Nigeria has continued to witness series of embarrassing disasters and emergency situations that are largely man-made; for instance youth militancy, communal clashes, religious conflicts, fire outbreaks, road accidents, kidnapping and robberies. The magnitudes of the carnages usually overwhelm response agencies responsible for managing and mitigating such situations.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) an organization charged with the responsibility of managing disasters and emergencies in Nigeria becomes the major focus when members of its staff on humanitarian duties recently escaped violent attacks from warring parties during the Jos crisis in which an ambulance belonging to the organization was completely burnt. Another of such incident was that of the communal clash between neighbouring villages in Akwa Ibom and Cross River States along the Adeng River, Ikpanya in Ibiono Local Government Area.
While these incidents were yet to be addressed, an aircraft hired by NEMA for mock rescue exercise crash-landed in Port-Harcourt International Airport. Rescue workers on the ground that had actually been on the standby for the mock exercise instead found themselves dealing with real emergency and saved all the passengers and crew from death.
While the passengers of the plane crash were being evacuated by the proactive response agencies on the ground, another disaster occurred in Kanti Kwari, the largest textile market in Kano state. The only available NEMA rescue helicopter was quickly dispatched from Abuja to assist the beleaguered fire-fighters in the ancient city. People on ground were marveled and thrilled by the helicopter that was dispensing fire extinguishing chemical from the air and at the same time rescuing trapped victims, a typical scene from Hollywood movie.
The failed simulation exercise in Port-Harcourt was one of the series of the practical trainings NEMA organises to ascertain the level of preparedness of response agencies in the face of natural and man-made disasters. The purpose of the simulation (mock) exercise is to test the capabilities of the first response agencies in the event of an air crash within the airport vicinity where both national and international passengers may be involved. The agency also uses such opportunities to study response capability in medical response, equipment holding, media and information management towards the same goals; safety of lives and properties. Similar exercises in the past were successfully staged at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja and other locations across Nigeria, including simulated road accidents. Participants at such exercises included fire fighters, health workers, security personnel and emergency agencies. The response agencies include Federal safety Commission (FRSC), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigeria Police Force (NPF), Read Cross, the Army among others.
During one of the simulation exercises, the Director General of NEMA, AVM Mohammed Audu-Bida (Rtd) emphasised that class room training are mere theoretical while simulation exercises provide practical experiences, and this would help to test the capability and ability of officers in responding to life-threatening situation professionally and promptly. Recently the agency invited some Israeli emergency experts to train some Nigerian personnel on search and rescue operation during plane crash, Ship wreck, fire incidences, flood situations and other disaster scenarios that could happen in any part of the country.
Victims of the fire incident in Kano are already clamouring for compensation from government. If they had heeded the several warnings and campaigns by NEMA to insure their goods, by now they would enjoyed peace of mind and recovered from the losses by benefiting from such insurance policies.
The occurrence of disasters and emergencies in the country has increased in both frequency and intensity due to increase in population. Most times market fire are attributed to shop-owners’ carelessness in handling electrical appliances, faulty electric wiring and storage of inflammable substances in unsafe manners. Billions of Naira and human lives have been lost to the inferno with most victims failing to recover financially and physically afterwards. It is against this background that the NEMA conceived the idea of evolving an insurance scheme for both structures and the individual shops in those markets tagged Market Shop Owners Insurance Scheme in 2009. It worked out affordable insurance cover for patronage of shop owners with insurance firms so that in the event of major fire incidents, victims are guaranteed of immediate, adequate and satisfactory compensation to enable them recover quickly from their losses. It is common knowledge that the best fire fighting technique is prevention and the best strategy for recovery is insurance cover.
It is the responsibility of the market authorities to insure the markets while the traders insure their wares and properties, by this, market authorities will receive claims to restore the market structure in earnest while the traders will use their claims to bounce back to business. This is the best recovery strategy from market fire disasters all over the world.
Unfortunately with the campaign across the country, only few market owners in Lagos, Ibadan and Kaduna have bought into the initiatives. Those who have insured their individual shops and properties would not have been in desperate moves to rescue their wares and got consumed in the inferno like an Igbo chieftaincy title holder who died in Kano fire while attempting to retrieve his wares worth millions of Naira.
While the Federal Government has been making efforts through NEMA to promote disaster resilience in the country, the states must also be actively involved to achieve the desired objectives through the establishment of their respective State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs). The local agencies are required to response to disasters within the capacity of the states and request for Federal assistance only in overwhelming circumstances. Only few states have so far established functional offices with well-trained staffs for emergency services.
The sustainability of emergency response service in the country requires active commitments of States and Local Governments to mobilize and train the people at the communities including volunteers. The involvement of trained volunteer groups in Kano fire was quite encouraging and commendable as the situation did not escalate to mass-looting or leading to past incidence of attacks on innocent residents.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in March 2010 by the Economic confidential, Daily Trust, Vanguard, Leadership, Champion, People Daily and Nigerian Tribune