Early warning on imminent weather hazards help reduce casualties by more than 70%- NiMet DG

Prof. Mansur Bako Matazu is the Director-General of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet). In this interview with WOLE SHADARE in his office in Abuja, talks about the recent natural disasters in Morocco and Libya and how Nigeria is immune from the disasters that happened there, the massive Low-Level Windshear project in 18 airports across the country and how it is turning its challenges to gains in providing world-class service to its users.

The recent earthquake and flooding in Morocco and Libya that claimed over 25, 000 souls have triggered fear in Nigeria of a possible occurrence, how safe are we with this kind of occurrence?

Earthquake is a geophysical phenomenon and it is not influenced by atmospheric process. Climate change and global warming are just like malaria and signs of malaria. So, there is no relationship with the geophysics that happened within the earth cross and we have zones that are prone to that. We are lucky Nigeria is not among them. Secondly, our system in Nigeria is a consistent system; so we don’t expect such a high level of intensity of activities we have seen in Libya. Libya used to be a dry area, at times they experienced only 25 millimeters of rain that can fall in two hours Abuja is what Libya would experience in a year.  Imagine because of the issue of climate change increasing temperature, increasing condensate activities, and increasing the possibility of having high-intensity storms over Europe, this was a result of the passage of a bigger storm over Europe that created a very long pressure over the Sahara Desert and with high energy because of the solar radiation in it coupled with dust in the atmosphere that they have a lot of Sahara and a lot of particles, so that developed into a very severe system that impounded the area. The area that had been dry for several decades, several centuries, now experienced flooding. We don’t expect much of that intensity, but definitely, there is evidence of climate change in the country in our case, we are being influenced by high-intensity rain that results in a flash flood within cities and villages and riverine communities as a result of prolonged rain and also the inflow of water from neighbouring countries as a result of the opening of dams. We have predicted that this year in Nigeria, we are not expecting a lot of high-intensity rain, we are just having average weather and climatic conditions with some pockets of above and below and we have seen this happening in Maiduguri, Bauchi, and Yola that they had to pray for rain some weeks ago. But, we will keep the public informed of any situation whether in the short or long term.

Until recently, NiMet provided its services free of charge. How is this agency funded to carry out its expensive service delivery?

 Even, when I close my eyes and look at how we do it, I can tell you we don’t owe any contractor. The moment your job is finished, we run a financial transparent system, we do a cash plan, we capture you and we implement that cash plan, two times in a month and we get you paid. You are also helping the economy by doing that. Any contractor must have hired labour, skilled and unskilled and if you pay him, the money and the resources will go down and part of the money would revolve around the government to come under the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). I think one thing that has helped us is sincerity of purpose. If you just have a clear-cut purpose of getting results and you have the right team, I am sure we can achieve a lot. In aviation, we have almost the least in terms of revenue, but I tell myself and my team, they all know, we are also the happiest. Despite the small salaries and allowances that we get, we are happy. One thing that adds to our happiness is some of our services are being received and utilised by the common man and you see that simple information is changing someone’s life. So naturally we would be happy doing that. But we would do more with the help of the management.

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Do some of these countries provide aid to pay for the services you render?

We do provide technical service as I said. There is what we call WMO VCP (Voluntary Country Partnership), which is called in ICAO as “No Country Left Behind.” So weather is dynamic and it moves from one area to the other. Even if you have the capability and you don’t share that expertise with your neighbours, I don’t think you are helping. As for Nigeria, if there is a problem in Niger with drought and flood, we have over a thousand kilometers of borders, and all of them would move, that is number one. The reason America and other countries are called Superpowers is by providing some of this support. So for you to get relevance, and credibility and become big brother, you have to provide some support to the weaker community, and with that, we have achieved a lot as a country; we have been categorised as the best Met Service and they always refer to us if there is anything and I gave example with the issue of fertiliser. So, anything you have to start small, and people will appreciate and value it.

Have you begun VCP coverage and at what cost?

So we have started that Volume Coverage Pattern (VCP) with World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) at no cost, but if I tell you, the VCP meeting that we attended, Nigeria was the only black nation because you have US, UK, Spain, Netherlands, eight of them plus Nigeria because we want to show the world that we are not a beggar nation in all ramifications, even in the science of weather and services, we are not waiting for any country. We just had a meeting with the French Government, we are going to do a programme with them and they were very happy with what they have seen. This provides credibility, trust, and relevance and with that, you would get realised by the global community and they suggested Nigeria will help these countries under this United Nations financed Systematic Observation Financing Facility (SOFF). The essence of this SOFF is based on the UN Secretary General’s statement that in the next five years, all citizens in the world must have access to early warning; you have seen what happened in Libya; 10,000 people unaccounted for and more than 6,000 people confirmed dead in one incident. But if these people get early warning, it has been confirmed globally that if people get an early warning of any imminent weather hazard, they are bound to reduce casualties by more than 70 percent. But if they get the information one week ahead, it will increase. The way we give our Seasonal Climate Prediction, almost six months in advance, is a very good lead time, and based on this, the UN gathered people, financing facilities, and all these development banks like the World Bank, have contributed money and it is through this money that they said, ‘Okay, bigger nations should help weaker ones.’ That was how they identified Nigeria and we are assisting Niger, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, and also Somalia. This is just the first phase, we are going to do an additional phase and in all these, our staff are getting involved, they are getting more exposed and Nigeria is getting more relevant as a big brother in Africa and in the world generally. We are also getting additional funding to support our services.

