Fast Fire Outbreaks, Slow Emergency Response


View of the Ebute-Metta plank market fire captured from Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos

View of the Ebute-Metta plank market fire captured from Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos

IT’S been a fiery start to 2013 across the country and like most events taking precedent in Lagos State, the fury of fire, which rocked the Centre of Excellence in the last few days of last year is spreading like wild harmattan fire across the country.

From the incidents at the international wing of Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos to NAFDAC’s laboratory test centre at Oshodi and the Boxing Day explosion at Jankara Market, it is becoming one too many leaving in its wake deaths and destruction.

It has often been described as the greatest servant but the worst master difficult to control when it turns into a conflagration, burning and destroying everything in its path.

And in the rage of its fury, it has no respect for anyone, not even the monarchy. A raging inferno, which started in the early hours of Wednesday and lasted three hours, razed the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi III, destroying 21 rooms and almost wiping out all the historical relics and artifacts in the palace.
The ‘god of fire’ as if angry at the nation, also visited ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo’s Hilltop mansion in Abeokuta. Though the billow of thick smoke enveloped the area and rose high into the sky, the former president described the incident as minor, but said if not for providence that made the fire to occur in the daytime and not at night, he would have suffocated to death and become history.

On New Year’s day, fire destroyed five houses near the Ikoku spare-parts market in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State. According to witnesses, the fire started at about 10am at the dumpsite of the market in Gambia Street, Port Harcourt. The fire destroyed disused cars and other spare parts at the site and later spread to surrounding buildings.

Last Friday at the Mbiama, East-West road, Port Harcourt, two people were killed with 10 others injured among many other houses and vehicles burnt when a tanker fire fell on its side and spilled its content on the road before it gutted fire.

The first reported incident in Lagos this year was on Monday, January 7 when fire razed three buildings at Ajegunle in Olodi-Apapa area of the state. The buildings, which housed a pharmacy store, boutique, transport equipment, electronic shop and a supermarket were razed after a suspected power surge from a shop in one of the buildings sparked the fire.
Just when the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA) was deploying its earth-moving equipment from Jankara market, Idumota to the scene of the incident, an early evening fire gutted the biggest plank market in Ebute-Metta on Tuesday, resulting to the loss of goods worth several millions of Naira, 50 makeshift houses and the displacement of over 3,000 Lagosians.

Balls of fire and thick smoke coming from the scene could be seen from major parts of the state, while men of the Lagos State Fire Service made frantic efforts to put out the fire. According to sources who suspect an electrical fault, the fire started from one of the shops and immediately spread despite efforts of residents and shop owners to extinguish it.

The next day, it was another disaster as an explosion on board a ship servicing MRS Oil and Gas tank farm at the Tin-Can Island port sparked a major fire, disrupting operations at the depot. The explosion occurred as an oil vessel belonging to MRS discharged petroleum products at one of the company’s tank farms, witnesses said.
While dry weather has been identified as the major cause of the recent spate of incidents, storing of petrol in living houses and markets, careless disposal of cigarette stubs, adulterated fuel, power surge, electric sparks and illegal connection of electricity are all sources of fire outbreaks.

Many people have faulted the responsiveness of fire services and emergency first responders in the country, who have been reputed to always arrive late and without sufficient equipment to the scene of fire incidents. There have also been renewed calls for the federal and state governments to adequately fund the fire department and emergency agencies, while the culture of insuring properties should be imbibed by Nigerians to mitigate the damage and misery of the misfortune.


Jankara Market Fire: Trader To Sue Govt For Illegal Demolition


The conviviality of the Yuletide and New Year season is still very much strong in the air, but it is a numb celebration for residents and traders, whose Boxing Day feasting was shattered by firecracker explosions that devastated the Ojo Giwa, Okoya and Jankara market areas of Lagos Island.
While some are fortunate to count their losses in a few thousands of Naira, many of the victims are starting 2013 with a huge deficit running into millions of Naira.
In fact, Alhaja Basirat Bolanle Ibrahim, owner of a three storey building at No. 41, Ojo Giwa Street, had to be heavily sedated days following the incident that eventually razed 12 buildings, to cross over into the new year alive.

Jankara Market Explosion... The morning after

Jankara Market Explosion… The morning after

With the effect of the drugs gradually wearing off and reality fully dawning that the building erected 18 months ago and valued at N85 million now lay in rubbles, it’s time to spill the beans.
Ibrahim, a generator dealer, who claims she recently stocked her wares for 2013 amounting to over N20 million, says she would sue the Lagos State government for illegal demolition.
“My building was not gutted by fire, it was demolished to pave way for the building behind mine, which was facing Okoya and was burning in the attempt to stop the spread of fire. I was standing here when the governor ordered that my building should be demolished; they didn’t even allow me to carry my goods.

Owner of a three-storey building affected by the explosion, Alhaja Basirat Ibrahim, who plans to sue the Lagos state government for illegally demolishing her structure.

Owner of a three-storey building affected by the explosion, Alhaja Basirat Ibrahim, who plans to sue the Lagos state government for illegally demolishing her structure.

“Despite giving my approval that only the roof should be removed to create access for the fire fighters and rescue operatives to work, they said if they didn’t demolish my building, there was no way they could quench the raging fire. I was not allowed to take a pin out of the building with goods worth N50 million. I just got a supply order of N20 million and the least of the generators is N25,000.
“All we were told was that they were saving our lives and we should not go near the building, while the emergency officials demolished everything in sight. I am taking the government to court. I will collect my money back because they gave the instruction for demolition. They didn’t stop at demolition, every useable item, including irons, were carted away.”
Ibrahim is not alone in her misery. For Mr. Ozokolie Sunday, a resident of Idumota, December 26, 2012 will go down as a day he would live to regret. Ozokolie owned four shops in the Jankara market. Looking dejected and unable to control his emotions, he told The Guardian that he lost goods worth over N15 million to the disaster. The shops were located at Numbers 43 and 45 Ojo Giwa Street in the thickly populated Lagos Island Business District.
Ozokolie said he was still in celebration mood when news of the disaster reached him. According to him, “I received the information with shock because I was not around.” The trader, who described the disaster as the most unfortunate incident that ever happened to him, explained that he temporarily passed on when the news of the incident was broken to him via a phone call.

General Manager/CEO, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, pointing to the debris of the Jankara market building collapse

General Manager/CEO, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, pointing to the debris of the Jankara market building collapse

Speaking with journalists at the site of the incident, the General Manager/CEO, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Dr. Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu, said the agency had to quickly demolish buildings affected by the explosion and make the area safe for people to do business because they do not want to further cause financial distress to so many families.
“We have demolished the area, we are now clearing the debris and enumeration is being carried out by the operations and logistics department of LASEMA. In due time, we will get into matters of compensation. At the moment, we are concerned about giving out financial assistance to victims to cushion the effect of this disaster.
He noted that other affected buildings in the area had been subjected to integrity text by the Lagos State Raw Material Testing Agency to determine their present structural stability status to avoid another disaster in the State. He said buildings examined to be unfit would be demolished while those needing adjustment would be recommended for appropriate and necessary action.
According to him, “our work here is to make the area safe and calm; agencies like the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) have carried out environmental impact assessment of the explosion in the area, while the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LASBCA) and the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA) have been on ground to clear the debris and other waste items from the site.”
Hassan Bolaji, resident of No. 39, Ojo Giwa Street, said money was paid to the state coffers for an integrity test to be conducted on the neighbouring buildings.