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Five Presidents, Five Epochs And How Leadership Responds To Natural Disasters

The Oasis Reporters

September 2, 2017


What defines leadership that is disconnected from the people who are in the throes of devastating woes and death?
Flash floods in the news have focused on the devastating flooding in Makurdi on the banks of the river Benue in Benue State, North Central Nigeria.

The President has faced criticism over the Makurdi flood disaster response.

President Muhammadu Buhari and his government has faced criticism over what many call inaction in tackling the flooding.
Buhari says he has called for the National Emergency Management Agency to step in, according to a report by AP, which says more than 100,000 people have fled their homes because of major flooding in the central state of Benue in Nigeria.

The Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has said, “I have received with great concern reports of the flooding in Benue state, displacing, from early estimates, more than 100,000 people” .This was seen on the leader’s Twitter handle on Thursday, a day before his scheduled Muslim holiday in his hometown of Daura in north western Nigeria.
He said his government “will make available all assistance” to those affected.
“We will surmount this disaster, and, working with the State Govt, bring succour and relief to all affected persons and communities.

No presidential visit. Just message on twitter which the people without electricity and internet could not access.

“The aftermath of torrential rainfalls in Makurdi, Benue State has left close to 3,000 houses submerged and thousands of residents homeless, going by
The Guardian Nigeria (@GuardianNigeria) report on August 31, 2017.

Helen Teghtegh said the region had been battered by heavy rains over the past two weeks with the level of the Benue river steadily rising. Many residents in the state capital Makurdi have fled their homes since Wednesday, she added, launching an appeal for donations. “We are still trying to get accurate data, we don’t know the number of casualties, but we are having a meeting tomorrow with local groups and emergency services, so we should know better,” said Teghtegh.

Photographs of inundated Makurdi began spreading on social media on Thursday, showing cars and thousands of homes completely submerged.


FLOODS: Benue state capital, Makurdi has been flooded after series of rainfall. Residents seek emergency intervention.
Photo:  Obala

Two camps have been set up in Makurdi to accommodate those made homeless, but they will not open before the weekend.
Benue state, which is heavily reliant on it’s agricultural sector, has suffered repeated floods in recent years, caused by heavy rains and the opening of dams in neighbouring Cameroon, coming months after the invasion of the land by people suspected to be terrorist Fulani herdsmen who want to appropriate the people’s land for cattle grazing purposes.

While President Muhammadu Buhari chose to send a message assuring Makurdi of help from NEMA, in 2012, when Nigeria suffered disastrous floods across 30 of it’s 36 states with hundreds of it’s people dead, and some two million people left homeless, President Jonathan visited Bayelsa, Anambra, Delta etc flood victims.
He sent waves of warmth and cheers to the people as encouragement and their smiling faces in the midst of pain showed it all.

A Vanguard report on October 13, 2012 said Delta State had raised a committee to cater for the victims of flooding from a 500 million naira donation from the Federal government .

President Goodluck Jonathan demonstrated sympathy during his visits and disclosed that the Federal Government “has initiated measures for proper resettlement of flood victims. While in Anambra, the President visited one of the camps housing displaced persons at Father Joseph Memorial High School, Aguleri, Anambra East, where he commiserated with the flood victims and said the “Federal Government will work with the State Government and other organizations to resettle the victims”.

The President said the Federal Government Committee on flood disaster was set up to, among other things, explore ways to assist the flood victims to resettle and pick up their lives after the crisis. He explained that some International Organizations were co-opted into the committee to attract external assistance to cushion the pains and lamented the colossal loss suffered by the State, recalled the 1969 flood that preceded the completion of the Kainji Dam in 1970.
He assured that major embankment will be constructed on the Benue while the completion of Kasambila Dam in 2014 will help prevent future reoccurrence.

Photo: President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan with Gov. Obi of Anambra state acknowledging cheers from the people during his visit to the state.

Governor Peter Obi, who cancelled his trip to Japan for the World Bank/IMF meeting to receive the President, thanked him for identifying with the State and noted that the visit has brought a lot of relief to the victims.

In sharp contrast to how a President should act in the face of natural adversity, Obama’s Photographer reminds us of the defining moments in that presidency each time disaster struck.

This was seen as a subtle rebuke to the vulgar show off president Donald Trump displayed in Texas.
The President’s Tuesday visit to storm-ravaged Texas, sought to keep the focus on himself, rather than the suffering victims of the flood.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds the state flag of Texas outside of the Annaville firehouse after attending a briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas, August 29.

Tropical Storm Harvey wreaked so much devastation in Texas and Louisiana since Friday, causing catastrophic flooding that has killed dozens of people, caused widespread injuries and destroyed property that will take years to rebuild.
Trump chose that insensitive moment to wear his campaign memorabilia to Harvey events. He bragged about the Texas crowds that showed up to see him, marveled at the size of the storm, and praised his administration’s response even though the governments relief effort is just beginning.

“HISTORIC rainfall in Houston, and all over Texas. Floods are unprecedented, and more rain coming. Spirit of the people is incredible.Thanks!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

Obama shows empathy with a tornado survivor at Joplin .

Souza made a counter post by uploading a photo from the archives of Obama to Instagram, showing the former president comforting a Hurricane Sandy survivor after the devastating 2012 storm.
“There are no Democrats or Republicans hurting in Houston; there are just Americans”, Souza wrote in the caption. “At a time like this, it shouldnt be about selling baseball hats or commenting on crowd size. Its about helping our fellow human beings”.

Later on Wednesday, Souza posted a photo of Obama greeting survivors of a tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, in 2011 by quoting remarks Obama made during a memorial service for tornado victims in which he mentioned that some circumstances, like natural disasters, are beyond our control.”But that does not mean we are powerless in the face of adversity”.

“How we respond when the storm strikes is up to us. How we live in the aftermath of tragedy and heartache, that’s within our control. And its in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place”.

Obama himself tweeted thus about Harvey:

“Thank you to all the first responders and people helping each other out. That’s what we do as Americans”.
Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 27, 2017

Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, also showed empathy to survivors after tragedies.

Win McNamee via Getty Images
After Hurricane Katrina, former President George W. Bush hugged a hurricane victim whose home was destroyed in Biloxi, Mississippi.


ROBERT SULLIVAN via Getty Images
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida. Here, Bill Clinton, then a Democratic presidential candidate, visited survivors in Florida City, Florida.

With George Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Goodluck Jonathan and Donald Trump, presidents make it mandatory to visit the displaced and the grieving in the time of adversity.
But will Muhammadu Buhari go to Benue and show love to the suffering in Makurdi ?

Al Jazeera


Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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