Agoso Huladeino Bamaiyi.
Welcome to the month of August, the beginning of the flood season.
As the flood season begins, let us take some time and consider this blessed river that has turned monster due to human activity; the River Benue.
The river gave life to the people and prospered the communities that settled on its banks throughout its entire length in Cameroon and Nigeria. For hundreds of years, these communities drank its water and fed on its rich flora and fauna, farming its fertile plains, and growing into towns and cities: Jimeta-Yola, Numan, Ibbi, Makurdi, etc.
Kings drew from its rich resources and built kingdoms and dynasties with long, rich histories and enduring cultures and traditions. Poets and songwriters of yore told about and sang of its glorious beauty and resourceful generosity. Women washed household utensils, drew water from its banks and danced to music set to the rhythm of its unrelenting waves. Children swam its branches, buoyed by an expectant hope for a bright tomorrow where all things are possible.
Crocodiles, hippos, manatees and other water animals bred in its backwaters as various species of fish swam its depths down to the delta, spawned and swam back to its source in the Republic of Cameroon, to repeat the natural cycle a year later. It was home to some of Africa’s iconic aquatic animals.
The wind whistled across its banks, as various waterbirds – black crakes, jacanas, dippers, kingfishers, ducks, screamers, geese, storks, swans, pelicans, flamingos, cranes, coots, irises, egrets, magpie geese, etc, – and other types of birds, drawn to its accommodating embrace by the expansive grass planes fed by its waters, exhaled beautiful choruses of contentment and robust liveliness. It was a story of nature at its best: an interdependence, fuelled by the river, that benefited everyone.
Adventurers, company men, merchantmen, colonizers and missionaries followed its meandering and expansive gracefulness, establishing posts and stations, all the way from its confluence with the Niger in Lokoja, Nigeria, up to Garuoa, in Cameroon. It opened up the deep interior to Western civilization, education, Western medicine and health system, colonial administration and eventual self governance, etc., and thus hastening development and putting to an end intertribal wars, slave trade and various forms of barbarism.
I know, that came with its own problems. But, generally speaking, it heralded an era of better things, brought on the waves of the river. The march towards the realization of potential and greatness of Nigeria began. The river contributed to this with a ceaseless flow of life and resources and by serving as a reliable means of transportation for goods and services and an enabler of communication.
Growing up in Numan, the HQ of the Southern Senatorial zone of present-day Adamawa State, which also hosts the confluence of rivers Gongola and Benue, I saw the river in its majestic glory: wide, deep, full of aquatic life, with its banks lined with soft sand mixed with shiny gold dust, supporting year-round navigation. My childhood friends and I used to play on these soft sands and wondered how much of the gold dust we needed to collect to have a kilogram of gold.
I personally rode on the ferry linking the lands on its northern and eastern banks. I also saw the bridge grow to displace the ferry, sending it downstream to Ibbi, and I saw the giant power lines crawl across the land, from somewhere on the banks of Nigeria’s premier river, River Niger, deep in the heart of the country, sending electricity over the river’s bank to service the provinces of Adamawa and Sardauna. All these were big events that held hope for a better future for the river and it’s people. But it was not to be. The onece-glorious river is now a shadow of its glorious self. It is at the final stages of dying.
The Peoples Republic of China came along and offered the Republic of Cameroon “help” to build a large dam across the Benue, “for free”.
“You can use it to boost your economy and drive your national development through ecotourism, hydroelectricity generation, irrigation farming, etc”, they assured our neighbours.
In reality, China wanted to use Cameroon to experiment, and thus acquire experience and expertise in dam construction, to solve river problems back home in China: the Lagdo Dam was an experiment to acquire experience and practical expertise to build the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in Yiling District, Hubei Province, China. Construction of the dam started in 1994 and was successfully completed and opened in 2003. Built for flood control, navigation and power generation, it is one of the biggest hydroelectricity generating plants in the World.
Is it not rather ironic that the expertise acquired by China on African soil to successfully build dams and control floods in China has resulted in floods here in Africa?
Well, it figures: the developed World always uses Africa as a Guinea pig! Most of those so-called “development aids” are actually crafted to benefit the giver more than the receiver. There is hardly anything “developmental” about them. The truth is that, in such one-sided relationships, nothing goes for nothing!
Cameroon swallowed the offer, hook, line and sinker. Lagdo Dam was built. Downstream, the Benue began to die.
Now, Nigeria share riparian rights to the river with Cameroon. Nigeria was contacted. Experts are divided whether this “contact” was properly done or not. That not withstanding, an Environmental Impact Assessment Study recommended that Nigeria builds a buffer dam at Dasin Hausa, among other recommended remedial measures. This dam would receive excess waters from Lagdo Dam and then re-release the same, at the natural volume and strength of the river, back into the Benue trough. This way, everything would continue normally all along the length of the river without any major side effects or disruptions caused by the building of the Lagdo Dam.
That was way back in 1982. Till date the Dasin Hausa Dam has not been built, nor any of the remedial measures recommended by the EIS, carried out. We hear that it has been contracted out again, over 30 years after. With the non release of mobilization fees to the company, I am afraid it is yet another dud contract.
Besides, even if the contract is executed, and the Dasin Hausa Dam is successfully built this time around, I am afraid, this is coming rather too late. Reason: River Benue, through the process of siltation over time, has filled up with sand. Building Dasin Hausa Dam, without dredging the whole length of the Benue, may actually make things worse for communities down stream.
Now, we don’t want things to get worse; do we? So, #DredgeRiverBenue.
Take away the suffering and pain.
Bring back the glory of the river.
Bring back the flora and fauna.
Bring back the prosperity of the communities.
Nigeria MUST ACT NOW, or else our people will continue to suffer because, without dredging the Benue and building the Dasin Hausa Dam, things will only get worse. Next time the floods may make the 2012 deluge look like a child’s play!
Is anyone listening at all?
(Photo: the Numan Bridge over the River Benue, from the lens of my phone camera. I took the picture in the summer of 2016, standing on the eastern bank of the river, near the old ferry landing.)