AVM Mohammed’s First Year as NEMA DG

On the 5th of May, 2021, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Muhammadu A. Mohammed clocked one year as the Director General of the National Emergency Managemt Agency (NEMA). He was appointed the same date one year earlier.  Mohammed was appointed at the time the world was in a storm, and things were not different in Nigeria.

  The world was in the middle of a dire existential threat as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 and the resultant lockdown. Consequently, Nigeria needed someone with capacity, zeal and vision to battle with its own fair share of the biggest humanitarian “emergency’ in (modern) history, apart from its other pre-existing crisis. 

The pre-existing crisis being the series of environmental and climatic disasters, communal and sectarian clashes and above all the dreaded and horrendous Boko Haram menace where thousands of lives were lost, properties worth’s billion of naira destroyed and pathetically millions of innocent people were equally displaced from their homes especially in the north eastern region of Maiduguri, Yobe, Adamawa, Gombe, Bauchi and Taraba where a good number of hunger striking Internally Displaced Persons (IDPS) were camped under the supervision of NEMA.

On the other hand, there was flooding in virtually all geopolitical zones of the country which left hundreds of thousands homeless in their wake, houses, farmlands, barnyards, residential estates, and commercial plazas submerged while the affected people were waiting for NEMA for succour.

To make sure that NEMA optimally delivers on its constitutional mandate, the first thing the new  sherrif needed was  a robust staff. This he was able to achieve through periodic in-house training and workshops. Before he came on board, many members of NEMA’s staff were disgruntled as a result of promotion stagnation and unanswered claims. Mohammed promptly had the issues resolved. Ever since, the morale of the staff has been top-notch. There is no way to record optimal results in difficult tasks such as NEMA’s if the morale of the workers is hanging low. 

The crisis at hand was COVID-19. It was NEMA’s duty to supported its supervising Ministry, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, in the distribution of the 70,000 Metric Tonnes of palliative food items approved by President Buhari for distribution to states and households. This NEMA carried out diligently by making sure that palliatives were delivered to every desrving person in every nook and cranny in the country.

Some years ago, NEMA created a call centre  for contacts by people in distress to call for necessary assistance. The toll free number was: “0800 CALL NEMA”. But it stopped working barely a year or two after it was established, just as many things Nigerian.  In his wisdom of making sure ordinary Nigerians have an entity to promptly call on at times of distress,  Mohammed has now reactivated the line. And it is efficiently responding to calls 24/7 — an act many thought is impossible in their country. 

For many years,  NEMA’s air ambulance and search and rescue helicopter have been grounded. The agency was always relying  on the magnanimity of the Nigerian Air Force to carry out air operations. However, Mohammed has changed the trend by reactivating the aircraft. This is one of his biggest achievements in his first year in office, because air operations are very important in emergency operations. 

More embarrassing was the fact that the agency hadn’t sufficient operational equipment and vehicles despite the gargantuan budgets that have been accruing to it since it was established in 1999. Thanks to Mohammed, as people have been testifying, the agency does no longer have vehicular and equipment challenges. 

Many states were battered by floods in 2020, displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Some of them completely lost their shelters and means of livelihoods.  NEMA dully responded by relocating some of them, rebuiding communities, feeding them and sharing for them items that would cushion some of their losses. 

Precaution, they say, is the best way of mitigating a disaster. Against that backdrop, NEMA has  designed and commenced an awareness campaign that is targeting the whole of Nigeria towards  reducing the risk of flooding and other disasters in 2021 and beyond. Yes, such campaigns existed before the emergence of Mohammed but they were never this all-encompassing and creative.  

Nigeria has not reached the peak of this year’s rainy season, when floods normally come, but as a precautionary leader, Mohammed has already established Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) in 12 states, to coordinate and deploy necessary support in case the states flooded. 

Roads accidents are very high in Nigeria. It is one of the leading causes of deaths in the country. For many years, many organisations have been leading campaigns that would bring about its reduction but to not avail. However, Mohammed-led NEMA has been able to Initiate a partnership with Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to reduce it. Experts have been saying that the partnership is already yielding good results as they have tremendously reduced. 

Mohammed has equally strengthened NEMA’s  partnerships with key government and non-government stakeholders, to enhance efficacy of disaster management. Disaster management is a multi-stakeholder terrain where optimal successes aren’t recorded with partnerships. History will be fair to him that he often brought everyone on board in responding to disasters and emergencies.  But the empathy is not at all surprsing having stated in his first media briefing that: “In practical terms, disaster management will seek to mobilize resources of all relevant bodies and organizations, national or international, towards preparedness, prevention, mitigation, emergency responses and recovery”

It is ingratiating that there is no longer incessant media reports of hunger in the various IDPs camps doting the country. Apparently, it  has been as a result Mohammed’s forthright supervision of the food items distributed to the camps every month. Mohammed personally traverses most of the camps to make sure that the items are judiciously distributed. Before his emergence, there were reports of diversion by those saddled with the responsibility of distribution. Thanks to him, it is no longer a problem. 

Sterling as these achievements are in just one year, they are not surprsing, given the antecedents of the ex-military officer and Maiduguri indigene. He enlisted into the Nigerian Defence Academy in 1981 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in 1985. Muhammed did his primary and basic flying courses at 401 and 403 Flying Training Schools in Kaduna and Kano respectively. He subsequently completed Tactical Fighter Training at 117 Air Combat Tactical Group, Kainji. 

 Mohammed served as a Military Assistant to the Chief Executive of the Nigerian Airways from 21st January, 1997 to 16th January 1998. He served as Security Officer, Wing Chief Administration, Fleet Training Officer and Fleet Captain Airforce one (Boeing 737 BBJ) between January 2000 to 4th February, 2013 at the Presidential Air fleet.

His success story continued when he served as Deputy Director Policy, Director of Transformation and Chairman Air Exposition and International Liaison between 4th February 2013 to 8th January, 2015. He was at different times Managing Director of the Nigerian Airforce Investments, Air Officer Commanding Logistics Command and Air Officer Commanding Tactical Air Command  and  Air Secretary. Before his retirement from the Nigerian Air Force, he was Chief of Policy and Plans (COPP).

With his sterling achievements in just a year and NEMA’s committed and hardworking staff, if the tempo is maintained, before he eventually bows out, NEMA will become one of the strongest emergency management entities in the world. I believe he will keep the tempo. 

Wisdom Bassey

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