Delayed response to distressed calls for fire incidents by fire fighters has always been a source of worry for many victims that had property engulfed by inferno. In most cases the fire fighters arrive scene of incidents very late after the fire had done its worst thereby subjecting them to attack by angry sympathisers. However, not many people know that the fire fighter is fighting with obsolete equipment that smokes more disastrously than the rampaging fire. The scenario is not different in Niger state where gallant fire fighters respond to distress calls by pushing water engines several kilometres to scene of incidents.
In this interview with AIDELOJE OJO, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Coordinator in Niger and Kwara zone, Mr. Lugard Bijimi, insists that lack of equipment had incapacitated fire fighters against quick and effective response to distress calls in Niger. He also takes a critical look at the activities of the agency in the zone ,including the awareness sensitisation of the people to stay away from the flood plains of the hydro power dams in the state to avert flood disaster this year
Making communities more resilient
The general mandate of NEMA is to coordinate all forms of disaster in Nigeria which we are extending to Niger and Kwara states. Presently our focus is on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) through programmes like awareness creation, stakeholders meeting / experience sharing, identifying areas prone to disasters among others. In other to get positive results, we are working with people at the grassroots through the State Emergency Management Agency and people at the community levels to identify common disasters with a view to training Volunteers in disaster prone areas. This is to make communities more resilient and better prepared when disaster occurs.
Emergency situations in the two states
In the few months of our stay so far, the office has discovered a lot of fire incidents here in Minna particularly in the month of January 2014. We have also received reports of fire incidents in Kwara state. However we are aware that there are lots of floods in Kwara and Niger. Road crashes and windstorm are other major disasters in Kwara and Niger states. There are also few cases of communal clashes in our area of coverage.
Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) as proactive measure
Since NEMA plays a coordinating role, we collaborate with relevant stakeholders. It should however be known that we are not first responders but we coordinate. We collaborate with State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), the Nigeria Police Force, Federal Road Safety Corps(FRSC), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp (NSCDC), Red Cross, all arms of military, MDAs, CSOs, FBOs, NURTW, NIMET, NOA, NAMA , private organisations and the press. Disaster management is every body’s business; therefore all hands must be on deck. Awareness creation is a priority of the agency in line with the Hyogo framework for action which has shifted to Disaster Risk Reduction. We do not wait for disaster to occur so that we respond. No, we are proactive.
Providing alternative settlements for people living on waterways
Every year, NIMET gives rain fall predictions after which NEMA communicates same to each of the state and all relevant stakeholders. Sensitisation on flood and other disasters is however a continuous and all year round activity in NEMA. This year we have paid a courtesy call to the NIMET office in Minna and hope to collaborate with the state SEMA and other relevant stakeholders to listen to their predictions for the year and take necessary measures
As you are aware, Niger state has many dams and we have seen the need to visit such dams to interact with their officials as a proactive measure to avert consequences of failure, The agency will like to appeal to the various levels of government (state, local and community levels) to consider alternative settlement for people living along water ways and join us in this awareness creation to save lives and properties. Like I said earlier, NEMA is not interested in allowing disaster to occur every year and give pea nut as relief materials. We will go to the dams and bring the management together with the people living in the area towards having lasting solution.
2012 flood disaster and federal government compensations
I do not have full records of what was done in the state but the federal government gave specific amount of money to states affected by flood in 2012 which include the two states we are overseeing. Every area that was affected by flood in Niger and Kwara states as much as possible got some intervention from NEMA through provision of relief materials. As a matter of fact even the recent boat mishaps that happened in part of the state., NEMA was there. I went for assessment together with my colleague from Abuja and relief materials were subsequently delivered. However, one life lost is worth more than billions of naira in relief materials so we prefer to save that life than to only provide assistance after the damage is done.
How to ensure effective management of emergency situation
The first thing I will do is to appeal to the Chief Servant , the governor of Niger state, Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu, I know he done much in disaster management in the state, but he can do more particularly in fire service. You can see the vehicle that is here, if they start the vehicle the smoke itself is so much to cause disaster. The engines are weak. The fire fighters are really willing and hard working, but the equipments are not good enough for quick and effective response.
For instance there was a day they received several distressed calls to respond to fire in Minna and they were pushing the vehicle to start before response and it hardly started. May be the governor’s attention has not been drawn to the present condition of the fire engines, to the state of which the vehicles are. Apart from that, we are trying to collaborate with fire service through SEMA to go on effective fire sensitisation. They have been doing sensitisation but we can do it on a wider note. This is a Fire Service Training School and if you have a fine school like this it means the government has a good intention. I do not know how many fire engines they have in the state but if need be they should get more or make the existing ones more functional
Quick response to distress calls
Quick response is expected when disaster or emergency occurs. NEMA has gone beyond talking about volunteers and preparing volunteers. We are also using the Disaster Response Units (DRU) in the military. In Minna particularly, we have the Air Force here which has a quick response team that is being trained and supported by NEMA to respond very quickly to disasters when the need arises. This is a plus to NEMA and we are hoping that with time they will have sufficient equipment and personnel to respond to every part of the country.
Commending IBB on drainages
May be the topography and the soil nature of this area is such that small amount of rain can cause flood because of the inability of the ground to retain water. However in Minna, I would like to commend the effort of the former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida for the drainages he had taken time to build. It has saved Minna of major flash flood disasters. Unfortunately as I was going round the city, I discovered that the residents are using it as refuse dump. We want to encourage other communities to construct small gutters and water ways and join other agencies to frown against dumping of refuse in drainages. It is good to do the right thing because our health is more important than wealth. We should create the consciousness of keeping our environment clean. People even build along water ways and when you talk to them they say it is their fathers’ land. Nobody is contesting that but you need to be alive to stay in your father’s land.
Making NEMA comfortable in Minna
The Niger state government has provided a temporary office for NEMA in Minna in Alhaji Alhassan Ndakogi Fire training school, NITECO road, Tunga Minna. We learnt that they are working on a more permanent site along Bida road. I think the government should look into other areas to make us more comfortable in Niger state. Comfortable in the sense of more acceptance by the state government if the government accept us and people know that we are here to serve them, it makes us feel more comfortable. We are here to work for the people of the state and to collaborate with government in the management of disaster, so if they are hosting us they should host us well by giving us conducive environment for us to play our part in assisting the state SEMA better. So whatever the Chief Servant has done to make other agencies comfortable, he can extend it to us. However we are here to work and we promise to live up to the confidence our DG and management had on us to establish this office.