Recurrent earth tremor and possible earthquake: What Nigeria should be doing.

By Adeola Oladipupo

On the second of november, 2018, residents of some parts of Abuja experienced another earth tremor. Again, they were terrified and confused. The same can be said of people in other parts of Nigeria who have experienced earth tremor at different times. The reactions of these people to the phenomenom is understandable. Earth tremor remains strange inspite of the fact that between 1933 and 2011, it occurred 31 times, it happened in four states in 2016 and in Abuja in 2018. The only natural disaster almost all parts of Nigeria are familiar with is flooding. Inspite of the forewarning of NIMET, the heavy rainfall comes, leads to flooding because drainages are blocked with refuse and some people have built houses on water channels, they become homeless, farmlands are destroyed and properties are damaged. The water recedes or dries up and life continues. With time, they forget the disaster and await another year of flooding. Earth tremor is never like that. It comes and leave people devastated and super confused. God forbid we become so used to earth tremors as we have to flooding that we no longer take it serious. The danger of getting used to earth tremors like we have to flooding especially in a country like Nigeria where the authorities are habitually reactive instead of being proactive is that casualties will be colossal when a serious (high intensity) tremor or an earthquake hit.

Perceive me not as a dooms day prophet. The Director General of National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), Professor Seidu Mohammed, who is also the Chairman of Presidential Committee on Abuja tremor, said four states and Abuja were likely to experience major earthquake. He further stated that inactive faults system in the country were gradually becoming active, making earthquake likely. If the words of this writer does not move you as regards earth tremors and earthquakes, that of the experts should move you and make all Nigerians call for more visible actions. Nigeria experienced tremors beginning from 1933 to1939, 1964, 1984, 1990, 1994, 1997, 2000, 2009, 2016 and 2018. We have to learn from these recurrences. When Mexico city learned from the 1985 earthquake that crumbled 100,000 houses and killed 5,000 people, in 1991, the city launched its early earthquake warning system, the first in the world that was emulated by Japan, Taiwan and Romania. The early warning system allowed people to have time to duck and cover, grab go-bags and locate their children. To ensure the people were better prepared, the city instituted a day of earthquake drill. New building codes were implemented. In 2012, when another earthquake happened in Mexico city, its preplanned six points emergency actions were activated. At the end, little or no casualties were recorded. Nigerian government needs to learn from the Mexico action. We must not wait till an earthquake happens before we begin to do real planning and policy implementation.

A report by Punch newspaper captured in detail how the people in Saki Oyo state felt in 2016 after a 2.3 intensity tremor hit. One resident opined that everywhere erupted in commotion; people ran all about frantically. Another described how some people inside the house were running out while those outside were running inside. There were people who prayed with their bibles glued to their chests and some people in mosques in the area slaughtered rams. While I am not against prayers when one is in a dangerous situation, I strongly believe that people should be able to do certain basic things to save themselves. Divinity should not be expected to do what humanity should do. The government needs to do more in educating and informing Nigerians about what they should do when a tremor or earthquake comes. I don't think it is bad to have an earth tremor or earthquake drill day. This thing will come suddenly. Even with the warning system, the people might have a few seconds to do what can reasonably guarantee safety. Drills and enlightenment will greatly reduce casualties when tremors or earthquakes eventually happen. Responsible governments are proactive and never reactive.

Though Nigeria is not located in a seismically dangerouse position, some human activities like earth drilling trigger earth tremors. Chairman of the presidential committee on Abuja earth tremor, Professor Mohammed revealed that indiscriminate sinking of boreholes lead to stress build up and should be banned. Water taken out from 110,000 boreholes in Abuja is compounding the tremor problem. Inactive fault lines are now gradually becoming active. It will be hard to lay blames on the people. In Nigeria, people cannot rely on the government to provide certain basic but important things for them. Most house owners provide portable water for themselves by drilling boreholes, residence in communities hire local vigilantes to protect them at night, some communities contribute money to have roads rehabilitated and they save up money to have step down transformers purchased inorder to have electricity. Each household has become a local government of its own. People will choose self help if the government is unreliable. So the banning of borehole drilling without providing a reliable alternative will fail.

Given the frequent challenge of earth tremors and the risk of earth quakes, it is imperative to review the country's building code. The building code should take into cognizance not only exit route but the vibrations and shaking of buildings when tremor occur. The construction and designs should reflect the new challenge experienced. News agencies reported that the earth tremor that occurred in Kaduna and Bayelsa left several buildings cracked. In places where the intensity of the tremors were not strong enough to cause visible damages, take it that the buildings are gradually getting weak. There is the risk that a few more tremors will lead to the collapse of already weak buildings. There is need to train building engineers and non building engineers on the new building codes.

While the country establishes more well equipped seismic activities monitoring stations all over the country, it will only make sense to adopt other earthquake or earth tremor response strategies so that incase a warning or alert is given, the people know what to do and how to do it and when an earthquake happens, there are little or no casualties.

Adeola Oladipupo is a Researcher and public affairs analyst