7 Of floods, dams and the damned

This article was written after the 2012 massive flood in Nigeria that left 300 dead and about two million Nigerians displaced. It was published on 12 October 2012 by Sahara Reporters[1]

The flooding that has ravaged parts of Nigeria in recent months has been characterised as a natural disaster. We do not agree with this assessment. Our summation is that the disaster is manmade and must be recognised as such.

The floods are primarily a result of very poor management of the dams in both Nigeria and Cameroon. If we agree with this position, it should also be agreed that the prescription of more dams would mostly be to open up space for enterprises whose business is the building of dams or the production of materials, like cement, used in building dams. More dams will simply mean more trouble. Dams are not the solution to the flooding we are seeing in Nigeria today. They caused it.

How do we reach this conclusion? The dams that are most culpable in this disaster are the Lagdo dam in Northern Cameroon and the Kainji dam in Nigeria. Although there is no definitive information about when water was released from Kainji and possibly other dams in Nigeria, it is believed that some of the floodwaters have come from these sources.

The warning about the impending release of water from the Cameroonian authorities may have come rather late, but it at least offered some people a chance to relocate or take some of their properties out of the path of destruction.On the Nigerian side, there was no warning and all the blame keeps being studiously heaped on the Lagdo Dam. However, it is clear that the water from the Lagdo Dam would first impact River Benue and then the water would join up with the River Niger at the confluence town of Lokoja.The flooding reported in Kwara State, for example, cannot be attributed to the release of water from the Lagdo Dam. We do not need to deploy some sleuths to identity the culprit / collaborator: Nigerian dams.

One big failure of the relevant agencies of the Nigerian government in handling this disaster, which the president says has displaced 25 percent of the Nigerian population, is that they failed to warn downstream communities that the floodwaters were headed to the Atlantic Ocean and would sweep over everything in their path. It is truly mind-boggling that this could not have been known. It is unacceptable that the flooding of Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and other states could not have been foreseen and the people warned before the deluge swept in.

The River Niger runs from Guinea, through Mali, Niger and Nigeria before discharging its waters into the Atlantic Ocean.The Kainji dam, built in 1968, has a capacity of 15 billion cubic meters covering an area of 1270 sq kilometres. Much of its waters arrive at the dam in July and in December each year. As with other dams, Kainji dam has inbuilt discharge sluices. In addition, the dam was built with some draining channels to help regulate the volume of water preventing it reaching disastrous levels.

According to a source quoted by Sunday Trust, ‘the excess water discharged from this dam account for over 80 per cent of the flood being experienced today at the lower River Niger. The blockage of the natural channel is making the situation critical. There is nothing we can do to control the situation. In fact, should the dam receive any additional water within this rainy season, worse disaster will be recorded. The pressure on the dam is at its peak now. Anything could happen.’[2]

The report further notes that the natural drainage channels have been blocked for five years now and no action has been taken by the Ministry of Power to reopen them. If this is true, we can see that this is an additional cause of the flooding being experienced. The drainage provisions in the dam are meant to help control the level of water in the dam during the peak inflow periods. Where the channels are not in service the waters simply keep accumulating and the end result could be a collapse of the dam.

What must be done to avert further disasters and to avoid compounding the current one? Besides all possible lines of action, there is the primary need for government to recognise climate change as an urgent justice/security issue.What we are witnessing now is a foretaste of what would happen when unusual rains and other weather events kick in more forcefully.

Multi-agencies and stakeholders’ actions are needed to curtail or avoid the sort of impacts of flooding we are seeing. While the Ministry of Works should ensure the building of resilient shoreline infrastructure, for example, it is essential for the Ministry of Environment to urgently facilitate the setting up of climate crises committees in coastal communities. These committees would harness community resources towards adaptive actions and also provide guidelines as to where buildings and sewage infrastructure may be constructed. These planning regulation duties would help inculcate in the people a sense of disaster preparedness while building more resilient communities.

A cursory look at many buildings in the flood prone areas shows that the ground floor level of the buildings is either at the same level as the adjoining roads or even below them. Such buildings are extremely flood prone in normal circumstances and stand no chance at all when the water levels rise to the rooftop levels we now see. The method and materials used in building construction also give an indication as to what the owners of such buildings would expect to see when the floodwaters ebb.

The issue of elevation of building floors also pertains to the elevation of roads. Large sections of the new lane of the East West Highway are far below the level of the existing lane. Thus as the flood waters arrived, the sand filled but the yet-to-be-paved areas were quickly washed away.

We recommend that all dams in and around the nation must be reviewed for structural integrity as well as for adequacy of maintenance routines. If the floods are caused by inadequacy of the number of dams, then the new dams should be upstream of the current ones. That would conceivably place those new dams outside the borders of Nigeria. Thus new dams are not the solution to this deluge.

The engineering corps of the Nigerian military should be drafted into emergency restoration of damaged infrastructure. They should also be empowered to urgently commence preparations for post flood restoration interventions. The Nigerian architects, engineers and builders should step in at this time to provide voluntary services just as the medical professionals are doing.

In conclusion we reiterate that this flooding is a man-made disaster and creating more incentives for future disasters is not acceptable. We also repeat that the management of the dams is the major culprit. In addition, climate change is a real partner. Both are man-made, cannot be taken as so-called acts of God and must be appropriately addressed. Otherwise we would literally make our people the damned.


  1. http://saharareporters.com/article/floods-dams-and-damned-nnimmo-bassey (accessed 29 May 2016)
  2. Theophilus Abbah, et al. October 7, 2012. Danger Looms at Kainji Dam. Sunday Trust newspaper, Abuja. http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/sunday/index.php/top-stories/11859-danger-looms-at-kainji-damaccessed 29 May 2016

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