“We will be able to pinpoint what Lagos State for instance is vulnerable to and be able to reduce the vulnerability before it becomes a disaster.”
Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Head of Task Force, ECOWAS Early Warning and Response Mechanism, (ECOEWRM) and Senior Technical Adviser to Vice President on Disaster Risk Management, Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, speaks on the new centre on Early Warning and Response Mechanism, which kicks off next month.
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What exactly is your office all about?
We are just about coming on board really. By December we are going to commence our operations. The ECOWAS Early Warning and Response Mechanism, (ECOEWRM), is a way to fine tune the preventive ways of managing emergency, to quickly response to emergency needs. We sensitise people on what they are vulnerable to, we try to handle peace and conflicts before it escalates to a big disaster, we are going to look at human trafficking, climatic change, environmental problem, road traffic accidents, peace and conflicts situation. These are the areas we are going to be looking into so that morbidity, fatality will be reduced to barest minimum.
Why do we need another agency when we have NAPTIP for instance to coordinate the issue of human trafficking, or NEMA to handle emergency management?
The point is this; we are going to work and collaborate with these institutions and agencies. NEMA you mentioned is a responding agency, we are more into areas of research, and we are into preventive measures, to nip in the bud before it escalates to emergency situation. We will be able to pinpoint what Lagos State for instance is vulnerable to and be able to reduce the vulnerability before it becomes a disaster. We are going to work together and share information.
Now that the issue of earthquake or tremor is threatening parts of the country, including Abuja, which role is your office playing to sensitise Nigerians and the government in order to avoid casualties?
Our role is to carry out research which we have already been doing, we have involved experts and relating with all the key stakeholders and we are going to come up with a robust plan to prevent and check what causes it and how to handle it.
Is your office performing any role in the welfare of IDPs scattered across the country? If yes, what specific role?
Like I said earlier, we are working with key agencies working with the IDPs including the NGOs and the International Agencies. Our role is to tackle what causes the crisis that result in us having IDPs in camps. For instance, the Boko Haram insurgency, reconstruction, rehabilitation and relocation have been going on in the North East in the affected 112 Local Governments. The areas that are susceptible to floods we have been coming up with solutions to cut in the flood cycle in Nigeria. We know that there is
a global climatic change and we are putting a lot of things in place to break the cycle of flooding in Nigeria and greatly reduce the number of those affected.
A lot of Nigerians affected by natural disasters find it difficult to abandon their ancestral homes, how are you going to tackle that?
We blame that on lack of education, ignorance and beliefs. This is where we are going to carry out sensitisation, awareness and ensure their ancestral lands are safe by carrying out a lot of dredging, clearing the waterways and by ensuring that what they are vulnerable to are greatly reduced.
How will you rate Nigerians on disaster risk consciousness?
We have not yet gotten there, we are trying to improve on it, and we will get there very soon. It’s better than before. Look at the way we responded to the 2012 flood disaster and the way we responded in 2018. Look at the morbidity, mortality indices of 2012 and 2018; you will see that it is greatly reduced. All the key agencies are working as a team and it is getting better.
How will you evaluate the impact of the recent workshop on flood emergency management in states that your office organised?
The impact is enormous, for one it is not business as usual. We have passed our findings to the other key stakeholders that are important in management of disaster in Nigeria. We are going back to all these states to develop what we call contingency plans that are cashed-backed which is different from what we had before.
Management of emergency should not be impromptu, we should have a plan, we should be able to forecast and plan recovery very well. That is when the response will be ok and the morbidity and the fatality will be greatly reduced. Fortunately for us, the government of the day is highly committed; they have taken ownership, given the political will, with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo visiting the troubled areas for on the spot assessment. The government itself has come up with sort of a law and establish a unit that will go round the 36 states, identify the projects that they need to do to prevent flood in each of the states. The federal government has taken ownership in development of infrastructure that would help to mitigate the effects of flooding.
What are the challenges you envisage and how ready are you to take off by December?
We are really ready. Already we have started advocacy among the ministries, departments and agencies, to ensure that they know we are to work as a team, they will know that we are not here to compete and they will know that our goal is to reduce the mortality, morbidity that is associated with disaster. The challenges are our people but with education of our people, and with the political will of those in authority, we will surmount the challenges.
This will be capital intensive; do you have a projection of what your office will need to carry out this assignment?
We have a projection and we have already done a work plan of what we need. When you are talking about managing human beings, reducing deaths, it is enormous and all hands have to be on deck because it’s about saving lives and every life is important.
There are people who believe that your office is unnecessary and it’s just food for the boys, how will you react to that?
No, no, no. Let me tell you about the necessity of this agency, if this agency is not important, I will not be the one to head it based on my track record. Look at what I have pioneered and the effect on the institutions I have headed in primary healthcare and Lagos State Management emergency. You will agree that these are terrains that you need a very big heart to survive. If I am pioneering this that should tell you the government is serious. Look at what we have put in place within a short time despite the fact that we are going to commence fully in December.
I have been involved in a lot of federal government’s emergency services in Nigeria; I pioneered a primary healthcare centre, Ifako Primary Healthcare Centre in 1992. Then, I moved to the state as one of the pioneer staff of Lagos Emergency Management Services, which is hospital based management of emergency. And then I headed the team that started the ambulance system in Lagos State, where ambulances are positioned in strategic places which started under the Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu’s tenure as Lagos State Governor. I was there from 2001-2005 when I went for a postgraduate course in Disaster Management. When I got back I became the pioneer General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), which has won a lot of awards and is one of the primary agency in Nigeria that has coordinated a lot of emergencies, like the bomb blast of 2002 where a lot of people died as a result of lack of information. We also handled the Kerosene explosion which was contaminated with petroleum products which led to a lot of deaths as well. That was what led to our starting the mini-burn units in LASU then. We later built a world class burns unit hospital in Gbagada General Hospital.
As the CEO of LASEMA, we also tackled major fire disaster, played active role in preventing spread of Ebola virus and in reducing morbidity and mortality that is associated with the virus developed emergency response plans for the state and define the roles and responsibilities for emergency managers where we came up with first, second and tertiary responders. We were also able to see to the passage of LASEMA law, by the administration of Babatunde Fashola. We were also able to establish relief camps. During my tenure we were able to establish the emergency services to cover the planning, response, recovery processes to ensure we have a local emergency management agency in place so that the grassroots will feel the impact. We have three digits Emergency number and world class emergency call centre.