Recently, at Annual Media Retreat on Disaster Management held in Abuja, the Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Alhaji Muhammad Sani-Sidi revealed that in the face heightened tragedies resulting from bomb explosion and other related emergency situations in the country, some state and local governments are failing in their constitutional responsibilities on disaster management despite the contingency funds placed at their disposal by the federal government.

Although, it is part of responsibilities of NEMA as the national coordinating agency to formulate policy on all activities relating to disaster management in Nigeria, organise plans and programmes for efficient and effective response to disasters in the country, the states are lagging behind in their roles of making disaster everyone’s business and the need to become first responder in the event of emergency.

Furthermore, NEMA must be seen to be coordinating and promoting research activities relating to disaster management as well as monitoring the level of preparedness of all organizations or agencies that are involved in disaster management in Nigeria.

Similarly, under section 8 of the amended Act 50 establishing NEMA in 2001, the agency is mandated to liaise with State Emergency Management Committees (SEMCs) to assess and monitor “where necessary”, the distribution of relief materials to disaster victims. It was in bid to achieve these objectives, access preparedness and performance, and ensure calculative and effective efforts towards disaster management at state and grassroots’ levels that called for the advocacy visits of the Director General to six geo-political zones across the country.

Surprisingly, during his visitations, Sani Sidi observed that there was over-reliance of states and local governments on NEMA to help perform their constitutional duties and said “this have intensified the risk of manageable hazards to disasters in some grassroots.”

He therefore described non-existence of State and Local Emergency Management Agency (SEMAs & LEMAs) in some states and local councils as one of the major challenges facing disaster management in the country.

His words: “It is regrettable that apart from Lagos state and few others, in many states SEMAs and LEMAs are not in existence. I discovered during my advocacy visits to them that they are identified only by name not by functional vehicles, offices and personnel. They are not funded. In fact, you would find out they have only have Special Advisers on Disasters with neither funds nor personnel for effective operation and preparedness against disasters. How can it work?”

Besides, following the Nigeria’s devastating floods in 2010, NEMA appealed to the World Bank for support in the recovery process. The collaboration led to the agreement that the Bank would strengthen the capacities of NEMA and SEMAs in Disaster Damage and Loss Assessment, and help the country to get a better overview of the economic impacts and disaster resilience.

While on long term basis, apart from the giving the high level of independency to SEMAs in disaster management, it was expected that the World Bank, NEMA, SEMAs and other national and state agencies will strengthen their partnership in disaster response and risk reduction to reduce the vulnerability of Nigerians to natural hazards. These benefits along with the ecological funds are underutilized by these levels of government that result to transfer mere hazards to NEMA to manage.

In addition, section 8(1) of the Act stated: “There is hereby established for each State of the Federation, a State Emergency Management Committee”. Sub section 2 of the Act elaborates that the State Committee shall consist of the Deputy Governor of the state who shall be the chairman; the Secretary to the State Government; one representative each from the State Ministry of Women and Social Welfare, the State Ministry of Health, the State Ministry of Works, the State Fire Service, the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, the State Environmental Protection Agency, the Nigerian Police Force, the Federal Road Safety Commission, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Nigerian Red Cross Society, and National Maritime Authority in coastal States.

Consequently, the Act makes it as part of the duties of SEMCs to notify the NEMA of any natural or other disasters occurring in the State; respond to any disaster within the State and may seek assistance from the Agency if it deems fit in each circumstance; carry out disaster management activities in the State as may, from time to time, be recommended by the Agency; and be accountable to the Agency for all funds accruing to it for purposes of discharging its functions under this Act.

It could be recalled that in the 2011 Annual Report of NEMA, Sani-Sidi stated: “There is no disaster without vulnerability to a natural or human-induced hazards. Disaster only occurs when people’s vulnerability exposes them to a hazard. While nothing can be done about certain hazards such as flood, windstorm, ocean surge, earthquake and other similar natural phenomena, people and community have leverage over their vulnerability to hazards.”

More importantly, the level of vulnerability of hazards at state and grassroots’ levels will determine the necessity for NEMA’s interference. For manageable hazards within the capacity of the state and local councils, the SEMAs and LEMA would have to discharge their Constitutional responsibilities on disaster management appropriately and make effective use of the ecological and other funds in their disposal. The states are expected to set a pace and ensure functional administrative capacity at grassroots level for the Local Emergency Management Committees (LEMCs) to operate.

Abubakar Jimoh is the National Coordinator, Youths Against Disaster Initiative (YADI), and lives in Abuja.