Abbas Garuba Idriss is the Director General of FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Idriss holds a first degree in Economics from the University of Maiduguri; Masters of Science Business Administration from the same University of Maiduguri and a Masters of Science in Disaster Risk Management & Development Studies, ABU Zaria .In this interview with Taofeek LAWAL, he spoke about the activities of his agency and how he is collaborating with other sister agencies in the FCT to tackle and reduce disasters to barest minimum.
What is the FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) all about? Can you let us into the mission of the agency and what do you do?
The FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was established based on the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Act which provided for the states and the Federal Capital Territory to have a similar agency that will interface with NEMA. By the Act, FEMA is the first respondent and that is where most people got it wrong. If anything happens, you discover that people call NEMA instead of the states’ emergency management agency (SEMA). Except they (SEMA) are overwhelmed that is when you can reach out to NEMA for assistance and support. The mission and aim of establishing FEMA or SEMA is to coordinate both human and material resources and tackle emergencies and disasters in cities and towns in the states as well as the FCT. Of course, we are wearing two caps; that of the FCT and that of a state. You cannot really call or state per se, we are for the federation and the FCT.
What kind of sensitization have you been given to people now that we are approaching the rainy season or we have already in the raining season when flood affect and wreak havoc to those who build houses along the river area?
First and foremost and as a first respondent, you have to have your stakeholders. Those stakeholders must be agencies and organizations that are going to be involved responding to disasters and emergencies in one way or another or managing disaster in and outside the cities. Those stakeholders have to be coordinated and be brought together and they develop what is called the Emergency Response Plan (ERP). The ERP is the roadmap for the response in the city. It is something that you can see, weigh and feel. Other agencies complement our efforts. The response plan spelt out all what an agency can do in terms of any disaster and the limit of its resources and manpower; thereafter, you must also have a contingency plan. So, these people and the agencies that you have will still have to come together and then review previous activities and see the gaps and what brought about it and fill up the gaps. Similarly, that is what we do when it comes to sensitization. We have to sensitize the public, the residents of the FCT, not to do certain things that could jeopardize the efforts of the government or ones that could lead to disasters in the city. At the moment as you come, we have flagged off the sensitization program and community awareness which we have been doing in the last few weeks by going round all the area councils and visiting the flood-prone areas and tell them why they should not build or erect any structure in those areas. And like I always say, flooding in the FCT is human-induced which means it can be prevented and if it natural, we can only mitigate. With constant sensitization, we bring stakeholders together and we have been able to flooding in the FCT.
Your work has really been cut out for you with what you just said. Can we know your relationship with other agencies in the FCT especially the FCT Fire Service Department, what is the approach?
The FCT Fire Service in under us. Although we relate with Federal Fire Service (FFS) is limited because it is only at the point of operations; our own stakeholders at those agencies in the FCT. At the national level which the FFS belongs, they are stakeholders to NEMA but we meet at the point of operations. I can activate FFS if there is fire here and at the same time activate the FCT Fire Service. We will all meet at the fire scene and carry out operations. But when it comes to the response plan that I talked about, we don’t have to bring the FFS into it because we don’t hold them responsible for anything but NEMA will hold them responsible for whatever that happens within their stakeholders’ circle. You must have good stakeholders for you to coordinate well otherwise you won’t have anyone to coordinate. At our own state level, we deal with the Commissioner of Police, the Garrison Commander, Civil Defence Commandant and others. NEMA deals with the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and that is how the relationship is.
How can you rate people’s approach or response to your operations?
It has been very commendable especially from residents outside the city centre. They have given maximum cooperation when it comes to early warning and they accept what we tell them. But you know that is why you don’t blame some people who always look at those who are higher in education; these educated always look down on certain things. Rather than show good examples to those below them in education, you will discover that they are the ones flouting most standing rules. It is not the villagers that beat the traffic, it is the elites. They will be the one telling you that they know the IGP if you want to carry out the laws. But a local man will never go against the law because he respects and obeys the law at times. These are some of the reasons we have most problems in the city centre populated by the elites and the educated. These set of people don’t listen to early warnings that we pass to them. Even when we sponsor programs through radio jingles, they don’t listen. Immediately the jingle is going to be aired, they tune the radio set to another station to listen to music. In the villages, we have employed town criers who go round to inform people about our activities and they listen. In short, our problem is the elites.
What are the punishments or sanctions for the defaulters?
Each agency has its own penalties. For instance, if you default in erecting indiscriminate building, the Development Control has its own law that will catch up with you. If you are building a structure and that collapses, there are consequences. The consequence is that you are going to forfeit the land and whatever that is there. If you build without approval, the land can be confiscated and you can be also be prosecuted. The same thing with the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB); if you dump waste indiscriminately in drainage, the mobile court and the task force team will arrest the offenders and impose or apply the necessary penalties. Each agency relies on its laws which it applies appropriately according to the dictates of the law. Our own is coordination and if there is anything need, we can the police. If there is any disaster, we can the police, the civil defence and other security agencies first to cordone off the area and in the process they can carry out an arrest for any disobedient resident. For those who cause these events as well, there are laws that will catch up with them and we make sure that as coordinators, the errant residents are punished.
With the spate of insecurity in the country presently and the high presence of abandoned buildings scattered across the FCT, how are you working together with the Department of Development Control to check this and most importantly the security agencies?
We have done that recently where people living in uncompleted buildings were evicted. Notices were passed to the owners of such uncompleted buildings that they should send the illegal occupants away failure of which they will lose their buildings or be confiscated. For security reasons, these buildings can harbour unscrupulous elements like bandits, kidnappers, robbers and hoodlums and they should not be allowed to take over the city. You could see that the security agents are doing the best they can to secure FCT. Up till this moment, the FCT is one of the most secured cities in the country.
You will agree with me that Covid-19 is still with us. What have being the challenges so far and since you come on board, what are the initiatives you have brought on board to enhance better services?
The best that could happen and control Covid-19 is the non-pharmaceutical protocols which have been put in place at the moment. You have your face/nose mask in place, wash your hands with soap and water and apply sanitizers and don’t forget the social distancing. These are the best ways to handle Covid-19. We have been able to curtail Covid-19 to a certain level. We are still making progress and gradually we believe this will come to pass. It will be a history for the whole nation and the world in general. The major thing that we did and which we are still doing is the sensitization. But you will notice that people coming from outside the FCT violates the Covid-19 rules. You will see some commercial vehicles coming in overloaded with people not wearing masks. The task force is really working and the mobile court is also there to impose the fines. All hands are on deck and absolutely with Covid-19, we are not relenting to make sure that the pandemic becomes completely flattened so that we can return back to our normal lives.