It is regrettable that the recent fire tragedy in Onitsha, Anambra State, torched many shops, buildings, goods and vehicles. It also left six people dead and several others injured. The incident was reportedly triggered when a tanker laden with petrol (Premium Motor Spirit) lost control along Upper Iweka Road, and spilled its highly inflammable content, which led to explosion. There is no doubt that the human and material losses caused by the inferno cannot be quantified. According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), about 2,000 traders suffered huge losses in the fire disaster.
The unfortunate incident has, once again, exposed our seeming lack of emergency preparedness. Sadly, the Anambra State Fire Service was caught unawares and not much was done to prevent the fire from escalating. Unfortunately, the Fire Service unit from Asaba, Delta State, could not be allowed to reach the scene of the tragedy. In other climes, such a fire could have been contained before more harm was done.
The incident has clearly underscored our poor response to emergency situations. Though natural disasters are not new in Nigeria, it is baffling that we are still struggling to cope with them whenever they occur. While we admit that the disasters, whether man-made or natural, almost always occur inadvertently, or as part of providential order of things, it is disheartening to note that the response level has remained abysmally low and unimpressive. It is also noteworthy that President Muhammadu Buhari has commiserated with the victims of the inferno and assured them of proactive measures to forestall such incidents in future.
We suggest that the bureaucratic bottlenecks that militate against the adequate equipment of these agencies must be removed while intensive training and retraining of fire fighters are instituted and sustained. Apart from these reforms, there is need for NEMA’s cooperation with similar agencies in the states as well as international relief agencies. It is lamentable that Nigerians still suffer so much from fire disasters. Lagos, Anambra and Abia states alone, had recorded major market fires and a number of house fires, which led to loss of life and property estimated at billions of Naira.
The federal and state governments must rise to the challenge by ensuring that their emergency agencies are adequately equipped. With a relatively weak economy, under-protected and expansive environment, the country is highly vulnerable to disasters. We urge Nigerians to put measures in place against fire disasters. The ever-growing population of the country has placed more people and communities at risk of fire outbreaks and the effects are usually devastating because of clusters of human settlements.
Therefore, NEMA should move from post-disaster management and dwell more on mitigation and prevention of fire disasters. Although its mandate when it came into being in 1999 encompasses a broad range of mitigation and prevention issues, they have been observed more in the breach. There is an urgent need to enlighten the public on fire disaster prevention and management as well as monitor the state of preparedness of all disaster management agencies in the country.
As a first step, functional Fire Service stations should be located within the precincts of markets and other public places. We enjoin Nigerians to embrace the culture of insuring their investments and property against such unforeseen incidents. We commiserate with the victims of the fire disaster and urge them to bear their losses with equanimity. While wishing the injured quick recovery, we also condole with those that lost their loved ones in the inferno and ask God to give them the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.
While it is commendable that the Government of Anambra State has made elaborate plans to compensate those affected by the disaster, we urge it to do so as soon as possible in order to cushion the effects of the incident. Above all, it should provide Onitsha and other markets in the state with efficient fire service equipment.