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Monday, December 4, 2023

Coping with two extremes

Two migrants fall victim of the vagaries of extreme weather conditions in Lagos, where drought and floods have colluded to make life a hell on earth for residents. The main character in this story is the infamous downpour of Sunday, June 10, 2011


A flooded neighbourhood off Allen Avenue, Ikeja after the June 2011 rainfall
A flooded neighbourhood off Allen Avenue, Ikeja after the June 2011 rainfall

In July 2009, unemployed single mother of two children, Luisa Ono, ventured into rice faming after receiving a training on: “Rice for Job Project” by officials of the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture, who enlightened participants on the supposedly lucrative business of cultivating Ofada Rice, and encouraged them to farm.

With her savings, she plunged into the business and was allocated one hectare of land to do the farming at Udena in Ogun State. Full of zeal and expectations, she brought in farm workers from Edo State to till the ground. Diligently, she followed all the stages advised by the agric officers, applying the herbicides, fertiliser and weeding at the directed time.

But she got what she did not bargain for: the rains were suddenly nowhere to be found and, unkindly, drought set in. The Agriculture Ministry officers, who apparently gave little tutorials in terms of the vagaries of weather, allegedly ignored pleas to help provide irrigation, such that the rice got blistered and led to an appalling harvest. The almost N300,000 invested in the venture went down the drain as there was not a single grain of rice to show for her effort.

But she was undeterred, she says, picking up the pieces of her life and she forged ahead.

Her words: “A year later, we were told to form a group of 10 farmers each and register with the Ministry of Agriculture for a World Bank grant under the Fadama Rice Farming Project. This was not without some financial implications and opening of bank account with contributions from the 10 of us, I being the only woman in this group. I spent up to N100,000 in contribution and all other expenses of transportation to the farm and meetings.”

According to Ono, members of the group were allocated six hectares of land, which they paid for. They likewise paid for the harrow, planting, herbicide and fertiliser, in an apparent bid to access the promised World Bank funding via the Lagos State Ministry of Agriculture.

But, alas, lightning struck the second time.

She says, “The 2010 farm yield again was poor due to limited rainfall and we did not realise anything from the rice farm and neither did we get the grant from the World Bank till date.”

Several kilometres away in Igbe, a farming community in Ikorodu unfolds a similar drama. Basil Oru, a peasant farmer, moans over the unsavoury scenario that has played out in recent years. He is one of the numerous migrant growers from the South-Eastern part of the country who have over the decades made Igbe their home. But the increasing temperatures along with the irregular rainfall pattern is affecting farm yield and threatening their source of livelihood, he discloses.

“The rain has not come and it is delaying the planting of certain crops whose cultivation coincides with the advent of the rainy season. The ripening of crops cultivated several months ago is also being delayed because of the late rainfall. And the heat is too much and it is affecting the plants and the soil. We are also losing our farmland because the land is being sold, in most cases without our knowledge, to people who wish to build homes and other commercial ventures,” Oru explains.

According to him, the state government has never come to their aid to alleviate their plight. He notes that some of his colleagues are forced to go into other ventures like riding okada (commercial motorcycle), working as security guards or trading, in order to make ends meet.

He stresses that, to adapt to the situation, he deals more in plantain cultivation, which he claims is resistant to harsh weather conditions. To complement this, he adds, he has shifted the farming site to swampy land, apparently because the soil there is still laden with moisture despite the drought condition upland on the conventional farmland.

Several weeks after this interview with him, Oru’s prayers were heard as the rains came, albeit intermittently. But that of Sunday, June 10 was unprecedented. It started at about 5.00am and poured continuously all through the day in torrents. Oru has stopped rejoicing for the rains he had prayed for; now, he is lamenting.

“A lot of the cassava I planted in March that is to be harvested in about 10-12 months’ time have become rotten due to too much water as a result of the flood that affected my farm. About one hectare and half of cassava farmland is affected,” he groans. “I am desperately trying to save over 100 plantain tress affected by flood, as the leaves are getting discoloured. I am currently creating a channel to drain away the flood water here.”

But Ono’s plight, it appears, is worse off. Smarting from her previous experiences, her house hunt had led her to a rented three-bedroom bungalow at Orisha in Magodo, where she has been residing since January.

She recalls “I prepared my children for church and off we went with our umbrellas. The rain increased its tempo from time to time and, at 2pm having waited for it to stop or abate to some reasonable extent but to no avail, I waded in with my two children, my church being some five minutes distance to Berger. We walked to the Ojodu-Berger Roundabout in search of transport. Commercial vehicles were unavailable due to the rain that had been falling incessantly. With only our heads and shoulders saved from the downpour because of our umbrella, we managed to engage a Keke Napep (commercial tricycle) who finally agreed to drop us at Orisha.

“On getting home, the rain continued. Meanwhile, my compound is situated down a hill and the house up the hill directly behind my compound four months ago built a gigantic fence. While the fence was being constructed, my landlord being an engineer approached the owner of the fence to utilise professional advice on the erection as that compound is known as a passage way for high speed water. He assured my landlord that the fence would have an opening for the water to find its way through.

