An emergency is any unplanned event that can cause deaths or significant injuries to the public such as Floods, earthquakes, civil disturbances, terrorism, war among others. In view of the frequency of these events and the widespread nature of their effect, emergency management has developed into a professional discipline. People who work in the emergency agencies of developed countries, from bottom up, are seasoned professionals who know and appreciate the demand of disaster management.
Reading through the House of Representatives Committee’s report on the investigation of NEMA, one was left to wonder whether the legislators are Nigerians or aliens and whether they truly believe in the indictments they so generously handed out to the NEMA Director General, Mustapha Maihaja and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
First, let us examine the terms of reference of the committee and the findings and weigh them against the evidence and principles of disaster management. The committee said it had the following issues to probe:
(i) The release of N5,865,671,389.26 and N3,153,000,000.00 as emergency intervention of Food Security to support the population affected by insurgency in the North-East in June 2017 and other releases for the North-East intervention;
(ii) The 6,779 metric tons of rice donated by Chinese government to the internally displaced persons in the North-East;
(iii) Payment of about N800 Million Demurrage on the donated Rice by the Chinese government;
(iiii) Over N10 billion being statutory 20 per cent Ecological Funds released between January 2017 to February 2018 to NEMA;
(v) The Federal Government of Nigeria Flood Intervention in the sum of N1,600,000,000.00 to 16 States in July 2017; and
(vi) The over N1.6 billion released to NEMA for Evacuation of Nigerians stranded in Libya in 2017.
The committee gave its findings on each one of these but the one that has been hyped more is the alleged refusal of NEMA to distribute the 6,779 metric tons of rice donated by the Chinese Government, and the issue of payment of N800 million demurrage, which the members said was unnecessary if the rice had been cleared as and when due. The committee found:
– That more than one year after the goods were donated, there is no evidence that the six States of the North East, who are the beneficiaries have received the items.
– The Federal Government paid about N800 million as demurrage to APM terminal and Maersk Line for the consignment due to delay arising from inability and negligence on the part of NEMA, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Budget and National Planning to secure the items as at when due.
I’m aware that NEMA has debunked the allegation that it did not distribute the rice to the affected states. But let us for the sake of argument accept that NEMA had not distributed the rice as at the time the committee was doing its investigations. Does it then mean that the rice had been sold by NEMA, or that it never meant to distribute them? The committee itself did not say NEMA or any other government agency sold the rice. It only said it saw no evidence from all the invoices presented to it, because I presume, none of the invoices indicated Chinese rice!
Now, it’s important to know that there are four stages in emergency management-mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. Any emergency agency has to be painstaking at each of the four stages to achieve success. The committee did not tell us in its report at what stage the rice was delivered at the Nigeria port. But let us again assume that since it was just a gift to Nigeria, it was delivered not as an immediate response to a disaster. This assumption is reasonable since the rice was meant for states ravaged by insurgency.
That could mean that distributing the rice to the states mentioned was not such an emergency that required the consignment to be swiftly cleared and distributed to save lives. This could be the case if you consider the fact that there were others who made generous donations of rice and other foodstuffs to those states including our own Aliko Dangote.
So, the issue is not that NEMA allowed citizens to die by failing to supply them the necessary foodstuff. The quarrel of the committee is that the rice shipped from China was not distributed to those they were meant for. Again, on this score, one can say that efficient disaster management is a planned series of activities; not some ad hoc crisis management as the committee will have us believe. If NEMA already had an appropriate response of its own in place before the China rice was delivered, it makes sense that it doesn’t have to immediately distribute them. If NEMA is a serious agency, one expects it to have its own response plan in place and not wait for donors, except where there are no other alternatives.
The committee did not claim that the refusal to distribute the Chinese rice led to deaths or serious issues of starvation in the affected states, thus confirming NEMA’s claim that it, indeed, distributed rice to those states. Moreover, since it was not an emergency, there was nothing wrong in NEMA keeping the Chinese rice in a warehouse while planning for further deliveries.
While the alleged payment of N800million demurrage was regrettable, the House committee should not have made it look as if NEMA delayed clearing of the rice so it could pay demurrage. Not only does it not make sense, but it shows a deliberate refusal of the legislators to acknowledge issues with our Ports’ administration. Moreover, as the committee also acknowledged in its report, the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Nigeria and China shows that the clearing of the rice was supposed to be a multi-agency task and not that of NEMA alone. Yet, the committee recommended the sack of NEMA Director General because of this? And why has the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, picked on NEMA alone with such venom? So much was Dogara in a hurry to indict the DG that his media aide issued a press statement about the discovery of the Chinese rice in NEMA warehouse, accompanying it with photographs. Shortly after, his media aide issued another statement alleging that NEMA was moving the rice from its warehouse to an undisclosed location. In the three years he has been speaker, this is the first time Dogara has shown strong interest in any House report. Does it have anything to do with 2019?
The briskness and alacrity with which some PDP stalwarts, including its presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar have latched onto the so-called indictment gave it away as a game plan focused on 2019. In a statement released by his campaign organization, Atiku sought to parry allegations that he attempted to smuggle campaign cash into the country by alleging that it was a ploy by the APC “to distract attention from the recent indictment of Vice-President Osinbajo by the House of Representatives for grand corruption…,” referring of course to the committee report.
Disaster management is not a tea party as any serious legislator would know. In a country as big as Nigeria the challenges are even more. That is why NEMA recently declared a resolve to engage state governments through intensive advocacy and sensitization on the need for states to key into disaster risk management as a multi-stakeholder activity. Instead of calling for anybody’s sack for some expected laxity in government, the lawmakers should have thought of enactments that could improve disaster management in the country.
– Ms Iwuala wrote from Owerri.