The need for constant collaborations and rational brainstorming on recurrent issues of natural and human-induced disaster in Nigeria was once again brought to fore, when the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) organized an annual retreat for the media, as well as other actors in the advocacy of disaster response, mitigation and management.
Apparently, the occasion was meant to create a platform for better understanding and scrutiny of issues relating to emergency response strategies particularly by officials of the agency in collaboration with the Journalist Against Disaster Initiative (JADI), Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) and Media Information Committee on Emergency Management (MICEM).
While enumerating a number of challenges militating against the operations of the agency in meeting its mandates of reaching out to victims of various emergency situations in the country with accurate information at times of adversity, as well as on provision of relief items, Director General of NEMA, Alhaji Muhammad Sani-Sidi, challenged the media to take serious how best such occurrences could be scrupulously reported without provoking reprisals in cases of communal clash or create panic among the people.
He believes relating with the media in disaster situation would bring about public participation and involvement in disaster management in the country. Sani-Sidi therefore expressed optimistic that the roles of journalists cannot be neglected in in the fight against disasters, urging them to take cognisance of their role in the society, especially with regards to awareness of the fundamental issues on disaster management and understanding of the general public about the NEMA mandates.
In the face heightened tragedies resulting from bomb explosion and other related emergency situations in the country, the NEMA boss lamented the laidback put up by some state and local governments who are failing in their constitutional responsibilities on disaster management despite the contingency funds placed at their disposal by the federal government. He said such funds were underutilized by these levels of government that transfer mere hazards to NEMA to manage.
Sani Sidi bemoaned over-reliance of states and local governments on NEMA to help perform their constitutional duties saying this have intensified the risk of manageable hazards to disasters in some grassroots. He therefore described non-existence of State and Local Emergency Management Agency (SEMAs & LEMAs) in some states and local councils as one of the major challenges facing disaster management in the country.
His words: “It is regrettable that apart from Lagos state and few others, in many states SEMAs and LEMAs are not in existence. I discovered during my advocacy visits to them that they are identified only by name not by functional vehicles, offices and personnel. They are not funded. In fact, you would find out they have only have Special Advisers on Disasters with neither funds nor personnel for effective operation and preparedness against disasters. How can it work?”
Through a coordinated effort by stakeholders, NEMA’s Press Secretary, Yushau A. Shuaib said, the mandate of the country’s only proactive emergency management agency could be properly enhanced.
“The programme was primarily initiated by his Agency to bring about impunity and understanding between NEMA and journalists, and see how the mandates of the emergency management can be effectively extended to various parts and groups in the country,” he said.
In his remarks, the National Coordinator JADI, Mr. Sanya Adejokun reiterates that JADI was primarily established to improve the qualitative and quantitative of information present to the general public on disaster alerts, reliefs and response.
According to him, as disasters increase in various parts of the country, it has called for instant collaborative effort between the JADI and NEMA.
It is noteworthy that the contributory roles of the Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI) to the nation’s disaster sensitisation campaign was graciously appreciated at the event, especially by the Public Relations staff, Information and Communication Technology divisions of NEMA, among others.
Besides, the occasion was blessed by media and public relations dignitaries from both public and private organizations on disaster management such as Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Nigerian Police Force (NPF), Nigerian Security and Civil Defence (NSCD), United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Nigeria Red Cross Society.
On his own part, Public Relations Officer of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Mr. Jonas Agwu, urged the media to always strive at giving accurate and consistent facts and figures on disaster situations in the country. He cited the recent figure complied from flood disasters in various parts of the country, stressing those inaccurate and inconsistent facts and figures reported by journalists.
Similarly, several challenges facing the nation’s disaster management were identified by the participants. These include non-existence of SEMAs and LEMAs in some states, weakness in part of emergency services, weakness of fire service response, absence of ambulance service, poorly equipped police, poorly equipped hospitals, low technical/manpower capacity, poor funding of Disaster management activities, inadequate data management, poor funding of SEMAs and LEMCs.
The participants recommended improvement in coordination, collaboration and cooperation among various stakeholders on disaster management stakeholders; establishment of SEMAs and LEMCs across the six geo-political zones in the country; effective predictable funding arrangement for SEMAs and LEMCs; robust ambulance service; improved equipment and personnel for first responders; improved hospitals; streamlining disaster management into developmental strategies; and streamlining disaster risk reduction into project planning.
Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI), Abuja.