FIRST AS LAST RESPONDERS IN SOUTH EAST

Opinion
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BY EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO

One of the most strategic services that defines a country is the capacity to provide good enough emergency response mechanisms in times of either natural or man-made disasters.

A first responder is a real life superhero, so say the authors of a piece published on the website of www.dictionary.com.

First responders are persons whose duty is to respond immediately (first) when there is an accident or emergency.

Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) Paramedics, fire-fighters, and police are considered first responders.

This fact is fascinating.

I had earlier stated that one of the salient qualities of a sovereignty is the ability of such an entity to be able to mobilize professional first responders to carry out rescue missions in places and times of natural and man-made disasters.

Additionally, the functions done by these professionals classified as first responders can be likened to the duties of human rights defenders just as the promotion and protection of human rights of citizens demonstrates the level of civility or otherwise of such a place.

The preamble of the universal declaration of human rights made by the United Nations in 1948 states that: “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human ’ family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”.

Writing about the essence of the institutionalisation of the practice of efficient and effective emergency rescue mandates reminds me of the terror attack about nineteen years ago on September 11th at the United States World’s trade centre.

Those chains of bombing attacks can be used to demonstrate the strategic place of first responders going by the fact that the entire bombing campaigns were ironically captured on live television broadcast and billions of audiences watched as these sad episodes played out in which some bunch of people with twisted understanding of their religion of Islam, decided to bomb one of the tallest housing infrastructure in the World which at the time of this terror attack had over five thousand peoples of diverse nationalities and religions.

Reading through an open letter published on 17th September, 2020 by Salyersville independent online media, will further explain how so well the responses of first responders during that terror attacks aforestated, saved hundreds of lives.

This writer stated rightly that on some anniversaries we celebrate. On others we reflect.

The 19th Anniversary of the attack on America and New York’s World Trade Center is one of the times for reflection, the writer reminds us.

There is truly nothing to celebrate in the extraordinary tragedy of 9/11.

“As much as I would like to forget some of them, the images from that day will never be out of my mind, nor will the victims and their families.

“But there is one memory I want to hold on to, one that I want to cherish as the deepest and most lasting of September 11, 2001. It is the memory of the heroism and selflessness demonstrated by law enforcement officers, fire fighters and emergency medical technicians who went about their business that day without concern for their own safety and without consideration for the magnitude of what they were confronting.

“I suppose the term ‘first responders’ was around before 9/11 but I can’t remember ever hearing or using it before then. It caught on with me because it succinctly and accurately captures not only what these public servants do, but it says something about who they are.

“They are people willing to respond without question or hesitation when our community needs them. Men and women willing to make someone else’s emergency or crisis their own and to put their lives on the line doing it.”

The writer then made another profound statement of fact as follows: “If that doesn’t deserve our respect, nothing does. Most of us have always had an appreciation for first responders whether we called them that or not.

“At one time or another, what little boy or little girl didn’t want to grow up to be a police officer or a fire fighter? As time passes and most of us go on to do other things with our lives, we tend not only to out grow our hero worship, but also to start taking things for granted. Then some tragedy happens and our attention is drawn to them again.

“I am not sure where the tradition of delivering a Desert to first responders on the anniversary of 9/11 started in our company, but I’m glad it did. It started out of someone’s caring and appreciative heart and spread from employee to employee and location to location until stores all over Kentucky and Tennessee were involved.

“No one ever imagined that taking a meal to first responders as a way of showing our appreciation would turn out to mean so much to the people in our company. As more and more people and locations became involved, a simple gesture became an annual Salute to First Responders.

“The way we show our appreciation differs from community to community and location to location, but everyone involved knows they have the support and encouragement of our company.

The writer stressed that we value the opportunity to show their appreciation to First Responders just as the author says one of our goals is to encourage others in the community to be involved as well.

Garry McNabb the author of this philosophical open letter to the editor then said something that is remarkable: “Using the 9/11 anniversary as an opportunity to refresh and rekindle our feelings for first responders is a good thing. It’s a simple but meaningful way to say, “Thank you First Responders. We salute you.”

Further search on the significance of the wirks of First responders took us to www.link.springer.com from where we can specifically learn a lot about the place of first responders.

In chapter two of the work on “The Role and importance of first responders in dealing with psychological disordered individuals”, the writer stated as follows: “The term “first responders” became publicized during the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. First Responders are trained persons who respond to an emergency or crisis call. They may be police officers, fire fighters, emergency medical technicians, mental health counsellors and psychologists, medical staff and doctors, crime scene technicians, child protective services workers, security guards, first-line soldiers in combat, and in some cases, office managers and school teachers.”

Also the author says that first Responders rarely know what they will find when answering a call.

Police, they writer observes, are trained to intervene in a home invasion but if either the perpetrator or the victim has a mental health problem, his or her behaviour may well be unpredictable, putting everyone in danger.

