By Toni Kan
They say those who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat it.
A consideration of that aphorism must have informed the solemn pledge made early this year by Mustapha Habib Ahmed, Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to the effect that NEMA will make sure Nigerians do not ever experience the devastation they suffered in 2022 when flooding ravaged many states, claimed 665 lives, displaced 2,437,411 persons, and affected 4,476,867 persons.
As the year comes to an end, one is minded to take a look at how well NEMA and its head honcho have kept that pledge.
When Mustapha Habib Ahmed made that pledge, he spoke as a man who seemed to have found the silver bullet required for nipping disasters in the bud or mitigating the extent of destruction.
That silver bullet was fashioned out of two words – proactivity and preparedness.
Disasters, whether man-made or natural have become the bane of our modern existence with incidents of flooding and sundry natural disasters exacerbated by climate change and climate variability. Man-made disasters include accidents, fire incidents, insurgencies, and many others.
A recognition that these emergencies could happen requires that we evolve proactive measures for dealing with them when they do. The DG of NEMA described these measures as anchored on “NEMA’s paradigm shift towards disaster risk reduction and to take disaster risk management to the grassroots.”
To give fillip to the new paradigm, NEMA pushed for a brand new emergency management methodology with a focus on four key areas – Preparedness, Mitigation, Response and Recovery.
While it was not novel, it was a strategic re-dedication of effort and resources in discharging its mandate which is aptly encapsulated in its vision statement – “to build a culture of preparedness, prevention, response and community resilience to disaster in Nigeria.”
Achieving the vision required a re-calibration.
NEMA, under Ahmed’s stewardship, has focused increasingly on collaboration, partnership and capacity building through a renewed emphasis on Nigeria’s triple response structure. This has seen NEMA working more in sync with national, state and sub-national level actors.
On 21 June, 2023, the DG NEMA flagged off what the agency described as “the downscaling of disaster early warning measures to grassroots for effective live-saving early actions during the 2023 rainy season.”
That event which took place in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state and replicated across the nation was at the core of NEMA’s performance in terms of flood prevention in 2023.
The focus on sub-national level actors – states and local governments and communities – is because, as NEMA has noted, disasters are often local and sub-national level actors are usually the first line responders when they occur.
By up-skilling and building the capacity of the emergency workers in the states and local governments and communities, NEMA was able to offer proactive and effective monitoring, warning, and prevention strategies.
NEMA has also prioritized capacity building in other areas. They held a sensitization workshop with media practitioners on 15 July 2023 to “share learning and insights and equip the media practitioners with knowledge that would help in their reportage as well as enabling them to mediate misinformation, disinformation and fake news while building resilience in the sector.”
NEMA also hosted an Executive Disaster Management Course convened in collaboration with Bournemouth University Disaster Management Centre which focused on finding ways to enhance the capacity of disaster responders. Medical students, soldiers and community volunteers were trained across the country to equip them with the basic knowledge and skills required by first responders in emergencies.
To be proactively prepared, NEMA is leveraging the power of technology because technological advances have made it easier to make forecasts and predict weather patterns and behaviour.
Every year, national-level agencies like the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) release projections based on scientific information in the form of impact-based insights.
2023 was no different. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) released their 2023 Seasonal Climate Prediction (SCP) and Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) respectively.
According to NiMET’s forecast published in January, Nigerians should prepare for “early onset of rainfall accompanied by flooding,” with torrential rains expected in the “coastal areas in the south-south, particularly Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Rivers.”
NIHSA in its 2023 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO), with the theme “Flood Prediction and its Impact on Socio-Economic Livelihood of Nigerians” warned that 178 Local Government Areas (LGA’s) in 32 States of the federation and the FCT fall within the Highly Probable Flood Risks Areas.”
What was different was the attention that was paid to the predictions and forecasts by NEMA and the proactive preparedness that followed, something that ensured that there was no repeat of the devastation of 2022. Those predictions and forecasts were the trigger for the Uyo event and subsequent ones across other states.
Mustapha Habib Ahmed as DG of NEMA took a step further and re-convened the National Emergency Coordination Forum (ECF) on 10 August, 2023. The reconvening of the ECF which is made up of multi-sectoral stakeholders comprising agencies of Government, international organisations and the United Nations systems was predicated upon the recognition of coordination and collaboration as vital components of disaster management necessary for fostering partnership and cooperation while communicating a powerful message of unity and solidarity which inspires trust and confidence among communities.
