Olakunle Olafioye (Lagos), Jeff Amechi Agbodo (Onitsha) , Obinna Odogwu, (Awka), Paul Osuyi, (Asaba) and Clement Adeyi (Osogbo)
Thirty-five fire outbreaks in Osun State within the space of one week and 21 similar incidents in Lagos State between Friday, January 24 and Saturday 25, 2020 are a grim statistics of fire disasters Nigerians have had to contend with in the last few weeks with their attendant loss of lives, property and means of livelihood.
Although there may not be adequate statistical evidence to support their claim, victims and analysts said that more poor and homeless people have been made in the country as a result of the overwhelming fire outbreaks that have rocked some states in the country in the last few weeks.
In Lagos, since November 2019 fire disaster has occurred on almost a weekly basis, leaving tears and destructions in its wake. Many residents of the state were startled by the figure of fire incidents released by the acting Head of Lagos State Fire Service, Mrs Margaret Abimbola Adeseye, within a period of 48 hours in the penultimate weekend.
A statement signed by the spokesperson of the state Fire Service, Dosunmu Jamiu, quoted the acting head of the service to have said that a total of 21 fire incidents were recorded across the state between Friday, January 24 and Saturday, January 25, 2019
According to the statement, “after attending to eight fire incidents last Friday, Saturday began with barrage of fire calls numbering 13 as at 2031hrs as Amu Wood Market is on damping down of fire rubbles.
Reeling out the figure of these unfortunate disasters, the statement revealed: “A building was on fire at 25, Inabiri Street in Lagos Island while at 1326hrs, another building was on fire at New Garage area of Ojota, Lagos which was attended to by the Alausa Fire Station”.
The statement further revealed that Lighter Terminal 1 at Coconut Bus Stop, Olodi Apapa, Lagos also went up in flames as at 1314hrs just an hour before the fire that raged Elepe dump site, Elepe bus stop along ljede in lkorodu and a bush fire at Magodo Phase 1, Lagos which was attended to by Alausa Fire Station.
“Just as the firemen put out fire in these places, another building was reported to be on fire at 1655hrs at Kulanla Road, Odomola Epe and was attended by Epe Fire Station.
“Pent House of a five-storey building at 35/37 Martins Street, Balogun, Lagos was gutted by fire and extinguished in record time while at 1725hrs another bush fire at MRS Filling Station, Alapere Expressway, Ketu, Lagos was reported and attended to by the Alausa Fire Station.
“As at 1805hrs, the control room got another fire call at Adekunle Banjo street, Shangisha in Magodo area of Lagos and was quickly attended to by the Alausa Fire Station.
“A bush fire along International Airport which made the fire calls 10 was reported at 2000hrs and was attended by the Isolo Fire Station.
“Three other fire incidents were recorded at a building at Road 56, Victoria Garden City, Lekki, Lagos; Oju Emure Street, Odogunyan, Ikorodu and beside Lord Chosen Church, Odofin Park Estate, Amuwo Odofin, all of which were attended to by the nearest fire stations at 2004hrs, 2019hrs and 2031hrs respectively,” the statement added.
Between Saturday, January 25 to and Friday, January 31, Lagos State recorded a few other fire incidents, including the Balogun Market inferno which razed five buildings while two other buildings collapsed from the effect of the fire. The market, one of the biggest and busiest in the state, had suffered similar fate on September 5, 2019.
Aside from these, Lagos State had equally experienced two major fire incidents occasioned by the activities oil thieves who tampered with oil pipelines in Abule-Egba and Idimu areas of the state.
In the Southeast zone, Anambra State recorded the highest fire disasters between the months of November and January, with Onitsha, a commercial nerve centre and its environs, being the worst hit in the state.
Just like Lagos, analysts say fire outbreaks in the state is almost becoming a daily occurrence as markets, residential buildings, fuel-laden tankers were razed.
Onitsha had witnessed a major fire incident on October 16, 2019 when a tanker laden with fuel fell at Upper Iweka and spilled its contents. The content flowed through drainages to Ochanja Market where seven persons were burnt to death, including a pregnant woman and her baby. Also destroyed by the fire were six plazas, 100 shops and residential houses valued at about N1 billion.
