By Obi Odenigbo
In 2008; a huge fire engulfed our family residence in Enugu State, South-Eastern Nigeria. It happened in the middle of the night- after the epileptic power fluctuations had led to an electrical surge. We literally had to wake the neighbours and manually kept pouring water from buckets until the inferno was subdued. But not before decimating the lower levels of the beautiful GRA house and melting away memories that took decades to mold. It was horrible. But what was more horrible? The helplessness we felt; the feeling of total vulnerability. It was crushing. But hey, Nigeria is a difficult place. It’s not a country for the faint of heart.
Now compare this with the lives of everyday Americans. Just this month; two children in Texas helped stop a four-man home invasion in progress in their own home. And that’s not all; earlier this year, a four-year-old boy helped save his mother’s life when she started having an epileptic seizure- all by dialling nine, one and one on a telephone keypad. Isn’t it both appalling and reprehensible that four-year old kids in America have much more power than adults in Africa’s most populous nation?
In the last 20 days; Nigeria has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. 234 girls kidnapped from their school and no one with a clue as to where they are. Reports emerged about sightings during the initial abduction period, but nothing was made of that. I have no doubt those witnesses who saw the girls being whisked away felt a similar helplessness and emptiness to that which I felt when our home was gutted by fire. They had no one to call. No three-digit number to dial; despair, despondency and the same ol’ crushing helplessness.
I have no intent on apportioning blame, but we are the architect of our own woes. Nigeria is not a poor country. Every Nigerian knows the country is way richer than even the recently released GDP figures indicate. It is the richest country in Africa by a mile! But what is very baffling is that- this immense wealth has not translated to the creation of a three-digit emergency number despite all the Hollywood movies that Nigeria consumes.
The idea behind famous 9-1-1 is pretty simple: Give people a single, easy-to-remember number to call to receive help during any life-threatening situation. Is it really beyond Nigeria’s means to use a 3-1-1, a 4-1-1 (or any other combination if we want to create a unique identity) to combat a two-fold ill that plague the country- security and jobs.
If 3-1-1 (For the purpose of this article; let’s assume Nigeria takes up 3-1-1 as its emergency hotline) is implemented; it will lead to the creation of special call centres- or Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) – in all local governments of every state in Nigeria.
This will not only serve a dire security need, but will create job opportunities for a lot of unemployed people who’d gladly become operators of PSAPs. These operators at the PSAP will gather information from 3-1-1 calls coming in about the emergency and alert the proper/closest agency – the police, the fire department or emergency medical services (EMS). It’s no rocket science;
- You dial 3-1-1.
- Your phone company (MTN or GLO) recognizes the number and routes the call to a dedicated 3-1-1 switch that sends the call to the designated PSAP for your area.
- The PSAP call-taker (also called an operator or dispatcher) asks what the emergency is, what the location is and for a call-back phone number and then enters this information into the system.
- The call-taker uses radio dispatch to alert police, fire and/or EMS to go to the scene who come over.
Simple right? In concept yea; but without accountability; it becomes useless.
These calls coming to the PSAPs are recorded and logged into the computers. The police stations need to then be held accountable through regular audits for how long it takes them to respond to different incidents. Cops could then understand that lives depend on them and that they can lose their jobs by delaying to respond to emergencies.
If a system as simple as this existed; we’d be closer to having those girls back than we are at the moment. Hell, the abduction might have been prevented by just one observant Nigerian noticing suspicious activity.
We don’t have to wait for the Federal Government to do this. Every single state in the country must take the initiative. We need to start creating PSAPs, recruiting/training operators and holding Policemen and Firemen (and women of course) accountable for delays or no-shows and hoping our Nollywood productions play a key role in publicizing 3-1-1 through movies that highlight this vision. We need to ensure that everybody can report suspicious activity when they notice it.
Only then can we begin to check the excesses of terror groups and criminal activity. We must realize that only Nigerians can heal Nigeria. It is immoral for us to expect Americans to come and shed their blood for a problem we helped create. It is wicked for us to call for the sons of other countries to come and die for us. Only Nigerians living in Nigeria can destroy Boko Haram by providing valuable intelligence, anonymous tips and helping Law Enforcement stem the ugly tide and fight the demons that have brought the Giant of Africa to its knees.