Nigeria: In Bayelsa, Flood-Ravaged Residents Groan As Food, Petrol Prices Surge

Bayelsa state is under the attack of natural flood disaster,a resident lamented.

Philip Godfrey was half-awake when the water came with torrential intensity and submerged his apartment in Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, in October. But when the 37-year-old was jolted into reality, he jumped out of his building and found that the entire neighborhood had become submerged by flood. Although he struggled to salvage what he could from his property, many of his neighbours were not as lucky as the flood swept off their property and other essential commodities, including foodstuff.

“This flood menace displaced almost everyone in my neighborhood and many cannot even find their people as we speak,” Mr Philip told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview in Yenagoa in the last week of October.

“There is serious hunger in Bayelsa now because the flood disrupted so many things and created so much panic. To borrow from the words of our governor, ‘Bayelsa state is under the attack of natural flood disaster’.”

Not far away from the popular Ekeki Motor Park, Abigail Ebimie stood akimbo as though she is lost in thoughts. Her wares–some fruits and vegetables–had become scanty due to the massive effect of the flood which washed away her goods. She told PREMIUM TIMES that things have become difficult for her because of the devastating effect of the flood.

She said: “The little money I make from selling fruits and vegetables is what I feed my family with. But the recent flood swept away my goods and rendered us homeless. Now, I don’t have to think about where to sleep alone, I have to think of what myself and my children will eat. And things are very expensive now.”

Like Mr Philip and Mrs Ebimie, residents of Yenagoa and other communities have had their lives and businesses disrupted by the recent flooding that swept off their communities and washed away critical infrastructure.

Flood in Bayelsa

Although flooding is quite frequent during the rainy season especially in Southern Nigeria, this year’s flooding incidents have had devastating effects on many Nigerians. Across the country, more than 600 people have died and 1.3 million others have been forced to leave their homes, according to government official figures. Humanitarian agencies fear the floods will contribute to a health disaster and Nigeria has already seen a rise in cholera infections as floods ravage many parts of the country.

According to UNICEF, “more than 2.5 million people in Nigeria are in need of humanitarian assistance – 60 per cent of which are children – and are at increased risk of waterborne diseases, drowning and malnutrition due to the most severe flooding in the past decade.”

In Bayelsa, one of the worst hit states, apart from the potential health risks, residents have had to confront the ripple effect of the devastating floods through skyrocketed prices of foodstuff, petrol, kerosene, and other essential commodities.

“A single onion was sold for N400 at Tombia market three days ago,” lamented Justina Okubo, a trader at the popular Tombia Market.

“As of yesterday, just one custard of garri sold for N3, 000; whenI came back this morning, it skyrocketed to N3, 500. My neighbor who went to price a bag of rice confirmed to me that it is now being sold for N50, 000. This is beyond us. We need help in Bayelsa.”

When PREMIUM TIMES visited Swali Market, also in the heart of Yenagoa, traders and commuters haggling prices lamented the devastating effect of the flood on the prices of food and vegetables.

“You’d need on average N10,000 to cook a decent pot of soup in Yenagoa now,” said Joy Simeon, a trader in the market. “Or if you have to buy a unit of onion for N500, how would you have a nice soup without spending that much? This is unbearable.”

At the Jubilee Hotel, Okaka, Yenagaoa, nightlife lovers and other revelers lamented how the flood impacted night life in the state capital, with attendant rise in the cost of alcoholic drinks, assorted meat, grilled fishes, among others.

“People no longer go out to enjoy themselves and socialize in the evening; the battle for many people now is how to survive this flood disaster,” said a socialite who declined to have his name in print.

Yenagoa Cut Off

When the rains peaked between September and October, many of the roads and bridges linking Bayelsa with other neighboring states were cut off, rendering the people helpless. As of the end of October , PREMIUM TIMES observed that the East-West Road, the sole access to and from the state between Ughelli and Patani in Delta State, as well as Okogbe and Ahoada in Rivers State, collapsed with a high volume of flood water occupying the stretch.

The floods were so devastating that trucks and vehicles conveying food items such as garri, tomatoes, onions, beans, rice, poultry products and fuel could not access Bayelsa state.

In the Azikoro area of the state, corpses from submerged cemeteries around the area surfaced on floating waters on streets in the state capital, raising fears of an epidemic. In October, efforts to visit the affected morgues at Bomadi General Hospital and Olodiama were futile as the roads were submerged by water. The flood was so devastating that the country home of former President Goodluck Jonathan–Otuoke in Ogbia local government area–was equally submerged in water.

During a state broadcast in October, Duoye Diri, the governor of Bayelsa said that nearly a million people in over 300 communities in the state had been internally displaced.

“Unfortunately, some deaths have been reported. The narrative is the same across Sagbama, Ekeremor, Southern Ijaw, Ogbia, Yenagoa, Nembe and Kolokuma Opokuma Local Government Areas. Businesses have been shut, properties lost and farm lands destroyed. We have a humanitarian crisis,” he said.

