The appointment of Retired Air Vice Marshal Muhammad Mohammed as NEMA’s 6th Director General was widely and warmly received by its staff at its headquarters in Abuja and its Territorial, Zonal and Operational offices spread across the 6 geo political zones of the country. Also involved in the jubilation are all state Emergency management agencies and its numerous local and international stakeholders and partners.

Director General NEMA AVM Muhammadu Mohammed (rtd)
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It is obvious that the jubilation may not be unconnected to the way the former removed Director General, Mustapha Maihaja has desecrated the agency during his 3 years or so stewardship.

As a local and foreign trained Disaster Manager and NEMA’s foot soldier for almost 10 years, i confess that one of the best and most strategic appointment President Buhari of Nigeria has made since his election in 2015 was the appointment of Retired Air Vice Marshal Muhammadu Muhammed as Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA.

What made AVM Muhammadu’s appointment significant and unique is the indisputable fact that it came at the nick of time.

The reader may ask the simple but pertinent question ‘why is it so’? Simply put, the appointment came when past efforts and sacrifices by previous Directors General particularly Muhammadu Sani Sidi, in putting in place solid workable structures and relationships with key stakeholders along with highly trained and motivated staff among others, have almost been thrown to the dogs by the immediate past DG, Mustapha Maihaja.

Since Maihaja’s take over from Sani Sidi around May 2017, NEMA had witnessed turbulent times because of Maihaja’s many gaps including incompetence, disregard for members of Disaster committees of the Nigerian Senate and the house of representatives, disregard for due process and other key stakeholders in disaster management at the state levels and worse more his refusal to work with trained and experienced staff as specified in NEMA’s act of establishment aimed at moving disaster management to the next level by way of consolidating gains earlier recorded by previous Directors General.

The stagnation of staff, abandonement of the agency’s Act, road map, lack of transparency and due process in the award of questionable contracts by Maihaja have paved the way for NEMA moving closer to the graveyard for final burial rites but for the timely intervention of President Buhari in appointing a retired very senior Air Force Officer to resuscitate it.

It is therefore not in doubt that the tenure of Maihaja at NEMA has been disastrous not only to staff and stakeholders but also to the federal government of Nigeria for crippling disaster management and all the billions of Naira government had spent in infrastructural and human resource development in the agency.

For the first time in the history of NEMA, staff embarked on strike twice within one year. Even the house of representatives committee on disaster had found Maihaja guilty of embezzling and misappropriating N33billion during its public hearing in 2018 and recommended him for removal from office and prosecution. Other unforgivable sins committed by Maihaja include auctioning of agency’s vehicles and essential assets by total disregard to due process and absence of a plan for replacement, divide and rule, favouritism and incompetence.

Confirming Maihaja’s disastrous leadership at a one day retreat for management staff and the agency’s heads of field offices in the zones recently in Abuja, AVM Muhammadu while welcoming the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Sadiya Umar Farouk to the Retreat explained that he met a “plethora of challenges including Poorly motivated staff, mutual suspicion among staff, poor working environment, lack of serviceable equipment among others” left behind by his predecessor.

In the words of the DG, ‘to compound these problems, there was poor perception of the image of NEMA by the public, poor relation with our supervising Ministry and the National Assembly Committees and lack of intra and inter agency coordination and collaboration’ which were all in place prior to Maihaja’s take over.

Other issues of concern to the new DG of NEMA include the total collapse of its Call Centre for Emergency response and the complete grounding of its Air Ambulance.

These and several other challenges confronting disaster management in the country at his time of take over have forced him to develop strategies and design the way forward to improve on NEMA’s service delivery.

According to NEMA’s Director General, ‘having identified the challenges ‘i have established the desired relationship with our Ministry; engaged the National Assembly as partners in the conduct of our affairs; working on intra and inter departmental collaboration and produced the 2019 Annual Report which was not done since 2016’.

Elaborating on his efforts to restore the lost glory of NEMA as a reputable and dependable agency of government charged with managing disaters and emergencies in the country, he stated that
he settled all verifiable Staff claims that have been pending for a couple of years, resolved contract liabilities that have been lingering since 2017, reactivated many operational equipment as well as making progress in procuring operational vehicles. Our communication equipment are receiving attention and the Call Centre has been reactivated while efforts are being made to bring home the Air Ambulance.

From the onset, AVM Muhammadu had expressed his desire to change things for the better in NEMA since according to him delivering effective and efficient service in managing disasters is a task that must be done if it is to remain afloat by way of showing serious commitment as disaster managers in “fashioning out measures for intervention and initiating disaster risk reduction strategies suitable to our respective communities.”

Towards achieving the mandate of the agency, the NEMA DG tasked its heads of field offices to achieve awareness campaign to target 100% of Nigerians on reducing the risk of flooding and other disasters; develop community resilience through the implementation of the Sendai Framework of Action; respond to all catastrophic disasters in the country; shorten response time to emergencies and disasters to 20 minutes; ensure availability and workability of all rescue equipment and vehicles for the country; implement Humanitarian – Development Nexus and support the provision of basic needs for IDPs in catastrophic disasters.

Others include
support coordination of safe and dignified return of IDPs in the country in collaboration with other stakeholders; strengthen institutions for Disaster Management at the lower level of Governance; strengthen collaboration and coordination with all humanitarian actors; mainstream and integrate disaster risk reduction within and across all sectors; promoting mechanisms for disaster risk transfer and insurance, risk-sharing and retention especially in flood and fire disasters; review and update disaster preparedness and contingency policies, plans and programmes; invest, develop, maintain and strengthen people–centred multi-hazard, multi-sectoral forecasting and early warning systems and supporting the six centres for Disaster Risk Management in Nigeria established by NEMA.

One can therefore confidently say that AVM Muhammadu as NEMA’s Director General is focussed on delivering on the vision and mission of NEMA. He hopes to return NEMA to the good old days of Sani Sidi’s tenure when its staff were highly motivated while they reciprocate by putting their lives in danger with all pleasure to save lives and properties and bring succour to all distressed Nigerians as a result of natural and human induced disasters.

For NEMA’s staff, stakeholders and partners it is certainly a new dawn and lease of life for restoring its lost glory as Africa’s leading emergency management outfit that had made indelible contributions to disaster management during the tenure of former Directors General Mrs Oluwo, Shuaibu Makarfi, AVM Audu Bida and Muhammadu Sani Sidi.

My appeal to all stakeholders to join hands with AVM Muhammadu in his transformation next level agenda for broader disaster management in the country will not be in vain given the enthusiasm the staff showed when the DG assumed duty. It will not be out of place to urge him not to betray the trust and confidence of President Buhari in appointing him into the exalted position. Giving his mitary and cultural background, AVM Muhammadu will surely do the needful.

For most staff and stakeholders of NEMA, the removal of Maihaja as its DG is ‘long overdue, a right step in the right direction and good riddance to bad rubbish’.