5th September, 2012
Nigerians often accuse the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, of crass inefficiency, but recent revelations have shown the biggest blame must go to state and council leaders. With only about 800 employees in six zonal offices nationwide and a crummy budget, Nigerians seem to over estimate the powers of NEMA when disaster strikes.
NEMA, with its offices in Port Harcourt, Maiduguri, Kaduna, Jos, Enugu and Lagos, coordinates emergency activities nationwide and only relies on the services of 80 other agencies, including fire fighters, the Army, the Air Force and Julius Berger, among others.
To millions of Nigerians, NEMA is well equipped and has an adequate budget and enough staff to be deployed anywhere and any time disaster strikes and emergency services are needed. As Ibrahim Farinloye, NEMA spokesperson in the southwest explained at a media interactive workshop last week, NEMA’s duty is only to coordinate or manage emergency services with virtually no budget to do so.
The duty and responsibilities of NEMA mainly consist of reaching out to agencies or persons that can help when disaster strikes. The grassroots emergency agency that ought to manage every local government allocation on emergency services is almost non existent. At the state level, allocations for emergency services are rarely utilised for the purpose.
The challenges of NEMA are numerous. They include lack of ad-hoc staffing of state structure, lack of training of first responders and lack of political will. For instance, according to NEMA, apart from Lagos and Kaduna states, most other states do not have functional fire services.
The few states that have fire services, have staff that lack requisite training. They also lack machinery maintenance culture. Most states structure do not have statutory budget allocation and turf protection even though the money is included in the federal allocation given to states every month. The money is diverted to other use.
As a result, when disaster strikes and emergency services fail, the blame is often put on NEMA not on state or council leaders who fail to use the money allocated to them for such purposes.
We believe that the ignorance of the public about the roles and responsibilities of NEMA, the lack of political will by local and state political leaders and the lack information dissemination at the appropriate time with correct description of scene of disaster and false alerts are some of the challenges that draw NEMA back when emergency services are most needed.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We cannot wait until another disaster strikes before we strengthen NEMA or compel states to live up to their responsibilities.
We call on all states to utilise the money allocated for emergency services for the purpose and set up structures and equipment needed.
They must use that money to educate the populace because they are often the first responders when there is an emergency.
We also call on the Federal Government to increase NEMA’s allocations by cutting that of states and councils that have grossly failed in the discharge of their duty.