FOR PROTECTION OF NATIONAL ECONOMY
In the last edition, the highlight on the past efforts of the Fire Protection Association of Nigeria was rested on their recommendation that fire safety responsibility is extended to the Local Government. The responsibility for fire prevention and control was said to be that of the state fire services. It was also included in the resolutions that the developments and advancements, each state service should decentralize in order to ensure uniformity and efficiency in fire service training and service delivery throughout the nation.
Still, on the relevance, we consider further on local govt., fire service fund, objective, efforts, etc.
- If by law every corporate organization is obliged to secure the safety of its employees, each Local Government, by the implication of being an arm of government, cannot escape its obligation to protect the citizens and legal entities within its area of governance. A good example of this can be found in the GUARDIAN, Wednesday, October 16, 2013, which showed a fire station on page 16 being built by Ejigbo Local Council Development Area in Lagos State. In a chat with journalists, the Council Chairman, Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan, explained that the sad experience associated with past fire incidents in the council area, at which there were late arrival of Fire Service to the scenes of fire incidents, because of the distance they had to cover and the unremitting traffic bottleneck, necessitated the provision of the Fire Station situated at the frontage of the Council Secretariat. The Station, as reported, consists of five restrooms, fire call office and two offices for Fire Officers. The project was being financed solely by the Local Government and was planned for commissioning at the end of the year. This is a step in the right direction which should be replicated in every other Local Government, throughout the States and the FCT.
- It is also of interest and relevant to inform of an indication that in Cross River State, each Local Government was subscribing N50, 000.00 (Fifty thousand naira) monthly to Fire Service Fund. Even though a small amount, it is highly commendable and promising. In a State of seventeen Local Governments, the total sum per month would amount to N850, 000.00 and N10, 200,000.00 per annum.
- If the 774 Local Governments of the Federation, were each subscribing the same monthly subscription, they would generate per annum, a sum of 774 x 50,000 x 12 which would equal a total sum of N464, 400,000.00 without the input of FCT, the State Governments and subvention from the Federal Government. This modest monthly subscription, if subscribed by each Local Council, will, at, 10 million Naira (N10, 000,000,.00) per a Fire Station structure, provide 46 Fire Stations yearly in the Federation.
FIRE SERVICE FUND:
There is no reason why, if there is the political will, each Local Government cannot subscribe a minimum of N500, 000.00 (five hundred thousand naira) monthly. This would amount to N6, 000,000 (six million naira) per annum.
Thus, the 774 Local Governments, excluding FCT and its Counties would generate a sum of N4,644,000,000.00 (four billion six hundred and forty-four million naira) per annum, which could build 464 fire stations in one year, at 10 million per fire station. With budgetary allocations from the State Governments, the FCT and subvention from the Federal government, the foregoing figure can be doubled to provide 924 fire station structures in one year. On completion of a period of four years, a total number of 3,696 fire stations would have been built through the collective responsibility of our republic three-tier government system. By this concept, a fire prevention and control coverage by 4 fire stations, strategically sited in each Local Government, is attainable in 4 years.
In subsequent articles, as we go on, the rationale for the minimum of four fire stations in each Local Government Area and further details of funding modes will be discussed. Additionally, we expect a healthy exchange of ideas on individual responsibilities of corporate bodies and other individuals that will meet the nature of collective responsibility in fire safety for citizens and corporate organizations generally.
OBJECTIVE PURSUANCE OF FIRE SERVICE REFORM
In a follow-up effort to achieve one of the objectives of Fire Protection Association of Nigeria (FPAN) a delegation led by the immediate past president of the Association, Mr Yinka Lijadu (ON), accompanied by Dr. Ogbogoh, Director of Federal Fire Service, now retired, attended the Public hearing organized by the Senate, during the first attempt by the National Assembly to review the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
All that was, FPAN restructuring crusade, to improve the lots of Fire Service practice in Nigeria. Late Senator (Dr.) Dosunmu of Lagos State, stood- in for the Chairman of the Constitution Review Committee on that day.
When the FPAN desires could not be achieved through constitution review, the Political Reform Committee that was set up by former President Obasanjo was approached with the FPAN conference resolutions on recommended reforms in fire service formations. Happily, the Committee reasoned with the submissions of Fire Protection Association of Nigeria and thus made recommendations in line with those of FPAN to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There were indications that the Federal Government accepted the Committee’s recommendations when the Federal Fire Service moved to hand over their stations and personnel in Lagos to the Lagos State Fire Service and the FCT Fire Service moved to take over the Federal Fire Service Stations in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
Unfortunately, hurdles in the handing /taking over process stopped the implementation. What were the hurdles?
SERVICE STATUS: Federal Fire Service is on paramilitary conditions of service, while Lagos State Fire Service is on civil service conditions. There was, therefore, some disparities in:
(b) Ranking and on some other conditions, which for lack of patience and understanding, there was adherence to ‘’what we have we hold’’ and even a court action to stop the implementation, without considering the overriding latent benefits in the reforms.
