Global attention is increasingly focused on disaster issues. This is particularly occasioned by sharp increase in the occurrence of disasters which have left many dead, displaced and property destroyed. From Asia to South America, there is hardly any part of the world that has been left spared of the devastating circumstances that have foisted hardships and pains to the immediate victims.
Few months ago, Pakistan was hit by a heavy flood caused by monsoon rain which led to the displacement of over a million victims. Similar disasters also occurred in China as well as in many other countries with the victims left in the agony of losing their communities, property and some even their lives. Aside from flood, there have also been reports of other disasters such as fire, road accidents, building collapses, epidemics and collapses of mines that trap miners as in Chile, China, etc. Back home here in Nigeria, disasters have hit many communities and created the challenges of how to meet their needs.
The responsibility of meeting the needs of the people in distress lies with the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). However, this responsibility is the coordination of the other response organizations to ensure that resources required for disaster responses, mitigation and prevention are available and properly utilized in saving lives and property in the event of disaster. For over ten years now since the establishment of the agency in 1999, efforts have been made by its successive management toward the realization of the set mandates through the formulation of the various policies, structures and initiatives.
The founding Director General Mrs Oluremi Olowo laid the basic foundation of transforming what used to be relief agency to the new disaster management organization. Then came Alhaji Salisu Shuaibu Makarfi, who tried a lot in bringing together the stakeholders and sensitizing them on their roles in disaster management. He created the zonal offices and facilitated the acquisition of the only rescue helicopter presently in the aerial rescue fleet of the agency as well as the establishment of the mission control centre equipped with COSPASS SARSAT.
In June 2006, a newly retired airforce officer AVM Mohammed Audu-Bida was appointed as Director General of the agency. Bringing along with his experience as safety pilot, he was able to build on the achievements of his predecessors. He was able to upgrade the status of the zonal offices in decentralizing disaster management to the grassroots, initiated volunteerism in disaster management, instituted human resources development and refocused attention on disaster preparedness rather than responses. His tenure expired in June 2010. Dr Charles Adakole Agbo as the most senior director acted as the chief executive officer of the agency.
However, on Monday 4th October 2010 history was made again when the newly appointed Director General, Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Sidi assumed office, to usher a new beginning in the history of disaster management in the country. The new Chief Executive Officer of the agency served as commissioner in Kaduna state in various ministries including works, health, environment and culture and tourism. Between then and now
Since coming on board, Sani-Sidi has displayed a passion for disaster management based on teamwork especially to ensure adequate preparedness and timely response disasters. With full vigor and determination to serve, few days after assumption of office, the new NEMA chief personally led a team from the agency in the inspection of flood situations in Nassarawa, Lagos, Ogun, Kogi and Bayelsa states. Indeed team work is indispensable and the new Director General knows this very well. Harnessing cooperation of the stakeholders, particularly the first responder organizations is a very critical challenge for Sani-Sidi. Since the mandate of the agency is on coordination, its greatest partners are the organizations it coordinates. Some of the basic issues would be the deployment of the human resources and availability of the required equipment in the organizations for disaster situations.
The issue of timely response to disaster situation and proper documentation is another area of focus to the new Director General. Consequently, approved relief assistance to communities affected various disasters are now delivered faster and documentation of the situations made for future references. Though a politician, Sani-Sidi always insists on impartially and transparency in the distribution of reliefs materials.
The rich academic background of Sidi gives an edge for his success in the new challenge given to him. Having Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy (MIAD) is an enriching quality suitable for the administration of any important public institution. So, while he served as commissioner in Kaduna state from 2007 before the new appointment, the traits of quality in him were easily noticed with frequent additional ad hoc responsibilities given to him. Thus, he was assigned to oversee the administration of several institutions and agencies in the absentia of the substantive commissioners. He also chaired various ad hoc state committees including those for the cleaning up of Kaduna metropolis and Zaria. Prior to that he was Special adviser to Finance Minister
As a politician, Sani-Sidi is so far using his wealth of experience in persuading state governments to establish and properly empower their own Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs) to complement the efforts of the federal government through NEMA. The SEMAs as provided for in the NEMA establishment Act is desirous to respond to disaster situations in states and refer only overwhelming situations to the federal agency.
The NEMA boss has also disclosed his desire for improvement of motivation for the disaster managers. Disaster management all over the world requires specialize skills and compensation commensurable with the attendant risks involved. The acquisition of some of the skills may require some periods of training that are available only in other countries that have gone ahead of Nigeria. It is noteworthy that staffs and volunteers are often exposed to hazards, some of which are extremely life threatening.
Alhaji Sidi has the right credentials to succeed as the arrowhead of disaster management in the country. Indeed the combination of his academic certificates, administrative experience and background in politics only requires the right support from the authorities concerned and staff to propel disaster management to the much desired level of efficiency and effectiveness. The new NEMA chief has the challenge to convey the message that its responsibilities are more hazardous unlike in the common civil service to court the sympathy of the authorities concern for improved welfare of the staff.
Manzo Ezekiel is a Press officer National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Abuja