With the unprecedented humanitarian crisis triggered by insurgency in the Northeast, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), has an uphill task in responding to the hunger, poverty and other dehumanising conditions faced by the people. In this interview with ABAH ADAH, the director general of NEMA, Engr Mustapha Yunusa Maihaja, intimates LEADERSHIIP on the activities of the agency so far.
Where can you place NEMA today in terms of carrying out the mandate for which it was established?
First of all as you know, NEMA stands for National Emergency Management Agency, a body established to attend to emergency situations such as disasters, humanitarian crisis, among others across the country, with a view to ensuring that people who are caught up in these kind of situations are assisted out of them. I am glad to tell you that NEMA’s response has been tremendous. We have six zonal operational offices, one in each of the 6 geopolitical zones of the country, being manned to capacity by our staff. In recent times we had had to contend with flood disaster victims, especially along the coast lines and for the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast among others. The moment alarm is raised in any part of the country, our men who are on ground there swing into action as promptly as possible. We are not just reactive, we are proactive in our response to crises too by enlightening people inhabiting or staying in areas of impending disaster. Disasters, as you know, are issues or problems that come up suddenly, usually when and where they are least expected. But thanks to scientific invention today which has made it possible for us to have foreknowledge of certain impending disasters. However, we have some little challenge here: Often times people tend to take warning to vacate such area of impending calamity less serious, even when you disclose to them the dangers of continued stay in that area or appeal to them to leave, at least for some time until it may be certified safe again. So, NEMA is involved in enlightenment and sensitisation campaign because the new scientific inventions help to give us insight as to what is likely to happen in an area. I must say that in a nutshell, NEMA is performing very well and far better than what it used be before now and I must confess that this President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has been of unprecedented support to the agency; that is why we are able to achieve what we have achieved so far and I am not saying we are going to rest on our oars; we hope to improve on our response mechanism to be at par with global best practices.
How far have you gone with the humanitarian crisis in the Northeast?
In the case of affected regions, the Northeast in particular, millions people have been displaced and there is hunger in the land to such a magnitude that it requires a lot of input to satisfy the needs of the people of the area. Such helpless situation actually requires humanitarian intervention as articulated in the development chart of the United Nations of which Nigeria is a stakeholder. So, NEMA is involved in coordinating the activities of both national and international organisations. What I am saying is that we are working with several organisations, both local and international. We have 75 organisations being coordinated by NEMA in the area, all working towards bringing succour to the needy there and like I said before, thanks to this government; it has been of tremendous support. When we came in, we met hunger, poverty and other dehumanising conditions on ground and then the government decided to roll out thousands of tonnes of grains as relief materials to the people in the short term. As of today we can beat our chest to say that a lot has been achieved in this regard and is still ongoing.
Talking about relief materials being provided for distribution to the helpless victims of insurgency in the Northeast, there have been reports of diversions in recent times. What measures have been or are being put in place to stem the tide?
Yes, I totally agree with you. The issue of diversion is not speculation, it is real. It is a regrettable social issue which has characterised the process in the recent past and cannot be ignored. The government in its determination to bring succour to the distressed in the region rolled out 3905 first and on the heels of that 10, 000 metric tonnes of assorted grains. A committee was set up under the coordination and leadership of NEMA to carry out the task of distributing the goods to all the states in the Northeast and ensuring that the proper thing is done. So, I can say that everything is being done, not only on our side but also on the side of government, to ensure that these items get to those they are actually meant for. As you may be aware, on the 8th of this month, the acting president inaugurated a committee comprising stakeholders and various security agents to ensure the security of relief materials. Items are now to be escorted by the security agents, while in transit, and be delivered to the appropriate quarters after which the distribution is to be closely monitored. There is an unprecedented dimension to the process of distribution now. It may interest you to also know that under my leadership, we have adopted door-to-door distribution as against the usually crowded up queuing and sharing method that was the practice before I came. Distributions are done one door after another under close surveillance and marking, such that it is even difficult for any one to divert or cheat. We use to do some survey before distribution. Our men use to carry out review enumeration and mapping out of areas. In the process, since other agencies are also assisting, we dedicate some areas to them to avoid duplication of distribution. So, with what is on ground now, I can tell you confidently that the processes of moving the goods to the point of distribution and the distribution itself are diversion tight and it is difficult for anyone to attempt it and succeed.
