By: David Hundeyin
In 1977, the Cameroonian government made a rational decision. Observing the absence of adequate water resources to support growing agricultural pressure in northern Cameroon, the government of Ahmadou Ahidjo decided to build a dam on the Benue River which would supply hydropower to the region and allow for the irrigation of 15,000 hectares of farmland.
The dam was completed in 1982, which was the same year that a certain Paul Biya succeeded Ahidjo as Cameroon’s head of state. It was projected that the dam would have a downstream effect on Nigeria, so both countries reached an agreement after discussions.
According to the agreement signed in 1977, a shock absorber dam called the Dasin Hausa Dam would be constructed in modern-day Adamawa State.
In addition to preventing flooding, this massive dam was also meant to add 300 MW of hydropower to the national grid and irrigate roughly 150,000 hectares of farmland in Adamawa, Benue and Taraba.
Depending on who is telling the story, this project either never made it off the drawing board or achieved up to 90 percent completion. What all versions of the story have in common however, is that once a certain Muhammadu Buhari overthrew the democratically elected Shehu Shagari in a military coup, this project became one of several important development projects that were halted.
It’s Never Nigeria’s Fault…40 years after the failure of the Nigerian government to put the Dasin Hausa dam up, flooding of the Benue estuary and the Lokoja confluence area has become an annual event.
Instead of taking the rational and obvious step of completing the Dasin Hausa dam so as to stop the annual destruction of lives and property – and even get some much-needed electricity and assisted irrigation into the bargain – successive Nigerian governments have chosen to play the ostrich instead.
The only reason this article exists in fact, is because this year’s floods are the worst in exactly a decade, and hence have made it into the news cycle. The government’s response has been the most predictably Nigerian government response ever – to blame Cameroon.
Using official and unofficial channels, the Nigerian government has variously blamed Cameroon for “opening the dam” and for doing so allegedly “without informing Nigerian authorities.”
Putting aside the absurdity of expecting another country to assume responsibility for Nigeria’s own internal failures such as the failure to honour its own side of an agreement made 45 years ago, it must be pointed out that both of these claims are categorically false.
First of all, Cameroon’s decision to “open the dam” was not a voluntary one made as part of some kind of malevolent scheme to drown a heavily populated and economically crucial part of its largest neighbour and biggest single trading partner.
That claim, which has been recycled annually for decades, is Nigerian government propaganda at its most pernicious and least creative.
In fact, Cameroon’s annual opening of the Lagdo dam is something entirely born out of necessity. If the dam is not opened when water levels rise beyond its design limits, it will burst – and the results will be more catastrophic to Nigeria than to Cameroon.
Dear Abuja – Please Stop Lying. If the Cameroonian government were to do what the Nigerian government seems to be implying it should do – keep the dam locked indefinitely – the water would simply burst the dam and become a deadly tidal wave that would wipe out everything in its path, which means anything from 100,000 to 600,000 people according to figures from NEMA.
The Cameroonians actually do Nigeria a huge favour every year by opening the dam and controlling the flow of floodwater through it. If Abuja refuses to construct the Dasin Hausa dam and it does not like the annual floods that result from this refusal, the only other alternative is a burst Lagdo dam, leading to a catastrophe that would potentially delete about 0.25 percent of Nigeria’s population in a few hours.
The second point – that the Cameroonians opened the dam without providing prior notice – is categorically false. It is not true. The government itself has since acknowledged that it received roughly one month’s prior notice from Cameroonian authorities about the impending need to open the dam.
Clearly, this warning was not important enough, seeing as it came in the middle of election campaign season, which we all know is more important than Nigerian human lives. Too bad for the dead and displaced, I guess – but you can be sure that even if they remain totally submerged by then, INEC will find a way to get ballot boxes and sophisticated BVAS machines to them in 4 months time.
Voting uber alles. What has happened yet again, is the age-old story of the Nigerian government shirking its legitimate responsibility and expecting everyone else – the citizens, the international community, multilateral donors, lenders, neighbours, global institutions – to pick up the tab on its behalf.
As it was in 1982, so it remains today – and so it will remain for at least another 4 years, unless the Nigerian people decide to swim through the literal and metaphorical floodwaters next year to the INEC polling centres, and make choices that will improve their lives. Like that’s ever going to happen.
▪︎ First published in the Business Day on October 12, 2022.