Air Vice marshal Mohammed Maigari Audu Bida (Retd), is a former Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA. In this interview, he spoke about food security in Nigeria following the flooding recorded last year which led to the loss of vast farmlands and farm produce. He also spoke on Nigeria’s ability to manage disaster and the billions of naira doled out by both the government and the private sector in support of people affected by the flooding. Excerpts…
What are you views on the BBC’s feature story – ‘Nigeria under water’, which depicts the enormity of last year’s flood, the firecracker disaster during last Christmas season at a warehouse in Lagos and the rehabilitation efforts of the government?
The flood that took place around September was a big one. We advocated then, that the government should declare it an emergency disaster area so that the international community will be aware and assist Nigeria in put things back in place. But government in its own wisdom decided to handle it alone. So the truth is that when disasters happen that way, it takes years before people settle back to their normal lives.
For instance, in the case of Kaduna, it happened many years back, but till today, people are still building and trying to settle down after the incident.
Like this one now, the first thing we could have done is mitigation and intervention when it happened and after this, we find out what led to the incident then we try to look for a way to rehabilitate them and with rehabilitation we will need to make some construction for them, because the water washed away all their structures.
After you have done the intervention, you do rehabilitation, you do reconstruction, then you re-integrate the affected people back into the society.
So, one can see that it is not an easy thing. We take it that when a disaster happened, we do the intervention and probably, do some rehabilitation by giving them some food stuff. It is much more than that; you have to know that disasters have to bring development to an area.
Like that area where disaster happened, where the flooding took place, if the government want to be fair to these people they will not take them back to those type of buildings they had before which flood washed away.
Government should provide stronger and more befitting structures, as this would make the people think they are enjoying the dividends of democracy. The government would have built stronger structure for them in areas where the flood will not be able to wash it away. This is a great thing because you will have to put those things into Geographic Information System GIS and find out which area is safer for them to build now. This is what is called resettlement.
If you leave this people, they will go back to those areas, because that is where they met their forefathers and great grand fathers. They will go back there and build again.
It is the responsibility of the government to move the people away from disaster-prone area?
It would have been better if government had allowed the international community to actually come in. I spoke with some people abroad and all they said was that Nigeria never declared an emergency, so their agencies are not aware. These are some of the things that happened, though, there are some of them that gave one thing or the other, but it could have been much more than that. The fact remains that government has their own way of doing things and we cannot question them, they have more information than what we have so we have to respect that fact.
In the last flooding, 2.1 million people were officially registered across the country as internally displaced persons, 7.7 million people were also as a affected and the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland. What role do you think disaster managers would have played?
We want to make a big impact in disaster management in the country and that is why we are working with NEMA and I am happy that they are aware and they are cooperating too.
It is not only NEMA we are going to work with, we are going to work with the other federal and state ministries, like the ministry of agriculture, ministry of science and technology, ministry of health to mention but a view, because for us to achieve our aims and objectives in all these things, we must work with them.
We also want to let people know that having started with NEMA; we are going to talk with all necessary ministries so that anything that has to do with disaster management in these areas we will be inculcated.
What are the proactive measures of reducing casualties and also the feasibility of including the international strategy for disaster reduction and management?
“My take on disaster management in Nigeria, before I left NEMA, still continues, and we are already into it. We are into Disaster Risk Reduction DRR, which is all about trying to recognize disasters before they happened. That is what DRR is all about, most especially in disaster potential areas. These are what we are doing to ensure that we avert disasters from happening and if they must take place to some extent, you reduce the impact on the public. And just like I said, we are very much into it before I left NEMA and I am sure that the present NEMA management are very much aware and will also be give so much into it.
And in construction, when you come into these villages now, you have to design it at least to the minimum standard, they should have road, they should have clinic, they should have all these things. Something, people thought it is a lot of money as far as I am concern, it is not money, it cannot do anything.
