Sunday, September 30, 2012

Natural Disasters and Leadership Catastrophes

There is a reason why the theme of leadership failure has remained a resilient explanation for our national woes after several decades. Apocalyptic floods have displaced 2 million people across several states north and south of the country. To put this figure in perspective, consider that it is the population of Botswana. The true number of casualties remains unknown. Kogi State says it has lost 40 billion naira in the disaster. Torrential rains and floods are expected to continue till November and more states will probably be affected. Sadly, yet more will die from drowning, disease or starvation. Farms and whole agrarian communities have been wiped out meaning that there will be food shortages. The collateral effect of displacement on this scale will surely include a subsequent spike in crime in neighbouring areas as people who have lost everything struggle desperately to survive.

In an ideal universe, the occurrence of a natural disaster that has afflicted Nigerians from North and South, Christians and Muslims and from various ethnic communities provides an opportunity to emphasize solidarity and brotherhood while galvanizing an empathic national response to the tragedy - especially at a time that political discourse in our country is so fractious. At present, this is not the case.  

Despite the devastation suffered by his fellow citizens, President Jonathan still embarked on an utterly inconsequential trip to the United Nations. He is yet to visit the disaster area. It is one of those strange Nigerian paradoxes that the more an administration demonstrates domestic impotence at home, the more it indulges in delusions of global importance abroad. it is a sure sign of our declining geostrategic relevance that we could not even work with Cameroon to prevent the release of its dam’s waters that has decimated several Nigerian communities. But Jonathan isn’t the only leader that has dropped the ball. Three days ago on Channels TV, Kogi State Governor Wada turned a visit ostensibly meant to provide relief supplies into a photo op grinning into a camera in the face of the terrible tragedy suffered by poor Nigerians. The spectacle of violently dispossessed Nigerians genuflecting in gratitude to receive as privileges what should be theirs as rights was especially jarring as was that of some National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) officials looking like they were there to dole out Christmas gifts.   

There should be an inquest into the lack of emergency preparedness by federal and state governments even after meteorologists had predicted high intensity rainfall. What sort of coordinated emergency response protocols, if any, were put in place? At what level is the federal government engaging with Cameroon over the release of waters of from its dams which have caused much of the flooding?  Surely, a state of emergency ought to be declared in the worst hit areas and the military drafted in (as Senate President David-Mark has proposed) to use its logistical capabilities to bring aid to the disaster areas. The problem is that the military which is dealing with everything from terrorism and insurgency to gangsterism and kidnapping may be over-extended. But it is probably the best chance of alleviating an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.

In the long run, there is only one way of making elected officials responsive to the people in a democracy. If the incompetent US government response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans in 2005 virtually ended the Bush presidency in 2005 and helped kill off the Republican Party's chances in 2008, then some Nigerian politicians will have to pay for the derelictions of duty that have put millions of their compatriots at risk. Until elected officials begin to suffer stiff penalties for their ineptitude and delinquency, Nigerians will remain at the mercy of man-made and natural calamities. 

All images sourced from Google Images