Gboyega Akinsanmi writes that the Lagos State governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode, has redefined the state’s emergency response framework such that there is now hope of victims surviving
Early last month, the Lagos State Government unveiled LASEMA Response Unit (LRU), Lekki. But the unveiling might not connote a true record of governance for millions of Lagos residents. Undoubtedly, the idea that culminated in the birth of the unit was solely structured to ensure public safety, not just private and public assets, but mainly lives of residents irrespective of their social status.
Nowhere has this vision ever been more demonstrated than at Richard Abimbola Street, Ilasa, where a three-storey building collapsed precisely on May 18. And this was evident in an account the General Manager of Lagos State Emergency Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Tiamiyu Adeshina shared with some journalists recently. The three-storey building, according to the general manager, suddenly collapsed and claimed three lives instantly.
Consequently, distress calls from different concerned neighbours flooded the LASEMA office, which Adeshina said, was normal when disaster occurred. He, thus, said the calls did not emphasise those who have lost their lives, but sought intervention to save those who were trapped under the rubbles. Armed with details about the scene, he deployed rescue operatives just after the calls.
And the rescue operation began amid hope and despair. At the scene, the relations of the victims were soaked with tears. Also, their neighbours were lost in thought, perhaps despairing thst no victim would come out alive again. But Adeshina revealed that the rescue operatives were able to establish contacts with one of the victims under the rubble, a development that gave some ray of hope.
Subsequently, the victim provided useful information, which Adeshina said, made the rescue operation, perhaps the most successful in the history of Nigeria. Yet, he said the rescue team could not bring out those who were trapped under the rubbles the first two days. Even though the victims could not be rescued, he disclosed that the team was able to give them oxygen and food under the rubbles.
That was the first breakthrough. So, after three days of excavation, the general manager revealed that the victims were brought out of the rubbles one after the other. Aside the initial loss of three lives, Adeshina said no death was recorded again. Rather, according to him, “19 lives were rescued from the rubbles. If it were to be in the past, those who were trapped could have lost their lives.”
“The case of Ilasa was just one of our success stories,” he added. Likewise, the general manager said the state’s rescue team rescued 14 alive at Daddy Alaja Street, Oke Arin, Lagos Island. He said it was an outcome of paradigm shift in the disaster management in the state. Aside, he said it was a proof that this administration “is deeply committed to ensure prompt response to emergencies in a bid to save lives and property of Lagos residents.”
Created to Save
Consistent with Adeshina’s narrative, Ambode’s decision to restructure the state’s emergency response system was informed by a well-defined mandate “to save, protect and sustain human lives.” This mandate, as the Commissioner for Special Duties and Inter-governmental Relations, Mr. Oluseye Oladejo said, is no doubt a testament to the premium the governor “places on human lives and the need to ensure the sanctity of lives.”
A number of compelling factors, according to Oladejo, explained the premium the governor placed on human lives. He, first, cited the state’s huge population, which according to him, currently stands at over 21 million. With over 21 million residents crammed within the land mass of 3,577 km², their action and inaction are often reasons for frequent occurrence of emergencies in the state.
He, also, cited high concentration of companies and industries, among others, as another explanation for Ambode’s mandate “to save protect and sustain human lives in a megacity.” Like other megacities in the world, Oladejo said activities of the industries, in one way or the other, contributed much “to a wide range of disasters that occurred within the state.”
Unlike most cities in the developed world, heavy presence and number of articulated vehicles – tankers, trailers and trucks in the state complicated the state’s emergency crises, which he argued, could have been prevented if the country’s rail system “is really functional. So, the resort to articulated vehicles will have been minimal if the railway is working.”
For these reasons, Oladejo said the state often “has a high record of emergency conditions when compared with other states in the federation.” In 2016 alone, according to him, the state recorded 988 cases of fire disaster; 242 incidents of road accident; eight incidents of fallen tankers; five cases of gas explosion and six incidents of flooding among others.
Undoubtedly, the commissioner said the sizable number of accidents recorded in the state “is no doubt disturbing.” However, he said the fact that the state “has been able to respond promptly, in record time to these emergencies x-rays our commitment to human safety. As a result, we have been able to save hundreds of human lives and properties worth several billions of naira in properties alone.”
Prepared to Act
Most times, Ambode said, disaster does not give any warning or signal before it occurs. Consequently, he pledged his commitment “to act promptly whenever disaster occurs in the state.” But this commitment amounts to nothing without preparation, which the governor said, was the reason his administration reformed the state’s disaster management structure.
