NEMA AND POLITICS OF RELIEF MATERIALS By Emmanuel Onwubiko

OPINION

The current President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration which was inaugurated on May 29th 2015, gave millions of Nigerians the impression that the political office holders will treat all Nigerians as equal before the laws and privileges enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended).

In his inaugural address, President Buhari affirmed that he will belong to nobody but to everybody which in effect reflects the constitutional stipulations embodied in the oath of office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Few weeks after he made his inaugural speech, Mr. President was quoted in the international media during his maiden visit to the United States of America that those regions of the Country that gave him 97% percent votes will gain more than the regions namely South East of Nigeria and Niger Delta that gave him 5% votes will not get same treatment. This statement directly contradicts his oath of office.

But two years down the line, several actions, policies and public pronouncements of key officials of the federal government have clearly violated the sanctity of the oath of office sworn to by the head of the Federal government.

The very first signal that signposts a fundamental breach of the constitution was when it was observed that the bulk of the most strategic national security/defence appointments made by the President were given to persons of Hausa/Fulani and adherents of the same religious faith as the President.

In the area of internal security under the federal ministry of Interior, the minister who is a former Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Abdulrahman Danbazau(rtd) appointed only Northern Moslems in charge of all the agencies.

The above serious breaches of the Federal character principle was followed by the lopsided employment that took place at the Department for state services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which clearly favoured applicants from Northern Nigeria with Katsina State, the state of birth of the President producing more intakes into the secret police over and above the five South East states. DSS is headed by the kinsman of President Muhammadu Buhari whilst EFCC is headed by an assistant police commissioner who hails from the North East of Nigeria same as the Secretary to the government of the Federation Mustspha Gida Boss, the Presidential National Adviser Gen. Monguno and the Chief of State to the President.

The above skewed pattern of appointments and top level employment into key security institutions which favours a particular region may have formed the motivation for the untoward and Ethno-religiously motivated steps adopted by the Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to always favour the people of North East of Nigeria where he hails from in terms of the distribution of relief materials.

To a ridiculous dimension, the Director General even personally assisted traders whose/shops were burnt in an inferno in his State of birth whereas in places like Kano; Warri and most major markets in the South East of Nigeria affected by infernos are never the immediate concern of the management of NEMA headed by the Yobe state born politician said to be eyeing the position of governor in the 2019 polls.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said in a media statement that it delivered relief to assist 149 traders whose properties were destroyed in fire at Nguru Central Market in Yobe.

According to the information, the assistance is to help them rebuild their shops and include 1200 bags of cement, 732 bundles of roofing sheets, 300 bags of roofing nails, 1485 ceiling boards and 3000 piece of planks.

NEMA’s director-general Mustapha Maihaja said in a statement the items would be distributed directly to affected victims by the team of the agency together with market committee members.

“Engr. Maihaja also inspected the damages in the burnt market after which he emphasized the need for more caution against fire disaster especially during this dry season,” said NEMA spokesman Sani Datti, who released the statement.

Following the market fire incident that occurred on Saturday 11th November 2017, a team of NEMA staff were deployed same day to assess the damages for the relief intervention.

This politically motivated sharing of relief materials to his kinsmen seriously goes to the fundamental issues that most Nigerians have often asked since the last few years whether this national institution put in place with tax payers’ money is exclusively to benefit victims of disasters in a particular region of the country whereby the Director General comes from. This same DG of NEMA is not known to have visited the states in the South and North central Nigeria recently affected by disasters of one form or the other. The Warri main market also was consumed by a fire incident almost same time as that of Yobe state but the DG of NEMA seems to be funneling all the relief materials bought with tax payers money to just a favoured part of the Country apparently to curry political favour.

The reason for the above observation is the reported failure of the Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency to effectively enforce the directive that was made in July 2017 by the then Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbanjo that N1.6 billion be disbursed to flood victims in 16 states. At that time the SSA Media of the then ailing President Alhaji Garba Shehu had revealed that his boss had to turn back federal office holders who were trooping in to the Nigerian house in London to consult with the medically vacationing President. Garba Shehu said the President directed them to report to the Acting President. The failure of NEMA to comply with this Presidential directive by the then Acting President is seen as a sign that the DG of NEMA has scant respect for the holder of the high office of the Vice president.

The then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo ordered the immediate release of N1.6 billion for disbursement to victims of flood in 16 states of the federation.

Mr. Femi Adesina, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity made this known when he briefed State House correspondents after the meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which was presided over by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.

He said that the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had already been directed to release the amount directly to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for onward disbursement to the victims in the affected states.

