-Emergency Management: A Conversation with the Director General of SEMA-
Journalists are sometimes described as “mad people who rush into danger when normal people are rushing out of it”. Surely, this “compliment” isn’t entirely complimentary. Nobody loves to be addressed as a mad person. Yet, it isn’t uncomplimentary to be perceived as a brave person that has a messianic zeal of doing what “normal” people flee from doing.
Indeed, journalism obliges its practitioners to report all newsworthy incidents, including those that may be hazardous. However, journalism is not the only profession that accommodates “mad” people who rush into danger whenever accidents and disasters occur. Security agents and staff of emergency services also embrace danger, in their attempts to offer assistance to those in need of rescue.
In Cross River State, 49-year old Mr. John Inaku, an indigene of Ogoja Local Government Area, is at the helm of affairs at the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). This agency performs duties that are somehow, similar with the “mad” duties of journalists in disaster zones.
LinCornellah’s blog had a conversation with Mr. Inaku yesterday, in line with the blog’s goal of keeping its readers informed of newsworthy activities of all sorts, including public activities of political office holders.
Please read on.
How did your background and education prepare you for the job of Director General of SEMA?
Thank you, Cornel. It is a pleasure meeting with you. I actually came from a tough background. I am from the northern part of Cross River State. That part of the state is noted for farming and a whole lot of good endeavors. Even while in school at Mary Knoll College Ogoja, I participated in activities that required discipline and toughness. I excelled in athletics and field events. I was also a Supervisory Prefect. Even when I went to Federal School of Arts and Science in Ogoja, I represented the school in athletics, football, handball and field events.
Thereafter, I schooled in School of Basic Studies where I was a student leader. I started assuming positions of responsibility at a very tender age. At that level we were able to combine academic studies with leadership roles and still created a good balance. As a student leader, I knew that I needed to take the welfare of students as my priority. I tried my best then and proceeded to the University of Calabar where I graduated in the Department of Political Science.
Thereafter, I went scouting for jobs. I had worked with Panasonic at Kingsway Road Ikoyi, Lagos as well as Eurafric, one of the outfits of Tony Elumelu. After that I was sent to Plateau State where I opened a business window for Eurafric Oils. I was the operational Manager. From there, I got posted to Maiduguri. But I left Elumelu’s outfit because my eyesight didn’t feel comfortable with the harsh weather out there in Maiduguri.
I came back to Cross River State to contribute my quota in building the State. I started from the Local Government level where I served as Special Assistant to Dr Patrick Idagba during his tenure as Chairman of Ogoja Local Government Area. Thereafter, Donald Duke appointed me as the Director of Ogoja Urban Development Authority, when he was Governor of Cross River State. From there, Senator (Prof) Ben Ayade, the Digital Governor of this state, considered me worthy of appointment as Director General of State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA). That is why I am here.
How challenging has your job been so far?
The Governor has been very supportive of me and this Agency. We have recorded the highest number of disaster profile so far. In the past two years, Cross River State has always been there, in terms of emergency management. Management of emergency situations range from management of natural disaster to management of man-made disaster.
In terms of man-made disaster, even the fire outbreak you see in certain areas where people’s farms are burnt down, could be as a result of stubbornness on the part of some people. If you ask them to stop bush burning, they would ignore you. Communal clashes too, are man-made. Not to talk of natural disaster where you have flood, windstorm, landslide and the rest. Then you talk about the Refugee situation that we find ourselves.
The Bakassi Camps are here and the crisis in Bakassi is such that we need to confront it frontally. Otherwise, it would get out of hand. The Governor has been very kind. He has gone ahead to launch five thousand two bedroom housing units there and we are already working on that. The other aspect is a huge challenge posed by the migration of Cameroonians from the South West Province of Cameroon to Nigeria. People from neighboring villages and towns of Cameroon are in our territories. That is the immediate problem that we have now and we are trying to see how we can resolve it.
Recently, Senator Florence Ita Giwa made allegations that relief materials meant for refugees in Bakassi got missing. Those allegations were partly directed at your Agency. What is your response to those allegations?
There was leadership tussle in Bakassi. Normally, as Politicians, if you feel that you want to make a name, you also see how you can find soft landing in whatever place you are moving to. Senator Ita Giwa decided that she wanted to remarry, politically. She left one political party to another. As a new bride in the party she just joined, she knows that the only way she can find a place there, is to seek for recognition. That is exactly what she did. In the past, Senator Ita Giwa was always coming here.
