Examining Mustapha Habib Ahmed’s scorecard at NEMA By Toni Kan

National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) DG Mustapha Ahmed

Those appointed at the pleasure of the president to sensitive and critical ministries departments and agencies (MDAs) are offered a unique opportunity to make a mark in the polity by impacting positively on the citizenry and populace.

But public service is increasingly becoming a thankless job in Nigeria where it has now become the norm for political appointees to be hounded and demonised when they leave office.

This happens many times because there is always scant proof of performance. Nigerians are often confounded by what political appointees do or achieve while in office. The question that roils their minds, to borrow a leaf from the annual lawyer fest convened years ago by the late Efere Ozako, is wetin government appointees dey do sef?

That is, however, one question very few would ask of Mustapha Habib Ahmed, the immediate past director general of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

Appointed to head the emergency agency on May 31, 2021, Mustapha Ahmed sat in the saddle until his handover to the incumbent director general, Mrs Zubaidah Umar, who was appointed on March 15, 2024.

At the handover ceremony on March 20, Mustapha Habib Ahmed displayed the same uncommon traits that have defined his tenure at NEMA with a proper and precise handover session to his successor.

‘Proper’ and ‘precise’ are two words that come to mind when you think of Mustapha Habib Ahmed, the multi-lingual business administration graduate of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. Born in Kaugama, Jigawa state in 1970, Ahmed studied at Federal Government College, Kaduna and Focus Tutorial College, Lagos before proceeding to ABU for his undergraduate degree.

An astute and successful businessman, his professional career saw him excel in communication and supply chain in engineering before rising to the position of Director of Finance and Administration at the Sealag Alliance Nigeria Ltd. He would later become the Managing Director of Rapid Engineering Company Limited both in Lagos.

His political sojourn was no less stellar with stints as Member Board of Trustees (BOT) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Member, Directorate of Logistics, APC Presidential Campaign Council, National Chairman of the Buhari Support Group, member of the Presidential Campaign Council in 2019 etc.

His appointment as the DG of NEMA was loudly applauded by the All Progressives Congress (APC) which noted that his appointment was more than a reward for party loyalty but a “recognition of selfless service to the country, attributes which clearly describe your persona. We trust in your capacity to acquit yourself creditably well in your new assignment.”

Skeptics may well have seen those words as mere platitudes issued by political colleagues but a consideration of Mustapha Habib Ahmed’s stewardship will show clearly that the businessman, technocrat and politician acquitted himself creditably throughout his almost three-year stint at NEMA.

Immediately after the handover, Habib Ahmed was joined by his successor and members of staff of NEMA for group photographs and farewell outside the brand-new premises of NEMA. It was a telling moment because the building, which was hitherto abandoned for six years, was brought to completion by Habib Ahmed thus bringing all departments and units under the same roof.

But he did not just deliver a building; he delivered a world-class disaster management facility boasting the very best amenities – Emergency Situation Room, GIS Laboratory, Nigeria Mission Control Centre (MCC) for tracking of distressed aircraft and ships, Emergency Call Centre, Staff Clinic, and Library.

Speaker after speaker showered encomiums on the outgoing DG and from their tributes what came across was a man who led from the front with a leadership style that can easily be encapsulated under four broad themes: Coordination, Collaboration, Capacity building and Communication.

NEMA Mustapha Ahmed scorecard

Coordination: Disaster management is about proactive coordination of disparate strands. During his time at NEMA, Habib Ahmed ensured that focus was placed on ensuring that the tools which facilitate coordination and the discharge of their mandate were available, fully maintained and in tip-top shape.

The Hytera modern communication system was deployed to enable real-time communication and live streaming of events from incident sites both in Nigeria and abroad for a better coordinated disaster response; Medical Intensive Care Units (MICU) Ambulances, Search and Rescue Boats, extrication equipment and operational vehicles were procured to strengthen the capacity of NEMA Search and Rescue teams in all the six zones’ while the NEMA Air Wing comprised of the Fixed Wing Cessna Citation Air Ambulance and Bell 22 Helicopter which had been grounded for five years were revived to enhance capacity for Search and Rescue and medical evacuation.

Coordination also went beyond hardware to include processes. The launch of the NEMA Service Charter in 2023 was to help institutionalise and operationalise processes with a formal document that encapsulates and articulates NEMA’s obligations to its service users in terms of benchmarks and information dissemination.