Fire-fighters are trained to save a burning building, but how to persuade a mentally ill person that it is safe to leave may require another set of skills. A child protective services worker may have to make a home visit in a building being “guarded” by a paranoid schizophrenic who sees the worker as the enemy. Security guards may find disheveled and disorientated people, but may have no training in how to deal with them.

The writer said something similar to the earlier letter to the editor aforementioned: “We all became aware of the fire-fighters who lost their lives on September 11 in NYC when, unaware that the buildings were about to collapse, they ran into the World Trade Towers to save people trapped inside”.

“Many New Yorkers became First Responders that day, trying to help their friends, family, or even strangers standing next to them deal with the magnitude of the tragedy that unfolded before them. Strangers talked to each other, trying to make sense out of what had just transpired. Stories of heroes that day emerged; the woman train dispatcher who stopped the NJ Transit trains from going towards the station under the World Trade buildings, the office workers who helped colleagues down the stairs when they became afraid to continue…”

2 The Role and Importance of First Responders

Fourth airplane destined for the White House who went down with the plane rather than comply with the hijackers’ demands, and other brave people just like them. The Red Cross sent hundreds of volunteers to the scene over the next several months. Many learned that providing a listening ear, a blanket, and warm cup of cocoa was critically important. Later, psychologists and other mental health workers provided crisis counselling for these First Responders to prevent them from developing more serious trauma reactions themselves.

The author also says that first responder who answers a crisis call may find people who are traumatized by the current situation or those who were mentally ill previously and then became retraumatized by what they had just experienced.

“Again, September 11 provides good examples. Many people who observed the planes hit the buildings, watched people jumping out windows to their death, climbed down smoke-filled staircases to save their own lives or watched the buildings collapse in front of their own eyes developed acute and chronic traumatic stress reactions. Some of them developed the more chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many who watched the images on television over and over again were traumatized.”

“Those who lost family and close friends in the buildings also developed these reactions. Police and fire-fighters developed traumatic stress as well. In some cases, these reactions lasted for months and years afterwards. Others were shaken by the experience but moved on with their lives, rarely showing any emotional impact. What was it that motivated people to respond in such widely different ways to the same experience?”

Coming back to the reason for this piece, it is important to state that Nigeria is not lacking when it comes to setting up institutions for carrying out different essential services which include the roles of first responders. What we find lacking is the will to efficiently carry out these functions. Although, It is unclear the quality of trainings on disaster prevention and mitigation that operatives of the Nigeria Police Force, Roads Safety commission and Fire Fighting agencies get in Nigeria.

Specifically, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) is the central coordinating federal agency for disaster management services.

The mission of this institution known as NEMA is to coordinate resources towards efficient and effective disaster prevention, preparedness, mitigation and response in Nigeria.

NEMA institutionally ought to act in the following areas: of coordination, disaster and risk reduction, search and rescue; policy and strategy geographic information system, advocacy and education.

However, it must be noted that in the recent times, this agency has clearly not being known for performing efficiently these mandates as statutorily provided for. NEMA has had problems of massive corruption and the degradation of facilities bought over the years for the discharge of their functions. Another problem with the deployment of the officials of NEMA can be attributed to the bad politics by the current central government which focuses such social welfare services to just the Northern section of Nigeria.

There are areas of Nigeria whereby NEMA’s impacts are not so much felt such as the South East of Nigeria.

In this political dispensation since 2015, NEMA has been known to be spending virtually all her resources and manpower in the North East of Nigeria which is afflicted by terrorism that resulted in the springing up of hundreds of internally displaced persons camps.

The South East is also not known for running efficient states based emergency management agencies (SEMA).

This lacuna of a failure of the South Eastern political leaders to create and run efficient institutional mechanism to harness the capacity of first responders has led to several deaths from disasters that have occurred in these South Eastern states and because NEMA is not well established in this region unlike in the North East, questions are asked why the governors of South East have not invested in emergency management thereby endangering the lives of millions of their citizens.

This institutional void is the reason hundreds of persons have died because they did not receive effective first responses or emergency services. The Police and State Fire Services are burdened by corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency.

What we have continued to noticed is the regime of blame game between the diverse segments of the society.

Few hours back, a huge building in Aba Abia state collapsed, but for many hours, emergency rescue teams were nowhere to be found.

One of the outcomes of these blame shifting amongst state officials in the South East, is the failure of most people to comply with engineering standards even as the government officials who should prevent disasters of such magnitude of building collapses, are found wanting due to corruption and compromises.

A building engineer, Chief Madu Ike faulted the Aba South LGA Town Planners and other relevant government agencies for the collapsed three storeys building in Aba, Abia State.

Ike, who visited the scene of the incident, said if town planners in the city were alive to their responsibilities, the construction of the building which he described as a death trap and a disaster waiting to happen, would not have been allowed to get to the stage it were before collapsing.

