Special Report: Danbatta and the quest for an enduring National Emergency Number for Nigeria

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 A Special Report By The Shield Online

 

One of the major assignments Prof Umar Danbatta set for himself on assuming office in 2015 as Executive Vice Chairman (EVC) of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was to give Nigerians an enduring National Emergency Number (NEN). Thus, he  put machinery in place to accelerate the implementation of Emergency Communication Centres (ECC) across the country in line with the decision of the Nigerian government to enhance security of lives and property and as mandated by the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003.

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The ECC, (through which the NEN is implemented) as a brainchild of the NCC is to enable easy communication by Nigerians with emergency first responders such as Police, Fire Service, Federal Road Safety Corps, National Orientation Agency (NOA) among others, by dialing the three-digit toll-free Number 112, which is Nigeria’s National Emergency Number.

As spelt out by the NCC on its website, “The Emergency Communications Centres (ECC) Project is intended to bridge the communication gap between the distressed and emergency response agencies in the country. The Nigerian Communications Commission has undertaken the task of facilitating the building and equipping Emergency Communications Centres in all 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

“All telecom operators will be mandated to route emergency calls through the dedicated three-digit toll free number, 112, from each state to the emergency centre within that state. The operators, who are resident in the ECC will then process the distress call and contact the relevant Emergency Response Agency (e.g. Fire Service, Police, FRSC, Ambulance, etc.) whose primary duty is to handle the case.

“Numerous centres have been built and provided with equipment across the nation in all six geopolitical zones.”

Before Danbatta came onboard, the execution and implementation of the emergency project were characterized by apathy and foot-dragging. The messianic approach with which the ECV handled the project however paid off handsomely for Nigeria with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019 as attested to by many stakeholders.

In particular, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State acknowledged the importance of the  National Emergency Number 112 towards handling citizens’ calls for help. The governor in a broadcast to the people urged them to take advantage of 112 three-digit, toll-free number to get help from response agencies in case they want to pass critical information to the government and the State Task Force on COVID-19.

President Muhammadu Buhari had also on March 19, 2020, while unveiled the Abuja ECC facility and flagged off the 112 National Emergency Number during the commissioning of the NCC’s Communications and Digital Economy Complex at the Mbora District of Abuja said : ‘We have taken advantage of digital technologies to ensure that Nigerians in distress are only a dial away from the relevant emergency response institutions in the country” via the 112 Number.

President Buhari stressed that the NCC’s 112 National Emergency Number will go a long way in supporting his administration’s efforts to improve the security of lives and property.

The Nigerian Senate has also taken further steps towards strengthening the legal status for the country’s National Emergency Number 112 as the upper legislative chamber’s  Committee on Communications recently organised a one-day public hearing where stakeholders gathered to make valuable contributions and observations on two bills –  the Nationwide Toll-Free Emergency Number (Establishment) Bill, 2021 and the Nigerian Postal Service Act (Repeal and Establishment) Bill, 2021 – being sponsored by Senator Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State.

The emergency number bill passed the second reading on Wednesday, April 21, 2021 and the recent Senate public hearing on the bill was to have extensive discussion towards making the bill more robust to ensure a more effective, uniform and well-coordinated national emergency number 112, when it is finally passed into law, similar to the 999 emergency number in the United Kingdom and 911 in the United States.

Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, while speaking during the public hearing, stressed the desirability of the passing of such a bill into an Act of national Assembly. He added that the critical role of communication in modern day, especially in handling emergency situations cannot be over-emphasized.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Communications, Senator Oluremi Tinubu, on her part said the bill, when passed, will establish the Nationwide Toll-Free Number as a primary emergency number and contact point for all emergency services in Nigeria, thereby harmonizing the various emergency numbers in the country into one uniform number while, at the same time, empowering the NCC to supervise and ensure compliance.

Represented by his colleague, Senator Odebiyi Akinremi, Senator Amosun said the bill seeks to make 112 the Emergency Number of Nigeria, stating that “this will enable citizens have access to quick and timely response in respect of all forms of emergency situations such as road accidents, fire outbreaks, burglary , medical emergencies and so on’’.

Minister of Communications and Digital economy, Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, who was also at the public hearing commended the Senate for organizing the public hearing.

He noted that the NCC had established functional ECCs across 23 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, and disclosed that efforts are in top gear to ensure ECC is established in the remaining 13 states of the Federation for the processing of the emergency calls through the 112 Number.

At the public hearing, the NCC boss made a number of valuable recommendations that will make the bill, which he said might be cited as the ‘National Emergency Communication Act, 2021’ when passed into law, more effectual in terms of board composition, scope as well as ability to accommodate emergency services by different statutory and regulatory agencies.

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