I was part of a panel of discussants on NTA’s GOOD MORNING NIGERIA on the above topic last Wednesday. Many people, for good reasons, have a negative impression of the firefighting services in Nigeria: dilapidated buildings, old and broken down vehicles, poor response time, non-functioning telephone lines, inadequate firefighting equipment, arriving at fire scenes with empty trucks or inadequate water, etc. Of recent, the federal and some state governments have spent some money to upgrade and equip the fire service; but it’s like a drop in the ocean. The deficiency and amount of ground still left to cover is enormous.
During the programme, a former head of the Fire Service revealed that there were less than 200 fire stations in Nigeria when he retired from service. Considering the fact that fire stations are located mainly in urban centres in Nigeria, as many as 600 of the 774 local governments in Nigeria might just be without fire stations, a deduction made by one of the co-presenters, Kingsley Osadolor!
Osadolor also drew the attention of the fire service to situations where fire trucks arrive fire scenes without water. The fire service personnel countered the claim, which I had also made earlier. They said it is a grievous and punishable offence and no right-thinking fireman would do that. But I witnessed one of such incidents. A building belonging to a famous fashion house was on fire. The residents of the estate mobilised and contained the fire with fire extinguishers and water before the state fire service arrived. One of the firemen, who accompanied the truck, said they had no water and were expecting to fill the truck in the estate. Thankfully, we had put out the fire, although we lost a security guard, who had fire burns, a few days later.
Other reasons for the below par performance of the fire service, according to the panellists from the fire service, include inadequate manpower, obsolete equipment, uncooperative road users who refuse to give way to fire service trucks even with siren blaring, inadequate number of fire stations, underfunding among others. All these are true, but if you ask me, I will add lack of professionalism among firemen.
The conclusion I drew from the interaction is that the Nigerian fire service is far from ready and capable of performing its duties optimally and the evidence is all over. In the last one month there were fires in Ochanja Market in Onitsha, Santana Market in Benin, Balogun Market in Lagos, GSM Market in Maiduguri and another market in Ughelli, Delta State. An efficient fire service would have done better in all these markets. Now that the fire service in Nigeria is not yet up to the task, what do we do? To start with, Nigerians have to take fire prevention more serious. Many markets in Nigeria are disorganised. The electrical wirings are just as disorganised and chaotic. I have been to markets where my heart was in my mouth because of the chaotic and hazardous wirings.
Two, many markets have epileptic power supply. What it means is that traders resort to generators for electricity supply a lot of the time. In a typical Nigerian market, there is cacophony from 100s of generators when there is no public power supply. Most of the generators have petrol engines. Some of the traders also store petrol in cans in their shops. This increases the risk of fire in many Nigerian markets. A solution to this might be for traders to come together under the leadership of their unions and buy big diesel-powered generators for general use.
Three, all shops should have functional fire extinguishers. This should be mandatory for all traders and their unions and relevant government officials should enforce it. Some of the market fires could have been nipped in the bud. The last Onitsha market fire started from a petrol tanker explosion. Fire extinguishers of traders would have been useless. It was a purely fire service task. But there are also other fires that start from electrical appliances or as a result of power surge, like GSM Market fire in Maiduguri. Such fires can be put out with fire extinguishers if noticed early and localised to the source of origin.
Homes and offices should also have fire extinguishers. We have used fire extinguishers to put out fire at least three times in the office and once at home. Without the fire extinguishers, the story would have been different. As I also mentioned earlier, we used individual fire extinguishers to prevent a building in our estate from being razed. I was the first to get there with my fire extinguishers before others joined me. Without our efforts, that building would have been razed before the fire truck arrived without water.
Four, we should take up fire and special perils insurance for our homes and offices. Sometimes, as in the Onitsha market fire, you are helpless even with a fire extinguisher. Sometimes people also leave their homes and fire starts in their absence. By the time they get back, their abodes are reduced to ashes. Valuable household items are lost. Without an insurance, you will be faced with a huge expenditure running into millions to rebuild your home and replace lost items. But if you have fire insurance, your headache is reduced. If your sum insured was adequate, then you get adequate compensation to replace lost items. With payment of additional premium, you can even extend your policy to cover cost of temporary accommodation while your house is being rebuilt or renovated.
I have said it previously, the premium for fire insurance is pretty low. Depending on the value of your building, the premium can be as low as N20,000 per annum. Another N15,000 might just take care of contents, excluding luxury items like expensive jewellery and wristwatches, which are also insurable.
Finally, I have advocated for fire and special perils insurance to be made compulsory for all markets in Nigeria in the past. I repeated the suggestion during the television programme on Wednesday and I am reiterating it here again. The losses from fires in markets are too much and no serious government should allow such an ugly trend to go on. The federal and state governments should enact the law as soon as possible. When these fires occur, the government has no money to help the traders get back on their feet, but insurance does. The least government can do for the traders is to ensure they embrace alternative sources for restoration in the event of fires.
But while, we are waiting for the government’s enabling law, traders should help themselves by coming together to insure their wares and markets. Some traders are already doing that. Others should join. Talk to a Registered Insurance Broker today.