Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu, spoke to GBENGA AKINFENWA, on the impact of the current flood in the state, the threat to food security and solution to the perennial natural disaster.
The recent flood has dealt a deadly blow on Kebbi State, especially in the area of food production. In what way will this affect your policy on agriculture?
I think we all have to appreciate the fact that whatever human endeavour we are into, a season can disappoint, something can happen. Some places in the country are witnessing drought; regrettably, we are witnessing an abundance of water. Its effect on our agric policy is to appreciate that farming can come under challenge; animal husbandry or fishing can come under challenge, temporarily. There can be a temporary setback like drought; so, we need to work with our farmers and those in the animal husbandry and fishing, as if they are running companies.
Once a season disappoints, we help them. We encourage them to insure first, where it overwhelms insurance, we all come and support them. For example, most of the farmers today, what they need solely in addition to the immediate water and food to eat, is seedlings and fertilisers so that they can plan with the dry season. Nigeria is blessed and across the country, dry season farming can take place.
As devastating as it is, the resilience of our people must be appreciated. I am sure that when you go round, you will see people handling disasters with smiles on their faces. You will see people holding their chickens in their hands, but are not complaining rather are appreciative.
So, we have to help them grow again, those in the animal husbandry who lost their property we have to support them and those who lost their fishing grounds, those whose life is otherwise disrupted; somebody who has borrowed money to buy a boat for moving people, today his life is disrupted. But we understand that, yes this is a setback but we should help them to bounce back.
It is linked to climate change, it can happen again, but just like companies go down and they are supported, economic activity in agriculture value chain can also be faced with systematic risk or unforeseen disaster, but we also need to, as a people, work with them, and it’s a necessary ingredient of our agricultural policies. It happens elsewhere, and those are the mechanisms that are used to compensate them.
Flooding is an international issue, and in deed, it is. One of the sources of this flooding is the River Niger, which we share with four countries, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.
Nigeria, starting from Kebbi, Niger, Kogi, Anambra, Edo, Rivers, all share the challenge of water coming downstream from as far as Guinea. So, describing it as an international issue is quiet understanding, and it’s really necessary for us to understand.
Secondly, in Kebbi, we also have water coming from the North, Goronyo Dam in Sokoto, and a little bit further, Bakalori Dam in Zamfara from where it comes to Kebbi that has a flood plain of about 300 kilometres, which is the River Rima flood plain, the rice producing plain. And we have River Zamfara also pumping water from other parts of the state. So, first is to establish that, flooding is not a state problem. It can affect state, but all of us in Nigeria should realise that we are dealing with a national challenge affecting many states and certainly affecting everyone.
In Kebbi, because of the length of the FADAMA plain, the rice producing belt, the north to south where the River Rima joins River Niger is about 312km, and on both sides of it are rice with other crops, and all of it is flooded.
Then, for River Niger, we have flood plains also from Dolekaina, where it starts in Kebbi to Kanji Lake, is over 250km. Again, both sides have rivers and other places that are not on this river banks such as Jega and Alero that are taking water from river Zamfara are also affected. Crops, animal lives are lost, fishing grounds are destroyed, homes and infrastructure are damaged.
So, in terms of food production, it’s significant. But like I said, it’s not only Kebbi, as it is now finishing Kebbi and going into Niger State. Niger State will be under water; it’s already under water. And then, when it finishes in Niger, it would move down to some parts of Kwara, Kogi, and it’s going to the Niger/Delta. So, this is a big one. This level of water has not been seen since 2012, that is what distinguishes it from 2018 flooding.
Fortunately again, flooding are things that we pray for sometimes, because, about two months ago, we were in churches and mosques praying for rain. And now, rain has come, we can’t but thank God as a nation. What is important is to mobilise, support one another, whether in the communities, across states or whether as a nation. Just like we are trying to draw attention to it, so that we can deal with it. But to even know that there is this scale of challenge, so that we support in different ways.
It’s a human story. You will see people by the roadside determining what their household needs to save. Is it my harvest? Is it my children? Is it my poultry? It’s an emotional story and it’s happening across the country.
What will be the impact of this on the country, especially as it affects rice production in the state?
Tragedies are parts of life, especially when nature is at work, which occasionally it does. But it’s more of how you respond to it that is important. No doubt, about the devastating lost of crops, but the dry seasons starts in a month, so, to mobilise, to work and ensure that all those areas is planted again is what we are looking for support from everyone to ensure that we are able to do it.
And not just in Kebbi, tomorrow, it could be Niger State, it could be Anambra, Imo, Edo, Rivers or Delta, and these are all along River Niger. And then, we have the River Benue; it could be Adamawa, Benue, Kogi and others that are not along these major rivers. Jigawa is already on that water, parts of Borno, Osun, and Ondo. But what should be a deliberate and conscious efforts is what do we do, rather than lamenting over the losses.
The question now should be how do we ensure that we don’t miss the planting season? How do we start keeping various animals? How do we help fishing grounds that are lost? These are all important. These are all elements of our agriculture.
Recognition is important, dealing with it is important. We have some experience. It’s not novel to us. Even in 2018, there was flooding that affected 14 states, the Federal Government intervened with N23b, seedlings and fertilisers input. Certainly this scale is going to be bigger, but I believe with the right sensitisation, many of us can support one another to ensure that its effect is minimal.
If you were to put a figure to what has been destroyed, what would that be?
Sometimes, many people close to me and some that are not often wonder whether I am being shy in talking about my circumstance, because the first responsibility of a leader is to give hope, more than lament.
Sometimes, I shy away from talking about scale of disaster because it’s like you are competing for resources. We are not competing for resources; we want these disasters to be understood for what they are. It is not about Kebbi, we are really dealing with disaster.
