Earthquakes: Nigeria needs early warning signals

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Reports of tremors in some parts of Nigeria point to the fact that the country is not immune to earthquakes. The Director-General, National Space Research and Development Agency, Dr. Seidu Mohammed, in this interview with Olabisi Deji-Folutile highlights the need for the establishment of more centres to aid predictions on earthquakes.

The tremor that occurred in Abeokuta, Ogun State, on September 11, 2009, has raised concerns among Nigerians about the possibility of earthquake in Nigeria. How will you react to this? Do you think Nigeria can experience earthquake?

Recently, the National Space, Research and Development Agency invited experts from across the world and we looked at the situation in Nigeria. It was clear that situations in Abeokuta, Ijebu Ode and several others in Nigeria in the past were indeed earthquakes but on a smaller scale. We realised that there was a need for us to take necessary caution to enable us to understand our environment better and to prepare our people to arrest the situation. We cannot say precisely that the tremors will lead to big ones but we cannot say a big one is impossible. In recent times, evidence has shown that areas that were not prone to earthquake, have had earthquakes. Still fresh in our memory is the situation in Malawi, Tunisia and Guinea. All of them happened at a scale which we considered a major earthquake.

Apart from these areas in the South-West, which other areas do you consider prone to earthquakes in Nigeria?

There are several falls criss-crossing Nigeria. But one of the most prominent ones is the one from the Atlantic terminating somewhere in Niger Stat--the one that passes through Ibadan --and because of that, we need more studies along the coastline. We have five working stations based in Oyo, Ile-Ife and Kaduna. We are proposing additional centres which have been paid for and very soon they shall be installed. We need more stations so that they can all be networked. The additional centres will be in Ibadan, Abuja, Oka and Minna. If we have more centres, we would be in a position to tell the nation if there is a coastal movement in Nigeria or anywhere in the world that could lead to tremor or earthquake. .

In specific terms, what is NARSDA doing to monitor earth movements in Nigeria?

Like you know, earthquake is a natural phenomenon, you can‘t stop it. What we can do is to develop capability which is the reason why the Centre for Geodesy and Geodynamics was established in Toro. The centre is in a position to predict occurrence of earthquake so that in the event of a problem, there will be early warning system so that the appropriate government agency responsible for managing disaster can know exactly what to do with that information. Along that line, we have been working with the space agency of America and we are happy to report that the American agency has identified with us so that we can be part of global network for monitoring coastal information and movement. The American space agency has just delivered the global system monitoring equipment in Nigeria and we hope it will soon be installed to enable us to participate fully in the global network and with that, we will soon become a major participant in the global endeavour.

Do you think Nigeria has enough manpower required to deal with the situation?

We have some professors in these areas in Nigerian universities who are good enough by global standard. But that is not to say that we have enough manpower. The space agency has embarked on massive capacity building in geo-dynamics monitoring, so that we can have a pool necessary to overcome these problems to enable us to establish an early warning systems. It is important for us as a country to develop an expertise required to be part of a global network so that right from our office at Toro, you can click the necessary button to get the necessary information you need. With this, agencies like the National Emergency Management Agency and others charged with the responsibility of managing disaster can be so advised appropriately.

Nigeria spent so much money to launch the Nigeria Sat- 1 a few years back. How relevant are the images from this technology in determining tremors and the possibility of earthquakes in Nigeria?

First, it is good to inform Nigerians what exactly is happening. Some two years back, Nigeria spent slightly above $10m in acquiring the Nigeria Sat-1 but we should also realise that some other satellites were built for over a billion dollars so when you say Nigeria spent so much money, we need to give Nigerians the right information they require to enable them to be adequately informed and take decision that they have to take. Nigeria spent some money in acquiring this technology. Nigeria, with some countries, pioneered a new development in satellite development by developing small satellites which could achieve the same thing as the big satellites. With that kind of small money, Nigeria was able to put a medium resolution satellite in the orbit and we have used this in various forms of human endeavour in Nigeria. For example, we have used it to do settlement maps for Nigeria and these are major working tools for the Nigeria Population Commission during census. We have used it to address the problem of de-forestation. We have used it to monitor the mangrove in the Niger Delta. With all these, we can say the Nigeria Sat-1 has been put into enormous uses. It is also our hope that in October 2010 , a higher resolution window will be created in Nigeria and with it you can identify individual houses in the country.

