Nigeria: Examining Nigeria's Preparedness to Avert, Manage Disaster

opinion

Omolabake Fasogbon writes about how gaps in Nigerian safety policy and efforts have deepened Nigeria's vulnerability to crisis and disaster

From building collapse to fire incidence, road, sea, rail and air mishap, tanker explosion, insecurity challenge, flood and workplace accident, Nigeria has been hugely impacted by varying degrees of natural and man-induced disaster that have rubbed off negatively on human lives and national economy. For instance, a recent report by Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC) revealed that Nigeria lost about $188 billion investment opportunities between 2017-2020, representing more than 92 per cent investment opportunities in four years. But according to a former Director General of Lagos Chamber of Commerce of Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, this is not unconnected to low level of investors' confidence, fuelled by structural problems of infrastructure and worsening security situation, amid other uncertainties in the country. Lives lost to disaster and emergency in the country are immeasurable even as reports described Nigeria as the third most dangerous place to live in the world with regards to safety and security, after South Africa and Brazil. According to media report, between 2019 and 2021, Nigeria recorded no fewer than 68 fire outbreak resulting in 79 deaths which the Federal Fire Service (FFS) identified electrical spark as the major cause of most outbreaks. Reports by Brookings also put Nigeria as number one in the frequency and intensity of building collapse in Africa. The report further identify that no fewer than 6000 households were displaced by building collapse with property worth of $3.2 trillion forfeited. Unfortunately, these are just a tip of numerous havocs that have wrecked families, livelihood and the country at large due to what experts describe as weak safety management systems, policy failure as well as negligence on the part of safety regulators.

To safety experts, quite a number of these disasters, especially man-induced ones can be averted and if not averted, effects can be mitigated should the horse be put before the cart with regards to operational risk management.

According to Managing Director of Safety Consultants and Solutions Provider (SCSP), Anthonia Beri, inspite of the frequency of disaster and accompanying loss, Nigeria has not really shown genuine commitment in addressing menace.

She noted that technical and process safety, which focuses on the prevention of fire, explosions, and accidental discharge at process facilities was still at a low ebb in Nigeria.

Beri stated that the implementation of process safety was necessary in all sectors of the economy, particularly in work place where occupational hazards has it reached its apex.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), one worker dies every 15 seconds worldwide, 6,000 die daily and more than two million die annually from work-related accidents and diseases.

Nigeria's safety policy

In 2006, Nigeria developed a national policy on Occupational Safety and Health. This was not until after agitations by stakeholders became intense. The policy aimed to facilitate the enhancement of occupational safety and health performance in all sectors of the economy and ensure that employees' rights protection is consistent with regional and international standards. The policy also led to the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Department, whose primary objective is to ensure the safety and health of workers in Nigeria.

Some of its functions include monitoring compliance with the national occupational safety and health policies, inspection of workspaces, provision of safety and health training, creating awareness of occupational safety and health through campaigns.

In 2020, the national safety policy was reviewed to align with present realities.

Between 2006 when the safety policy was developed and now, Nigeria has been a victim of a number of high profile disasters, many of which it is believed could be averted if proactive measures were prioritised. This imbalance has continued to generate concerns from stakeholders as to the effectiveness and strengths of the policy.

The Executive Director, Strategy, Safety Advocacy and Empowerment Foundation, Jamiu Badmos feels Nigeria policy on safety were more of reactive than proactive.

Corroborating Badmos submission, Beri who is also a safety expert affirmed that Nigeria was rather good at reacting to occurrences, adding that it has failed to learn from past mistakes.

She noted that a general assessment of Nigeria's performance in the area of life, environmental, security and fire safety revealed that the country has greatly retrogressed.

Referring to the warning by Building Collapse Prevention Guild, BCPG, that there are more 36,000 houses waiting to collapse in the country, Beri feared that there were ill preparations on the part of concerned authorities to avert the looming tragedy.

