2011 and disaster management blues in Nigeria

The year 2011 was overwhelmed by different types of disasters; bomb blasts, communal conflicts, desertification, floods and fire. NATS ODAUDU examines how disaster management agencies, especially NEMA, fared.

 

The past one year has been a turbulent one for disaster and emergency managers in Nigeria as the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, have had a tough time dealing with the issue of Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs arising from the various disasters either caused by man or nature induced.

 

With the increase of incidences of flood and terror attacks globally, more and more people are being displaced even within their own countries thereby creating serious humanitarian concerns.

 

The year 2011 started with NEMA having to coordinate the evacuation of thousands of Nigerians stranded in Libya other North African countries in the wake of political uprising that engulfed the region. This was followed by the incidences of flood that almost overwhelmed the whole of the country from to south to north, east and west. The Director General of NEMA, Sani-Sidi disclosed that more than 200 people lost their lives and thousands displaced from flooding in the year 2011 and leaving behind helpless dependants.

 

Before Nigerians could fully find a way of protecting themselves from the hazards that nature was throwing their way, the nation became overwhelmed by the terror activities of Boko Haram alongside other ethno-religious crises. This also was followed by electoral violence that followed the 2011 general elections. Sani-Sidi also disclosed in April 2011, that over 10,000 people were displaced in Kano, many of them seeking shelter in seven Internally Displaced People Camps, IDPC, scattered in police stations and army barracks.

 

In all of these the nation’s disaster and emergency management organizations seem to be over stretched by the number of displaced and affected persons left behind for them to cater for.

 

Figures from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre in Geneva have it that between October 2010 and October 2011, about 42 million people were displaced worldwide and 27.5 million by conflict and violence.

 

According to the same organisation, Africa contributes the highest number of displaced persons to this figure as it stands at about 11.1 million. Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan joins other countries like Columbia, Iraq and Azerbaijan with IDP population of more than a million each as having the largest IDP population.

 

Writing for the Economic Confidential, Manzo Ezekiel stated that in Nigeria, the number of those affected by human induced disasters far out weight those from natural circumstances such as floods, landslides, ocean surges, fire, etc. The last few years in Nigeria have witnessed a serious number of persons displaced by conflicts and violence.

 

In a research document by Adele Bamgbose, he disclosed that unlike the refugee plight which for so long has been receiving attention in terms of assistance, either at the global or regional level, attention to the plight of the internally displaced persons has been a recent phenomenon. This prolonged neglect stems from the fact that since the people concerned have not crossed international borders, their assistance, it was claimed, should come from their respective home governments.

 

 

The general pattern in African countries is that, these people are often forgotten because they lack an effective voice. As time went by, this sheer neglect attracted the attention of the international community. The international community has therefore taken a number of steps to raise the level of awareness about the plight of internally displaced persons and to better address their needs. One reflection of its concern was the appointment in 1992 by the United Nations secretary – general, at the request of the Commission on Human Rights, of a Representative on Internally Displaced Persons.

 

Aside, there are a number of non-governmental agencies that have been helping the internally displaced persons. Prominent among them are the Red Cross, Red Crescent and the Chesire Homes.

 

The challenges faced by displaced varies from place to another and are multi-faceted. These may include the loss of their livelihoods, frustrations, abuses, threats of assaults, among others. Olajide Olagunju while writing from Brandeis University stated that it has been reported that security forces sometimes escalates the plight of IDPs by actually attacking people who were already traumatised by ethnic conflict.

 

It has also been reported that IDPs generally depended on charity and that government turns a blind spot to their plight, denying that they exist or lowering the figure of those affected.

 

However, there exist governmental agencies mandated to deal with IDP related issues e.g., the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, created in 1999, the National Commission for Refugees, NCR created in 1989 and mandated to cover IDPs in 2002. There are also international NGOs interested in IDP issues in Nigeria, notably the Red Cross, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children UK, Amnesty International, UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR.

 

Similarly, there are Nigerian NGOs that take interest in IDP issues. They include AREF-African Refugees Foundation headed by Ambassador Segun Olusola who doubles as Chairman of NCR, CLO-Civil Liberties Organisatioon. Medecins sans Frontiers, MSF reported that it was one of the very few international aid organizations operating in Nigeria as at 2000, most organizations having left the country during the military regime of Sani Abacha, who had the writer and environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa hanged.

 

African nations in 2009 under the umbrella body of the African Union decided to courageously tackle the disturbing and increasing trend of IDPs when it met in convention in Kampala, Uganda by agreeing on strong terms to protect and assist them.

 

The idea was mainly to promote and strengthen regional and national measures to prevent or mitigate, prohibit and eliminate the root causes of Internal Displacement as well as provide for durable solutions.

 

The federal government which in a hurried attempt to respond to disasters and emergencies set up NEMA may not have anticipated the rise in number and magnitude of such disasters as witnessed in the year 2011. With the surge of disaster incidences, NEMA’s capacity to manage the IDPs situation seems to have been overwhelmed by the magnitude. It has been noted that displaced persons have had to wait for a long time for succor to come their way.

 

 

It is the basis of the above that many people are of the opinion that there is an urgent need for the government to strengthen the capacity of these organizations to be able to keep up with these responsibilities as the demand for their services are on the increase.

 

Still writing on the subject matter of IDPs, Ezekiel Manzo insisted that the management of IDPs is as complex and technical much as being an integral part of disaster response activities. It goes beyond mere relief distribution. With the adoption of disaster risk reduction approaches to disaster management, issues concerning IDPs are fully integrated into disaster planning, mitigation, response and recovery.

 

It is also pertinent that to say here that NEMA must now improve on their working relationship with the other relevant stakeholders that are always called up during the time of emergency. It has been noted in many other writings that there is need for a greater harmony in the operations of these stakeholders which may include Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps, Federal Road Safety Corps, Federal Fire Service, Military, Police, Red Cross Society and Nigerian Immigration Service among others.

 

It is also high time that the management of IDPs in Nigeria moves from a mere charity approach of handing out relief materials to them to a more comprehensive approach of rehabilitation and reintegration through proper and appropriate funding.

 

A rather more disturbing scenario which at so many fora has been alluded to by Alhaji Mohammed Sani-Sidi is the seeming over centralization of the activities of these organizations as their operations are only visible from Abuja or their head offices.

 

In order for their operations to be felt in every part of the country, state and local governments must as a matter of urgency set up offices of these organizations to help in the management of local IDPs and refer only cases beyond their capacity to Abuja.

 

NEMA in trying to achieve this inter-agency relationship and partnership across the federal, states and local governments has been calling on state governments to set up State Emergency Management Agencies, SEMA and Local Emergency Management Committees, LEMC. This is the only requirement for the efficient and effective facilitation of assistance to disaster victims and IDPs.

 

An example of the above is the scenario that that played out in Bauchi State in addressing situations of the displaced persons that moved into the State.

 

NEMA partnered with the state government in the resettlement of those that opted to remain there after the crises that displaced them. Same was the case of the people that were displaced by the recent post election crises, during which NEMA intervened to stabilize their conditions, assist them back to their homes but those with special needs considered to be within resources of the states were later handed over to the respective states governments.

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