At first contact with AVM Mohammed Audu-Bida (rtd.) that guts feeling that bothers between excitement and nervousness when meeting an important dignitary is quickly dispelled. His warm expansive smile from the heart reassures one you are in a friends company. An atmosphere of trust and conviviality is promptly created amidst guffaws and shaking of hands. But no sooner than when the interview got underway, the officer and gentleman metamorphosed into another personality with candour and fervency of man of the collar. A glow in his eyes, passion in his voice with emphatic gesticulations, AVM Bida enthralls you with why disaster management is not prerogative of NEMA alone. In this interview granted to the Editorial Team of Economic Confidential, the Director General says it all about functions and activities of his agency.
EC: what are your challenges at the helm of affairs since you joined the leadership of NEMA and how are you going about tackling them?
Answer: My most difficult challenge has been getting the stakeholders to come and partner with NEMA in disaster management. You are aware Nigerians always want to keep to themselves. Every Chief Executive wants to be on his own and that symbiotic relationship in partnership between two organizations is missing. That has been my most serious challenge since I assumed office in NEMA. But presently, thank God we are making some in roads amongst some of the chief executives to partner with us.
EC: What about the issue of funding?
Ans: We have not had much problem in that direction. Last year as you may be aware, we didn’t receive any of our funds from the ecological purse that we are entitled for. But we were still able to move on because we were getting some approvals from the Vice president’s office. So we were able to manage but it certainly would not continue that way neither will it be comfortable for us if it does.
EC: What is the financial budget for NEMA within a year?
ANS: From the ecological fund we get up to 9 billion naira but we are supposed to get up to 9 billion from the ecological funds. But like I mentioned earlier not even a kobo was given to NEMA from those funds last year. This year, the funds have been coming in trickles so far, even though there was never a time we got the whole 9 billion that is our entitlement. This year, so far, we have gotten up to 3 billion and we are still expecting some more funds.
EC: It has been established that lack of prompt response to disasters in Nigeria is responsible for the colossal damages that disasters have caused in the country?
Ans: That is very true. Disasters ought to be addressed very promptly and unless you have the agencies that are ready and trained, you cannot respond adequately. Like I mentioned earlier, the constraints NEMA face is getting the other relevant stakeholders to work in sync with us. NEMA does not have the manpower that quails disaster physically. We count on other agencies who are trained for different types of emergency situations to come in. like when there’s flooding, we expect the civil defense to come in to rescue people physically. When there’s building collapse, we don’t expect the civil defense to be there. When there’s fire incidence of course, we expect the fire fighters to be there. So there are the issues. We just coordinate their things. We don’t have the specialized personnel to handle some of these mishaps. The whole of NEMA staff is less than 300. We must partner with our stakeholders for them to respond to disasters promptly. The only way to achieve this is to come together and partner and tarin towards realizing a common objective.
EC: Is that inferring that lack of manpower is one of NEMA’s problems?
Ans: Not really. Like I just said, NEMA is supposed to coordinate disaster management. We are not responsible to physically rescuing people from a disaster scene. That is the job of the civil defense. Then we have the police and in case of road accident, we have the road safety commission. We are just to coordinate. Yet we have a lot of shortages in manpower. Even when we do have the manpower, it would still be the responsibility of the agencies with stakeholders I have just mentioned like fire fighters, road safety, civil defense, the police, military to hands on during disaster management.
EC: Recently you advocated for traders and business men to take up insurance policy. What do they stand to gain with such policies?
Ans: There are lots of market fire disasters in the country. We cannot quantify what the traders would have lost in such fire outbreaks. Therefore we cannot adequately compensate them. So we said look its wise to insure your wares, insure your property and then insure the market. They have agreed in principle. The companies are willing to insure the traders and business men. We got an insurance company that was ready to receive 3000 naira premium for every 100,000 naira goods to be insured. To me that is very cheap. We even went further to get a bank that was ready to pay the 3,000 naira premium to the insurance company on behalf of the traders on the condition that they should only safe their money with the banks. So you can see our desire and sincerity for this to get underway. The traders were supposed to get back to us but they never did. If they insure their goods and there any fire incidence, they get paid back to them.
EC: Couldn’t it be that the traders’ lack of interest may be due to the distrust they have for insurance companies to pay up promptly in the event of disaster?
Ans: we have come in. we brought the insurance company and we are ready to partner with the traders. We are here to ensure the honesty of this transaction for both parties to own up to their responsibilities. We are more or less guaranteeing them that if they insure their goods; they will be paid in case of any eventuality. I am ready to stand by them.
EC: When disaster occurs, it has a direct bearing on the economy. What is NEMA doing to reduce the impacts of disaster on the national economy?
Ans: As a matter of fact, once there’s a disaster, the entire budget of a country may be diverted to contain it. We advocated that in core disaster management, the national economy planning must be involved. Fortunately for us , the Federal government approved our proposal. We gave the details of how such management can be geared towards achieving results. So, we have disaster risk reduction embedded in our National Planning. There’s no country that will plan without thinking about how to curtail disasters. That is the international norm. the United Nations has advocated for every country to recognize the need for proper machinery dedicated to disaster management and include it in their National Development Plan.
EC: The generality of Nigerians see NEMA as a reactive agency in the face of disasters unlike it obtains in other parts of the world where agencies like yours are seen to be proactive. What can you say to assuage such factors?
