A Season of Natural and Man-Made Disasters in Nigeria
By Yushau A. Shuaib
On September 23, 2010, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) hosted a preliminary meeting for a simulation exercise on presumed terrorist's bomb explosions at a very strategic place in Abuja.
The agency which has in its service officers from Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Nigerian Army, Navy and Airforce, had a full attendance at the meeting. Participants were drawn from military and paramilitary including NIA, the Police, Federal Fire Service (FFS), Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), State Security Service (SSS), Nigeria security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Hospitals, Red Cross and other stakeholders whose roles are crucial to disaster management in the country.
A simulation exercise is an act of imitating the behaviour of some situations for the purpose of training as well as for studying the level of preparedness in a case of the reality of the assumed incidence.
Air Commodore Alexander Bankole who is the Director Search and Rescue of NEMA triggered an alert for the exercise to test how officers in the field would respond to an emergency situation of bomb explosions in the capital city. The response was fairly successful in testing the level of preparedness of stakeholders.
Such simulations exercises have been successfully carried out on search and rescue effort to tackle emergencies during flooding, road accidents, plane crash, terrorist attacks among others. Ironically there was a case of a simulation becoming a reality like the aborted exercise in Port-Harcourt Airport where an aircraft for the exercise on landing, suddenly veered off into the bush. The officers on ground who were prepared for the exercise eventually saved the passengers who had been billed to dramatize for the simulation.
The recent Abuja bomb attacks on the day of the country's 50th Independence Anniversary as claimed by Movement for Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND), though caught the country by surprise, the response agencies timely and responsibly attended to the disaster saving more lives as well as moving survivals and corpses to hospitals. This incident came at the time the country is witnessing the climate change-induced tragedies.
A disaster is a sudden occurrence of event leading to loss of lives and properties. It disrupts normal societal activities with negative effects on human, materials and the environment where it occurs. A natural disaster occurs as a result of natural phenomenon and circumstances which is referred to as an ÔÇśAct of God' while a man-induced disaster results from human activities due to ignorance, deliberate instigation and nonchalant attitudes of those that could have addressed the occurrence of the incidents.
There have been massive floods in some Northern states where, for instance, speed boats were used to evacuate students of Usman Danfodio University to safety; when communities have been cut off due to collapsed bridges in Kebbi State with thousands of hectares of farmlands washed away or submerged in Jigawa State.
In the southern parts of the country, mud sliding and erosions have continued to pervert some communities in southern parts of the country: the menace of storms and degradation of lands in coastal communities have resulted to displaced people whose means of livelihood are destroyed.
Interestingly as properties worth billions of Naira are lost to natural disasters, fewer deaths are recorded. The government through NEMA has been very supportive with relief materials and rehabilitations of victims.
Man-made disasters are aggravated by poor governance, weak structures and non-enforced policies. The major emergency situations in Nigeria are man-made tragedies. In rural areas there are reported outbreaks of epidemics like contagious diseases affecting large number of people in specific geographical locations. For instance cholera, meningitis and Lassa fever have caused loss of lives in various communities in the country when preventive antidotes could have saved the situations.
Urban cities have continued to witness collapse of buildings due to weak structures, likewise, deplorable road conditions have resulted to loss of lives in our highways. Those calamities can be blamed on the shoulders of regulatory authorities who have the responsibilities to monitor and check the defects.
Similarly some groups and individuals have deliberately engaged in criminalities for economic gains and rebellions against the state to make some statements. The country has lost human and materials due to ethnic and religious crises; kidnapping of citizens and foreigners; destructions of pipelines to illegal siphon crude oil by bunkerers and local gangs which cause oil spillages and huge fire outbreaks; and the recent phenomena of planting of bombs in strategic places by undesirable elements.
Therefore whose responsibility is to check the menace of man-made disaster? The relevant stakeholders have roles to play through collaborative efforts and commitment towards timely interventions and response.
The concept of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is advocated for better awareness in managing disasters. Its measures are designed to protect livelihoods and the assets of communities and individuals from the impact of emergency situations through mitigation, preparedness and adequate awareness. DRR which is being championed in Nigeria by NEMA through capacity building and the creation of volunteer groups is a means of bridging the gap between development and humanitarian programmes that could strengthen livelihood, provide security and protect properties.
Awareness campaigns on preventive measures against hazards that could lead to disasters can go a long way with the support of media for massive sensitizations in their editorial. Educational institutions could also mainstream DRR into school curricula while response agencies and volunteer groups build their capacity through further training and workshop.
While the response agencies should be encouraged to intensify their collaborative efforts, there is the need for consistency across multiple stakeholders by providing a coherent, transparent and inclusive policy for disaster management. Nevertheless every citizen has a stake in ensuring that those calamities are prevented. At individual levels, we should report undesirable elements and strange activities that could cause hazards to appropriate authorities as well as taking proactive and practical steps to safeguard our society. We must build a culture of prevention by taking appropriate actions against potentials that easily trigger hazards in our society.
Nigeria is quite a blessed country that seems to be immune to major catastrophes like earthquakes, volcanoes, cyclones, cold and heat waves, landslides, mudslides as well as tsunami. Just imagine how other nations cope socially, economically and psychologically in the face of adverse effect of those monumental disasters.
Yushau A. Shuaib