Respite has yet to come for the distraught victims of the flooding that ravaged some parts of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, penultimate Friday, writes GBENGA ADENIJI
The anguish in Agbole Asalu compound was so thick that it could be sliced with a spiky knife. Members of the compound in the Ilawo community in Macgregor Road close to the Kobiti Central Mosque area of Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, have yet woken fully from last Friday’s nightmare.
Though they appear to still live in denial of the incident, the reality is that it was a day one of their daughters, Halirat Akintobi, and her two kids (Shuaib and Abeeden) died in the flooding that wreaked havoc on some parts of Abeokuta.
The flood affected the Abeokuta South and North Local Government Areas with residents of Iya Amolaso, Oke Lantoro, Lanfenwa, Totoro, Sokori, Ijaye, Kuto and Kobiti areas still counting their losses days after the occurrence. Many houses and vehicles were equally lost to the incident.
One of the family members, Mufutau Sobayo, said he couldn’t believe that his half-niece and her two children were no more. He recalled that he saw her a few hours before the rain started that Friday, which was followed by the attendant flooding which snuffed life out of her and her two young children.
“Does it mean I won’t see Halirat and her kids again?” he asked our correspondent sobbing profusely. Some elderly persons, who had come to commiserate with the family, quickly steadied him on a long bench in the verandah.
INKLING gathered that Halirat usually visited her mother, Morili Akintoye, at Ilawo to give her a helping her in her food business. She would then leave in the evening and return the next day. But she had no inkling of any calamity last Friday as she left her home in high spirits to go to her mother’s stall where she always prepared food for pupils in a government-owned primary school.
Sobayo, who spoke in Yoruba after his emotion became calmer, said he would continue to remember his niece for her diligence which marked one of her prized attributes.
“The rains started at 4pm; I remember correctly because I was indoors at the time. It was not the first time my half-sister, Morili, and her daughter, Halirat, would take shelter in the stall anytime it rained. It was not new. But the rain of that day was too much.
“Morili took some food to the school while Halirat stayed behind to help her. That was how they used to do it. She returned early that day before it started raining. I didn’t know that anything was wrong because everywhere was silent. It was the voice of an ijesha woman close to where her stall was that alerted me. She shouted that flood was sweeping away my half-sister and Halirat with her two children,” he said.
The sexagenarian tipper driver recalled that he ran out of the house like a deer only to behold the over 30-year-old Halirat clutching at a grass for support with a child strapped to her back as the flood menacingly pushed her towards a nearby canal.
He stated, “I hurriedly stepped at the tip of the flood which, at that instant, swept off a container close to where the stall was. That made the gushing of water to increase where she lay with her baby. Some boys in the area quickly joined me with a long iron. They stretched it close to where she was and asked her to hold it. They pulled her near them as she held tightly to the iron.
“We were able to rescue her and my half-sister even as the flood threatened to swallow us. At that point, the boys had become tired. The baby was nowhere to be found when we rescued Halirat because the flood had loosened the strap clothe from her to set the baby free. The other child was also nowhere in sight. There were wailings everywhere as people had come out of their houses to watch the scene. Halirat kept asking us for her children.”
Sobayo said it was when the rain stopped a bit that they combed the accident scene only to discover four-year-old Abeeden’s body near a metal barricade which seized it from the racing flood.
“It was a sad day for me. We searched endlessly for the other child, Shuaib, who was one and a half years old,” he said.
INKLING gathered that Halirat kept complaining of chest and back pains before she was rushed to a public hospital where family members said she died the next day.
“We have buried Halirat, but her husband came to take away Abeeden’s corpse for burial. It was the next day that we saw the body of little Shuaib on Ogun River. Our sister (Morili) is also receiving medical attention. But we are monitoring her because the incident is too much for her to bear,” another member of the Agbole Asalu compound said.
It was learnt that the late Halirat’s husband said he had accepted everything as his fate when he was informed of what happened to his two kids, telling his in-laws not to pity him because of what had befallen him.
An unidentified female family member stated, “We felt deeply touched by his words. But as he got to the road, he burst into tears, tore his clothes and started rolling on the floor. We consoled him and he headed to the hospital to visit his wife who later passed on.”
Some residents in the area told INKLING that some cars were swept away by the flood.
I saw my jeep floating on Ogun River – Victim
The loss by a travel agent and owner of a provision store, Alabi Eniola, to the flood left her gloomy when our correspondent approached her during the week.
The mother of three girls aged 16, 10 and seven, admitted that she was yet to come to terms with the situation because she was preoccupied with where to start from.
