By Louis Ibah
As Director General/CEO of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Dr. Anthony Anuforom, supervises the transformation of Nigeria’s foremost weather information organisation from an obscure state to a world-class institution with 75 per cent weather forecast accuracy.
In this interview with Daily Sun, Anuforom said investments in the acquisition and installation of hi-tech weather facilities like radar and wind shear alert systems in some airport locations had seen an end to wind-related air crashes in the last 10 years.
He, however, bemoaned the growing apathy among Nigerians to the use of weather information noting that the impact of global warming in contemporary times have made weather forecast data an imperative for investors in key sectors like agriculture, maritime, housing, urban planning and aviation to prevent losses.
People often ask if I am comfortable with the application or the usage of weather information we generate, because it is like there is a lot of ignorance, apart from the aviation sector where it is imperative for them. What happens with the other sectors?
One of the things we had learnt over the years is how to make people begin to believe us. For instance, how does the farmer begin to believe that you can tell him accurately when the rains will start and when it will end? How does the farmer believe that you can tell him if you plant your crops now, your crops will die? So we have been singing that for a number of years that we have the information and that people should make use of it.
Of course, to make them believe us, we have to show them that what we have is correct. But it was a gradual thing; now we’ve been able to achieve that level of accuracy, so people have that confidence. So you see that we have developed gradually in that direction. It is not an easy thing.
We go to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), and at the WMO where we have 191 member states and territories. I am one of the 37 members on the Executive Council of WMO and the experience of low utilisation is everywhere, especially in less developed countries. In Europe and America, the level of education is very high; their attitude to science and technology is better. They have better science culture than we do, so for them it is given, in fact, they spend money to get weather forecast for almost everything they set out to do. But here in Nigeria, we are begging people, ‘come and take’; over there people pay huge sums of money for weather information. Now, we therefore have to generate that confidence and as at today, I can tell you that it is getting better and better. If you check our previous Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) presentations and my speeches, I keep calling people to come and partner with us. We are ready to partner with states. We invite commissioners responsible for agriculture, environment, health, water resources, we invite them over time to come and partner with us. Many of them do not attend our seasonal rainfall prediction presentation, but those who started responding can see the result in their states, especially for their farmers. Because we can tell them when to plant, and when to harvest.
After 2006 prediction, Katsina State invited us to come and present it to them in Katsina. When we went there, the presentation we made was that our predictions are 75 per cent accurate. And they said ‘okay, lets try them’. But when they started following the predictions for their farmers, the person who signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for them, came back and said, ‘you told us that you are 75 per cent accurate, but what we found out was that you are rather 100 per cent accurate’. He will inform a neighbouring state, which will inform another neighbouring state. When you get one person, he becomes your apostle, he becomes the advocate for you. And that is what Katsina State is doing for us now. So you can see that gradually that awareness is growing. So gradually, that initial feeling of disappointment that people are not listening to us is beginning to wear out because people are beginning to listen now.
Remember we were just a department of the Ministry of Aviation known as the Department of Meteorological Services up until 2003 when the Act setting up NIMET was passed into law and then signed by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Well, it was not until 2007 that I got appointed as a Director General of NIMET for a first term for five years spanning 2007 to 2012. And after the first term ended, I got re-appointed for a second tenure, running from 2012 to 2017.
But I was part of the setting up of the agency from inception after it metamorphosed from a department to a parastatal. So when I came in as the head, I was familiar with the challenge, which basically was the lack of infrastructure. And when I say infrastructure, I am not talking about buildings, which cannot be our problem because we are a scientific organisation. The major infrastructure we lacked was the scientific instruments and equipment for the measurement and accurate forecast of weather. Looking at the NIMET Act, our most fundamental work is to observe weather, record the data and issue weather forecast and predictions for all sectors of the economy.
To observe weather, we need what we call the observatories, and we need the synoptic stations. At the time I came in, the first thing I did was to conduct a survey or assessment of what we had on ground. I found out something that was really shocking. And that is, out of the 36 synoptic stations or weather observatories across the country, only four scored above 50 per cent in terms of the capability; the highest score was 64 per cent and that was very worrisome. So we set out to address that issue, get the synoptic stations working so that we can measure weather variables every hour of the day and in some cases every hour of the night; that is, we need to have 24-hour stations. And having achieved that in the 36 stations I inherited, we now went out to expand the number of stations. Today, we are leaving behind 54 weather observatories across the country.
