BY HENRY CHUKWU
In 2015 President Buhari and APC campaigned with the popular mantra “CHANGE”. The word “Change” spoke personally to Nigerians across, implying that it would no longer be business as usual. It is however pertinent to state that while the naïve amongst us sat back and daydreamed of a government that will deliver the Nigeria of their dreams without opposition, the discerning yet honest and patriotic stakeholders in governance naturally expected resistance from those who were determined to preserve the status quo that had been hitherto characterized by grand corruption and maladministration.
This is particularly so in the area of crisis management on the heels of the insurgent activities of the Boko Haram sect that had devastated the North-east region leading to the displacement of large populations of people who had been resident in the affected areas. The huge increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) required the coordinated response of the disaster management agency in the country- the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). Though NEMA had been established through an Act of the National Assembly when the country returned to democratic rule in 1999, the agency remained in the background and did not register on the consciousness of Nigerians until the rise of the threat of insurgency and terrorism. The NEMA mandate included the formulation of policy related to disaster management and coordination of the crisis management plans for efficient and effective response to disasters at national level.
As simple as the tasks appeared, in a nation teetering on the edge of various conflicts and crises, it was quite gargantuan: the huge operations involved implied a corresponding budgetary allocation to the agency by the federal government and in a system used to rent-seeking and other dysfunctional practices that have hobbled the country for long, this opened the door to the usual practice afflicting most institutions in Nigeria. This brings us back to my opening paragraph about how people and groups who benefit from the status quo tending to resist all forms of change to the system.
For long, NEMA had existed as a form of “cash cow” for shadowy patrons to milk as it was considers by these cabal as a “juicy” agency. Fixating on the “huge” budgetary allocations to the agency and largely ignoring the enormous task involved in the management of disaster for over 180m people, this highly influential bloc along with covertly-placed collaborators within the agency had fed fat on what was initially purposed as relief materials for victims of disaters in the country. To put it candidly, these vampires fed fat on the misery of victims.
The advent of the Muhammadu Buhari administration whose change mantra and zero tolerance for corruption appears to have put paid to all that. Perhaps aware of the malfeasance that had pervaded the agency, the president appointed Engr. Mustapha Maihaja, who is widely known as a “no-nonsense man” as the agency’s Director General. I want to believe that Engr. Maihaja was clear about the enormity of the task ahead when he took the job. Of a truth, it is almost impossible for relief materials provided to be sufficient for all affected by disaster. It is however expedient to make the most judicious use of whatever resources available; this is what Engr. Maihaja set out to do and he has done quite well in this regard. Upon assumption of office there were several allegations of IDPS being short changed with extant poor feeding arrangements, looting of relief material. It was also evident that the agency itself was bugged down by poor planning and policy formulation that resulted in a poor response time and several other critical issues.
Being an engineer with vast experience in project management, he initiated vast reform of response processes through adequate planning policies. The emphasis on proper planning by this astute project manager could not be over emphasized and within a short time, the agency had achieved a near excellent response time to emergency requirements. Recall the recent spate of flooding that occurred in all six geopolitical zones of the country affecting millions of people directly? Any observer of the emergency management responses during that time would agree that NEMA’s response this time around was quite timely unlike what had obtained in previous years when victims of the flood had been abandoned for weeks before relief came their way. Another instance that underscored the agency’s improvement in response time came during the evacuation of Nigerians from Libya in which NEMA took the lead in transportation and welfare of the evacuated. This particular exercise was in fact adjudged very impressive by many of the deportees.
Chief amongst the exploits of NEMA is the coordination of humanitarian activities in the North-east region of country. Indeed, NEMA under Maihaja has taken a new dimension in its operations and dealings in the North-east; improved food provision and distribution, improved distribution of medical supplies have been the hallmark of the agency’s impact in the North-east. This is a very commendable departure from the past. These things may not mean much to some of us who may not know what it means to be displaced from one’s home and have nowhere to go to. Organizations like NEMA are too critical to the people who depend on them and as such, the country cannot afford to just hand it in to just any group of charlatans to manage.
Engr Maihaja is worthy of commendation for his exploits in the reform processes introduced to NEMA, effectively rejuvenating the agency and awakening it to its huge responsibility of providing succor to the troubled and vulnerable. Insisting on a transparent and accountable organization and refusing to bow to the pressure of those who want him to just “open up the till”, or “play ball”., he has steadfastly resisted all blackmail being orchestrated by those who had fed fat in the past on the resources meant for the weak and vulnerable. Deploying sterling leadership qualities which have shone brightly amidst the darkness and rot, Maihaja has birthed an agency where efficiency, quick response, transparency and accountability have been established as the order of the day. This modern day reformer should stick to his oars as he continues to chart a new path for NEMA; I encourage him to remain focused and not be distracted. The passion and compassion with which Engr. Maihaja has grasped the bull by the horn in NEMA is exactly what is required at that critical agency at this time in our nation’s history.
On a final note, t is a universal maxim that good always triumphs over evil, so I implore Engr Mustapha Maihaja , please keep the focus , ignore the distractions and keep up the good work. Posterity will be kind to him for this.
Chukwu contributed this article from UniZik, Awka