Some of the stakeholders include NIHSA which provides hydrological data and flood forecasts, NiMet which offers meteorological insights for weather-related risks, NBS which supplies critical data for informed decision-making, FMARD which contributes agricultural expertise for food security. Others are the WFP which ensures the distribution of food assistance to vulnerable communities, the IOM which addresses the needs, protection, and migration of displaced populations, the WHO which manages public health concerns, medical support, and disease prevention and the UN-OCHA which coordinates humanitarian responses for effective aid delivery and capacity building.
This collaborative approach underscores the point that Mustapha Habib Ahmed has made at different fora to the effect that “disaster management and emergency response is multi-task, multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional and everybody’s business from government agencies to the private sector and ordinary citizens.”
As part of its proactive preparedness, NEMA kept a close eye on the release of water from the Lagdo dam in Cameroon. The water release coupled with increased flooding has always spelt doom for Nigerian communities in the low-lying riparian areas.
This year, thanks to close monitoring and activation of early warning signals and emergency evacuation measures, the impact of flooding was mitigated and its devastation minimised. According to reports, flooding has affected 159,157 individuals, caused the loss of 28 lives, and displaced 48,168. While the agency’s objective is to report zero fatalities and casualties, this year’s figures reflect improvement when compared to last year’s – 665 lives lost, 2,437,411 persons displaced, and 4,476,867 persons affected.
Quick wins are good but sustaining them can prove herculean yet not impossible. With proactivity and preparedness leading to recognizable goals, NEMA under Ahmed’s leadership has focused on institutionalising actions and initiatives to ensure that they are sustained into the future.
As part of the process of institutionalising sustainable processes, NEMA launched its Service Charter on 19 September, 2023 to underscore its unwavering dedication to exemplary service delivery to the general public, particularly during times of emergencies. The Service Charter is a formal document that encapsulates and articulates NEMA’s obligations to its service users in terms of benchmarks and information dissemination.
On 15 November 2023, NEMA convened a high-powered gathering of subject matter experts, heads of agencies both national and multilateral and sundry stakeholders to brainstorm via a collaborative forum on the development of a comprehensive national Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy (2024-2030) and Action Plan (2024 – 2027) that addresses, contextualizes and anticipates the evolving landscape of risks and challenges facing Nigeria.
The objective of the document is to define a clear action plan for the period, incorporate global best practices, address specific national challenges, promote cross-sectoral collaboration, enhance early warning signals, prioritise community empowerment and resilience building, utilise data-driven decision-making, implement sustainable practices and establish robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
Twelve days later, on 27th November 2023, NEMA launched the Contingency plan (2023 – 2025), a document highlighting NEMA’s ongoing journey towards effective disaster preparedness and prevention and symbolising a collective and collaborative commitment to enhancing the nation’s resilience to emergencies. The contingency plan proceeded from the nationwide risk analysis carried out by UNICEF in 2021 and was predicated on the recognition that preparedness is key to saving lives and minimizing the impact of disasters and emergencies.
While NEMA has performed well in terms of proactive planning and preparedness, it is worth noting that those who are affected by disasters and emergencies are not abandoned, they are supported through the recovery process in order to build resilience.
NEMA has been fulfilling its disaster relief mandate under the umbrella of the Special National Economic Livelihood Emergency Intervention (SNELEI). SNELEI is a special intervention aimed at supporting the long-term recovery of the nation through the distribution of relief materials such as food and non-food items like water pumps, mattresses, and agricultural supplies. Most of those affected by the 2022 flooding have received support under the SNELEI initiative.
Nigerians caught in crises outside the country have also received emergency evacuation support. This year, almost 1,000 distressed Nigerians stuck in Libya were evacuated while another 2,865 Nigerian citizens caught in the escalation of hostilities in Sudan were brought home with a delighted NEMA DG noting during a reception on 28 July, 2023 that “our pledge is that no Nigerian will be left behind in Sudan and we are happy that we have not lost one Nigerian life, which is most important to us.”
*Toni Kan, a PR and development expert, writes from Lagos.