We do know that the states affected used to be in charge of their distribution but along the line, politics set in and as was alleged to be the practice before now, the materials were either sold outrightly or highjacked and stockpiled for personal use by the perpetrators of this inhuman act. How did you handle it to change the trend?
When I came and saw the loopholes in the process of distribution, I quickly had a meeting with the state governors. We sat down and agreed that now distribution will be made by NEMA, with the assistance and cooperation of State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMA) and the international organisations. That is one aspect. The second aspect is the arrangement made to ensure that all items in transit are escorted by armed security personnel under the Senior Escort Commander of NEMA Warehouse.
How do you manage the distribution to ensure that at least every needy gets tangible share to part with and cope with their basic feeding requirement?
Talking about the ration per person, we are giving out 8.4 kg/person. This is still a little below the international standard, which pegs it at a little over 10kg/person. The World Food Agency used to give 4.6kg/person to cover wider areas, but we have directed that they make it up to our standard of 8.4 kg/person within the area they can cover at our own rate and leave the remaining areas for us to cover. This actually means, for example, that if they have been covering 100 square kilometres with the 4.6kg/person, they are now to cut down to about 50kg/person at the rate of 8.4kg/person. So, we are not only embarking on the new approach of door-to-door sharing; we are also trying to make sure that those receiving the materials are satisfied. All I can appeal for is that politics should be set aside when it comes to addressing humanitarian crises. Those hitches you hear about occur most times because some people play politics with everything, even at the expense of human life. That should not be if we must meet our development target.
What are you doing to improve on promptness in your response to emergencies across the country pursuant to global standard?
Well, for me it is simple, but it is yet difficult because there are several angles to it. First of all, the case has to be reported and brought to our knowledge. We have to be informed and in time too. We have identified all the social welfare offices spread across the 774 local government areas in the country and incorporated them in our reporting scheme. We now have a computerised call centre through which people can readily access information about us and can send information to us. Should any emergency breaks out anywhere, even at the level of communities, our men are on ground to respond as soon as possible. We are seriously working on reduction of response time. Through the welfare centres we are accessible, even at the grassroots, to be called upon when the need arises. Take for instance what happened in Kebbi some days ago. After the incident was reported we were there and were able to respond to the needs of the people, at least to a large extent, but that is not to say we have arrived. We are working very hard to further reduce our response time to the barest minimum. We are doing all we can to operate with efficiency within the limited resources available to us. Secondly, we now have a software that people can begin to download within the next one month, through which, wherever they are, they can access us and our offices in times of need. I am glad to state here that our staff have all the required capacity to contain all cases of emergency as may be humanly possible, given the necessary support. The only problem is the structure and we seriously in the process of reorganising structurally.
So, what is your visions now?
First and foremost, we want to further equip the organisation and reposition it for optimal performance in line with global best practices. Remember I told you there are ongoing efforts to restructure and reorganise the agency. We are adopting a holistic approach towards reducing response time to the barest minimum and we are trying to be scientific in our approach. Talking about using power of scientific inventions to reduce response time, I think today we are among the best in Africa, going by UN standard. It is my pleasure to disclose to you that to further guarantee the security of relief materials, all the trucks are now being tracked with tracking device in addition to the armed security officers’ accompaniment. As I speak, we have 1032 trucks of goods to deliver to the Northeast, the process of which had already started, and from our control centre, we have delivered up to about 200 trucks. We are tracking them, even to the discharge point. So, you can see that we are improving.