Can you tell us about your foundation?
St. George’s Ambulance foundation is a humanitarian organization that specializes in emergency ambulance service/ administration of first aid to accident victims. It is an organization that has been on ground since 2003. Our aim and objective is to give first aid and rescue accident victims. Accident occurs everywhere, whether at home, or in the office and on the road, the foundation can be called upon to come and rescue and administer first aid and convey the victims to the hospital, the nearest hospital, or the general hospital or state hospital or national hospital or federal government medical hospital. It depends on the cases. The first thing the foundation does is that we have an ambulance that is well equipped to stabilize the patient or victim before we can take them to the hospital. We must administer first aid to stop the bleeding, because once you can stop the bleeding it is already under control. And then we register the accident victims to be given treatment immediately. We collect cards for the victims before we contact their families. There are some people whose families we cannot contact in time, so we have to pay their bills. So, the foundation is for the poor, for the rich and for everybody. Also as part of our programme, we also take care of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), indigent people and disaster response. For example, in 2006, during the plane crash at Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, St. George ambulance foundation was the first organization that responded to rescue the victims and now took their corpse to the national hospital.
How extensive is the coverage of your foundation?
Before the foundation covered 21 states. In fact, Lagos state is the number one state we cover, and Abuja and Kogi and Rivers states and a number of states then but now it is reduced to four, five, six states because of lack of fund. That is why on the eighteenth year anniversary, that is on 22, September, we are celebrating, and an award night, and to launch an endowment fund for the foundation so the general public can donate so that we can be able to procure ambulances to settle across the states. Even the foundation can do it up to the local government level and even rescue and take care of people that cannot pay their bills. And also, the medical centers are part of the foundation aims and objectives. In fact, ultra-modern emergency hospitals to be built that all kind of emergency cases can be responded to and treated instead of going abroad is part of the aims and objectives of the foundation. Old people’s homes, HIV victims, blood bank donation is part of the foundation. And you know rescue, you have helicopters, you have ambulances, you have human community drive, that is in the environment. Just like you are going to Okene now, there is a place called Kwali. Before anybody can be responsible, those people in that place should know that it is an emergency. That is why when we organize a workshop in 2004, the Red Cross came to the event and even said that this workshop that the foundation is organizing is good and imperative and that what the foundation is doing has not happened before. That is what Nigeria and Africa needs in general, because of the road factor, and because even other civilized nations have it in place.
So, your foundation is working in synergy with other health agencies and parastatals?
Exactly, there is ministry of health and NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency). In fact, we are registered with NEMA since 2004. We registered the foundation as a sister agency they can work with. There was even a time NEMA tried to allocate some funds to us, even though it didn’t come us. There was also a time around 2005 we received about 100,000 from NEMA then.
So, the funding is voluntary?
It is voluntary, because even many other organizations get funds under the support of NGOs, group and but this foundation is one of the organizations that should have access to such funds.
Sir, how do you see accident management in this country. Do you think the government have sufficient facility to support or collaborate what your foundation is doing? Or is it should be entirely left in the hands of voluntary organizations?
I can say the government is trying but it is because we have not been able to work together, to share ideas with us. Like when you are talking of NEMA now. The Federal Road Safety are not for rescue. It is just to repair roads, while NEMA is to take care of such displacement crisis. FRSC is for them to regulate the road users, accident response is not their job. The agency whose job can be compared to our own is NEMA. Which NEMA is doing a wonderful job. In fact, the present person who is NEMA’s zonal commander in Lagos, Ibrahim fayeloye entered the agency through our foundation. You see most of the thing that the government is trying to do is to respond to disaster – compensation, not rescue. Yes, they are trying, but it is only Lagos state that has been able to do it successfully, that have the structure in place.
NEMA structure for federal government is focused on taken care of those people that are victims of displacement and disaster, that is compensation. It is more of a reactionary approach than proactive in that operation. In regard to Road Safety, the time we got our proposal to them, it was our proposal that they now use to say they wanted to do emergency response. That is why General Hananiyah then and I think before then someone took over and they began to say they wanted to purchase ambulances but it was not part of their purview but they see what we were doing. We were the ones that started ambulance on the toll gate across the country. We were the ones that even started ambulances at city gate. Let me tell you, you cannot see any of our ambulances that is stand by, that will not have things like water, snacks, so that if someone falls victim, first thing, we have to give them something to eat before they can take injection. It is an international standard.
The Road Safety being responsible for regulating these roads and being the first responders in road accidents, should have such equipped ambulances at their disposal?
They don’t need it. Even the federal ministry of health, there was a time I sent a proposal to the presidency, and immediately after four days they organized an inter-ministerial meeting on emergency and they now set up office under the ministry of health. When we got there, we didn’t see any ambulances. We asked them why they can’t they give us any ambulances, they said if we rescue or render any services, they can now be paying. That is not what we want. The foundation needs their support because we know how to carry out this operation. You know you can’t steal ideas, you can’t steal knowledge. The operation of emergency rescue, St George’s ambulance foundation has it in Nigeria. it is entirely free. that is why they it is an organization that should be doing it. that is why we called upon many organizations to join it. Because many of the people doing it, do so on payment, like Total health trust, that manages Transcorp. They manage it, they pay them. So, it is not voluntary. Rescue emergency service is supposed to be voluntary. That is passion. There is a time we did a workshop on volunteer services, that everybody should know how to administer first aid. In our forthcoming eighteen-year anniversary celebration, we are going to launch St George ambulance foundation and first aid box. There are many organizations and establishments that do not even have first aid box to administer simple emergency cases.