Two days after fuel tanker wreaked havoc in Upper Iweka/Ochanja Market Onitsha, another fuel tanker fell and razed several buildings and about 30 vehicles in Omagba phase II area of Onitsha. Reports claimed that the ill-fated tanker lost control along Enugu-Onitsha expressway by Chukwudi bus stop, Onitsha, where it fell, exploded and spilled its content with fire lashing through the drainages in the area to residential houses and the nearby mechanic workshops, burning vehicle and houses estimated to be over N800 million.
On December 23, 2019 goods worth millions of naira were gutted by fire at the yam, hotel, carpentry and foam sections of Bridgehead market, Onitsha.
The fire was said to have sparked off at about 8:30 a.m, and raged for about an hour before the traders themselves controlled it. Some of the goods destroyed by the inferno in about 40 shops were tubers of yam, wooden doors and chairs, assorted sizes of foam, saw machines and many crates of soft drinks.
On January 5, 2020 another fire outbreak burnt a school hostel at Patterson Memorial Grammar School, Awada, burning a student, Chigozie Dim Anyichie, an 11-year-old JSS 1 student, to death.
On January 11, 2020 a trader at old spare parts market (Mgbuka), Awada Obosi, reportedly slumped and was rushed to a hospital where he was confirmed dead as fire engulfed the market.
According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), a total of 672 traders were affected by the fire disaster. An official of NEMA in the Southeast Zonal office of the agency in Enugu, Mr Kingsley Okoro, disclosed this during a joint assessment visit to the scene of the fire disaster by the agency with the Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA).
“After our assessment, we ascertained that a total of 672 traders including 647 males, and 25 females were directly affected by the fire outbreak of January 11 at Auto Spare Parts Market, Obosi.
“The magnitude of the damage recorded by these traders is indeed colossal, we sympathize with the traders and pray God to give them the heart to bear the losses, while waiting for government’s intervention”, he said.
In Delta State, no fewer than 32 fire outbreaks have been recorded in Asaba, the capital of Delta State since last December. Director of the state fire service, Mr Eugene Oziwele, who disclosed this to Sunday Sun on phone, however, said that he could not state the number of fire outbreaks across the state as he needed to be exact.
Notwithstanding, however, the most devastating of the recent incidents in the state capital was the midnight fire that gutted the popular timber market behind Chiedu Okoh Plaza, along the Onitsha-Asaba expressway. The fire which occurred on December 28, 2019, according to an eye-witness, started from a cold room behind the timber market and destroyed goods valued at over N60 million.
The incident reportedly caught most shop owners unawares as they had travelled for the Yuletide. An eyewitness, Mr Chukwuma Opiah, who narrated the incident, said that he was coming back home around 9:00p.m in the night when he saw the fire.
He attributed the fire incident to an electric spark which started from a cold room in the market inferno. But another account attributed the inferno to a spark from a nearby electric pole, which reportedly set fire on the sawdust at the market.
In Osun, fire outbreaks seem to have become a reocurring decimal since the beginning of the harmattan season as it has occurred in different parts of the state, including Osogbo, the state capital, leaving tales of anguish and sorrow on its trail. Though no loss of life has been recorded in these deadly incidents, victims of the disasters said they lost property worth millions of naira with many finding it difficult to recover from their losses.
Isaac Adejobi, the operation commandant, Federal Fire Service, Osun State Command, said that the state witnessed over 30 cases of fire outbreaks within one week in the month of January.
At a popular shopping plaza, CTUS Today Home Nigeria Limited, located at Station Road, Osogbo, a fire outbreak wreaked havoc, with attendant loss of goods worth millions of naira.
The fire was said to have started at about 10:45 a.m and gutted the four-storey building. No casualty was, however, recorded.
In Ilesa, a similar outbreak occurred at QB2 Ten-Ten Line, in Idasa area. One of the victims, Vincent Orichi, said that though no casualty was recorded, all the property in the building were completely razed.
Another fire incident, which occurred at Dada Estate in Osogbo, razed part of a Christ Apostolic Church, District Headquarters in the area.
If any lesson is to be learnt from these fire incidents, it is the failure of both the citizens and the governments to prevent and prepare for these unexpected disasters.
