The year 2022 witnessed the most devastating floods Nigeria has experienced in decades. Lasting several months, the floods took the lives of 600 people, displaced over a million others and caused significant damage to infrastructure, agriculture, and livelihoods. While floods are not uncommon in Nigeria, the intensity and duration of the 2022 floods were unprecedented, leaving behind a stark environmental warning.
The floods were caused by a combination of factors including heavy rainfall, poor drainage systems, and the release of water from dams. And while climate change is a heavy part of that mix, citizens were quick to dismiss it, pointing out instead how government mismanagement had prevented a strategic dam from being completed forty years after it was started, which would have prevented the floods or, at least, mitigated its impact. This isn't untrue. Indeed, it can feel a little daunting to talk about climate change in a socio-political climate that is equally precarious and that politicians are determined to keep that way. When government officials exploit climate change to score selfish political points - which they did in the case of the floods - they, who were elected to serve the people, absolve themselves of responsibility and instead heap blame on a presumably invincible “climate change”. In other words, climate change becomes an excuse for leaders not to take responsibility in any way, a forbidding god against which the government must perform hopelessness. So while citizens could have been right about the 2022 floods, they were only partly so. Research proved that climate change was a major contributing factor to the floods, as it led to changes in rainfall patterns and increased the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.
The floods had significant impacts on people's lives and the economy, affecting 34 out of Nigeria's 36 states. Millions of people were displaced, and homes, farms, and businesses were destroyed. The floods also led to the loss of lives, and the spread of water-borne diseases. The impact on agriculture led to food shortages and a decline in agricultural productivity. Major damages to infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and buildings were also recorded.
Together with other climate disasters like the frequent droughts in the Horn of Africa and the shrinking of Lake Chad, the Nigerian floods of 2022 teach us some critical lessons about climate change in Africa. Firstly, it highlights the need for better infrastructure and disaster management systems to cope with extreme weather events. Improved drainage systems, early warning systems (and the political will to heed these warnings), and emergency response plans are critical in mitigating the impacts of floods. Secondly, the floods underscore the need for Africa to take climate change seriously; while the continent grapples with ways of strengthening political, economic and social growth and development, it must not ignore its environment. Yes, the continent must take urgent and decisive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change, but this movement can not be left alone for political leaders. Indeed, it must be a people-led movement. African people must acknowledge not only that there is a problem with the environment, but also that the government could be held responsible to take action too, much in the same way as they would be in the area of educational or infrastructural development. In other words, citizens must not buy the rhetoric of climate change either not being our problem or being an unapproachable problem. Environmental action must coexist alongside other spheres of nation building. In fact, environmental action can aid other parts of nation building. Examples can be drawn from how proper waste management practices, including recycling and reuse, positively impacts public health and the economy. Dumping solid and liquid waste in drainage system are typical of Nigerian cities and its impact manifested also in the floods. Africa must learn from this in order to secure a sustainable future for its people.