Emergencies: Victims’ ordeals, national response




Owing to poor and tardy preparations, Nigeria is often caught in the web of emergency situations. ELEOJO IDACHABA in this piece takes a look at some victims’ ordeals, the country’s preparedness and x-ray of recent developments.

Emergency situations are not new in Nigeria or anywhere across the globe. From time immemorial, Nigerians have passed through several emergency situations. In many of those instances, there are usually bitter tales to tell by those who may have lost property, money, shelter and even lives. That is why the discourse often prompts questions about Nigeria’s preparedness in managing such situations.

Sordid experiences

Speaking with this reporter, Mrs. Elizabeth Adaji (a widow) said she can never forget what she passed through in Lagos between 1992 and 1993, especially during the June 12 election saga.

She said, “I lost my 10-year-old daughter who was anaemic due to sickle cell disorder in that crisis as well as my husband. When that election was annulled, a crisis started in Lagos, and unfortunately for me and my family, we lived in a densely populated area of Mushin. For some of us who were not from the core western part of the country, we could not sleep with our two eyes closed because of threats from those sympathetic to the late Abiola. As a result, I hurriedly picked a few clothes and took my daughter in an attempt to return to my community in Benue state to stay there until the end of the crisis.

“On our way, somewhere between Ogun and Ondo states, the vehicle developed a major fault. So, we had to sleep in the bus for two nights because the driver returned to Lagos to get the part. That was when my daughter developed a crisis that I could not manage in that lone community around a thick forest. I didn’t have the drugs since we could not procure them before leaving Lagos. That was how I lost my daughter that day. The community people assisted me to bury the corpse.

“Because of this, I could not proceed to Benue, but decided to return to Lagos to meet my husband. As I made my way back to our house in Mushin, I saw people in front of our compound. Initially, my thought was that it was the normal gathering associated with the annulled election, but a woman who knew me screamed in Yoruba language that his wife had returned. Whatever that meant dawned on me when I saw some of the people we shared the compound with and they began to wail on sighting me. At that moment, I knew something had happened.

“Nobody knew what I just passed through on the way prompting my return. To my shock, I was told that some hoodlums sympathetic to the annulled poll identified my husband as one of them from the north and hit him on the head while he was returning from somewhere close to the house and he died instantly.

“My whole world crumbled, momentarily as I collapsed. My journey from Ondo back to Lagos was simply through the help of another driver with Benue Links. I remained in Lagos for two months before we could bring my husband’s corpse for burial in Benue. That was the last time I saw Lagos. The only thing I left that city with was a few clothes and footwear. I don’t know what has happened to them.”

Lockdown

Also narrating his experiences especially during the last lockdown, a 30-year-old post-graduate student of the University of Ibadan, Micah Akor, said the month of June in 2020 which was the height of the lockdown would ever remain for him a nightmare.

He said, “My dad died in Lagos in June 2020 in the midst of the lockdown. Even before his death, he had a case of diabetes which we have been managing. As soon as Covid-19 was reported, the hospital where he was receiving treatment suddenly failed to admit him anytime he needed to be given insulin because of the fear of coronavirus and the lack of bed space for him.

“One night, he developed complications which we could not manage at home. Every attempt to resuscitate him proved abortive, so he died that night. The next challenge was where to keep the corpse before burial. Every morgue we went to turned us down because, according to them, they don’t know what killed him. All our explanations turned on deaf ears.

“At that point, we decided against all odds to immediately move the corpse home for burial in Kogi state. That again was another problem as movement was not possible. We left Lagos in our own vehicle with the corpse around 5:00 am that day, but due to inter-state lockdown, my dad’s corpse did not arrive in Anyigba, Kogi state until midnight the following day. I salute the courage of my mum and another man who sat behind with the corpse while I drove all through that day and night.

“We went through all these because most hospitals in Lagos were overwhelmed by the number of cases arising from Covid-19 complications. If there were enough response mechanisms to the pandemic, probably my dad would have been here today.”

Doctors’ strike

As for Mr. and Mrs. Salifu, it was neither a politically-induced emergency nor lockdown, but they can’t forget the last doctors’ strike during which time they lost their seven-month-old daughter.

Mr. Salifu in an emotion-laden voice told Blueprint Weekend that, “I was away to Taraba state when my wife called to inform me that our daughter, the second one, was passing watery stool, vomitting and unable to eat. I knew it was the teething problem associated with children at that age. I told her to manage the situation till I returned. Unknown to me, the night I returned to Abuja was the day doctors began the nationwide strike.

“At about 11pm, we discovered that the little girl whose only food prior to that time was breast milk could not suck again; so we took an okada to Nyanya General Hospital. On getting there, we were informed at the entrance that doctors were on strike, but considering the state of my child, we insisted on seeing a nurse to advise us on the drugs to buy. We met two nurses, but they refused to attend to us, and instead referred us to a private hospital.

“In fairness to one of the female nurses, she came, touched the baby and asked me to take her home after telling me what to buy. While we were about to leave, my daughter died in my hands. It was a moment I can never wish for anyone, not even my enemy. That was how I lost my daughter.”