So, first aid does not mean only for road accident cases. Anyone’s health can deteriorate quickly either because of stress, pre-existing health conditions or other issues. So, when you see road safety, if accident happens, they mob up the dead and the wounds, that is not rescue. In rescue, it is the wounded, that are not dead, that you seek to attend to and care for first and rescue them, so we don’t have more casualties.
Are you insisting that it should be a voluntary service and not by a specialized agency of government?
Government is to support, in America, yes, even if government set it up, government must call for. For example, in America, when they say 911, 911 is just a central box of it, to co-ordinate. If it happens, you will see many organizations will come up, many ambulances will appear in different form. Like the 911, world trade center incident. So, Nigerians has witnessed disaster but they have not witnessed a major one that would make them to know because government always think that, oh if something happens in society, they are the only ones that can control it. No, they can support. Okay, from the first of allocation, they are supposed to have a fund facility going to the organizations that are doing this noble objective. So, they can now coordinate and advise through the consultant and so on. Just like at the workshops. We do workshops, we bring consultants to present lectures, we bring the Road Safety and other experts. So, government knows that emergency rescue is a problem. There is a lot of calls we receive in the night, but we answer but sometimes we don’t have ambulance to respond. But if it is a government agency you can’t call them at night to respond. But if it is a government agency you can’t call them that night to respond. The only people whose response is still effective is the fire service. You can’t take it away from them. Fire service respond very well, you can’t take it away from them, in spite of it, they are not well equipped. And the civil defense is for the control of civil disobedience in society. They don’t need ambulance, that is not their job. Road Safety is there to regulate the traffic and road users. The Road Safety are not trained for accident rescue because it is not their job. Even if they have the ambulances, these are the ambulances they should use to support St George ambulance foundation and other organizations. Government should make a crusade preaching, and I have not seen any candidate that says as my administration is coming we are going to encourage NGOs to come up with ideas of addressing emergencies, that we want many NGOs to come out for emergency rescue.
For the past 18 years what has been the challenges of your organization?
The challenge if funding. If we have funding we will procure ambulances. If we have funding we will procure medical equipment, if we have funding we will procure more experts, train people, sponsor people to go abroad for train, go to where they can do it and organize conferences and workshops.
We could have trainings in the states down to the wards and community level. So that if an incident happens for example in Kwali, you don’t need to call someone from Abuja, somebody from Kwali will respond immediately. Those people will be able to respond to the accident and they have idea of it. There is a retreat of community health centers under this project. And by the way helicopters also assist in emergency service delivery. These are usually features of emergency hospitals. They have it in Germany, they have it in France, United States of America have no less than 10, which I know, in case of emergence cases. In the England, there is the famous St John Ambulance Association, which is perhaps the oldest emergency foundation or hospital. Emergency hospitals usually have helicopter pads, that is why if there is an accident at the airport or some similar place the helicopter may pick the victims and convey them back to this emergency hospital. The main function of emergency hospital is to respond to emergency cases.
You know if you take emergency cases to a normal hospital they will ask you to wait but this foundation, any emergency we bring to the hospital they will respond immediately because they know the foundation was registered for it.
Your organization is relatively unknown, how are you people creating awareness?
That is why we are doing what we are doing. That is why we are celebrating the eighteen-year anniversary. You know when we started there was no social media like it is today. You know in our service there are volunteers, you know, you can be a doctor or nurse working in a hospital and still be working with us. Those are the volunteers. Some people will say I just want to contribute and that is the only way I can contribute. Like Dame Patience Jonathan who said if it is the only thing I will do for the rest of my life, I will support this foundation. This is what I have passion for. So, we are inviting her for our eighteenth anniversary celebration. She is someone that is particular, that this foundation deserves to be supported.
Having the likes of Dame Patience Jonathan wanting to support your organization, what are your hopes for the future?
Our hope for the future is to reduce death rates by rescuing accident victims. Both at the office, homes and the roads. It does not mean that you must be travelling before an accident can occur, even now as we are talking anything can occur, which will require emergency response and even first aid. So, the four billion endowment fund is to be able to raise funds.
That you can see some people if they have accident they cannot even pay for the bills. The foundation is free, it is a public-spirited organization, so you don’t need to campaign. You only have to just write or send to us to examine your claim, from there we go to the hospital. The foundation will pay for you, you don’t need to say thank you.
The foundation does not need thank you because that is what it is made for. That is the aims and objectives of the foundation.
How are NGOs and other philanthropists responding to the initiative?
It is highly encouraging. The forthcoming anniversary celebration and award is seeing positive response from high level individuals like the GMD of NNPC. He is among our awardees, he is ready to give us support. We know what they did during the covid – 19 pandemic. The honourable minister of Information and Communication, Isa Pantami is also among our awardees so also is the minister of health. The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and the minister of sport, and the minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola are also among the awardees. So, we have about seven ministers that are expected to attend the award ceremony. The managing director of Inland waterways is among the awardees. We have 25 to 30 potential awardees that have passion for emergency response. So, you can see the caliber of people that are concerned and interested because they understand the importance of our work and they know that anyone can fall victim. So it is a service to humanity. All of those we are honouring we have knowledge of their past works and contributions to society. Like the Oni of Ile Ife, we see what he did during the covid – 19 and before then he has been doing things, humanitarian and charitable deeds.
Is there a channel for poor people or the ordinary masses to donate to the foundation?
Why not. We have our online platform, you can donate through the internet, where we have the account of the foundation. Even this anniversary celebration, the account will be displayed at the online portal where people can access them and make whatever contributions they can afford.