Many residents are quick to heap the blame on firefighters for their alleged late responses to outbreaks and lack or inadequate preparations to combat the fire.
For instance, the majority of the traders affected by the fire, which ravaged Amu Timber Market penultimate weekend blamed the failure of the fire service to arrive at the scene on time.
“The firefighters came very late and when they arrived it was evident that they didn’t prepare for the magnitude of the fire. Our government has failed in its major responsibility of protecting lives and property. Machinery for emergency situations such as this ought to be made battle ready. But from what played out here today, you could see that the level of preparedness of the firefighters in Nigeria is far below what it ought to be,” one of the victims of the Mushin fire incident, who identified himself as Ahmed Fabiyi, lamented.
The government on the other hand has always fired back that the failure by most Nigerians to adhere to simple security tips is the root cause of most of the fire outbreaks.
The Director of Osun State Fire Service, Michael Ogundipe, attributed the upsurge in fire incidents to the storage of combustible materials, high electricity voltage, bush burning, saw dust and saw miller burning.
He pointed out that two of the three elements that aid fire are normally present during harmattan period.
“The likely causes of the fire outbreak during this period are air, combustible materials, high voltage of electricity, bush burning and saw millers burning sawdust. When all these are not properly managed or looked after, it can lead to fire outbreak,” he said.
He also blamed the attendant loss of lives and property on ignorance and carelessness of the people, saying that the majority of the victims of the recent fire outbreaks lacked basic first aid equipment at home.
According to him, “the losses are due to the ignorance and carelessness of people. People ought to have some first aid equipment such as fire extinguisher, which would help to minimise or put out the fire before the arrival of the fire service. But as it is, I don’t think many households have such equipment which is cheap and affordable. Once they get it and know how to use it, it will help to reduce the intensity of the fire when there is an outbreak”.
Alhaji Dogara Dalhatu, Chief Fire Officer, Nasarawa State, also urged Nigerians against indiscriminate storage of combustible items especially during the harmattan season.
According to him, “people must refrain from the habit of storing petroleum products indiscriminately; they should desist from the habit of careless disposal of cigarette stubs, adulterated fuel and illegal electrical connections. The use of sub-standard cables must be stopped. They must take precautions against power surge”.
With flurry of fire incidents across the country, findings by Sunday Sun indicated some state governments have stepped up efforts to mitigate or guard against future occurrences.
In Osun State, for example, the state government is said to have constructed new fire stations across the state, according to the Director of State Fire Services, and equipped the first among them with relevant equipment such as hosepipes, ankle boots, firefighting coats and 16 fire trucks.
In Nassarawa, Sunday Sun gathered that the state government is already working on the insurance of fire fighters in the state in order to boost their morale in discharging their duties.
The Lagos State governor, Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu, during a recent visit to victims of pipeline fire in the state promised to meet with the management of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to discuss the issue of compensation for victims of recent pipeline fire and also to discuss measures to be taken in finding lasting solutions to pipeline vandalism in the state.
In Anambra State, Sunday Sun gathered that Governor Willie Obiano, immediately after the October 16, 2019 fuel tanker disaster in the state, procured state-of-art fire fighting trucks to all the markets in the state, as well as placed some at strategic places in the state in order to combat fire outbreaks.
On December 16, 2019, the governor also reportedly donated over 20 operational vehicles to the state Fire Service in order to enhance their operations and meet up with emergency calls.
In addition to these, the Anambra State government, in order to assist victims of fire disasters, on November 20, 2019, disbursed over N100 million to the victims of the Onitsha Ochanja market fuel tanker disaster.
Governor Obiano, who disbursed the cheque at governor’s lodge Awka said that six people lost their lives, 10 people were injured while about 763 people lost their wares, shops and plazas to the fire.
According to the governor, the families of six deceased people got the sum of N1 million each while the 10 injured persons got the sum of N500, 000 each. Other victims of the incident got the sum of N100, 000 each.
The governor, however, noted that the gesture was aimed at supporting them in a little way and not full compensation for their losses.
But as laudable as these efforts are, not a few would agree that the flurry of fire outbreaks in the country in the last few weeks, have further deepened the woes of many Nigerians, particularly victims of these unfortunate disasters and their relatives.