“Critical infrastructure like hospitals, roads, bridges and schools, including the state-owned Niger Delta University, Amassoma, the Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri, and the University of Africa, Toru-Orua, have been severely affected.”

Multiple residents told PREMIUM TIMES that this development has triggered fuel scarcity across the state, just as prices of food items have gone over the roof.

George Eromosele, a commercial driver who plies the Yenagoa-Port Harcourt axis, told PREMIUM TIMES that he has been unable to move out of Yenagoa because of the flood.

“Our situation is a very sad one, my brother,” he said, shaking his head briskly.

“Since the flood scattered everywhere, I have been unable to leave Yenagoa. First, there is no road to pass through except for those traveling through the waters. Again, we don’t even have fuel because the price is too high. It’s really sad.”

PREMIUM TIMES confirmed from residents that the economic conditions have degenerated since the flood wreaked havoc on the peoples’ sources of livelihood across the state, worsening what’s already a harsh country-wide economic reality.

Economic Disaster

Nigeria’s inflation rate hit a 17-year high on the back of soaring food prices and supply chain disruption in September, according to a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in October. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) report released by the NBS showed that inflation rose by 20.8% in September, the highest rate since 2005, up from 20.52% recorded in the previous month. On a month-on-month basis, the index rose by 1.36% compared to the 1.77% increase recorded in the previous month, it said.

Meanwhile, the food inflation rate stood at 23.34% on a year-on-year basis, recording a surge from the 23.12% recorded in the previous month. The NBS said increase in the food index was attributed to increases in prices of bread and cereals, food products, potatoes, yams, and other tubers, oil, and fat.

Similarly, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows that in September, Nigerians across the country paid as much as N191.65 per litre of petrol, also known as premium motor spirit (PMS). According to the NBS (PMS) price watch, the average price paid for petrol in September increased by 1.15% from N189.46 which was the price per litre of petrol in August 2022.

A breakdown of the prices showed that apart from Kano and Jigawa residents, Bayelsa residents paid the highest prices for petrol within the month, coughing out N204 per litre.

Nimi Johnson, a Yenagoa-based commercial motorcyclist rider, told PREMIUM TIMES that the cost of transport increased astronomically since the flooding incident, as fuel prices also skyrocketed.

“The average cost of petrol in Yenagoa now is between N700, N800 and N1000 per litre,” he said.

“If you are talking of places outside Yenagoa, it could be as high as N1,300 or more because the fuel tankers bringing fuel are stuck on the road. So what we have is the little we can get from the fuel station with stress and serious fight.”

A commuter who declined to have her name in print said the cost of transport has also increased drastically, as commuters scramble for the few available tricycles around town.

“From Tombia market to White Castle (Hotel) area, which used to cost around N100 at most, now goes for between N200 and N250,” she lamented in pidgin English.

“The whole situation is beyond depressing and frustrating as you will have to spend everything you have on transport alone. Feeding and other things too have become problematic and costly. The government should just come to our aid.”

Overwhelmed Government; Hopeful Residents

In the midst of the uncertainty, the Bayelsa State Government seems overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges.

In October, Governor of Bayelsa State, Douye Diri, expressed dissatisfaction with the federal government’s lackluster support to the state to cushion the effect of the devastating floods.

Last week, the Bayelsa State Government condemned claims by the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, that “Bayelsa is not among 10 worst-hit states” by this year’s flood disaster. The state government described the Federal Government’s gesture to the state as unfair since the flooding.

In a statement on Thursday night titled, “Flood: FG Abandons Its Responsibility In Bayelsa”, signed by the Commissioner for Information, Orientation and Strategy, Mr Ayibaina Duba, the state government said from all indications, the minister was becoming part of the disaster she was appointed to handle as she sat in Abuja without visiting the state and relied on false data to draw her conclusions.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Sadiya Farouq, had on Thursday noted that contrary to perception in some quarters, Bayelsa State is not among the 10 most affected states in the country. Mrs Farouk, who appeared at the ministerial media briefing organised by the Presidential Communications Team at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, said the flood disaster is a national issue and she is performing her duty to the best of her ability.As the governments continue to bicker over intervention efforts, residents of Bayelsa look forward to better days amid inadequate relief materials, flooded homes, damaged infrastructure, and skyrocketed prices of foodstuff and other essential commodities.

For many residents of the state, provision of relief materials and other intervention efforts would go a long way in alleviating their suffering. Others who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES expressed how they couldn’t wait to have these challenging times get behind them.

“The suffering is too much, I can’t just wait for life to return to normal,” says Ms Joy, her facial expression a mélange of hope and fears.

***This investigation was completed with the support of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development and the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Open Climate Reporting Initiative.

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