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Opinions of Saturday, 18 September 2021

Columnist: Sola Ojewusi

Battle to control Lagos floods

Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu

One pointer to the exceptional ability of the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, to face a problem frontally and with admirable candour is his ongoing fight against Covid-19 pandemic. As the Incident Commander, he leads the state army of anti-covid-19 crusaders from the front, albeit at huge personal risk to his own health. When such a figure is confronted with challenging impossible odds far beyond his human and material capacity frontally, this writer believes he should be commended and encouraged rather than be pilloried as some are wont to do.

This brings me to the recent outcry about Lagos flash floods. Incessant flooding in parts of Lagos raises concerns: it has occasioned in some quarters alarming reports insinuating that Africa’s most populous city may soon be unlivable. Consequently, the predicament of the governor who ordinarily is a go-getter and problem solver can best be imagined.

I must state without fear of contradiction that Lagos finds itself in this cosmic quandary because of its geographical location to the sea level, because many other developed cities which occupy the same position struggle with worse experiences. Knowing the havoc flash floods have wreaked on even the most advanced nations of the world, a naturally flood prone terrain like Lagos is hugely unpredictable and, at times, it makes fools of even the wisest of experts by its volatility.

For instance, great parts of Europe were inundated with flash floods in recent times despite the “advanced” nature of such countries. Only The Netherlands, according to verifiable statistics, was able to avoid the kind of frightening fatalities that came in its wake. Here’s why. The Dutch had years earlier spent billions of dollars from various sources to forestall disaster. That kind of money is not easily obtained again, especially for a city like Lagos in a country still grappling with incessant recession.

To have a fair evaluation of this demon and its handling in Lagos, an understudy is imperative. With apt evaluation of Lagos environmental situation, it is safe to say that, being

home to more than 24 million people and being a topographically low-lying city on Nigeria’s Atlantic coast, the combination of sea levels rising due to climate change with this kind of population explosion has made it difficult for true empirical scientific projections.

This is not to exonerate the governor as there are few glaring lapses in the handling of environmental issues. At the same time, these shortcomings did not come as a result of lack of passion to make a difference on the governor’s part. Simply put, they are often tied to circumstances beyond his and the government’s control.

By implication, I am not saying that there are optimally and richly maintained drainage systems in Lagos: a fact requiring urgent governance response. Nor that enough has been done on the problem of uncontrolled urban growth. Statistically however, including a study led by the Institute of Development Studies, the terrains of Lagos can only yield to full control after billions of dollars has been expended.

In fact, considering the kind of topography Lagos contends with, especially the eroding coastline that makes the city vulnerable to flooding; the increase in water level that is eating deep into the coastal land and the kind of fund presently at the disposal of Lagos State governor as an administrator who must grapple with other contending issues, it is nothing but wonder at how he’s been able to keep his head above the storm.

If flooding requires this huge effort, then it must be fast becoming a major global concern. No thanks to the counter-effect of global warming and the consequent swelling of water bodies during downpours as the one recently witnessed on June 16, 2021. As a result, some parts of the state witnessed a disturbing spate of flooding in varying degrees. With their livelihood and daily activities disrupted, it’s natural for Lagosians to protest and place the blame for the flash floods on the doorsteps of their leader, hence, the tendency to criticise the governor. But, truth be told, much as the responsibility of governance rests on the shoulder of the State Chief Executive, an understanding of the dynamics of environmental issues and the social and scientific exigencies of climate change would elicit better understanding of the predicament of the governor in the face of an unmitigated problem.

The economic and ecological effect of flooding is both colossal in terms of cost and pain. Whenever it unleashes its terror, flood leaves many homeless; robs people of their personal effects; injures many and brings even the mightiest of men on their knees.

Thankfully, the state has a proactive governor that is doing all he can to mitigate future occurrences of the destructive effects of flood on the natural fabric of the state and its citizenry. Nevertheless, it’s a difficult task because of the ‘’Water State’’ status of the state owing to a large deposit of water – a place of Aquatic Splendour. Judging by my personal investigation, the governor, nicknamed the ‘’Incidental Commander’’ and his able team of experts are mapping out pragmatic approaches that will in time prevent overflow and excess of water during the rainy seasons.