Thought Leadership

An inconvenient Truth – watching Haiti through Nigerian eyes

Watching events in Haiti have been painful. Many of us have donated the little we feel we can afford….joined facebook groups…discussed it over dinner tables and asked our several millionaire pastors to include in their prayers.

Yet – I cannot help but seeing Nigeria in the pictures out of Haiti. The people look like us. The Buildings seem as fragile as those in most of our cities. The collapsed presidential palace looks just like our beloved National Assembly building….and most importantly…the ineptitude of their government in responding could not be more familiar.

I was in Lagos a few years ago when there was a relatively (relative to Haiti) small explosion at the Ikeja Cantonment in 2002. The outcome was extremely tragic as more people lost their lives fleeing from the scene. For hours there was no ambulance, no fire service no response. Then…as occurred recently in Jos….the major response came from the Nigerian Red Cross.

We have what we proudly call the National Emergency Response Agency. They recently bought a helicopter! Other than that, they have warehouses full of blankets. During this situation in Haiti, South Africa (the country with whom we are competing for permanent membership of the UN) sent a highly specialist team to support rescue operations – read details here. Nigeria’s NEMA? You bet! As usual NEMA is focused on high cost technology infrastructure with no real benefit to the people…find here a report lunching NEMA’s Geographic Information System (GIS) lab for Early Warning for disaster responses including Mission Control Centre (MCC), computer based satellite technology that uses  “COSPAS-SARSAT hi-tech system” OYIBO!

The first South Acrican rescue team of 40, mainly comprising medical staff and engineers, had taken 10 tons of search and rescue equipment as well as medical supplies on their mission to help with immediate search and rescue operations in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. A second rescue team from South African led by Durban University of Technology emergency rescue lecturer Sageshin Naguran and consisting of six advanced life support paramedics and four doctors, arrived in Port-au-Prince last Wednesday. details here

In Nigeria, the self styled giant of Africa, currently in the middle of an elaborate “re-branding exercise”, every year thousands of people die in petrol related explosions….it does not need rocket science to predict that there will be another one soon…as there has been petrol scarcity in Nigeria since the end of 2009.

In the absence of help in kind….in the absence of leadership at the national level, the Governor of Lagos State donated a million dollars to the response in Haiti. He has come under some criticism at home for doing this…but we are supportive.

In conclusion, we remain sad that during this important period in history, our country remains absent from the international space (Ojo Maduekwe’s trips do not count!)…and wonder when will we learn our lessons that emergencies will happen – natural or man-made. The real test of leadership is – WILL WE BE READY?.One day we will hold our leaders accountable. 

If anything close to the Haitian earthquake were to happen in Nigeria….God help us…for starters…visit the National Fire Service closest to you!


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

By Chikwe Ihekweazu

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

2 replies on “An inconvenient Truth – watching Haiti through Nigerian eyes”

It’s been a month since the earthquake – over 2 million
desperately need of food assistance. They have no homes, no
jobs, no food. The World Food Programme was there before the
quake, and they’ll be there afterwards helping to rebuild lives.
If you want to help you should go to: or text FRIENDS to 90999 to make a
$5 donation

Before Nigerians should see Haiti, they should perhaps notice the hell in our own country. The Governor of Lagos State donated a million dollars to the response in Haiti is an indictment of Lagos, the 5th least liveable in the world. Google “Day of Hell in Lagos after downpour” From Ogba to Ikeja, Oshodi to Mile Two, Festac, Apapa, CMS, for a flavor of future hell. We do not have systems in place to help Haiti. Perhaps after we have made Lagos fit for purpose, we would be able to air lift 10,000 Haitians to live amongst us. Does anyone know the number of Sewage Treatment Plants in Lagos or in Nigeria?

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