Valuation is always a funny subjective term. If I am to value a loss, should I compute the value of seed the farmer plant, or the output that is expected from that crop? We are not drawing attention that we have lost and we are competing with other states in terms of seeking support, but I am mentioning that we are seeking partnership that can help us compensate for the loss.
If I am to put numbers, it is certainly going to be a huge number, and it will be demoralising.
We are not exaggerating when we said we are dealing with at least 600km of crops plains that has been washed. There is no one stretch left. It’s not that there were stretches that were not planted. Along all those riverbanks, there are villages, communities, today; all of them are leaving those communities.
And it’s the same thing with damage to infrastructures. We have significant damage to infrastructure, but we are cognizant of the challenge facing our nation.
We are not putting it on anybody. Hence, what do we do? First, let’s see how much we can mobilise; secondly, maybe we can even challenge our assumption about our economy. Nigeria’s economy is small, and a small economy will disappoint everyone.
We are country of about 200 million people. Our general budget is under $30b. The highest it has been, maybe $33b under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2013. And the budget performance that year is less than 50 per cent.
Brazil, another country of 200 million has a budget of $659b, with budget performance in excess of 90 per cent. So, obviously, the Nigerian President, no matter how kind or nationalistic he is, is constrained by the resources. What do we do in this circumstance?
Maybe that is why we should examine our notions about we not imputing enough of the resource limitations. We just assume that resources are been wasted, rather than its none availability.
We don’t want to borrow; we are almost socialistic about it. We think we are over borrowing, which I don’t believe we are. Do we have confidence in the future? Because if you have confidence in the future, then you can borrow to invest today, but if you have no confidence in the future, then you cannot, because it is designed to fail and die, and destroy our younger ones.
So, these are the fundamental issues disasters like this bring. Why are we having the lowest debt to GDP ratio, than other countries? Why will Japan be having a debt to GDP ratio of over 229 per cent, and we at less than 30 per cent.
If you give me $1b loan, I know what to do with it in Kebbi. It would probably mitigate flooding, and that means I can pay in long term. I might lose some of it, but that’s life but I will pay just like other countries have done.
So, I think that is where we really need to focus more on other than the short term failing or somebody is not doing enough. This thing requires massive resources; our riverine areas have been dealing with this for a long time in different ways.
What are the immediate needs of the affected communities and are the long time solutions to this flooding because we understand that Kebbi State is always experiencing flood problems
The immediate need is collective appreciation. I can as well sit here and just talk on behalf of Kebbi, but let our humanity come into play. Challenge is happening across Nigeria. There are people across the country today where fresh water is the biggest commodity you can give them.
Because what happens always with flood is that, there are dead bodies, carcasses of animals, toilets are all washed into the floodwater. So, sometimes, heating the water does not majorly work.
So, the first thing in flood support is that there has to be drinking water from day one. We have to be there within the minute, state emergency services, philanthropic organisations, all of us and individuals should be there as first responders.
Secondly, when somebody loses his home to flood, you know that there is no cooking facility. Even if you give him dry food, there is no place to cook it. Again, I think we need to understand as a nation that food support is essential, particularly, for nearby communities. Let every organisation that supports and all of us provide food that can be eaten, cooked food to the victims. Then shelter. Luckily, we have shelters like in primary schools, secondary, churches and mosques, but the immediate issue, in moving people there is to ensure that there are toilet facilities. Sometimes, we just felt moving to a primary or secondary schools without assessing the hygiene of the place.
These are the things that will compound the challenge, because people will fall ill and sick, and then, the day after, you begin to plan for how to assess whether some of the flooded areas can be returned to, or you need to relocate people on the permanent basis. All these things have to be hand in hand.
In terms of what do we need to do in a long term, flooding happens everywhere, place like Netherland would have been flooded into extinction, but even very rich countries like the United States, Pakistan etc, it’s also a challenge, and we need vast amount of money as a country to solve it. It’s not a localised issue.
You can’t solve flooding in Kebbi alone. So, as a nation, you have to think about National Drainage Architecture, because we have the lake Chad region, we have the Sokoto Basin, we have the Atlantic East and Atlantic West.
These are all drainage systems that we need a national plan, and it cost a lot of money. Water is needed somewhere, we are not very rich in water in Nigeria. Particularly when you look at the cost.
Looking at it systematically, and comprehensively, though expensive, will enable us put a national plan in place that would begin to get implemented. That might involve dredging, that might involve creation of more artificial storage, and it might involve diverting the water to other places Lake Chad that is losing its water.
It’s going to cost billions of dollars, and we have to be patient, work together, and appreciate that water is one of the biggest human endowment and blessings, that management, organising it and taking advantage of it by reducing the consequence of its activity cost a lot of money, and it’s money well spent.
Lake rice has practically disappeared in Lagos, what has happened to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) Kebbi State signed with the Lagos State government?
We have always said, when we entered into partnership with Lagos, we did not intend the two states to be selling rice, we did it do demonstrate that Nigerians produce good rice. To provide a platform where people would move it to the highest standard so Nigerians would recognise the potential we have, and have a great mindset about made in Nigeria rice.
We have achieved that objective, now across the nation, there is believe and confidence in Nigerian rice, whether it is from Abakaliki, Ogoni, Kebbi, Jigawa, Taraba, and across the country. That’s our first objective in that MoU.
But it hasn’t disappeared; it’s just that we haven’t grown it to replace the market. But there is mill that has been constructed at Imota, courtesy of the Lake rice partnership, that is supposed to continue to support believe in the “Nigeria Can Do It Project,” because essentially, that is what the partnership is all about.