Oluseye Oladejo is the Lagos State Commissioner for Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs. In this interview with MURITALA AYINLA, he explains how the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration is investing heavily in the management and mitigation of emergency situations, controversies over compensation or assistance for the victims of recent tanker explosion tragedy, among other issues
Your ministry oversees the management of emergencies in the state and engages in other inter-governmental affairs for the safety of Lagosians. How far have you gone in doing this?
The Ministry of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs is a special ministry to the state government. We are in charge of coordinating emergency services. That means that we have a very big family around here. Our services cut across various ministries, departments and agencies. Since we coordinate, we need to work hand and in hand and these agencies including LASTMA, LASAMBUS emergency service, SEMHU, Lagos Neighbourhood Safety Corps, the Fire Service and whole lot of other agencies that have duties relating to emergencies. We also have to relate with other agencies of the Federal Government, which is the intergovernmental agencies phase of our job like NYSC, NEMA, NSCDC, the National Orientation Agency, and the rest of them. But by and large, I can say this ministry is an extension of the state governor’s office because we take a whole lot of ad-hoc assignment and we do our best in doing the assignments.
There are killer-petrol tankers everywhere in Lagos. It is one thing to have the capacity to manage disasters when they happen; it is another thing to do everything possible to prevent them from happening. What is your ministry doing to guaranty safety of lives and properties of Lagosians?
That is the collaborative part of our job. Prevention and safety is everyone’s business because you cannot predict where there will be an emergency occurrence. Like the last one we had on Otedola Bridge, a whole lot innocent people were involved. Most likely, the driver and the motor boy, who we could really hold responsible for the accident, got away and possibly escaped. Although, I can’t say that on good authority because the investigation still continues. Whenever we noticed any potential danger, everyone has the duty to report to the authority. That is why we have the emergency toll-free numbers 112 and 767. Those numbers respond to call 24/7. If anyone notices a potential accident, you could call us anytime. When you also constitute a nuisance, you don’t know who will fall victim of your actions and inactions and that is why we all must be careful and safety conscious in anything we do.
Managing population explosion and in relation with the growing safety issues and the risk of lives; what strategy does the state has to do this?
The core objective of any government federal, state and local government is the safety of lives and properties of the citizens. And that is itself is guaranteed by the 1999 constitution of Nigeria which is still in operation now. Since the inception of the administration of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, we have paid serious attention to the issue of safety of life of every Lagosian. We have re-invented and re-branded government architecture towards safety of lives and properties. Putting the two together, safety and security because there is a thin line between security and safety and when you look at it critically, you might not be able to separate them; they go hand in-hand.
As soon as Governor Ambode came into office, he re-branded the safety network of the state, acquired new equipment. Our duties as regard safety and emergency response are in three phases: Prevention, which is core duty of the Lagos State Safety Commission; Rescue and mitigation happen to be the responsibility of the Lagos State Emergency Management, LASEMA.
For any nation to develop and attract investors, there must be guaranty of safety and security of lives and properties. That is what we have been able to do because the government has invested a lot in terms of acquisition of equipment, exposing the emergency responders to training within and outside the country. You will agree with me that investment in safety and emergency response is a work in progress; it has to be continued.
As most people will rightly observe, we now have to nip some of these potential dangers in the bud through the activities of the safety commission, who pay regular visit to the places. The entire state has become a huge construction site. They pay visit to construction sites to ensure that safety rules are complied with and that we do not have infractions. Emergencies are inevitable. So, we need to be prepared. As we speak, the LASEMA has the capacity to respond to the emergency in the air, on the road and on the sea. That is where we are now and we will continue to do better.
When will Lagos State government fulfill its promise on the establishment of resettlement camp for displaced victims in Lagos Central Senatorial District?
We have got approval to that effect; the contract will be awarded anytime from now. The resettlement will be established.
Was the project not awarded by the previous administration?
No, it was not. It has always been in the pipeline but not awarded. But Governor Ambode will award it; he has given approval to that effect. It is a mitigation part of our duty. When it happens, there is need to provide succour, relief to the internally displaced victims of the disaster and ensure that we assist them to start life afresh. And where need be, the government will also provide them with assistance. Please mark my word “Assistance” not “Compensation.” The assistance is to enable them to start all over again.
Still on the assistance and the compensation argument, what will government do for the victims of Otedola Bridge Tanker Explosion?
We need to put things in proper perspective. It is a question of semantics. To my understanding, when you talk of compensation, you are taking responsibility for the accident. Nevertheless, when you talk about assistance or support, it means as much as the government could not be held responsible for the tragic incident. The government empathizes with people; it feels it should provide some assistance and support. And that largely is at the discretion of the government and this administration does a lot of that on collective basis and individual basis without publicizing it. For those who have insurance policies, we can be talking of compensation from their brokers but on the part of the government, we will talk about assistance or support.
Crowd management at the scene of accident is a major challenge in managing disaster scene. What is the government doing to check that?
It is not only a major challenge at the scene. Often times, we have recorded a major accident while onlookers or motorists are watching accident scene. We need to talk to ourselves as a people. You will find at emergency scene people who have no role to play in disaster management but more interested in live recording of accident to disseminate on the social media rather than giving way for the responders to work. We need to talk to ourselves because their action could constitute another accident scene if not properly handled. They should not record and begin to publish panicky and misleading report on the social media. Many of these people are the one saying several lives were lost in the tanker explosion, which is not true. We might not get the number of the injured right for obvious reasons. Some could have walked away after sustaining injuries but the dead couldn’t have done so. I could only give figure of those who were in our custody. People should not be given to sensationalism through the social media.
With the increasing traffic snarl in the state, ambulances and other emergency vehicles are facing challenges on the right of way. What is the government doing on that?
Our ambulances and other emergency response vehicles on a rescue mission such as fire trucks and other emergency have the right of way. Anytime you see them blaring siren, they are on rescue mission to save lives and properties. That is the priority for our government. Closely related to that is other vehicles that follow emergency vehicles. People must know that the truck they are blocking could be on the way to save somebody so close to them. In emergency management, golden hour is very key; a second could make a difference. The emergency vehicles take priority over the entourage of the Governor.
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