By Dominic Aigbogun
Encouraged by the wholehearted support of the President of Fire Protection Association of Nigeria, Mr Oluremi Olowude, OON; the Executive Vice Chairman of Industrial and General Insurance Plc.; and the current President of the Nigerian Insurers Association (NIA), it became necessary and in fact obligatory, in pursuance of the cardinal objectives of Fire Protection Association of Nigeria to continually bring into public focus prevailing situations in the fire safety scene and express objective opinions on improvements that will make Fire Service a dependable agency for maintenance of a continuously improving national economy.
For me as the Vice President of the Fire Protection Association of Nigeria (FPAN), I have the responsibility to drive the directives of the President and that of the National Executive Council of the Association (FPAN), to propagate the stand of the Fire Protection Association, on the status of Fire Safety in our dear country, Nigeria. This is in line with the activities of similar Associations in developed economies that Nigeria is striving to meet, in order to become one of the 20 wealthiest nations in the world.
In order that robust ideas may be generated to place the Fire Service in Nigeria on its rightful position, where it can become an effective security agency to fulfil the main objective of securing life and property expected from the Service, I sincerely urge the general public to comment on or challenge, where necessary, any ideas in this and subsequent publications in the series to be published on this topic, hopefully at monthly intervals.
Going back memory lane, it is on record that the first Fire Service was established by the British colonial administration in 1901 as an arm of the Nigeria Police. Why was it established? Because it was essential to the Administration to safeguard lives, particularly of the white administrators and the colonial assets – administrative buildings, living quarters, raw material goods, awaiting shipment to the wharf, and to the buyers overseas. To justify this opinion, it would be recalled that a Fire Station was established in Kano, under Native Authority administration of the colonial masters, to safeguard against fire damage, to merchandise business by the colonialists, especially the pyramids of Kano, consisting of farm produce to be transported by rail and road to Lagos wharf for shipment to oversea countries. In the same vein, a Fire Station was established in Port-Harcourt in early fifties what has been the experience since the departure of the colonial government? Fire Service, in spite of their increase in number with State creation, has been relegated and not developed to march the astronomical growth in industrialization, urbanization, commercial activities, an influx of persons from rural areas to towns and cities, and consequential social activities.
The Fire Service, to date, still suffers from dearth of personnel, specialist training, appropriate fire fighting and rescue equipment, fire station in Local Government Areas, communication equipment, standardization, administrative care, and even water, which constitutes the major firefighting agent – as if God did not endow Nigeria with water resources. Therefore, what do we expect from the Fire Service? Since Firemen are not magicians, they cannot perform miracles to control fire.
From the eighties, we have been having upsurge of unsparing spates of devastating fires which, quantified in money terms, would run into trillions of Naira indirect and hidden costs to the national economy. What a terrible and disastrous waste to a nation aspiring to become one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Typical Examples of wreckages by fire, not stated in date order, are:
- Federal Ministry of Education in Lagos
- Republic – 9 Floor- building occupied by Federal Ministry of Defense; was pulled down due to severe structural damage by fire. Moreover, a life was lost to the fire outbreak
- 32 Floor Building on Marina in 1983; several occupants died and about a decade after, rehabilitation works were said to have amounted to about 2.2 billion Naira while rehabilitation was still in progress.
- Mandalas Building on Broad Street in Lagos
- General Post Office on Marina in Lagos
- Federal Ministry of Communication in Lagos
- Leventis Stores on Marina in Lagos
- Investment House on Broad Street in Lagos
- Lapal House at Igbosere in Lagos
- Multi-storey NEPA Building on Awolowo Road in Lagos
- High-rise Cocoa House Building at Ibadan in which 2 Principal Fire Officers died
- The colossal fire disaster in Aswani Textile Factory at Isolo, Lagos, which led to permanent closure and liquidation of the Factory that employed hundreds of people and serving millions of customers
- The fire disaster at Ikorodu Rubber Factory that killed 27 Factory workers
- Pipeline fires , some of which caused the loss of lives
- Road Tanker fires and explosions
- Market fires in Lagos, Ibadan, Akure, Benin, Onitsha, Aba, Enugu, Abakaliki, Kaduna, Kano, Sokoto, Bauchi, Jos, etc. Two firefighters were lost to Tejuoso market in Lagos
- NIDB MULTI-STOREY building was lost to fire in Lagos. To save the neighbours in its location from possible injuries and sudden death, in the likely event of a collapse structure badly weakened by the fire, the Lagos State Government stepped in to demolish the structure, which had become a death trap, with a colossal sum, which if invested in agriculture could provide some food sufficiency.
- Recently a former Head of State had his house torched by fire. It shows that fire does not respect anyone. Some Governors’ houses and offices also had suffered some fire damages
- Dana air crash in Lagos in which over 150 precious lives were lost showed our very poor level of ability to manage fire emergencies and crowd control
- The aircraft crash in Bayelsa in which a Governor and a former National Security Adviser died emphasizes the stand of Fire Protection Association of Nigeria of its recommendation for a minimum of three Fire Stations per Local Government.
Unfortunately, no lesson seems to have been learnt from the experiences so far.
Article written by
Dominic O. Aigbogun, founder and former Chairman BOT (1980-2013) Institute of Safety Professionals of Nigeria (ISPON) and Vice President Fire Protection Association of Nigeria
First published in Safety Record Newspaper in October 2013