“Water no get enemy” sang late music maestro Fela Anikulapo. Well, not exactly so.
Still or running water can be a killer. Twice in my life I narrowly escaped drowning. My first encounter was in the Ethiope River in Ogharefe, my home town in Delta State. I was walking on top of logs, watching fishes swimming around when I slipped and fell into the river. No one noticed.
I went down to the bottom, which I believed was one and half times my height. When my legs hit the bed of the spot, I was bounced back to the top. I couldn’t scream as I went down instantly. But I noticed that there was a canoe tied loosely to the the logs floating my way. As I bounced back the second time, the canoe was even closer. I made up my mind that if I was lucky to make it back a third time, I would grab the canoe. Strangely, I bounced back a third time and right there by my side was the canoe and I grab it and climbed over.
My second encounter with near death by water was in the Atlantic Ocean, Lagos Bar Beach. Even though by then I had long learned how to swim, the Bar Beach experience left me in shock. For a moment, It was as if my entire body was disabled by the powerful wave. Thankfully, for reasons I can’t still understand, the wave failed to pull me into its bowels. I survived and walked away! But that was the last time I stepped into the waters of any beach.
Now to Abuja.
On Friday night (August 2), the rain came down like it was judgement day. I knew that meant trouble for some areas of the Federal Capital Territory. The Lokogoma axis is one such area because it is a low lying with a network of undeveloped water channels. With a heavy rain such as the one on Friday night, the waters back up and cause havoc.
The Galadimawa roundabout has become a flooding flash point. There is an ongoing construction of a bridge there and the company involved is using part of the of the water channel to store gravel, taking up a part of the area that spreads and keeps the water level there low during a heavy rainfall. Therefore, the by pass that leads to the airport road from the Games Villages end, just before you get to the Galadimawa roundabout, is now routinely flooded and rendered impassable in a heavy rain. The situation is so bad that a leisure garden about 300 meters away from the roundabout is also flooded to top tree level whenever there is back up.
That was the situation on Friday when the Director of Finance, Federal Capital Territory High Court, Mr. Tony Okecheme and his driver came to that spot. The first part of the tragedy was that they made a wrong decision to attempt to beat the flooded road. Their car stalled and they climbed on top of it to await help. According to several accounts, they stood there for a minimum of one hour in the presence of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) who allegedly came to the scene not properly kitted for a rescue.
Reports have it that it was some locals who have been monitoring the flooding in the area who took the risk of attempting a rescue. Unfortunately, they were only able to save the driver of the vehicle. Mr Okecheme, the Finance Director was swept away by the raging waters.
I was locked down in the traffic there for two hours as rescuers searched frantically for the body of Mr Okecheme. As at 5pm when I drove past the area on Saturday, Mr Okecheme’s body had still not been recovered.
Last year, about this time, another man along with his children were also swept away to death in their car. He was warned not to cross a raging water in another part of Lokogoma but he felt he could try.
One of the reasons drivers attempt to defy the flooding in the Galadimawa roundabout bypass to airport road is due to the traffic gridlock at the roundabout. The gridlock has been made worse by the many potholes at the roundabout. The construction company did not bother to fix the potholes to ease the traffic. The company should have reconstructed and widen the road to keep traffic flowing as done by other construction companies in Abuja. For the past four weeks, I have been trying to get in touch without success the Abuja Call Center to ask why the construction company handling the road project is failing to do the needful.
Another sad part of the tragedy is the inaction of the officials of the Road Safety who are always present at the roundabout. They have failed to station some of their officers at that bypass after a heavy rain to warn motorists and direct traffic away from danger. Rather, it is the same locals in the area you often see there doing so.
I hope drivers, not just in Abuja, but all over the country are learning some useful lessons from these avoidable deaths.
Except you are absolutely sure or directed by guides, do not attempt to dare still or raging waters.
God is not the problem. We are! Let us respect waters right of way.