Her shop, located beside 94 Sokori Road, opposite Oba Adisa Odeleye Green Park in the Abeokuta North Local Government Area of the state, was submerged in water.
Eniola’s case was as dramatic as it was scary. She was lucky that her daughters survived the flood but not her black jeep, which the angry flood swept away into the Ogun River.
Narrating her near death experience, Eniola said she just returned to her shop with her kids from school after closure that Friday and wanted to pick something from her car for a client.
She said, “I noticed that it started raining suddenly. I decided to wait a bit not to get drenched thinking it would soon subside, but it kept increasing. Before I knew what was happening, the section where I parked the car had become flooded.
“In a twinkle of an eye, the flood shifted the car. But I couldn’t go out of the car because everywhere was flooded and I couldn’t locate the portion that was safe to tread. The jeep was floating and I started shouting that my daughters were in the shop. I was screaming and one of the people around braced the flood, ran after the vehicle and jerked one of its doors open for me to go out.”
Eniola told to our correspondent that the client in the shop with her children placed them on a long stool for safety. But as the water was nearing their necks, he broke a portion of the ceiling and lifted them one after the other where a Samaritan, who climbed the roof of the building housing the shop, took them away to a safe place.
“Where do I start from? I have lost everything. My clients’ passports, vital documents and valuable items in the shop among other things were lost to the flood. I have to start from the beginning because I have lost all to the flood,” she stated.
The chubby woman said she saw her jeep on the Ogun River two days after the incident, adding that she was optimistic that the state government would help her to retrieve it even though it could have been damaged.
Flood of pains, tears
A dweller in 94 Sokori, Mr Lekan Adelanwa, was lucky to be alive. He said he was helping other occupants to safely throw their children to a safe zone after the flood sliced a portion of the one-storey building when he fell after another part caved in.
Adelanwa, who stated that the fall was initially serious as he landed on his back in the ruins, added that a nurse in the neighbourhood treated him thereafter.
He said, “I don’t know what to do now. I am still in pains but I thank God for life. My worry is where to start from because there is nothing left for me to do. I will have to start afresh.”
Another tenant and widow, Sidikat Adebowale, has been rendered homeless by the flood. Adebowale fought hard to hold back tears as she disclosed that her children slept in different places while she always lay her head anywhere she found herself.
The mother of two girls and a boy added that she had no hope anywhere having lost her home and belongings to the disaster. “I need help. I don’t know what to do now. I will be grateful if anyone can help me to survive this situation,” she stated.
Also, a family member, who lives in the building, Adetunde Adebowale, popularly called Allah De in the area, said he was at a meeting in Ota when he got a distress call that flood had taken over the building.
The cloth designer explained that he kept calling some of the people around as he left Ota for Abeokuta. Allah De added, “I also called a friend to help me contact the state fire service. But before they could arrive, some Good Samaritans had got some of the occupants out. It is a family house. There was no casualty except one person (Adelanwa) who was injured. But he is okay now. Many things were lost. We had same experience in 2007 but it was not as intense as this.”
A trader, Mrs. Adijat Kadejo, whose family house on 42 Macgregor Road had been claimed by the violent flood, is in the same condition with Sidikat Adebowale.
Kadejo, her daughter and other occupants of the building, escaped death by a whisker. She said it was the intervention of some people who threw a rope which they clutched at that saved them from the flood. The building was near a canal and a sizeable part of it had been consumed by the deadly flood.
The woman told our correspondent that her daughter and her child, including herself, currently slept at different locations as the flood had rendered them homeless.
Kadejo added, “It usually rained heavily in the area but the rain of last Friday was worse. It was as if I have never seen such a rain before in my life. We now live like a fugitive in our state. I started living in the house in 2001. I think it was built in 1975.”
On Adebowale Street, Ori Omi, Sokori, Abeokuta, the fence of a house near a gully was destroyed by the flood. The improvised shop of a food vendor identified only as Blessing was also shattered to smithereens. As of the time our correspondent visited the area on Wednesday, Blessing erected a canopy shielding white plastic chairs for her customers.
A resident, who gave her name only as Mrs. Paul, told INKLING that the flood overflowed the drains on the road and spilled into neighbouring houses, including theirs. The woman, busy with house chores and placing wet clothing on a clothes line within a church premises, ‘revelation of the word ministries aka rescue centre,’ when INKLING visited, answered in the affirmative when asked if the flood watered the clothes.
Paul added, “I was in the room relaxing when we heard people outside saying water had run over the drains. Some residents entered the flood to create a channel for the water but it massively spilled over to nearby houses.”