During his tenure, NEMA also developed a comprehensive national Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy (2024-2030) and Action Plan (2024 – 2027) that addresses and puts in context the evolving landscape of risks and challenges facing Nigeria

The Special National Economic Livelihood Emergency Intervention (SNELEI) was a special intervention aimed at supporting the long-term recovery of the nation through the distribution of relief materials such as food and non-food items like water pumps, mattresses, and agricultural supplies.

Proper and precise coordination were key to the successes recorded in the evacuation of stranded Nigerians from various hotspots; Sudan, Libya, Ukraine, India, Dubai and Turkey and it was a delighted Mustapha Habib Ahmed who announced after evacuations from Sudan on 28 July, 2023 that “we have not lost one Nigerian life, which is most important to us.”

Collaboration: Mustapha Habib Ahmed’s savvy, urbane and national outlook as a politician, businessman and student who lived and studied in different parts of the country was obvious in his uncanny ability to forge partnerships and facilitate collaborations during his time at NEMA.

On Thursday, August 10, 2023 NEMA reconvened the National Emergency Coordination Forum (ECF), a meeting of multi-sectoral stakeholders comprising agencies of Government, international organisations and the United Nations systems was predicated upon the recognition of coordination and collaboration as vital components of disaster management.

Under his leadership, NEMA emphasised Nigeria’s triple response structure and aligning NEMA to that structure ushered in a hitherto unseen level of collaboration between NEMA  and national, state and sub-national level actors. NEMA and State Emergency Management Agencies (SEMAs) were for once, true partners in progress.

But collaboration wasn’t limited to emergency agencies. NEMA under Ahmed prioritised engagement with national-level agencies like the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) by paying attention to their annual predictions and forecasts especially the Seasonal Climate Prediction (SCP) and Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) respectively. This led to the comprehensive mitigation of the effects of flooding in 2023.

That collaboration also extended to bilateral and multilateral cooperation and partnerships with participation at various global fora in fulfilment of Nigeria’s commitment to international protocols. NEMA participated and represented Nigeria in the midterm review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015 -2030 held between 18th and 19th May 2023 at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA and fostered collaborative partnerships with the United States, Madagascar and others.

Capacity building: A veritable sponge for knowledge, Mustapha Habib Ahmed placed a premium on capacity building and knowledge sharing during his tenure and he was sector, nationality and structure agnostic. Doctors, soldiers, students, community volunteers, journalists, nurses and voluntary organisations, all received emergency response and disaster management especially as first responders.

Under his leadership, NEMA facilitated a training program on Incident Command System (ICS) and Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the US Forestry Service.

A ground-breaking collaboration with the Disaster Management Centre of Bournemouth University saw NEMA hosting an Executive Disaster Management Course which focused on finding ways to enhance the capacity of disaster responders.

Communication: There is a common saying attributed to Stuart Britt and it goes like this: Doing business without advertising is like winking at someone in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.

During his tenure at NEMA, Mustapha Habib Ahmed showed, without equivocation, that he is not one to wink in the dark. He was a master of communicating plans, processes, initiatives, knowledge and impact.

Under his watch, NEMA’s website was unarguably the most vibrant website of any MDA in Nigeria. Reports on the agency’s activities and initiatives were shared copiously and timeously keeping stakeholders informed while the DG’s X (formerly Twitter) handle provided a weekly run-down of his itinerary and activities something not commonly seen in these climes.

The communication of NiMEt and NIHSA’s predictions and forecasts captured as “the downscaling of disaster early warning measures to grassroots for effective live-saving early actions” ensured that the devastation from the floods of 2022 did not repeat itself in 2023.

After his formal handover, Mustapha Habib Ahmed, presented a comprehensive, precise and proper scorecard on March 25, 2024, highlighting how his activities at NEMA impacted the nation in alignment with President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Renewed Hope Agenda.

In his scorecard published on social media, Ahmed thanked his colleagues and collaborators at NEMA while emphasising the agency’s “significant transformation, elevating itself to the forefront of disaster management not only within Nigeria but across the entire West African sub-region.”

He noted that even though “Nigeria’s disaster risk profile and the resulting humanitarian outcomes, stemming from both natural and human-induced disasters, have experienced a notable upward trajectory” the effects have been meditated, moderated and minimised considerably because of NEMA’s proactivity under his leadership.

Mustapha Habib Ahmed’s example is not just a humble invitation for scrutiny and corroboration, it is also an example of the standard all public officials and political appointees should aspire and be held accountable to.

Toni Kan, a PR and developmental expert, writes from London