It’s no longer news that the 3 – Storey Multi-million naira Ebeano Supermarket facility in Lokogoma Abuja was completely razed down by fire in the third weekend of July 2021. The damage is already done and the owners are counting their losses.
What we should concern ourselves with now is X-raying the factors that allowed this unfortunate incident to successfully happen in the capital city of Nigeria so that we can together move towards preventing a reoccurrence in the FCT in particular and Nigeria in general.
After every fire disaster in Nigeria, the Fire Service is usually made the scape goat by angry Nigerians. But those who know the dynamics of fire safety systems know that every fire disaster in Nigeria always expose our culture of shoddy preparedness for disasters and our appalling and apparent lack of sincere commitment to sustainable development.
Promoting fire safety is a whole gamut of systems that stand on a tripod. The first leg of the tripod consists property owners / managers. This includes commercial or public facilities like supermarkets, schools, private or public offices, churches etc. It also includes private properties like residences or blocks of flats. It is the responsibility of property owners and managers to provide basic fire detection gadgets like smoke detectors and fire combating items like fire blankets and fire extinguishers in their properties. Where there is availability of public water supply, fire safety conscious property owners can go the additional mile of providing fire hydrants to assist fire fighters.
The second leg of the tripod is the Fire Service. The Fire Service has the regulatory mandate to drive the process of ensuring that every commercial or private property follow this basic codes of fire prevention. Their duty includes inspection of properties or facilities, monitoring and enforcement of fire safety rules compliance. This aspect of the role of the Fire Service is still at its embryo stage in Nigeria. Most Fire Service outposts in the country do just little in fulfilling this all important duty because of poor leadership and inadequate manpower.
This duty is an income earner for the Fire Service and the revenue generated from performing this role well could help to equip the service even much better, train the staff more and improve the emoluments. Better equipment, capacity development and inspiring emoluments will significantly boost the morale of the officers and encourage them to give their best in combating fires.
The third leg of the tripod is the government. In this tripod of fire safety systems, the leg of the government is the most important of all.
It is government that appoints the head of the Fire Service. It is government that appoints the minister that oversees the fire service. It is the government that builds fire stations. It is government that oversees public water scheme expansion programs. It is government that constructs roads that ought to include provision of fire hydrants in every community. Availability of fire hydrants reduces the distance the Fire engines will cover to refill whenever they run out of water.
The leg of government was completely missing in the efforts to combat the Ebeano fire incident and is the reason the building was completely lost to the inferno.
Let us look at road infrastructure for example. All the Fire engines that came from the National Judicial Institute, Garki, Asokoro at one point or the other had to travel on the 200 million naira Gudu to Lokogoma road constructed by Prince Ebeano himself. The road which is a continuation of the Ahmadu Bello Way has been allegedly budgeted for and it’s construction was even flagged off once by former President Goodluck Jonathan. The road was never done until Prince Ebeano constructed it in 2018 as his Supermarket’s Community Social Responsibility.
The fire station for Lokogoma is less than two minutes from Ebeano Supermarket but the fire station only exists on paper. The Lokogoma community is about 13 years old now and government has not thought it necessary yet to build the fire station that will serve the fledging community of Lokogoma, Kaura, Duboyi, Damangaza, Apo Dutse, Gudu, Dakwo and so on.
The Fire Service may not have arrived at the Ebeano Supermarket as quickly as most people wanted because of the Nigerian factor, but when they arrived, they had enough engines to do the work. The only thing they didn’t have in abundance was water. There is no public water in over a third of Abuja city. From the Apo Resettlement axis for example, laying of pipe to extend water to Kabusa junction, Waru and Lokogoma all the way to Sunnyvale and Sun City axis has been on for nearly a decade. The project moves at the speed of a snail and if the pace of work is anything to go bye, the project may take another ten years to complete. The fire engines / tankers have to go far away to refill whenever their water is exhausted. This is unacceptable for a city like Abuja.
The very slow, sluggish and mediocre strategy of development in the FCT is apparent to the discerning. It is bringing needless pain to people and investors in worrisome ways. Incidents like the Ebeano Supermarket inferno only bring our many failures in management and leadership to light again to jostle the administration to action. It’s time to accelerate Abuja’s development and build an awesome model for other states to copy. Abuja should be the Centre of Redifining Excellence in Africa. Nothing less is acceptable.
Olarewaju Osho lives in Abuja, FCT. He is an apostle of innovative development in Nigeria.