The government set up a committee headed by Aliko Dangote, they got some billions or so, whatever it may be, I don’t know what they are going to do with that money, but if they are going to put it into this thing that had happened, it may not be enough. In fact it will take time because these people have to re-settle they have to go back to the means of their livelihood. So what do you do for them, knowing that most of them are farmers and fishermen, you therefore have to get equipment and facility for them so that they can go back into what they are doing before. It is not only about giving them food.
It is because not all these stages are provided for, that is why many of the flood victims are complaining that they have been abandoned. The money that the government gave, I don’t know how much of it got to the flood victim. Whatever it is, I know it is not going to be enough for this entire thing, and the state governments are not having the capacity to handle them.
How do we prevent another flooding, bearing in mind that the Camerounians dams will be reopen soon?
We have to be very alert on the issue of River Niger, and the notification from the Cameroonian government. Even though the notice was very short but they have always notify us whenever they Are about to open the dam. We are suppose to have widen the passage of the water at the dam and around Kashibila area in Benue state. We supposed to have built our own dam to make sure that we arrest the flow of the water whenever they open their dam.
We are still in the process of doing that and the government is aware because, before I left NEMA we had series of meetings even with the members of the House of Representative and also the senate invited us and when we talked on that dam, and they promise that they are going to release money for it, because the project already have started but if we have had that dam in place that disaster would have been greatly reduced if not completely prevented.
Your Non-Governmental Organisation, NGO, the Community Intervention and Relief Initiative, which is striving to make communities resilient to disasters, is gaining momentum nationally. What is the drive behind this?
There are a number of factors that made us establish the Community Relief Intervention, among which is the lack of personnel to tackle issues of emergencies. For example, the staff strength of NEMA is not more than 500, they are not up to 1,000. Because when I took over NEMA, we had only about 240 people, then we had to employ more people, which took our staff strength to between 300 and 400.
I don’t know precisely, what their staff strength is now, but I doubt if they are up to 700. I am looking at maybe 500. So they don’t have enough personnel which necessitated the fact that they have to partner with NGOs that are on ground and active so that when such things happen, it will not be only NEMA that will have to go and disseminate information.
The State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMA) and the Local Government emergency bodies, all have to come in when these things happens. But most state government does not have strong emergency management agencies. So what we need is strong NGOs on the ground that could do these entire sensitization things.
When we decided to set up this NGO, our focus was mainly on disaster management and it is community-based, and that is why we call it ‘community intervention’. This is because disasters happens at the community level and what we are looking at is how to train people on disaster management. Just like we have discussed before, disasters happens at the community level and before these disasters happen, they give no warning, they just happen and unless you have people who are having informed knowledge about disaster, they may not know what to do and that is why we set up the NGO and our intention is to move to the communities across the country.
For instance what happened in Kaduna recently, we discovered that a lot of people were displaced and the Kaduna state government cannot do anything, the federal government cannot do anything if we have we have strong NGOs, this is where they could have come in to see what can be done to see that this people are resettled to give them certain training about how to get back to what they are doing before. These are the things that this NGO is set up to achieve and in other to guide against disaster re-occurrence.
Like when we have a lot of flood across most part of the country last year, we decided to go there and talk to them on what to do when such a situation arises and how to get out of the flooding as well as to resettle immediately after the flooding, so that they can start their livelihood again. That is what we call community rebuilding and rehabilitation programmme. That is what we are doing and that is all we stand for.
We have contacted NEMA, because one of the most difficult thing in this country is when you leave a place you always want to go back there. Our intentions are genuine and good and that is why we are able to approach NEMA and we are happy that the management saw our intention and knowing the kind of experience we have, and the kind of people that make up our board and the kind of experiences they are also have in disaster management.
“We have media gurus that will ensure that we have a lot of information about what we are doing and to also give back the feedback and we also have a lot of other NGOs. These are all the people who are part of our team and we have people who are from the states’ emergency management agencies, we have a lot of them and we have about 300 volunteers on the ground now that we are working with”