Avoidable deaths

According to a report by Health Monitor on the impact of frequent doctors’ strikes in the country, a total of 98 avoidable deaths were recorded in the FCT alone. The report noted that if there was what they called proper response mechanism, such would have been avoided.

“Without bias, frequent doctors’ strikes call to question the response mechanism readiness in moments of emergency in the health sector. Without sounding alarming, not fewer than 97 avoidable deaths have been recorded in the FCT alone when doctors withdraw their services due to industrial disharmony,” the report noted.

Fire incidents

Chico Orji, a tyre dealer at the Kugbo market in Abuja gutted by fire in February, told this reporter how he watched helplessly as his source of livelihood went up in flames.

“We saw the fire as it started, but before anyone could do anything it had begun to spread so fast. The fire service department did not come until everything went down and there is no preventive measure within the market.

“I lost over N10 million to the incident. We are just managing to reconstruct the place from loans. We want the FCT minister to help us as he pledged so that we can recover from the damage,” he said.

Displaced IDPs

In April 2021, over 2,000 displaced residents of Geidam town in Yobe state whose homes were raided by Boko Haram insurgents were found heading to nowhere in the desert to seek refuge. These are, according to the United Nations Commission for Refugees, beside the thousands of others in internally displaced camps across the country.

According to a statement by the global body while reacting to the plight of displaced people especially women and children, “There is a need to reinvigorate the emergency response system to tackle challenges such as this. This calls for a return to the drawing board in order to ascertain lapses and respond accordingly.”

Preparedness

In his view, a retired Fire Brigade controller, Mr. Awoshika Raji, noted that the most neglected sub-sector in the country “is emergency squad.” Raji, in his late 70s, said long before he left service over 10 years ago, the issue of response to emergency needs had always been mere rhetoric.

“Up till this moment, apart from the Fire Brigade, there is no identifiable emergency response squad. Lately, we hear of NEMA, but their response to emergency needs is after disaster strikes. That was why I backed the establishment of the Peace Corps to meditate at the initial moment of crisis.

“The Peace Corps would identify potential crisis situations, wade in to avoid casualties. And when the damage is done, NEMA can come in; rather than waiting for a crisis to erupt before they start distributing food and mattresses. Nigerian government needs to raise the bar of handling emergencies in Africa,” he said.

Historical perspective

Writing on ‘A Look at Nigeria’s Burgeoning Emergency Management System and Challenges,’ a professor at the School of Environmental Affairs, Indiana State University, Abdul-Akeem Sadiq, said, “Emergency or what is called disaster management in Nigeria is the coordination and integration of all activities necessary to build, sustain and improve the capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to and recover from threatening or actual natural or human-induced disasters.”

According to the professor, the history of emergency management in Nigeria dates back to 1906 when the Fire Brigade was charged with the responsibility of battling fires, saving lives, protecting properties and responding to disasters.

He noted that in the 60s and 70s, this function was housed in the offices of the Head of State and state governors; however in 1976, the National Emergency Relief Agency (NERA) was created in response to a devastating drought that occurred between 1972 and 1973.

Going down memory lane, he said, “In 1990, in line with the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, the federal government set up an inter-ministerial body to develop ways to reduce natural disaster risks. Three years later, the federal government expanded the scope of risk reduction to encompass all types of disaster by passing Decree 119 and subsequently making NERA an independent body under the office of the president.

“In March 1999, by Act 12 and amended by Act 50 of 1999, the federal government created the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and charged it with the responsibility of managing all emergency situations resulting from disasters.”

In 2010, he said a new policy was developed to offer a holistic approach to managing disasters with participation from a wide array of players including the federal, states and local governments as well as civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector organisations.

Recent report/analysis

As Nigeria’s response to emergency comes under focus, Yewande Kowofola Ogundeji of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Obinna Onyejekwe of the University of Nigeria Nsukka while writing on how well Nigeria has responded to the emergency arising from the last coronavirus noted that in 2017, during the WHO’s Joint External Evaluation (JEE) of IHR core capacities, an independent, collaborative multi-sectoral effort to assess country’s capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to public health risks, Nigeria scored poorly both in prevention and response.

“Nigeria’s average score of 1.9 across the 15 JEE indicators in the prevent category suggested that overall there was limited capacity to prevent biological, chemical or radiation health risk.

“The country was better prepared in the detect category with an average score of 2.6 across the 13 indicators in this category. This score shows that the country has developed some capabilities to detect new health risks through real-time surveillance, and laboratory capabilities to test the diseases; however, the sustainability of these capabilities is still in doubt.”

This score according to the duo suggested that Nigeria was not adequately prepared.

“This is most obviously evident from the low testing rates for Covid-19 in the country. Nigeria only had the capacity to test 2,500 samples a day and just half of these are actually administered each day because of the shortage of human resources, testing kits, and laboratories, and case definition for testing that prioritises symptomatic cases and their contacts.

As of June 30, 2020, only 138,462 samples had been tested in Nigeria for a population of 200 million. In contrast, South Africa, a country of 58 million people, has already conducted 1,630,008 tests.

“Nigeria had just 350 ventilators and 350 ICU beds for its entire population before the outbreak. In April 2020, the country acquired 100 more ventilators, but given the growing caseload, that was not enough.”