem Tiondu, disclosed that his over 800 hectares of farmland located in Buruku Local Government Area of the state was completely destroyed as River Buruku, which borders his land, overflowed its boundary and buried his rice and yam farms.

“With the receding of the flood water, the farmland is beginning to emerge. My prayer is that the flood should cease,” he said.

While farmers are counting their losses, other groups of people in the state capital are also groaning over the huge loss they incurred as a result of the flood. Many of the residents in the affected areas were seen, when Sunday Tribune visited some of the places, washing the few clothes and household items that they were able to salvage from the flood. Many of them were still trying hard to come to terms with their personal losses and how to make a quick recovery.

Mrs Naomi Ikpe, one of the victims, said that the flood found its way into her compound and by the time it receded, over 1,000 chickens in her poultry were killed. The flood also swept away all her belongings.

“The present administration in the state encourages civil servants to engage in farming. That is why every Friday of the week has been declared ‘farming day’ to allow civil servants to go to their farms. I decided to venture into poultry farming. I had almost 1,000 chickens, but in a moment, they were all swept away by the flood. You can imagine how terrible it is to lose such investment to flood,” she lamented.

She also lost laptops, handsets and her children’s school materials.

Another victim, a staff of Radio Benue, Mrs. Grace Okpe, described the disaster as unfortunate. Her house, located at Achusa, a suburb of Makurdi, was completely submerged in the flood. Some of her belongings were washed away by flood.

Forty-one-year old Tersoo Adigi, who lives at Ishaya Bakut Way in Idye Area, claimed he lost N7 million worth of property to the flood, including his credentials and those of his children.

‘“The sad part of it is that the house was the only legacy my father left to me. I had to move to an IDPs camp because I have nothing left for me and my family,’’ he lamented, saying he was not also getting much succour in the camp provided for the internally displaced persons, as he decried the inadequate food supply to the flood victims.

“Each displaced person gets food once a day,” he claimed, a development he described as inadequate.

A commissioner with the Benue State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC), Kate Ijogi, who lived at BIPC quarter Makurdi, was also affected as she lost everything in her house to the flood.

Recounting her loss, Ijogi said that her furniture, personal effects and two cars, including her official car, were buried in the water that flooded her residence. She has now abandoned her three-bedroom apartment, fearing it might eventually collapse and she wouldn’t want to be in the house when that happens.

‘’Nobody has come to my aid since this flood happened. I lost everything to the flood. Even the government that I’m part of has not given me anything. On the day that the Minister of Environment came to Makurdi to sympathise with the victims, where he also inspected some affected areas, including my area, the Deputy Governor, Benson Abounu, brought him to my apartment to assess the damage,” she explained, saying even that action has now made her neighbours who thought that she has been compensated by government to turn against her.

‘’As I’m talking to you now, I am in Abuja. I ran out of Makurdi for my dear life, because there were too many threats to my life. My neighbours are after my life because they believe that government has given me relief materials and I did not speak for them. But it is not true. The government did not give me anything. Up till now, all my vehicles are still trapped in the flooded compound,” she stated.

But for now, it is still lamentation across the state. Farmers and others who lost their investments and homes and other belongings to the flood are still counting the losses, hoping for government to come to their aid.