A resident in the area, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a mechanic, who worked at Ori Omi, lost his working tools and a customer’s car to the flood.
Residents ignored our warning –NEMA
But the National Emergency Management Agency claimed that residents of the affected areas ignored its awareness campaigns regarding the flooding.
NEMA’s Public Information Officer, South-West zone, Ibrahim Farinloye, said the suspected cause of the incident, aside from the heavy rainfall, was lack of safety consciousness on the part of the residents who he said erected houses on flood plains.
The agency noted that so far, 750 buildings were affected in the two council areas, seven persons dead, four missing with 6,030 persons affected.
Farinloye stated, “Instead of constructing corresponding adequate drainage systems that can mitigate expected danger, shallow drainages were put in place and in some houses, the drainages were blocked with wires to glitter waste/garbage. They ignored NEMA’s door-to-door-led awareness and sensitisation which included all the states and local government stakeholders in the last two years.”
But Eniola stated that she couldn’t recall anytime NEMA officials came to their area on sensitisation and the residents ignored them. “I am not sure they came to our area in particular. When did they embark on such vital exercise and residents ignored them? Even if the people in the area are mostly illiterates, educated persons among them would tell others the importance of the campaign,” she said.
Besides, another resident identified only as Mrs. Ogunsanwo, told our correspondent that there was no central refuse collection system in some areas in Abeokuta.
She added that most people in Ago Ika, Sodeke, Kobiti, Ikija and Macgregor among others usually threw faeces and refuse in drainages either it rained or not. Ogunsanwo stated, “I see people do that often. Even a few hours after the heavy flooding, people hurriedly brought out their refuse and emptied them into a canal. Most people have no toilets and rubbish dump. Where else can they defecate and dump their refuse when both are lacking?”
Allah De also faulted NEMA’s theory that residents blocked flood plains with houses and debris, adding that the road infrastructure by the Ibikunle Amosun administration mitigated the impact of the flood.
He argued that in some affected areas, the drains were free from dirt, yet flood poured over the drainages and pulled down houses.
“I think it is about the flooding. Some houses are old, I agree, but the flood was forceful. It was heavy,” he stated.
Some occupants of Agbole Asalu compound also raised the alarm that there was a distressed bungalow in the vicinity that could give way anytime.
On Thursday, officials of the state Emergency Management Agency were seen clearing the drains across parts of the state. Some of the flood victims were also seen filling the agency’s forms which they collected from the nearest local council, requesting to know what they lost to the flood with other personal details.
The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, was in the state on Wednesday to assess the disaster areas and how the Federal Government could assist the victims.
Residents fond of dumping refuse in drainages –Ogun
Meanwhile, the state Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Bolaji Oyeleye, attributed the flooding to indiscriminate dumping of refuse in drainages and canals by residents.
He noted the situation hindered water flow along channels when it rained.
According to him, it is an old practice which some of the residents engage in. He added that some of those living near canals and river banks didn’t see reasons why they should stop emptying their refuse and faeces in canals.
Oyeleye stated, “Also the volume of rainfall experienced that day was too much for the present infrastructure in the state to handle at a go. It rained for three hours. The issue of environment is a challenging one and we are tackling it to the best of our ability. I am not saying we can’t do more. We can do more considering the population explosion.”
On the claim that there were no toilet facilities in the areas, the commissioner stated that it was the duty of house owners to provide adequate toilet facilities in their respective domain.
He added, “The issues were inherited by this administration. There are no basic toilet facilities in those areas. It is the life that they are used to and still living. We are trying to check the menace. We have been sensitising them not to dump refuse in canals and to ensure that their houses have basic facilities.
“We have done quite a lot and we are not where we used to be. The state government has constructed drainages, canals, and bridges in the state. I learnt that in 2007 when similar incident happened, Ori Omi was impassable. Look at the bridge there now.”
Oyeleye noted that the state had waste clearing points in Abeokuta, Ijebu, Mowe/Ibafo, Sango and Ilaro.
He disclosed that the state government would embark on channelisation of river courses, requiring about 10 to 15m setbacks along river channels. “But the government will give the project a human face. It won’t just willy-nilly embark on demolition of houses. Some of the houses have been in existence for ages,” he added.
Noting that normalcy was returning to the areas, the commissioner said most of the affected houses were flooded and the state government was helping to assuage their pains by clearing the debris brought by the flood.
Oyeleye further stated that the state government had asked the affected areas to incident their losses, disclosing that it was partnering with NEMA to share relief materials to the victims soon.