We should be prepared for every eventuality, argues Olusegun Adeniyi

In the aftermath of the earth tremors that hit Abuja last week, the federal government assured residents of their safety but it is important that Nigerians do not get carried away by all the assertions that our country is immune from earthquakes. We are not. Where such natural disasters are concerned, nations and territories are categorised into high risk, medium risk and low risk. That Nigeria falls into the low risk category does not in any way rule out the possibilities of an earthquake.

In their book, “The Changing Earth: Exploring Geology and Evolution”, James Monroe and Reed Wicander stated very clearly: “No place on earth is immune to earthquakes, but almost 95 % take place in seismic belts corresponding to plate boundaries where plates converge, diverse and slide past each other.”

Therefore, while earthquakes may be unlikely in Nigeria, and my prayer is that we never experience such tragedy, we should dispense with the notion that it is impossible. That explains why we need to change our attitude to occurrences like the Abuja tremors as I pointed out in a piece published on this page eight years ago, on 1st September 2011 to be specific. Titled ‘It can never happen here’ and published in the wake of the bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja, I consider it very instructive for times like this so the edited version is excerpted below.

First, a confession: I do not own the copyright to today’s headline. It belongs to the late Chike Akabogu, one of the most gifted writers Nigeria has ever produced. He was a member of the defunct National Concord Editorial Board in the late eighties and early nineties. Unfortunately, he died at a very young age. Akabogu once wrote about how Nigerians like to delude themselves that they are different; that bad things that occur elsewhere have no place in our country.

I remember when the wave of terrorism heightened at the beginning of the last decade, it was considered too distant a phenomenon to worry about in Nigeria even when there were explosions at the United States’ embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. When Farouk Muttallab was caught trying to blow up a Delta Airlines flight in December 2009 and the United States’ government wanted to link our nation with terror, we easily wriggled out by claiming that Farouk caught the bug abroad; after all, he was not schooling in Nigeria. We all took the ugly incident in our strides, believing it could never happen on our shores. Now, the chicken has come home to roost with last Friday bombing of the United Nations head office right here in Abuja. With no place to hide anymore, we can no longer live in denial as a nation: In Nigeria, as in other countries, anything and everything can indeed happen!

The philosophy of ‘it can never happen here’ is actually responsible for the state of our nation today because both the leaders and the led have come to certain conclusions that feed not only the culture of impunity that has become a national ideology but also our state of unpreparedness for any eventuality. Yet for us to develop, we must accept that anything can happen here. For instance, our leaders must accept that the ’Arab Spring’ which has consumed several leaders from Egypt to Tunisia and has now birthed at Muammar Gaddafi’s shores in Libya can happen here. We should also never lose sight of the fact that the road to Mogadishu began with the orgy of violence we have witnessed repeatedly in Jos where no fewer than 20 people were killed with several property destroyed in a renewed hostility last weekend. We should expect that we could have an earthquake, a Tsunami and other tragic occurrences as forces of nature fight everywhere in the world.

As pessimistic as all these may sound, that is the way most serious countries now think by building negative scenarios and working to ensure they do not happen; while also planning towards mitigating such occurrences in the event that they do. But by living in denial of anything and everything, we prevent ourselves from learning useful lessons. That is why we were surprised that we now have suicide bombers in our midst. Because we never came to terms with the fact that if it could happen elsewhere, it can also happen in our country.

However, the tragedy of our nation today is not that we don’t learn from the example of other countries but rather that we don’t learn even from our own experiences. We can use a recent incident to underscore that fact. Just a few weeks ago there was heavy downpour which practically sacked the city of Lagos. Last weekend in Ibadan, we witnessed a far bigger tragedy. If we find it difficult to deal with the simple issue of rainfall and flooding, how can we handle bigger tragedies?

As I write this, I just received a mail from one Mr. Dayo Akinuli which speaks for itself: ‘Please we the residents of Alpha Beach and its environs are appealing to you to help us use your column to sensitise Governor (Babatunde) Fashola and President (Goodluck) Jonathan who came to the Ocean almost two months ago with a promise that everything would be done to make the place habitable. Between then and now, over a thousand residents have packed out. The ocean has gradually found its way into our neighbourhood through Bode Ajakaye Street, very close to the GLO Building. All these claims can be verified by paying a visit to the beach. We all know the project is beyond what the state government can handle but they must not wait until the ocean sweeps all the residents to the great beyond before they do something.’

The forces of nature and that of terrorism represent the biggest threat facing mankind today yet experience of the past few weeks has shown very clearly that we are ill-prepared to tackle either of these challenges. On the first one, as a former resident of Ajah, I never fail to entertain fear about the vulnerability of the Lekki Axis of Lagos. Not only do we have no capacity to handle emergency in the event that nature strikes along that coast but indeed that we may not even have anything to warn of an impending danger. That explains why somebody must begin to think along that line: Anything can happen here!

Note: Need I say more?

Adeniyi is Chairman, THISDAY Editorial Board