Onitsha Fire Outbreak: Beyond Pity and Blames
By Ebuka Onyekwelu
The inferno, a tragedy of inestimable value, which nearly consumed the city of Onitsha after it razed for over 4 hours, with intense devastation and left nothing standing along its way. As I write this, it is almost 9.00 pm and I have been reliably informed that the fire is still very much on, though now under control. The very sad part is; this is not the first or second time such grievous tragedy is hitting Anambra within this year. I recall with clarity, the Amawbia incidence only a few months ago. It is sad beyond imaginable proportion. Howbeit that even in the face of terrifying tragedy, of death and utter devastation, yet with no lessons. No lessons strong enough to make us take action, to embrace prevention. To plan. To choose safety. It is as if each tragic episode meets us as unprepared as ever.
How can such a fire incidence burn in the centre of the city of Onitsha reputed as a commercial nerve center of Nigeria, without speedy and early intervention by fire fighters to contain the incidence? Even for hours, yet, fire fighters are nowhere near to near to control the fire. From Awka the Anambra state capital to Onitsha, is about 40 or 45 mins. So assuming fire fighters were not in Onitsha, but they started coming from Awka within the first hour, they will get to Onitsha within the first hour the fire started. Assuming fire fighters moved from Nnewi, from Nnewi to Upper Iweka is about 35 or 40 minutes. Therefore, they will get to Onitsha on time and needless to add that the devastating impact of the fire will not be this bad. Well, if no fire truck left fire station in Onitsha, Awka or Nnewi which are the three major cities in Anambra, with Onitsha and Nnewi leading the commercial activities in the state, it is clear that Anambra State fire service has no capacity to fight fire incidence. Perhaps, all the trucks are in bad shape or there is insufficient man power or there is no material or other fire fighting equipment to do the job. This being the case, the summary is that the fire service just cannot contain or control the fire.
Now again, Onitsha is home to hundreds of industries, small and medium industries, which produce and fabricate all manner of items ranging from mechanical tools to home appliances, among others.
So for these hours, no state fire fighters and not a single privately owned and maintained fire truck or fire officers, from one of those industries or mega filling stations, responded to the situation in good time. We can then conclude that no industry or fuel station in Onitsha and indeed, in Anambra state, has fire truck or capacity to fight or contain serious fire outbreak. Their industries are not even safe! Same also applies to the Onitsha markets. A whole main market Onitsha and Ochanja, don’t have fire fighting equipment? Meanwhile, these markets have goods worth billions of Naira. Can’t the leadership of these markets buy and maintain fire fighting equipment for their markets?
Well, since no private response came from both Nnewi, Nkpor which is a nearby city to Onitsha, with high industrial and commercial activity and also non came from Awka, then most definitely it is safe to conclude that all big and medium industries in Anambra into all kinds of production, including petroleum products among others, have no capacity to contain serious fire outbreak. Therefore, they are all in danger. Even the two Local Government Headquarters in Onitsha, have no fire fighting equipment. Both Onitsha North and Onitsha South Local Government have no fire fighting equipment and have no capacity to even safeguard their offices in case of fire outbreak.
Are we really serious at all? Is fire disaster a natural occurrence? Is fire outbreak a hopeless disaster beyond control?
Like many cases in Nigeria, right inside the bank accounts of some human beings are the monies budgeted for the purchase of fire fighting trucks and other fire fighting equipment. Now, we go about with our safety left totally to chance.
That Anambra state cannot contain any fire outbreak is an unblemished fact. What else? We blame the government and go to bed. Give it time and we have completely forgotten. But why not? Can’t industries keep and maintain safety best practice of having functional fire fighting equipment standby? Can’t markets do same? But it is convenient for us to blame the government. Then we go home and continue again. Then suddenly, it happens again and huge investments and human lives are lost. We repeat the cycle, while we conveniently keep the pity and blames going, but do absolutely nothing. Merely whining, grumbling, waiting for yet another fire outbreak so that we will be angry and repeat the foolery.
Well, may the soul of the departed rest in peace.
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