“The Acting President has approved the sum of N1.6 billion as immediate intervention for the victims of flood in 16 states. Sixteen states have been ravaged by flood.

“The states are Ekiti, Osun, Akwa Ibom, Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Ebonyi, Enugu, Abia, Oyo, Lagos, Plateau, Sokoto, Edo and Bayelsa.

“So, 16 states ravaged by flood and the sum of N1.6 billion has been approved for immediate release as relief for people in those states and communities involved.

“The money is going to be taken from the Federal Government Ecological Fund Account at the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Minister of Finance is to release the fund direct to NEMA, which is National Emergency Management Agency.”

It will be recalled that the balance of the Federal Government Ecological Fund as at June 29 was N29.8 billion.

Adesina said the acting president also gave approval for the Presidential Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation to give additional support to the victims in the affected states.

Many months after this directive was made, the Director General of NEMA was said not to have acted on it even as our findings from most of the victims of these floods shows that not a dime was paid to them by NEMA.

But NEMA has always been seen rushing in with relief materials to victims of disasters in the North East. This must stop. NEMA was basically set up to promote equal opportunities for all Nigerians irrespective of affiliations on the grounds of religion or Ethnicity.

This significantly national role, amongst others, was formally enacted into law when National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) was established in March 1999 via Act 12 as amended by Act 50.

The Act conferred NEMA with the following functions and powers: (a)  Formulate policy on all activities relating to disaster management in Nigeria and coordinate the plans and programmes for efficient and effective response to disasters at national level;  (b)  Co-ordinate and promote research activities relating to disaster management at the national level; (c)  Monitor the state of preparedness of all organizations or agencies which may contribute to disaster management in Nigeria; (d)  Collate data from relevant agencies so as to enhance forecasting, planning and field operation of disaster management

NEMA is also to; (e)   Educate and inform the public on disaster prevention and control measures; (f)   Coordinate and facilitate the provision of necessary resources for search and rescue and other types of disaster curtailment activities in response to distress call; (g)  Co-ordinate the activities of all voluntary organizations engaged in emergency relief operations in any part of the Federation. (h)  Receive financial and technical aid from international organizations and non-governmental agencies for the purpose of disaster management in Nigeria.

By law NEMA should  (i)  Collect emergency relief supply from local, foreign sources and from international and non-governmental agencies; (j)  Distribute emergency relief materials to victims of natural or other disasters and assist in the rehabilitation of the victims where necessary; (k)  Liaise with State Emergency Management Committees established under section 8 of this Act to assess and monitor where necessary, the distribution of relief materials to disaster victims;  (l)  Process relief assistance to such countries as may be determined from time to time; (m)  Liaise with the United Nations Disaster Reduction Organization or such other international bodies for reduction of natural and other disaster;  (n)  Prepare the annual budget for disaster management in Nigeria; and  (o)  Perform such other functions which in the opinion of the Agency are required for the purpose of achieving its objectives under this Act.

The Act also defined “natural or other disasters” to include any disaster arising from any crisis, epidemic, drought, flood, earthquake, storm, train, roads, aircraft, oil spillage or other accidents and mass deportation of Nigerians from any other country.”

The definition is broad and comprehensive and apparently intended to cover all natural or human-induced disasters. Such is the huge task before NEMA.

The politics of divide and rule being observed in the sharing formula adopted by the current head of NEMA which favours the North East of Nigeria is a direct affront to the Constitutional provisions banning discrimination.

Section 42(1) (2) of the Constitution states as follows:

“42.-(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person- (a)   Be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to disabilities or restrictions to which citizen of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions are not made subject; or (b)  Be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizen Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religions or political opinions.”

(2)     No citizen of Nigeria shall be subjected to any disability or deprivation merely by reason of the circumstances of his birth.

This deliberately skewed nature of favouring some victims of natural disasters and neglecting others because they do not share religious or Ethnic affinities with the current DG of NEMA directly undermines the integrity of the national mechanisms for disaster management and control.

Former Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Anan had stated the essence of institutional integrity thus:  “It is increasingly recognized that integrity and good governance are essential building blocks for meeting objectives of sustainable development, prosperity and peace. No two countries are precisely alike in this respect. Nevertheless, in all countries whatever their cultural differences, good governance and transparency and accountability in the management of public affairs, respect for human rights and the meaningful participation of all citizens in the political processes and decisions affecting their lives are imperative.”

This is therefore to task the DG of NEMA to compile records of fire disasters all across Nigeria and to send out relief materials to the victims since what is good for Citizen A is good for Citizen B because by constitutional provisions under a democracy, all citizens must enjoy equal opportunities.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA)

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