Is there any documentation of previous pathways of tremors in Nigeria to guide the monitoring of subsequent ones?

Certainly. Even right now as we speak, our centre in Toro can record any earth movement anywhere in the world. The previous tremors in Nigeria are properly documented. We just had a workshop where it was explained and the publication will soon be out. Then, Nigerians can have the opportunity of seeing the first line as it relates to our environment.

Will you consider Nigeria‘s investment in earthquake disaster monitoring as adequate?

Recently because of global happenings, a number of countries have started giving priorities to centres of this nature. Some few months back, Ghana spent $2.1m on its centre and in that light we should also do more in our ability to acquire this capability in terms of manpower development and software development to do the necessary monitoring and establish an early warning system. In 2009, very little was given to the centre in Toro, let me use this opportunity to tell the nation that a lot still needs to be done to enable this centre to be a part of the global monitoring system and to also develop capability in terms of an early warning system to be able to appropriately advise Nigerians and we should also remember that it is a centre of excellence that most students doing research and other advanced research can use. There is a lot we need to do to improve the lot of the centre and the capability of the centre in Nigeria.

What sort of data should Nigerians expect to get from the Nigeria-Sat 2 billed for launch in October this year?

If you go to the website of India Space Research organisation, you will be able to see every aspect of India from the nation‘s own satellite. Today in Nigeria we have just launched a project called integrated mission for sustainable development that harmonises all the images from Nigeria Sat -1 and the high resolution image to be able to cover all aspects of Nigeria and that is why we are also saying that in preparing for the launch of Nig Sat -2 we are inviting farmers on board, town planners, water engineers, and everybody because the best tool that Nigeria can ever afford is about to come on board. The data revolution being expected should be able to permeate everybody for the benefit of Nigeria and that state governments will now be able to take the same initiative that Lagos has taken with the city GIS and now be able to charge tenement rate for every building and make much money from it. Lagos is making much money from that and I expect every state government to be able to make money from that. After all, government is about creating money.

So what is NARSDA doing now to ensure a continuous monitoring of areas where earthquakes had happened before in Nigeria to know if there is a growth in intensity and to know areas where they can re-occur?

We have already established five stations along this short line and then additional six are being established and that is why we are asking that we should be supported with more money to enable us to establish additional stations and network them together so that from our office or anywhere, we can by a click of the mouse be able to access the network and be in the know of all that happens.

There was a report that some researchers in Obafemi Awolowo University were able to detect an earthquake that happened in 1998. Do you collaborate with experts in the universities or are you planning to collaborate with them?

Space agencies all over the world draw a pool of their resources from the universities. We are working with resource persons at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, University of Lagos and others and there are also studies we conducted with universities in the US. We have established project collaboration with several universities. For instance, we are working with the University of Ibadan and Ahmadu Bello University on cattle rearing. We are also working with OAU in the area of monitoring forest depletion. We are working with the ministry of deforestation , Minna, Niger State, on desertification along with the Plateau State University, Kogi State University and Bayero University to look at the issue of climate change.

There are reports that predict the likelihood of earthquake in Nigeria by 2028, what are you doing to educate Nigerians by telling them what signs to watch out for?

At the moment, the space agency is not in a position to confirm that by the year quoted there will be a earthquake in Nigeria. All we are saying is that we should be supported to enable us to develop capability so that an early warning system can be done. All over the world, even in the US, the possibility for precision prediction is still very remote. I don‘t want to raise the hope unnecessarily. But Nigerians should be on the watch-out and be informed that the centre is also working, and that all the stations are there day and night watching the situation and that information will always be available when it is necessary.

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