Ans: Disaster proactiveness is a new concept in disaster management. We call it disaster risk reduction. We have it strongly entrenched in NEMA presently. We have our Geographical Information System laboratory that forecasts enabling us to know when there would be flooding in parts of the country, where we expect drought and other natural phenomena. So Disaster Risk Reduction which is being proactive in disaster management is already in place in NEMA. The NEMA that was seen to be reactive is a thing of the past. If you noticed before the last raining season, we wrote letters to the States Governors. We told them of the approaching season and the need to get ready because we were expecting flooding in some parts of the country. The same thing when the harmattan season was approaching, we also wrote to the States Governors informing them to be vigilant on bush burning which must be stopped. They must be careful about market fires to forestall their occurrences.
EC: There is the need for intensive public awareness campaign to acquaint Nigerians on NEMA’s area of responsibilities in the event of emergencies because a lot of people are still ignorant of who to call specifically, where to go and what to do in the face of disasters. What are you doing to address that?
Ans: That is absolutely right. What we are doing as a matter of priority is to get the people who are even supposed to partner with us to do so. When we talk about NEMA, even some of our stakeholders do not know their responsibilities. That is the fundamental problem in the whole set up. The civil defense never knew that they were the ones to partner with us during flooding. Until this moment, we all are still grappling with such dereliction of duties. Even some of those you call elites do not know what is involved in terms of apportioned responsibilities and area of jurisdiction. To buttress suchignorance, someone recently said he was going to arm the civil defencee. How can you arm civil defence. The civil defense was put in place for disaster management. It is explicitly clear in the civil defence Act. We had that snag from the onset. They believe that their responsibilities is to do with only the crime aspects but they are part of the agencies we have as first responders in the event of any disaster like the police, military and the road safety amongst others. It is imperative to get these agencies to know their areas of involvement first. If we go ahead and start telling the public that this is what disaster management is all about and the agencies and NEMA are supposed to work in sync are not inconsonance with our activities, the process becomes cumbersome. These agencies ought to put all hands on board if not if NEMA goes about with its public awareness campaigns without the stakeholders involvement, NEMA would be seen to be without direction and you are on your own as a matter of fact.
EC: What are you aiming to achieve with the NEMA?NYSC Vanguards and NEMA grassroots Volunteer programs?
Ans: You just mentioned the need for the people to get to know about disaster management in public awareness in order to enhance the reach and effectiveness of NEMA’s activities. Disaster happens at localities or community level. Am sure this is a known fact. If such disasters take place at locations in our communities, the first people to get to the spot are the inhabitants of such localities. We believe that if you inform the people within these localities about disasters and how to take care of themselves before relevant agencies come init would greatly increase the effectiveness of disaster management. what we are trying to do is what is called Disaster Management at Grassroots level. It is to train people at the local government areas, tell them what disaster management is all about, what to do when disaster occurs and how to get assistance from outside. We are training in each local government at least 200 people. If we get through this programme successfully, we have a large pool of people we can use during periods of disaster for rescue operations, sensitization outreach and so forth. If you calculate 200 people times 774 local governments area in the country, that is a sizeable number of personnel. The for the NEMA/NYSC programme, the youth corpers that are coming in, we are trying to talk to them and they are equally in large numbers. Recently in the news, you must have read the overtures of these corp members who want to join as emergency workers. A lot of them are ready to join such groups. When these corpers are finally deployed to their areas of primary assignments they will come in contact with the locally trained 200, they would now form disaster management groups and educate the villagers some more . We keep them informed during their camping with manuals and other literatures to further equip them on NEMA’s activities. We want to merge the people at the grassroots with the youth corpers so that we have access to a large pool of people who understand what disaster management is all about in this country. We are equally reaching out to professionals at the top to be volunteers in times of disasters which would further increase the pool to draw from during emergencies. If you remember during one of the missing aircraft episodes, a lot of people were vocal in the press on what things NEMA needed to do. We intend to achieve a synergy in working relationship with various professionals who can directly liaise with us than go public with their observations. This approach would tremendously leap frog our ability to cope with different situations as we will have the contributions of engineers, doctors, environmentalists and all sorts of professionals to draw from their expertise.
EC: What are the roles of State Governments in disaster management?
Ans: The role of governors is not isolated. Disaster management in Nigeria is a thre-tier thing. NEMA is at the apex which is at the national level. There is supposed to be at the state levels the states Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs). Some states do have them; some are yet to put them in places. State Governors are supposed to make sure that they establish their SEMAs to ensure the tripartite function of NEMA. The State Governors or deputies are supposed to chair the SEMAs. It is the states that fund their own agencies. This is not a voluntary service but stipulated in the Act establishing NEMA.
EC: what would you say is the economic cost of disaster management and what is your target mission in a few years from now?
Ans: My target in NEMA is to get the relevant agencies and the generality of Nigerians to know what disaster management is all about. The government must first of all note that they cannot draw up a yearly budget or any national planning without considerations for disaster management. One disaster can wipe off the budget of a country. We have seen where earthquakes, Tsunamis have ravaged over countries in the blink of an eye way back to historic times. Secondly, we must get the stakeholders to know with dedication what their roles are specifically defined in their areas of jurisdiction. That is my ultimate objectives as well as getting the Nigerian people to be aware of what NEMA stands for. If God’s willing I can achieve these three goals, I will have been fulfilled.
EC: What is the outcome of the Blackbox from the crashed Beechcraft Aircraft?
Ans: That has already been addressed. We have had cases before where other security agencies took over the possession of the Black Box. However, presently such occurrences have been permanently addressed. Because these agencies have been told it is not their business to take over the black box which is the responsibility of NEMA to retrieve it and hand it over to AIB. Which we have done.
EC: Who are you sir?
Ans: (laugh) About who you are talking to. My name is AVM Mohammed Audu-Bida (rtd). I retired from the Nigerian Airforce. While at the Airforce, I was flying helicopters as an instructor pilot for search and rescue. So from day one, I was more or less a disaster manager.