Two weeks ago, residents of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja were thrown into panic following a series of ground vibrations which were later confirmed to be earth tremors. The shocks were first felt at Mpape, a hilly suburb of Abuja, and were later felt at Gwarimpa and Maitama districts.
Fear gripped residents because earth tremors were unheard of in the FCT. Buildings and some roads also suffered damage, forcing some residents in the affected areas to relocate. In its response, the FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said residents had nothing to fear. It said the shaking was caused by “stress in underground rocks resulting from human activities including blasting and mining of rocks”.
Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Muhammad Musa Bello then directed the suspension of further quarrying, mining activities and borehole drilling in the affected areas. Bello gave this directive after an on-the-spot visit to Mpape, the epicentre of the tremors. Bello, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Chinyeaka Ohaa, told residents of the affected areas that there was no cause for alarm as geological experts have affirmed that Abuja was not on the line of any major seismic danger. He asked residents to go about their businesses, adding that the Administration would engage local and international geological experts to unravel the root causes of the earth tremors.
Also last week, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) set up a committee to investigate the matter. First of all, we must state that the response of the FCT authourities to the issue was slow, as it did not comment on it for over 48 hours after the first incident occurred in Mpape area, leaving room for speculation and uncertainty. Earth tremor is unusual in the FCT and for the level of fear such an incident is capable of causing residents, we expected the authourities to have spoken out earlier than they did.
Also, in its first statement after the incident, FEMA said shaking of the ground was caused by stress in underground rocks resulting from human activities including blasting and mining of rocks. It is true that Mpape is home to a lot of mining activities but coming up with such a reason for an incident that shook many homes and lives is totally unacceptable. The prognosis was not derived from any scientific investigation. Moreover, blasting of rocks has been going on in that part of Abuja for years, without the ground shaking. So even if that was the reason, then something must have changed and that should give us cause for concern.
We are aware of the fact that Abuja is not on the line of any major seismic danger, but with all types of changes occurring all over the world, there is a need to take issues like this more seriously to avoid a bigger disaster. Two years ago, an incident like this occurred not too far away from FCT, at Kwoi, in Southern Kaduna State. Experts described that incident as a minor earthquake. So, instead of dismissing it with the wave of the hand, we may want to take a deeper look into the matter. We commend the minister for suspending quarrying and mining activities in the FCT but that is only a temporary measure.
We cannot afford to leave anything to chance. An in-depth scientific investigation must be carried out to understand what exactly happened so as to avert a reoccurrence. The committee set up by the Federal Executive Council should engage scientists, especially experts in the field of geology so that it can make recommendations based on empirical facts to the government. Citizens would definitely prefer to get explanations from scientists. Also it is time for the government to consider the establishment of a seismological survey. We do not have to wait until a major catastrophe occurs before we start considering it as that may be too late. As a country, Nigeria needs to do more in the area of emergency preparedness so that we are not taken unawares.