Despite the rapidly growing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases across the country, the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC has been repeatedly accused of not responding to calls from cases or potential cases who wish to be tested.
In fact, there are also numerous claims that most times, the designated telephone numbers do not connect.
However, tech experts say this is not supposed to be, in a country that has a dedicated emergency number in place.
In April 2014 the Nigerian communications commission, NCC’s proposal for an emergency number was approved and the federal government designated 112 as Nigeria’s emergency number.
It was meant for Nigerians to call in times of emergency or distress to get a swift response from security agencies and other related services
Other reasons include, to provide a one-stop shop for receiving distress calls from the public and dispatching same to appropriate Response Agencies who will respond to the need of the callers.
It was also meant to provide easy, effective and coordinated access by members of the public to Response Agencies (Police, FRSC, Fire Service, Ambulance Service among others, in times of emergency/distress.
However, establishing the Emergency Communications Centres, ECCs took a bit of slow pace but on assumption of office in 2015, current Executive Vice Chairman, Prof Umar Danbatta accelerated implementation of the project and in 2019, made 18 of the centres across the country operational.
This feat attracted the commendation of President Buhari who officially relaunched the centres in March 2020.
A Lagos based tech engineer, Mr Roland Bonuola, said the reports that the NCDC was not responding to calls or its numbers were not accessible is a slap to a tech nation like Nigeria that made more than 18 Emergency Communications Centres operational, less than a year ago. He said the meaning could only be that people didn’t know that the emergency numbers were there for them to use in this COVID-19 period.
According to him” at this age and time, are we supposed to be reading the news of a particular agency of government not picking calls in times of emergency when we have an emergency short code that is operational? Most probably, people didn’t know, and this means more awareness should be created on that. It is very crucial. Our agencies should also be trained to understand that the short codes could be the last hope of the caller. So a quick response could save a soul” he added
Bonuola added that leveraging the 112 Number by Nigerians will help to complement other efforts put in place by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control NCDC with respect to reporting cases of the pandemic.
For him, “there are other emergencies that may arise at this time of lockdown such as robbery, road accident, fire outbreaks among others. This is the time we should put our emergency communications centres to test. This is when we should benchmark our response to emergencies with that of other countries of the world. Instead of relying so much on the NCDC phone lines, Nigerians should rely more on the 112 short codes” he said
Already, states and federal government agencies are leveraging the 112 National Emergency Number, whose calls are handled through the Emergency Communication Centre (ECC) established by the Commission across the country.
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To date, 17 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) now have their ECC, with its operational 112 toll-free emergency number, available to the citizens to leverage in case of any emergencies or disasters.
It was gathered that aside FCT, beneficiary states of the ECC include Benue, Kwara, Plateau, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Ogun, Ekiti, Ondo, Oyo, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Cross Rivers, Imo, Enugu, Anambra and Adamawa for Nigerians to leverage on during the COVID-19 period and beyond.
Recently, governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, in a state-wide broadcast to sensitise the people of the state on the epidemic, specifically urged the people of Edo State to take advantage of 112 three-digit, toll-free number to get help from response agencies when they need to pass critical information to the government and the State Task Force on COVID-19.
Obaseki’s call, underscores the centrality of the 112 emergency number towards handling citizens’ calls for help in this time of Coronavirus pandemic.
Hi-Tech findings reveal that each of the 18 ECCs is equipped with among other things 11 workstations,10 for receiving calls and one for the Supervisor; a server system that receives and processes 112-calls from members of the public and then dispatches the calls to the appropriate Agency that has responsibility to attend to the specific emergency; and power supply mix consisting of public power supply from the national grid, two units of 100KVA generators.
There are also two units of 20KVA UPS powered by 160 units of 100AH inverter batteries and a 10KVA UPS powered by 16 units of 100AH inverter batteries; and the facility is also equipped with six dispatch workstations for the response agencies.
Handling COVID-19-related calls
To ensure ECC is being managed effectively during the COVID-19 period, Danbatta at the weekend paid unscheduled visits to the ECC in Kano and Kaduna.
Danbatta’s said his visits were informed by his realisation that, with Coronavirus spreading across the globe and more people living in isolation, the toll-free number could play a crucial role of providing effective alternatives for people to reach out to relevant agencies with a view to getting help in times of emergency.
During the visits to the two centres, Danbatta had interactions with the personnel and asked various questions bordering on how effectively they manage and dispatch in-coming calls in this COVID-19 period.
He urged them to see their work more as a national assignment which involve saving the lives of fellow Nigerians who may be in any emergency.
“As you aware, the country is in a lockdown. I, therefore, enjoin you to always ensure you don’t miss any call that comes into the centre. You will also be expected to ensure prompt dispatch of calls received to the relevant emergency response agencies,” Danbatta advised.