By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Nigeria has only recently witnessed two devastating air disasters which led to the death of nearly two hundred persons.
Only few days before both the air mishaps in Accra Ghana involving a Nigerian Cargo Plane which killed over ten bus passengers, and Dana Air Disaster in Lagos, Nigeria, there was major road disaster involving nearly twenty heavy duty vehicles in the Ibadan Lagos heavily dilapidated High way.
In that multiple vehicular accidents characterized by unrelenting inferno that consumed over twenty vehicles, there was a near-absence of rescue effort by any of the agencies of the government thereby leading to unnecessary loss of precious lives.
Eye witness accounts stated that the Dana plane that crashed into the residential buildings in Lagos never caught fire instantly for over twenty minutes and that rescue operation came nearly one hour after the incident. What this shows is that if there was timely rescue intervention, some precious lives would have been saved.
On August 2011, the city of Ibadan in Oyo state witnessed some of the worst flood disasters in Nigeria’s history which inevitably resulted in the death of scores of persons and the destruction of property worth more than N20 Billion and in all of these unfortunate natural disaster which was made worst by total lack of enforcement of building standards, the quality of disaster management experienced by the victims can at best be described as disastrous.
Damages suffered by the university of Ibadan alone running to over N10 billion, included the washing away of its fish farm with different species of fish valued at about N300 million, the flooding of the zoological garden, leading to the death of animals, extensive damage of the Teaching and Research Farm and the destruction of books estimated at about N2 billion.
“Besides many gigantic buildings, laboratories and expensive equipment were destroyed by the flood which also pulled down the university’s fence and 13 electricity poles, thereby compounding the hitherto poor electricity supply to the institution”, Professor Isaac Adewole the Vice Chancellor stated.
Throughout the duration of the disaster there was no significant presence of disaster management officials from any of the state government agencies to render practical remedial steps to rescue some persons trapped in the flood water until much later when much of the flood water had receded.
National Emergency management Agency (NEMA) which is obviously overwhelmed by the extent of rescue work expected in times of emergencies all across Nigeria deserves commendation for turning up later to offer relief materials to the victims of the Ibadan flood.
Although NEMA’s impact is strictly limited, but other government agencies like the Nigerian civil Defence; Federal and state fire services and the Engineering units of the Nigerian Armed Forces, among a few others seem to have gone to sleep and are often found wanting whenever the need for their rescue/disaster management services are needed by citizens.
The fact that Nigeria as a sovereign entity never established a federal Emergency body not until 1990 when the current NEMA came into being by virtue of the National Emergency Relief Agency (NERA) Decree in 1990, shows how unserious successive Governments view the critical issue of disaster management. By 1993, the then Federal Military Government expanded the scope of disaster management through Decree 119 which raised the status of NERA to an independent body under the presidency with the responsibility for formulating general policies and guidelines relating to management of disasters in Nigeria.
Two critical questions which emerged from the flood disaster of August 2011 in Ibadan, Oyo state that need clearly defined response are why there is almost total absence of functional disaster management infrastructure at the state and local council levels and why the relevant environmental protection Agencies at state and local council levels do not take their sanitary inspectorate activities seriously to ensure that house owners do not block the water ways and drainage systems which worsen effects of flood waters.
Oyo State is not alone because on June 7th 2012 when the 50-year old Abakpa-Nike Bridge in Enugu State collapsed under the heavy weight of rainfall, commuters remained stranded for several hours before the Enugu State Government mobilized a private construction company to the site. The Local Council authority was virtually absent and at that level there is no disaster management infrastructure. What has happened to the Enugu State Disaster management agency that it had to take the intervention of a private firm to provide relief assistance at the behest of the State Governor?
The show of shame in Enugu State aforementioned would remind any perceptive and analytic observer of the other aspect of the conundrum that has arisen from the unfortunate Dana plane disaster of June 3rd 2012 regarding why the Federal Airport Authority seems not to have effective emergency response infrastructure to hasten disaster management and response in situations such as that unfortunate incident?
The total absence of disaster management and response initiative in the county is worst at the level of the local council because most of these 774 local government area councils have become dysfunctional because of the undemocratic tendencies of state governors that have largely failed to respect section 7 of the constitution by ensuring that democratic structures are institutionalized at that grass root level. It is only when the local councils are democratically administered that the council officials with the mandate of the electorate can put workable disaster management infrastructure into proper use for the benefit of the people.
A close look at how the inhabitants of New Orleans in the United States of America were tremendously assisted by all levels of government beginning from the local council whereby the Mayor excelled exceedingly to the federal level, before, during and immediately after the Hurricane Katrina of August 2005, shows that disaster management is every body’s business but must be properly legislated, regulated and enforced by government agencies.
For instance in New Orleans, in the United States of America, between 80 to 90 percent of the residents were evacuated safely in time before the Hurricane struck, testifying to what Wikipedia, the online free encyclopedia aptly described as some of the success of the evacuation measures.
Andrew S. Mener of the University of Pennsylvania, Department of political science in a scholarly paper stated that disaster management in the United States of America is backed up by several legislations which respect the federal structure of the country. But he was quick to observe that all levels of disaster management and response agencies actively work together to achieve the objective of delivering effective disaster rescue and relief mechanism to the citizens caught up in disasters.
In 1979, in the wake of the Hurricane Agnes and the Three mile High nuclear accident, Congress and President Jimmy Carter through a combination of legislation and an executive order established the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Emergency management council.
But In Nigeria, even when there are several federal and state run disaster relief and management agencies, only the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) seems to be working thereby endangering the precious lives of our people who may be far away from the city centers where the activities of this Federal Agency [NEMA] are felt. Nigeria is bereft of effective national disaster response plan. This must change.
Nigeria must go back to the drawing board, design and implement effective disaster management agenda and ensure that at every level from the local council to the Federal, that effective disaster management and rescue infrastructure are put to work.
In his foreword to the 2008 National Emergency Management Agency Annual report written by the then Vice President, now the Executive President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan stressed that the Federal government is aware of the enormity of the challenges faced by the disaster management Agencies.
The President wrote thus; “Disaster threaten national development, poverty reduction initiatives and the attainment of the millennium Development Goals of government, while Nigeria has been spared the occurrence of major disasters, with devastating socio-economic consequences, as witnessed in other parts of the globe, we cannot afford to be complacent. We should continue to build on our capacity for effective and prompt response so as to reduce the vulnerability. The capacity is crucial today more than ever before in the face of daunting challenges”.
Four years down the line since the then Vice President penned down the above beautiful lines and now that he is the President of Nigeria, the facts on ground show that the situation of disaster management has nosedived to the precarious level of disaster so much so that the Federal Fire service and the state fire services are so dysfunctional that Nigeria now depends on a private multinational construction company Julius Berger to do the needed disaster rescue operations whenever cases of natural and man-made disasters of deadly consequences occur in any part of Nigeria. This is shameful.
Emmanuel Onwubiko, head, HUMAN RIGHTS Writers’ Association of Nigeria writes from www.huriwa.blogspot.com.