Under his leadership, Ambode said the state government was prepared “to manage any emergency condition or situation in whatever dimension it occurs and alleviate the level of trauma or destruction that may arise.” He said his administration had demonstrated high level of preparedness, citing huge resources and personnel deployed to ensure the safety of lives and property.
In the last two years ago, Ambode mapped out diverse emergency initiatives he had rigorously pursued and executed. Specifically, he said the state government “has set aside a lot of resources and personnel for prompt activation of distress management initiatives by dedicated first responders with relevant equipment within the shortest possible time.”
First, He cited the procurement of heavy-duty rescue equipment, which he said, would accelerate the speed of saving lives; salvaging private property and securing public installations during emergency situations. As the Permanent Secretary, the Ministry of Special Duties, Mrs. Adebunmi Adekanye said, statistics showed that more lives “are now being saved.”
Ambode, equally, cited the construction of the LASEMA Rescue Centre, Cappa Oshodi and the subsequent inauguration of the Lekki Response Unit. He explained that the facilities “have been established to respond to all kinds of emergency conditions within the territory of Lagos State. These are specially designed dispatch centres and first of their kinds in Nigeria.
“Although it is imperative to state that the intent is to prevent emergencies and mishaps across the state, we cannot or may not be able to completely eliminate them. As a result we must be ready to swing into action and save lives and property whenever the unfortunate events occur. That is indeed one of the core reasons for which any government exists.”
As indicated in an address he presented at the unveiling of the Oshodi Rescue Centre, the governor said his rescue programmes “are categorised into two phases.” The first phase, according to him, is to significantly bring down response time by our responders. He said his administration had been able to address the issue of prompt response to distress calls relatively.
The second phase is the building of dispatch centres across the state, where according to the governor, rescue operatives could roll out from the nearest station to the scene of accidents. Even though the state has not began implementing the second phase fully, Ambode said much progress “has been made to respond with accuracy and prevent undue destruction of lives and property.”
Before this intervention, Ambode observed that many people “have lost their lives and sources of livelihood, not from the initial incident, but from the delay in the response time due to inadequate resources and training. We have now equipped the emergency agency with trained personnel and equipment to effectively carry out its objective- to save lives and livelihoods.”
Resolved to Sustain
At the unveiling of the Lekki Response Unit, last month, the permanent secretary extensively spoke on the state government’s sustainability plan. As she put it, the plan is evident in Ambode’s resolve “to ensure prompt response to emergencies with one singular drive: Ambode’s passion to save lives and protect property of over 21 million residents in the state.”
So, she pointed out a three-pronged plan. First, Adekanye said the state government had already provided an emergency line through which the state’s emergency agency could be reached seamlessly. She said the emergency line “is 112. It runs 24 hours, and any resident with accurate and genuine report put distress calls to us. We will response a minute after.”
Second, the permanent secretary disclosed that the state government “has introduced the use of new technologies to aid prompt response.” Already, she explained that the state government “has deployed GPS technology and eventually CCTV coverage, we will trace the caller, locate the scene of the incident and subsequently send the nearest available trained responder.”
Ambode identified the third plan as the creation of dispatch centres in different strategic locations statewide. He said the Ambode administration “is committed to realising this commitment. We started with the LASEMA Response Unit, Oshodi. We just inaugurated the Lekki Centre,” which he said, has become imperative due to the increasing rate of emergencies in Lagos Central.
From all indications, according to the governor, the Lekki Centre is strategic. He said the centre was strategically located at Lekki and a jetty was constructed alongside “to facilitate quick response to emergency on the waterways and for proximity to riverine areas of the state. We put all these factors into consideration to ensure efficiency and improve on the response time.”
Also, Ambode said response units “are at different stages of completion. One is on Ikorodu Road and the other at Badagry. When completed, these facilities will complement existing dispatch centre located at the LASEMA Response Unit, Oshodi and the Lekki Centre. By the time we complete all dispatch centres, we have no reason not to respond swiftly.”
As a dynamic government, Ambode assured that the state government “is determined to imbibe a paradigm shift from the orthodox strategy of waiting for emergency to occur and then respond. We have now scaled up the activities of our monitoring and surveillance unit in order to equip our rescue teams to be able to prevent and mitigate against unnecessary loss of lives and property.”