“The owner of the fence had severally refused sound counsel on how to tackle the annual rush of water through his compound. He continued raising fences that block the passage way, thus leading to the collapse of these fences from time to time. These collapsed fences affect houses beneath, by falling close to them, sending debris or collapsing the sand on the hill and blocking doorways and windows of houses close to the section of the collapsed fence. All these I learnt after the incident as residents who came to the scene relayed their experience with the water and the fence.

“At 4pm that Sunday evening, I observed the intensity of the rain, the water from the top of the hill found openings at the sides of the fence, gushing out dangerously and digging chunks of sand that were falling close to my kitchen door and increasing the level of water to the kitchen steps. I watched dejectedly and made up my mind to move my family outside the bungalow as the water was going to flow in. I stepped inside the kitchen and bolted the door, placing rags under the door to control the rush of water and called out to my children to move over to the font of our home.

“While outside, I heard an ear-deafening and heavy crash, smash, breaking of glasses and mad rush of muddy water that rose inside the living room. The concrete fence had fallen against the house, crushed the sand beneath it, and pillars of concrete crashed into the house, smashed the kitchen iron door where I was standing minutes before and breaking glass windows and pouring in mud, water and dirt.

“I rushed to my bedroom to see to my important documents and certificates; boxes, beddings clothing, and everything was covered in thick mud flowing everywhere. The rain continued and the flood continued from the kitchen whose door had been destroyed by the concrete pillars protruding inside the house with iron rods and chunks of the concrete all over the floor. It was terrible.

“This incident took place between 5-6pm and neighbours could only come at about 8pm when the rain had subsided. We were advised to seek alternative shelter for the night. The whole compound apart from the front and the roof was covered with sand that extended to window and door levels and the gigantic fence broken into three huge boulders dangled on top of the sand posing further danger till now. My furniture, electronics, rug carpets, books and clothing, food items and kitchen utensils were all destroyed. These are replaceable items compared to our life and limbs that God protected. My laminated certificates I was able to clean and dry though sips of mud got into them.

“On Monday July 11, the Zone B Landlord Association in Orisha went up the hill to meet the owner of the fallen fence. He refused to come out and was rather mourning the loss of the fence he said he constructed with N2 million. Imagine!

“Up till now, nothing has been heard from the owner of the fence, even though my landlord has begun evacuating the sand with local labour and cracking the concrete behind to create access to the kitchen door that is twisted and suspended with sand and concrete. Subsequent rains make water from the hill to flow through the fallen fence directly through the open kitchen, into the living room, filling it up and sipping through the front door, bringing with it mud and dirt. We continue to bail water each time it rains. The owner of the fence stands each morning on the hill with his wife or visitors glancing down on his fallen fence and not a word of sympathy, or enquiry as to whether persons in the house are safe.”

Indeed, Ono is exasperated with her experiences in Lagos, and she desperately seeks some sort of succour. “I don’t know why I have become a victim of these incidents in Lagos State; I have just spent seven months in this house and would like to move out for safety of my life and children if I have the means. I want a safe haven free from violence and disasters.”

Environmental activist, Titilope Akosa, attributes the scenarios to extreme weather conditions as a result of global warming that, according to her, results in sea level rise, flooding, drought, storm surges, irregular rainfall pattern and rise in temperature in the state and beyond.

She says, “The current and potential impacts of climate change in Lagos indicate that the phenomenon will affect men and women differently and that climate change may likely exacerbate the existing gender inequality skewed against women. In Lagos, women constitute a significant proportion of people living below the poverty line; they constitute 41 percent compared to 59 percent men in formal public employment, they are under-represented in decision making positions and make up majority of subsistence farmers lacking access to and control of critical resources such as land, water and agricultural extension services.

“Ono is a typical example of the case of women’s vulnerability to climate change, which is also touching other issues like parenting because her ability to properly take care of her kids is seriously in doubt as a result of her current poor financial situation.”

In a reaction to Ono and Oru’s submissions, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Yakub Olajide Basorun, says that he is unaware of the cases, even as he urges persons in such situations to make formal complaints to government. He adds that his officials provide complete information and assistance to farmers.

His words: “We give them technical, market and weather information to make them successful farmers. At Udena, we have a lot of farmers there growing rice successfully. It is not true that we don’t provide irrigation facilities. In fact, we provide everything that they require, and all they need to bring is their labour. Besides, the area falls within the Ogun-Osun River Basin, which is naturally flooded.”

Basorun notes that after such training programmes similar to the one Ono attended, government ends up selecting “those that meet the criteria.”

“But some withdraw afterwards when they are no longer able to cope with the realities on ground, thinking that it’s a bed of roses. But we have 200 people currently involved in the project.”

He emphasises that the ministry is currently intervening in a case involving migrant farmers like Oru elsewhere in the state. “Have the Igbe farmers come to government to make a complaint? Is the government aware of their problem? Of course, we are not. We are trying to solve a lot of problems related to flooding being encountered by migrant farmers like Oru and the one ongoing in Iba is a typical example.”

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