He stressed that it was crystal clear that the building was structurally faulty and certainly set to cause havoc which the town planners couldn’t have feigned ignorance of.

“Any day I passed here, I weep for what we’re doing to ourselves. It’s unfortunate that the small rain of yesterday (Tuesday) proved that this disaster is even worst than I thought.

“How can one use substandard materials and expect a miracle? Someone ought to be supervising the job from government’s angle, but what do you see, shoddy oversight riddled with corruption led to the loss of these lives that could have been avoided”, he lamented.

He regretted that building collapse has become a yearly occurrence in

Aba, adding that there was no year the city does not witness one to three-building collapse.

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of Abia South Town Planning Authority, Mr Ahuruonye Okezie has disclosed that the developer of the

Collapsed building was not given a go-ahead to construct the house.

Available report has it that Okezie said the last communication his office had with the owner of the property was on May 20, when he was asked to scale down the building, adding that since then, he never submitted any withdrawing until yesterday morning.

“You do not build when you have not received approval. The law said the field should not be cleared until approval is given”, Okezie was quoted as saying.

Last April, the death toll in the building collapse along Yar’Adua Drive in Owerri, the Imo State capital, rose to 15, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.

The latest casualty figure was given by the Head of the Imo/Abia State Operations Office of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Evans Ugoh.

He spoke in an interview with a NAN correspondent on Friday in Owerri as rescue efforts continued at the site of the building collapse.

On April 30, an eight-storey building under construction collapsed, killing two persons, while eight others were rescued and rushed to Federal Medical Centre, Owerri.

Rescue operators searching for victims pulled out five dead bodies from the debris of the building on Friday, while the eight people taken to hospital were later confirmed dead, bringing the total casualty figure to 15.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of Owerri Capital Development Authority, Innocent Ikpamezie, has blamed the collapse on poor engineering work.

Mr Ikpamezie made the disclosure in a radio programme where he analysed the cause of the collapse.

Then there is another related report that three children escaped death by a whisker in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, following a landslide which swallowed their kitchen and threatened many residential buildings on Asutan Street.

The children, Aisha Umaru, 9; Yusuf Ibrahim, 6; and Fatima Ibrahim, 5; had barely left the kitchen after preparing their evening meals when the landslide occurred around 8pm.

The landlord of the affected house, Mr Francis Ikpe, described the landslide as devastating, adding that it was a miracle the children escaped.

The three children were preparing their meals in the kitchen. It was not even up to five minutes after they left the place when the kitchen collapsed. They were eating when there was a bang and the kitchen and everything inside it got buried. They could have been trapped,” Ikpe said

The landlord said the community had been living with the erosion for the past 30 years, adding that the problem became serious when the state government decided to embark on street repairs and construction of drainage.

He said water from six adjoining streets was channelled to the place without a chamber constructed to receive the water.

The state Commissioner of Environment and Petroleum Resources, Mr Charles Udoh, who paid a visit to the site, said the government was making efforts to mitigate the impact of erosion in the state.

In a related development, a landslide led to the collapse of two houses on Trinity Street, Akwakuma, in the Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo State.

No fewer than 10 buildings including a school and church have collapsed at Obeleagu St. and Nkissi Aroli axis of Onitsha North Local Government Area of Anambra following erosion caused by downpour.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Obeleagu community in Onitsha metropolis has been threatened by gully erosion which has turned into an unending nightmare for the people of the area.

The Minister of State for Environment, Mrs Sharon Ikeazor accompanied by the Deputy Governor of the state, Dr Nkem Okeke had in October 2019, inspected the erosion site and promised that work would be carried out on the site.

Residents of Umuawulu community in the Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State, protested alleged government neglect of the area.

Scores of the residents gathered around the Hana Bridge and lamented that it had caved in because successive governments had abandoned it.

Stating that the bridge linked their community with no fewer than 10 others in Anambra, they maintained that it was the shortest route to get to Imo, Rivers and Abia states.

The protesters gave Governor Willie Obiano one month to address their grievances.

The spokesperson for the protesters, Osita Obi, expressed surprise that a community located within the Awka capital territory could be so neglected.

Obi said the community had written several letters to the state Ministry of Works on the condition of the bridge to no avail.

He said, “To further show you how this government hates us, it omitted our name on a signage indicating communities around this place.

The sordid tales of abandonment of the people by the government’s of the South East of Nigeria coupled with the poor state of preparedness of the central government’s controlled National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) means that the good people of South East of Nigeria are left to their cruel fate when disaster strikes.

This void must be filled.

The people of South East of Nigeria should demand from the decision makers that structures are put in place in their states for DISASTER PREVENTION AND MANAGEMENT.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is the Head of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA). He blogs@www.huriwa.blogspots.com, www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com.

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