Sadly, when Lagos State Government reconsidered the scheme and was ready to take over the Federal Fire Service Stations and their personnel in Lagos State, there was a rebuff of the reform which would have placed the Federal Fire Service at the apex of fire service administration in the country, as a regulatory body. A reform that will lead to:
- Attainment of uniform service conditions;
- Standard training curriculum and facilities;
- Standard uniforms and ranking;
- Uniform command structure;
- Standard communication facilities;
- Easy acquisition of appropriate fire equipment by each State in the Federation;
- Good understanding and acceptance of the vitally required collective responsibility by the three tiers of Government, on funding, which will give our Fire Services the much-needed ability to secure the national economy;
- Elimination of distractive/destructive political influence in fire service administration;
- Patriotic acceptance of the training available in Federal Government established Training Schools and the Fire Service Academy sited at Abuja, by the States who can afford to partner with an international or foreign organization, to establish an internationally acceptable training school for their Fire Services. Here lies the essence of collective responsibility that is, in fact, obligatory in fire safety. Where ever a hamlet is burnt in this country, it has an adverse effect on the national economy.
COMMENDABLE FEDERAL FIRE SERVICE EFFORTS
The Controller General of the Federal Fire Service, following the footsteps of his predecessor, laboured diligently to produce, with the consent of stakeholders, the national fire safety code which led to the inauguration of the present Council on Fire; aimed at correlating services of Government established public fire services for attainment of a uniform standard. Unfortunately, it has been ineffective due to lack of collaboration and legal backing; which collective responsibility by the Governments in the Federation could have engendered, to enforce the collaboration required in the running of the Council.
Similarly, the Federal Fire Service, wanting to be an active public fire fighting force can only be a case of the more, the merrier in the Country’s fire prevention efforts. The Fire Protection Association of Nigeria is happy about this development, as it serves the purpose of one of its wishes that Government Ministries and large Departments should, like Agencies, have fire prevention units manned by professional fire officers and men. In this vein, the Federal Fire Service is most welcome in every State of the Federation, to protect especially Federal Secretariats, Ministries and Offices in each State and the FCT, and of course, lend a helping hand to the STATES and FCT Fire Services. For the Federal Fire Service to also serve, as a regulatory body, is to introduce conflicts into the command structure of a paramilitary service, which will weaken disciplinary control and efficiency. The Federal Fire Service must in the way they are going subject its own practices to investigation and regulation by a neutral body; just as the Federal and State Governments’ owned Universities, together with private Universities, are under the regulatory authority of the Universities’ Commission. This may seem a sore point to some of the Officers who are only looking inward and would not peep outside their present sphere of authority to see the numerous advantages in being or having a neutral regulatory body in a three-tier government system. Self –regulation breeds arrogance, ineptitude, stagnancy, frustration, and lack of foresight in a transient world, in which everything is like a stage-play.
To cultivate a vibrant and efficient fire service throughout the length and breadth of Nigeria, there must be a stance of collective responsibility by all, especially the three tiers of Governments, in our presidential system of governance. There is a lot of lessons to learn from the United Kingdom, the colonial master, whose administration formed the baseline of administration in Nigeria. Their Fire Services which look the same in uniform, ranks, command, training, and administrative structures are establishments of County Councils and Boroughs, equivalent to our Local Governments. Because they relate to what was called the Home Office, which I think has transformed into the Ministry of Interior.
- A common Association and training curriculum
- It allowed for competitiveness in innovations and creativity, streamlined and harmonized by regulations which made them, in my opinion, THE BEST IN THE WORLD.
FIRE SERVICE REFORMATION
The Honorable Minister of Interior, by his wisdom, recently set up a committee to look into Fire Service restructuring. The committee was chaired by Professor Femi Odekunle – a renounced Professor of Criminology. The committee included another seasoned Professor of criminology, Prof. Etannibi Alemika, of the University of Jos; Mr Remi Olowude, OON, President of Fire Protection Association of Nigeria, represented by Mr D. O. Aigbogun, FNISP, Vice President of Fire Protection Association of Nigeria; Engr. (Dr.) Fidelis Ogbogoh, immediate past Controller General, Federal Fire Service; and other eminent personalities. The committee saw through the veil of illusions and while it agreed that the Federal Fire Service can run like a fire fighting agency, together with the States Fire Services, it strongly recommended for the establishment of FIRE SERVICE COMMISSION to regulate all government established fire services, including the Federal Fire Service. This is the way to go for the good of the whole and to promote firefighting professionalism in the Country. By this, all the Fire Services, regulated by the Fire Service Commission, will have:
- The same paramilitary conditions of service. Fire Service naturally has a command structure and is, therefore, a paramilitary service that should have paramilitary conditions of service, if real efficiency is expected of the Service for effective fire prevention and control. This is the stand of Fire Protection Association of Nigeria.
- Uniform operational procedures, kits, and training standard, as it exists in every regulated service. The thoughtless cry for unification by the operatives of the Fire Services in the Country is due to a disparity in conditions of service and frustrations in fire service operations in many States Fire Services in the Country. Unification of Fire Services in a Presidential Government system will kill innovative and creative ideas that can be generated at a State level, which a regulatory body can tap into and encourage the other States to replicate for uniformity. Wisdom cannot be an exclusive preserve of the Head of a unified Fire Service.
The apparent acceptance of the leadership of Engr. Okebiorun, Controller General of Federal Fire Service, by many States Fire Service Directors, places him in a unique position to head and kick start the recommended Fire Service Commission. Together with a number of attested States’ Directors and his core lieutenants in the Federal Fire Service, a dynamic Commission will be put in place. The Federal Fire Service may thus be headed by an Officer on a grade-appropriate for his responsibility.
Unification being taunted by the operatives in the States Fire Services will expose the service to undue political influence, discriminatory discretion, and will weaken patriotism, discipline, and efficiency, to the detriment of the national economy and life safety.
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