Nigeria has played the role of big brother to many African countries since independence in 1960. Its soldiers were drafted to Congo in peace keeping mission when Patrice Lumumba was executed. Later, they went to Chad, Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone and even countries outside Africa. At the peak of apartheid in Southern Africa, the role our country played promoted it to a frontline state even though it is in West Africa. In all of these, thousands of soldiers and policemen lost their lives but the country was rarely commended for the human and material sacrifice.
A refreshing twist was however, introduced to the country’s efforts only a few months ago when the Director- General of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Muhammed Sani-Sidi, led a Nigerian delegation to Congo to deliver relief materials to about 14,000 people displaced by explosions in an ammunition dump. On arrival, shouts of “Nigeria has come” rend the air. And such has been the applause heralding Sani-Sidi and other staff of NEMA) both at home and abroad in the last two years because of the timeliness and dispassionate manner that the agency has delivered on its mandate.
To be sure, NEMA emerged from the ashes of National Emergency Relief Agency (NERA). The NEMA Act of 1999 gives it the responsibility to formulate policy on all activities relating to disaster management in Nigeria and co-ordinate the plans and programmes for efficient and effective response to disasters at national level; co-ordinate and promote research activities relating to disaster management at the national level; monitor the state of preparedness of all organisations or agencies which may contribute to disaster management in Nigeria; collate data from relevant agencies so as to enhance forecasting, planning and field operation of disaster management.
It is also to educate and inform the public on disaster prevention and control measures; co-ordinate and facilitate the provision of necessary resources for search and rescue and other types of disaster curtailment activities in response to distress call; co-ordinate the activities of all voluntary organisations engaged in emergency relief operations in any part of the federation; receive financial and technical aid from international organisations and non-governmental agencies for the purpose of disaster management; the collection of emergency relief supply from local and foreign sources and from inter-national and non-governmental agencies; distribute emergency relief materials to victims of natural or other disasters and assist in the rehabilitation of the victims, where necessary.
It is to liaise with State Emergency Management Committees to assess and monitor, where necessary, the distribution of relief materials to disaster victims; process relief assistance to such countries as may be determined from time to time; liaise with the United Nations Disaster Reduction Organisation or such other international bodies for the reduction of natural and other disaster; prepare the annual budget for disaster management in Nigeria; and perform such other functions which in the opinion of the agency are required for the purpose of achieving its objectives. Through the phenomenon of climate change, Nigeria like other countries is witnessing unprecedented increase in both natural and man-made disaster incidences in the country.
Violence, especially in northern parts of the country, was compounded by flooding occasioned by heavier rainfall and global warming. There have also been oil spillages, fire incidences and multiple road accidents. But with NEMA, response has been swifter than ever. Floods have ravaged parts of Nasarawa, Lagos, Ogun, Kogi and Bayelsa states. In 2010, a twin bomb explosion rocked the central business district of Abuja on Independence Day when Nigeria was marking its 50th anniversary. Since then, NEMA has not rested. Despite the now daily occurrence of disasters across the country, NEMA has been able to develop the National Disaster Framework, the National Disaster Response Plan and the National Capacity Assessment on Emergency Preparedness and Response in Nigeria which all combined to reposition the country to better respond to emergencies.
The agency has also put in place structures that enable it detect, respond and combat disasters in a timely manner, including the national toll-free emergency lines, since as the National Communications Commission (NCC) continued to foot drag on the matter. NEMA inaugurated Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Club in post-primary schools, set up emergency alerts and trained stakeholders on emergency response. It is partnering US-AFRICOM on pandemics. Tthe agency deployed two technical officers to The Gambia to support the country in the take off of its National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA).
According to Sani-Sidi, the essence of the collaboration was the realisation of the implementation of the Hyogo Framework of Action, The African Regional Strategy and its Plan of Action 2006 – 2015 and the ECOWAS Policy on Disaster Risk Reduction and the need to implement this at the national level. In 2011, NEMA and the World Food Programme
(WFP) signed a new Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen cooperation towards a significant contribution to the reinforcement of emergency preparedness and response capacity in all tiers of government, particularly to curb flooding. Nigerians stranded in crisis ridden African countries equally tasted the efficiency and effectiveness of the reinvigorated agency as hundreds were evacuated from Egypt and Libya.
For years, Nigerian girls including many under-aged ones had been trafficked to many countries around the world serving as sex slaves. Within the last two years, scores of this category were eventually evacuated from Mali. Despite the successes, there remained some dark clouds still. In a speech at the ordinary general meeting of the Association of Resident Doctors, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, Sani-Sidi admitted that some responder agencies still lack the efficiency for effective management of disasters. “Most states do not even have required equipment, such as, ambulance, fire extinguisher and others, for disaster management”.
At another forum in Jigawa state, he urged state governments to enforce physical planning regulations as part of measures to prevent flooding. The DG explained that most of the incidents of flooding, which occurred in some parts of the country in 2012 were due to the building of structures on the waterways. “Rapid urbanisation, occasioned by natural population growth and rural-urban migration, has given rise to land use pressure and weak adherence to physical planning regulations in towns and cities,” he said.
Ugo Obioma. Obioma is of the Journalists Against Disaster Initiative, Abuja.