Having conquered that, we also moved on to the issue of more hi-tech equipment because the ones I told you about, which are the synopsis stations, are basic instruments for measurement. We had to go for more sophisticated hi-tech equipment like weather radar. And we procured six weather radars for Abuja, Port Harcourt, Yola and Maidugiri. Then there are other instruments such as the wind shear alert system that we had to install too. At the time we came in, only Abuja airport had a wind shear alert system but today, we have 13 wind shear alert systems in the airports. When we came in, there was only one upper air station in Abuja. Today, we have increased the number of upper air stations from one to eight. For Thunderstorm detectors; we had virtually none but now we have 20 of them across the country, while for integrated weather observing systems; we had none, today we have 14. Our air quality and ozone monitoring equipment; was zero, but today we have five of them. In addition, we now have a Weather Research Centre and the Instrument Calibration Laboratory, which everybody acclaims to be world-class. These are some of the things we have done in terms of hi-tech equipment.
We had challenges of manpower and personnel. The morale of the staff I inherited was generally low. These people had no self-esteem, I am sorry to say, so, because when you come to the aviation parastatals they were looked down upon because their salaries were very poor. And you could see it in their dressing, and the type of cars they had and that is for the few that even had cars. So when they start squaring shoulder to shoulder with their colleagues from other agencies (like Nigerian Collage of Aviation Technology (NCAT), Accident and Investigation Bureau (AIB), FAAN and NAMA), their morale was low. So I took up the challenge of getting them better salary package and we are enjoying relatively better salary package and it is better than what we have in the civil service. To also increase staff morale and confidence, we had to re-train them, so we gave emphasis to training and re-training, with the result that within a short time, we were able to train and re-train many of our officers. Many of these trainings were overseas in the factory that manufactured the instruments. We were, in fact, able to assist the aviation industry with accurate weather forecast, especially for pilots and airlines.
Looking at the investment we made in all these equipment, it is, however, disturbing that the various sectors have not been able to harness these information to grow the economy.
I will quote a statement by the WMO, which is the authoritative organ for weather and climate issues in the United Nations. WMO did an assessment over 10 years ago, which revealed that for every $1 invested in building capacity for weather or climate services, the dividend is equal to $7. That is, there is a seven-fold benefit and I will tell you how. Remember, I was careful to tell you that this assessment was done 10 years ago.
Now, the issue of climate change with the attendant impact on weather and its destructive effects is worse today than what it was 10 years ago when this assessment was done. If that assessment is done today, the benefits or dividend will be more. Imagine the huge losses to farmers in terms of crop failure, if you plant at the wrong time without accurate weather forecast guiding you. Today, by investing all these money, we are now able to advise farmers better and they make informed decision as to know when to plant. They also make informed decision as to when to apply fertiliser, informed decision on how to avoid crop failure.
Coming to the aviation sector, since I came on board, to the glory of God, for the first time in 10 years, there is no single aviation accident or incident where weather is seen to be responsible. Recall that the Sosoliso and ADC air crashes were linked to weather related problems. Today, there is no such story again where it is said that lack of weather information or because someone didn’t know there will be storm and so he flew into storm; there is no such accident again. Pilots now get the best weather information they could ever get from NIMET to operate in Nigeria.
And you know that the aviation industry is one of the most regulated industries in the world, and what that means is that the weather forecast we give and everything we do is in line with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
So these are all the benefits we are getting. We also have the maritime sector. We said to ourselves that we have many ships coming in and out of Nigerian ports and they need weather information. Where are they getting weather information? They are getting it from their home countries. So we had to start the process of giving weather information and forecast to shipping lines. We started it long ago; we have perfected the MoU with Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). So, with everything we are doing, apart from the other deliverables and benefits in terms of disaster risk reduction, prevention of crop losses and improvement of agricultural productivity, the naira and kobo side of it, is getting more revenue from maritime services. So all these investments are beneficial economically.