How did it happen that NIMET has all of a sudden become a household name in the country?
At the time I took over, we had only 36 observatories across Nigeria, so when we did a self audit to find out the condition of these observatories, the result was very shocking. We found out that out of the 36 synoptic stations, only four of them scored over 50 percent in terms of instrument availability and only four out of 36 scored above 50 percent. The highest score was 64 percent and that was Ilorin.
What it means is that these stations were really not observing weather; the instruments were not there while those that were there were either obsolete or were not functional.
That was the first task we had to face; we had to resuscitate the instruments, those we could not resuscitate, we replaced them. Because meteorology is a science and it is too easy to fall into obsoletism because of the instruments involved so that was the first task we had.
Not only that, we also proceeded to expand the number of synoptic stations and today, we have moved from 36 to 54 synoptic stations and I can tell you with a high sense of responsibility that virtually all our stations are operating if not 100 percent at 90 or 80.
At the time we started, the state of infrastructure was nothing to write home about. But today there has been very remarkable improvement in terms of those infrastructure.
Do you render your services for free?
We are on the verge of going into increased commercialisation but it is with challenges. Considering how things are done in the country, once it is government, people want to get it free.
You are aware of our annual seasonal rainfall prediction, it costs the agency millions to produce and to print and we are not being given any form of subvention to shoulder all that. So we are just managing what we have. You see, these things have to do with safety of lives, so we cannot sit back and watch lives perish.
The flooding of last year, the experience is still fresh in the minds of Nigerians. So we are all taking it very seriously and that is why we have to render those services even though we are not making money.
Last year, we predicted what was going to happen as early as 1st of March, but this thing happened August/September last year. If you pick up our rainfall prediction for 2012 that was made public on 1st of March 2012. We made it very clear that it was going to happen, we kept monitoring and by late July to early August, it was imminent, it was no longer if, we are now looking at when will this thing happen.
We kept monitoring and when it became clear that we were in for some challenges, we even wrote letters, we wrote letters to some states that were vulnerable telling them what to do. But in the usual way they ignored them.
Which states actually responded to your letters?
I can tell you that out of about 12 to 15 states we wrote to, we didn’t receive any acknowledgment just to say thank you, we have received your letter. Not one.
But this year, the response is far better. In fact, we have even received from the secretariat of the Nigeria’s governor’s forum. They have a DG, he has been here to meet with us on how we can collaborate more closely with the states.
The federal government has responded even more, perhaps you are aware that recently, President Goodluck Jonathan directed that we evolve a strategy for responding to flood. I was involved in that and we have submitted our report.
We had our own baptism of fire, as it were last year, but I am sure the state governments are being more responsive. It was reported that the governor of Niger State told local government chairmen, commissioners and so on that he was going to sanction any local government or ministry that ignored the warnings from NIMET and something untoward happened in the state in terms of extreme weather. This means that states are being more responsive.
Delta State even organised a forum and they invited us. So there are pockets of activities here and there and from these activities, we want to move to something more national and more coordinated and that is what the national framework on application of climate service will achieve.
The technical committee has already submitted its report to the inter-ministerial committee. The President sets up an inter-ministerial committee inaugurated by the Vice President. The committee also sets up a smaller technical committee to produce this document that we have.
Last year, there was prediction of heavy rainfall and this year there is another prediction, what are the expectations?
The expectations are what we predicted and what we predicted is that the rainfall pattern of last year would be repeated this year. That is what to expect. Flooding happens as a combination of so many factors. Habits of people, the precautions you take and so on. Secondly, it is not only the rainfall in Nigeria that caused that problem. You know River Niger flows through many countries to get into Nigeria. River Benue from Cameroon into Nigeria, so whatever the rainfall regime is there, will therefore affect the inflow of water.
So what the local rainfall does is that it predisposes the environment to flooding. Whenever this rain falls three things happen; part of it is absorbed into the soil, the other parts flow to lower grounds and a smaller fraction goes back into the atmosphere by way of evaporation. We call these the output end.
When rain falls, if the soil is no longer able to absorb it, it builds up and a bigger fraction of the water will run off. That is what causes the flooding, adding to the rate of flow from upstream from Niger, Mali, Cameroon and all that.
Would you say the agency is monopolistic in terms of service delivery?
I will say immediately no, though I wish I could use the word monopolistic because we could make lots of money but it is more of exclusive. The reason is that there is no other organisation where the equipment and manpower to do what we do exist.
We have 36 states in the country, what is the structure of the agency, is it only in Abuja?
We have 54 synoptic stations spread across the country, so there is no state where we don’t have presence. The data we gather is from every part of the country.