She stressed that investment in safety must be prioritised, adding that in addition to deficient safety policy, breach in standards were most responsible for major and recurring disaster.

She identified other gaps such as communication imbalance among safety experts, dearth of safety experts, human error and poor funding as factors fuelling disaster in the country.

She said, "Safety is not the responsibility of one. It is the differences in communication and understanding sometimes that opens with a detrimental impact on general organisational safety and operations. Clear stipulations of roles and assignments within stakeholders without a defined consensus can be a limiting factor in technical process safety attainment as regulations vary greatly between jurisdictions.

"Besides, it is anticipated that by 2022, there will be a deficit of safety professionals by 10%. This has started manifesting already, which is as a result of retiring boom of the experienced old workforce and the shortage of the undesiring upcoming ones. This generational gap is creating a workforce imbalance in the safety sector.

"The core requirement for operational excellence is proactive risk mitigation for continuity and profitability. Safety is everyone's business, while it is exclusive preserve of regulators like the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) and National Council for Occupational Safety and health (NCOSH), to ensure safety standards are met. I must say that not being prepared to confront accidental occurrence are largely responsible for the country's underperformance, as we keep reinvesting in disaster, thereby, shifting away from focus."

Again, affirming Beri's stance is a research report by CMC Connect BCW, which exposed organisations' poor preparations against crisis.

The study carried out on over 200 business owners and employees revealed that between the second and third quarters of 2020, 27 per cent of businesses suffered major impact from COVID-19 with only 9.9 per cent of respondents having a crisis management plan in place, while 59 per cent never had a crisis management plan before the COVID-19 pandemic."

Reacting to the report, Group Managing Director of CMC Connect (Perception Managers), Mr. Yomi-Badejo-Okusanya said, "crisis preparedness presents an opportunity to rebuild trust and gain customer loyalty. Many organisations have bounced back from major crisis to dominate the industry. Meaning that, crisis by itself is not an end but could be taken advantage of if planned for. This is where your crisis preparedness comes in, requiring skill and expertise in managing and maintaining propriety in the middle a storm."

Deregulating safety industry for effectiveness

Amid scary figure and depth of damage due to emergency occurrences inspite of existing safety plans, there have been continuous stakeholders' moves for a changed narratives.

ILO estimates that occupational accidents and diseases result in annual four percent loss in global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or about $2.8 trillion in direct and indirect cost of injuries and diseases.

Beri said, "There have been many tragic incidents, which have resulted in fatalities as well as asset, environmental, and reputational damage. While standards have improved since then and much works been done, particularly in inherently safer design and management systems, catastrophic incidents are still happening and will continue to do so until efforts are improved on tackle them head on."

She added that in recent times, a rapid evolution in the complexity of processes and facilities has triggered high profile risks within the safety industry.

She noted that unlike several developed and industrialised countries that observe strict application of regulations and standards to process safety, more prominent today is risk - based approach.

Beri opined for a deregulation of the safety industry for an all-round impactful safety efforts.

She explained, "This is where the private sector and wealthy individuals come to play. A deregulation of the safety industry to woo investors through sound and economic viable policies that are affordable and effective will boost investment confidence into the sector."

According to her, deregulating safety activities would equally take care of every other challenge limiting safety efforts such as, breach of standards, funding and human errors.

Beri also identified the need for continuous training of not just safety experts but every individual.

She posited, "There is an urgent need for frequent training and updating on technical process safety activities to keep abreast of changing practices and develop a technically sound workforce that will minimize human errors and promote safety. Safety experts must deliberately pull up younger professionals and mould them as future assets. Also, schools should include reformed safety curriculum in their programmes to attract students that will be thought with practical modern tools."

"We need to enlighten stakeholders and teach them what we call Lessons Learnt from Incidents (LFI). A layman should be educated on how to avoid accidents. For instance, in situations with market fires, teach the market traders what to do to protect themselves. If a building collapses, we should educate people on what to do to protect themselves"

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