by Chioma Ogwuegbu
From my experience, distributing relief materials is merely a stop-gap measure. It does benefit the victims, but does not have a far-reaching impact.
If we really want to help, then we need to really listen and observe the people we are giving the help, instead of insisting that it’s our brand of help that they need.
Two days ago, I saw a call to action on Twitter put out by people who wanted to create a contributory fund and relief centre to help those whose houses had been affected by the Dana Air Flight 9J-992 crash, on Sunday in the Iju-Ishaga area of Lagos, which killed all 153 people onboard and a yet to be determined number of residents of the building it crashed into. The idea was to provide a citizen’s response protocol, not just for this disaster, but for others as well.
There was a call for volunteers. The meeting point was the Ifako/Ijaiye Local Government Council office, and I got there by 11am. After waiting for a few minutes, some other volunteers joined me; and as we stood there, some men whose houses were affected in the crash came to us and sought advice about what their rights were. Who would be responsible for the damage to their homes? Would there be any recompense for them if they lost their houses?
We couldn’t answer those questions satisfactorily.
While conversing with the volunteers, it was clear that they were organised. They had already been in talks with the local government council, the Red Cross, GTBank and others. They were setting up relief material collection centres in several locations across Lagos, Nigeria and even abroad. They were in the process of setting up a bank account. The aim, being to collect and distribute relief materials for those affected, is a noble one.
Immediately I had seen those men asking questions about what they had to do to get recompense for their damaged building, it became clear that what these people needed was not relief materials but information, education and legal assistance. During the course of my day at the crash site, this conviction became stronger. We went in search of other residents displaced by the crash. A few of them had left the site and were ‘managing’ with family and friends. Others on site were confused, obviously in shock and in need of guidance. With the support of the local council, we offered temporary accommodation to them; but of all the people spoken to, only one person agreed to follow us to the provided accommodation space.
I pointed out to the volunteers on ground that perhaps we needed to set up a help desk at the site where we could find, and provide, answers to the questions on the lips of these people; and put them in contact with the agencies whose responsibility it is to resettle them. Furthermore, it was vital to assure these distressed people that something would be done about their plight; that the airline and the government would work out a compensation/resettlement plan; and that they have a right to sue if this does not happen.
However, the response I got was that the action team was mainly interested in distributing relief materials and nothing more. Their action was short-term and they didn’t want to over-extend themselves. This depressed me; because from my experience, distributing relief materials is merely a stop-gap measure. It does benefit the victims, but does not have a far-reaching impact. Sending used clothes, money, and such to displaced people like this is no doubt commendable; but the truth is that t a traumatised man/woman whose home (and possibly family members) has been wiped away by an aeroplane also needs a roof over his/her head and some counselling.
These people need legal assistance, they need psychological assistance. A friend of a friend who lives in the area said he and his kids saw the plane as it crashed, and since then the kids have become jumpy and jittery at any loud sound. Their house was not directly affected but the kids will be traumatised for life because of that incident. The residents need information as to what are the next steps.
A few of those houses will be demolished; if there will be any compensation, it will go to the landlords and tenants will essentially left on their own. They need us to put pressure on all the agencies concerned to ensure that they do right by them. This, to me, is the strength that social media has and should be used for in such situations. There are lawyers on this campaign, do we need to volunteer free legal services for a class action in case those responsible delay in resettling these people?
I understand that the desire to provide relief materials comes from a good place; and I commend those who have initiated this. However, shouldn’t we take action that would have a more meaningful impact, even if it’s a bit more difficult? If we really want to help, then we need to really listen and observe the people we are giving the help, instead of insisting that it’s our brand of help that they need.
As for me, I will spend my time researching and finding the useful information that the residents need. I will call Dana Air, LASEMA, NEMA go to their offices, and write to them and insist they take up their responsibility for those citizens.
What will you do?