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How far has NiMet gone with its Low-Level Windshear (LLW) project?

Actually, the LLWAS (Low-Level Wind Shear Alert System) project started after the Sosoliso crash that happened in 2005 and it is a phenomenon that is very dicey and dynamic, something that happened within seconds and then it goes. Ab initio, we were not as an agency of government and also within the industry, able to track this, but after that incident, it became open to us; we came up with a proposal for this LLWAS and today we have done in 18 airports.

Challenges of vandalisation of the LLW equipment

Here comes the challenge. At times before you finish a project, you are already experiencing vandalisation. In Port Harcourt, they cut the whole mast from the base. In Lagos, even within the airport perimeter, we recorded vandalisation, but we were able to weather through the storm. One, we are working on alternative technology even though it is very expensive which we call Terminal Doppler Radar. We are also devising what we call a north-central approach which helps us to study cloud physics over any area in the country. With cloud physics knowledge, you would know whether a cloud could result in a microburst and it is from a microburst from an entire set of clouds that we could have wind shear. So we are using multiple approaches to the wind shear just as they are doing in the US. They still have LLWAS even though they don’t experience vandalisation, but they combine it with a ladder and then terminal Doppler radar and also the North-Central Approach. So, we engaged a UK partner from the University of Leeds to acquire the knowledge and skill and we have the platform now. So we have done the initial test-running of the process and we want to go into large scale to complement the LLWAS. So it is one of our critical projects and every time, every period you see us running around, trying to get it. On the issue of vandalism, we engage in community policing and we have seen significant improvement with regard to security and also FAAN and other paramilitary authorities have been involved and they are helping us a lot.

What are the major challenges confronting Nimet?

Challenges are natural, that is why human beings have brains and that brain is being housed inside a skull that is 60 times harder than all the bones in our body for you to see how you overcome these challenges. So, mostly in governance because of budget issues, there is a challenge of funding and also how acceptable is your service? So, you are helping us get this acceptability and with the visibility we have, we are getting a lot of demands now, which is creating a lot of positive challenges for us. There is a lot of interest now in what we do and that is good for us. So, it sharpens our work and then lets us do more on this, and with that revenue will come, client satisfaction will be achieved and sustainable development will also be achieved. I just don’t believe and say because of dwindling revenue, you cannot perform. What we do is just to block leakages and then implement a performance management system whereby you work not because you are being supervised, but because it is your work and you are happy doing it. I can tell you most of them close very late, just make them happy with regards to welfare, training, working environment, internet and all this and you can get the best from them. Even, though our website was created by our staff, we didn’t pay a Kobo. We only sent them for training and we are getting the best. Our people are working diligently. Most of our software was created by our staff; in fact, some of them don’t have degrees and they are doing the job well. We just send them on training, stay there for a week and we spend less than N2 million training them. Some of these kits are being done by organisations with millions of naira, but we develop them all in-house.

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Multi-Language introduction

If you don’t digest to the level of the understanding of the users, it has no value. So you can do all the science, you can spend all the resources, you can do all the analysis but if the users don’t understand, so in everything we do, we consider our users. As a result of this, we engaged in a lot of partnerships, and under these, we were able to see the demands for co-production. Before we even do the forecast, we invite stakeholders, they give us their experience of the previous year’s forecast and we also want to know how they need the forecast, in what form and frequencies and that was what informed our translation to three languages. And under collaboration, we could do any language. This year we were able to downscale to 28 states and then this year we want to cover the whole country with the help of the governors. We have addressed the Nigerian Governors’ Forum more than three, or four times. We were invited by the National Economic Council and we want to sign an MoU with most of the countries. The feelers we are getting from the users are very positive and these are some of the things that encourage us, simple information, but changes the lives of people. For instance, just tell a farmer the beginning and end of the season and what is likely to happen, the time to plant, and the rainfall amount, with that he would know the variety to go for.

Why is it that airlines do not comply with weather advisories, especially with United Nigeria Airlines that skidded off the Lagos airport runway?

When they say pilot, Pilot-in-Command (PIC), even control tower, Air Traffic Controller (ATC) can’t dictate to them. They give them information and they say at your discretion. So part of that information is our Met information. Every 30 minutes and in real-time, there is a screen at the control tower where they give them updates if there is any sudden change in weather I am sure ATC must have warned that pilot about a mild wet runway because the moment you take off, even before take-off, we have pilot briefing room where you get our fodder and that is why we are beginning to publish those airlines that collect our fodders and we have email platform. So the issue is compliance and you pilots, have the final say and the Nigerian Safety Investigation Bureau (NSIB) has already written to us to give them the weather situation in Lagos. On that accident, they cannot say we didn’t report rain and we have rain. We reported rain with intensity and I am sure the ATC must have said watch out for wet runway there are procedures for wet runway landing and if you don’t apply that. Lagos Airport is one of our flashpoints and so you get the best of our staff and the best of our equipment. As you know almost more than 70 percent of our flights happen in Lagos so you don’t expect anything below standard in terms of our services in Lagos.

Wole Shadare