By Ahmed Maiyaki
As floods continue to submerge communities, displacing thousands and destroying millions, as water banks and river continue to surge against the boundaries and barriers, As erosions continue to yawn, As bombs continue to explode all over the place, killing hundreds of innocent souls, Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), remains proactive and responsive in its task of coordinating disaster mitigation, reduction and management.
Globally, 27.5 million people are displaced annually by disasters and emergencies. Africa alone accounts for 11.1 per cent of this figure, and though Nigeria may not be one of the countries with a huge number of displaced persons but NEMA has got cause to be concerned.
The last two years have seen the agency live up to its mandate as provided in Act 12, as amended by Act 50 0f 1999 to manage disasters in Nigeria through the establishment of concrete structures and measures.
Since its establishment, NEMA has never been under so much pressure as it has seen since 2010. This is, incidentally, the period in which Muhammed Sani Sidi was appointed to be at the helm of its affairs. Accustomed to dealing with floods, large-scale erosion, communal conflicts, desertification and fire, the agency found itself confronted by a new evil, this time, man-made – bomb blasts.
The increase in disasters, both natural and man-made, has served as a call to duty to the agency. Pressured from all sides, the agency has found it quite difficult to fail in the execution of its duties. The agency has been able to cope, not because of some never-before-seen stratagem, but because attention was paid to a couple of factors which were, hitherto, overlooked.
Though NEMA is widely known for distribution of relief materials to victims of disaster, it has continued to deemphasise reactionary approaches to emergency.
The agency has made it a duty to ensure continues capacity building for its staff and other stakeholders through local and international seminars and workshops on basic rudiments and actions to be taken on emergency situations. To achieve its desire of monitoring state of preparedness of agencies which may contribute to disaster management in Nigeria, the agency regularly organises simulation exercises with the participation of the stakeholders. Such exercises test the capabilities of the first response agencies in the event of an unexpected incidence.
With the support and leadership of Sani Sidi, the agency’s Public Relations unit have given rise to an appreciable public knowledge on the activities and operations of the agency through timely information dissemination, enlightenment programmes as well as effective engagement of the media. This has greatly contributed to the increase in level of success of the agency.
In media campaigns, the agency have carefully deployed strategic communication approaches with specific call to action messages set a stage for change in behaviour of the public on disaster prevention and control measures.
Currently experts have been engaged to carryout behaviour change campaign on flood disaster in both radio and Television stations networks nationwide. This also include the usage of Information Education and Communication (IEC) tools.
The highly motivated team at NEMA also undertakes advocacy and sensitisation campaigns incommunities and markets to sensitise artisans and petty traders on the need for insurance covers for their wares in case of outbreaks.
Realising that most disasters can be prevented through adequate education and effective coordination of voluntary organisations engaged in emergency relief operations, NEMA launched and promoted the establishment of volunteerism for disaster management in the country. So far it has mobilised and registered thousands of volunteers in its Grassroot Emergency Volunteers Corps (GEVC) and Emergency Management Vanguard (EMV).
The agency has taken a huge step up, going down to the levels where it matters most – the National Youth Service Corps and the primary and secondary schools – ensuring that its campaign takes root in the right minds, and recruiting most of them as volunteers. Today, the agency has an increased volunteer base, one that has richly contributed to its response and alacrity.
The essence of the volunteerism is to ensure that the volunteers not only engage in advocacy and awareness campaigns, but with adequate training they have proved that they can immediately respond to any emergencies when it occurs before the arrival of relevant agencies. The volunteers have undergone training and are provided with information materials like fliers, booklets and guide books.
In line with best practice, the leadership at NEMA has developed policy documents; the National Disaster Framework (NDMF) and the National Contingency Plan. While the former is designed tocoordinate disaster management structures in Nigeria, the latter provides requirements and plan for humanitarian response for 10,000 displaced persons during emergencies.
Another major feat achieved by the Sani Sidi’s NEMA, is the creation of a TOLL-FREE line (0800callnema), for the purpose of responding promptly to distress calls and containing serious emergencies from becoming full-scale tragedies.
Engineered by an IT system, NEMA has also attained a Full Operational Capacity (FOC) of its Mission Control Centre (MCC) by the COSPAS-SARSAT Secretariat. The technology which is available in few countries in the world and only in three African nations is satellite-based equipment that provides distress alert and location information for Search and Rescue services, for Maritime, Aviation and Land Users in distress.
It is indicative to note that Sani Sidi-led leadership has deployed pre-emptive strategies and the agency is actively involved in activities designed to avert emergencies. To this end, the agency runs a post-graduate programme in six federal universities on disaster management. With this, it achieved another feat in its mandate of coordinating and promoting research activities relating to disaster at the national level. Already, NEMA has provided take-off grants to the institutions to enable themcommence the programme immediately.
On the Africa regional scale, the Sani Sidi-led NEMA is currently setting up an emergency management agency in Gambia based on a request of the government of that country. NEMA has also provided relief items to displaced persons in Congo Brazzaville.
It is instructive to note that the modest achievements of the Sani Sidi-led leadership in the last two years were as a result of team work and commitment of all; staff and all stakeholders. Efforts must be made by all and sundry to sustain the success attained. And this requires effective synergy and collaboration by various stakeholders for efficient disaster management.
In the same vein, states governments and local government councils must not only establish disaster management agencies but must also provide adequate funding to ensure prompt response to emergencies at all levels. Disaster management is the business of all and must be treated as such.
• Maiyaki is a Strategic Communication Specialist based in Abuja, and can be reached via email@example.com