He said since the compilation of data on the victims were still ongoing and there was a strong possibility that the figure might be more than that.
Jonathan spoke at the Presidential Villa, Abuja while inaugurating the National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation, which he set up to raise fund to augment government’s efforts at mitigating the pains of the floods.
The President said his major concern was how to resettle the displaced persons immediately the floods receded.
He said, “Let me again express my sympathy with victims of floods across our country.
“We as a government feel terribly worried, we feel sad that this ravaging flood is really affecting so many of our people.
“There are so many states that 50 to 70 per cent, including my state (Bayelsa), are under water.
“This is why in addition to measures we have taken in terms of releasing funds to government agencies and directly to state governments to assist in helping to manage this disaster, we feel compelled to set up this committee to generate funds to assist government in managing these people.”
The committee has businessman, Alhaji Aliko Dangote; and a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, as its co-chairmen and Chairman of Globacom, Dr. Mike Adenuga Jnr., who was absent at the inauguration, as the Chief Fund Mobiliser.
Jonathan, who gave the committee 12 months to complete the job, challenged members of the committee to ascertain the impact of the floods on the people, raise fund to complement or augment government’s efforts at mitigating the pains and advise government on incidental things.
He said, “When people face this kind of flood devastation, it is no longer a national issue, it is an international issue because of the magnitude of refugees.
“This is a country of 167 million as of November last year’s projection. It’s almost a year since that figure was released. Though the Commission was yet to release fresh figures, we are definitely more than that now.
“And when you consider the fact that about 25 per cent or so of these communities are impacted by that, though the actual figure of the land and area affected is yet to get to us, have been affected by the flood.
“I spoke to my governor yesterday, he was so desperate because he said people do not even have food because all the channels of communications to Bayelsa State had been blocked by water.
“So you have enormous responsibility but we believe you are equal to the task.”
The President said members of the committee were carefully selected because the assignment needed people with empathy and human kindness.
“Let me also use this opportunity to assure Nigerians again that the present administration will do everything possible to ameliorate the impact of this devasting flood on our people,” he added.
Dangote, in his remarks, said he and other members of the committee saw their appointment as a call to service.
He regretted that the floods came at a time the nation was battling with other challenges.
He said the committee would reach out to relevant organisations and individuals nationally and internationally to join them in mobilising resources and ideas to complement government’s efforts.
“Rest assured that we will not only rise to your expectations, but indeed, we will exceed them,” he said.
Dangote later told State House correspondents that there was no limit to how much the committee would raise to complement government’s efforts at mitigating the effects of the disaster.
He said, “Our target is as much as we can think of and I am sure a lot of Nigerians will donate something.
“We are targeting N100bn minimum, we do not want to look at it as a government issue.”
He said the fund would be raised from both local and international donors.
“What we are expecting next is for goodies to come. We are actually going to meet and we will try as much as possible to raise funds both locally and internationally to complement government’s effort in terms of making sure that our fellow Nigerians do not really suffer from this devastating calamity of flood.
“We will go round and (we will) see what needs to be done and also what government should do so that this thing does not reoccur,” he added.
Dangote solicited the support and cooperation of all well – meaning individuals and organisations in the realisation of the committee’s objectives.
“For some of us, when there were disasters in other countries, we helped and so we expect people to help us.”
Members of the committee inaugurated by the President include Alhaji Karami Isiaku Rabiu, Alhaji Mohammed Indimi, Ngo Hannatu Cholum, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija, Prof. Dora Akunyili, and Mr. Tony Elumelu.
Also, the Secretary-General, Nigerian Red Cross, representatives of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, UNDP, European Union, DFID and USAID and many others were members of the committee.
Meanwhile, the National Emergency Management Agency on Thursday said a total of 344 communities spread across nine local government areas in Kogi State were affected by the floods.
The state Coordinator of NEMA, Mr. Ishaya, Chonoko, made this known to journalists as President Goodluck Jonathan visited the state for an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
Chonoko said about 623,900 persons were displaced while 152,575 hectares of farmlands were swept away by the floods.
Emotions ran high as Jonathan visited the camps were the displaced persons were sheltered.
At Dankolo Primary School, Lokoja, the President interacted with the victims and requested to see all the babies that were born in the camp.
He reiterated his government’s resolve to ensure that it mitigated the pains of the floods.
He said, “We are very sad over these flood incidents in the country, it is a national disaster. We are thinking of how to settle you all back to your places after the floods.
“Government is doing everything possible to cushion the effects on you. Please endure, it will soon be over.”
At St. Luke’s Primary School, the Coordinator of the Red Cross Society in the camp, Mr. Jubril Ebiloma, told journalists that it had not been easy managing the victims in the camp.
“Our major problem here is that we don’t have adequate accommodation to keep the victims. You can see that they are crammed here in this small school; the facility is over-stretched,” he said.
In Bayelsa State on Thursday, thousands of people displaced by the floods cried out to the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, for food, insisting that efforts of the state government were not enough.
The displaced persons wept before the minister who visited some of the relief camps in Yenagoa, the state capital, including the main camp at the Sports Complex, to commiserate with the victims.
On sighting the convoy of the minister, the displaced persons, including children, encircled her while some knelt before her and cried for assistance.
One of the victims, who identified herself as Pere James, said though the state government had tried to assist the victims, the minister should complement the state government’s efforts.
“Please, madam, help us we are starving. Our homes are gone. Our children are suffering. Minister, your brothers and sisters are dying of hunger,” she said.
But the minister who came with the deputy Governor of the state, Rear Admiral John Jonah (retd), said she had handed over some relief materials to the committee established by the government to handle the disaster.
The minister, whose paternal home in Yenaka, Yenagoa Local Government Area, was also submerged, left the area amid cries of dissatisfaction from the victims.
But some of the victims complained that most of their lawmakers had yet to visit them at the camps.
“We are appealing to our lawmakers to assist us. They have not come to visit us since this incident happened,” one of the displaced persons, Nicholas Dumor said.