Even when the other group in Bakassi is not aware that she is here with us, we would give her things to take to Bakassi people. Sometimes we would even follow her across to Abana. The contention was, whether or not the last batch of things should be given to her. Now that she has left the party and wasn’t even staying in Calabar anymore, we felt that there was no point to give those things to her. That was why I brought in others who were well grounded too.
Those people were her lieutenants but are now based in Calabar. But when she discovered that those same people were given these things, she didn’t find it funny…. Before now, she had been coming. She would say ‘let’s go’. But when she saw that the materials didn’t get to her but had been given to somebody close to her, she felt slighted and raised an alarm that was uncalled for. The good thing is that this issue has been resolved.
To what extent would it be right to consider Bakassi as the most challenging place in Cross River State in terms of emergency management?
Emergency challenges vary. Every Local Government has its own peculiar problem. If you talk about Boki for instance, the crisis we had was the landslide. Whereas, we were looking up to Agwagune in Biase that we were going to have so much of landslide this year.
After a team came from Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) about fifteen years ago and made their findings that there would be landslide in Agwagune and that around this time the entire place would be wiped away from the map of Nigeria, the Obasanjo-led Federal Government at that time, released funds for them to build a new place.
But you know our people. When you ask them to leave a particular place, they would say that they don’t want to leave their ancestral homes and relocate elsewhere. So, our attention was focused on Agwagune. But before we knew it, there was a flood that was able to cause a more devastating effect of landslide in Bomagi and other neighbouring communities in Boki. Three bridges there were washed away. Trees were felled as well. It is nature. So, there is no particular area that you can consider as worst hit. The peculiarity of each area has its own problems.
In Abi Local Government Area for instance, there are frequent communal clashes between the Osumutong and Ediba people. In one month, you can see them attacking themselves like three or four times. If you move to Odukpani, a similar thing happens there. Recently, a community there had problems with a neighbouring commuinity in Akwa Ibom State.
The difference between these places and Bakassi is in the degree of attention given. Bakassi’s issues are not just restricted to Cross River State. The issues in that place attract national and international attention. Often times, you would just sit back here and feel those at the camp are the ones you are attending to. Before you know it, another group would just come in.
Like what happened in the month of July. We were attending to one group of Refugees when another group who were being chased by the Cameroonian gendarmes arrived. As I speak with you now, the South West Province of Cameroon desires independence. Citizens of that Province who are being chased out are in Cross River State’s border towns and villages.
We have much influx of refugees in places ranging from the hills of Obanliku down to Ikang in Bakassi. The United Nations ought to come in. Some Agencies have already come. We are supposed to be there now. But we are waiting for funds for logistics.
To what extent is your Agency collaborating with security agencies to ensure that the influx of refugees would not pose security problems to Cross River State and the rest of Nigeria?
Security agencies are already in Obanliku, Ikom and all of those areas. Our advanced team is in those places too and we are working cordially with security operatives. The synergy is good.
What is the relationship between the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and Natioanl Emergency Management Agency (NEMA)?
NEMA is a mother agency. We are the first respondents. So, we first move to the field, assess what is happening and then make a report to NEMA. Right now, we are making a letter to the Director General of NEMA over the situation here. You are aware that in July this year, there was a crisis in Wanikande, in Ukelle, Yala Local Government Area.
Shortly after that, the Vice President who was then acting as the President, gave a marching order to NEMA and they came. The Minister of Interior also came. Of course, we give credit to the government of Benue State for the prompt attention they gave to people who ran from that place to take refuge in neighboring Benue State.
International Day of the Girl Child was marked on Wednesday, 11th October, to draw attention to issues affecting girls. What steps does your Agency take to ensure that girls and women in refugee camps are properly protected from abuse?
So far, we have a program for the refugees in camp and the female children. We have a gender group that is always going there to teach them about how to use their toiletries and sanitary pads. They also encourage and teach them the need to have basic education so that they can have something useful before they think about getting married. In terms of molestation, we ensure that those in camp are being observed and checked properly. Nobody is being molested at all.
What is your message to those who require your Agency’s intervention in terms of emergency management?
To Cross Riverians, especially those who may have been affected in one way or another in terms of disaster, we want to appeal that if we have not reached them, it does not mean that we would not come. They should maintain their calm. We are really working hard to ensure that we put all these data together and send them to necessary authorities. Because you discover that if you put all these disaster profile together, the entire budget of Cross River State in a year cannot cope with the problems on ground.
So, we are already reaching out to sister agencies like the National Commission for Refugees, NEMA and international donors to ensure that we receive the required collaboration and assistance. As they come in with things that we have applied for, we would be able to reach out to all those who are affected by disaster.
- Cornelius Ellah
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