The authorities should enforce the country’s building codes and regulations

The Lagos State government said last week that property worth N12.8bn was lost to fire tragedies within a period of one calendar year between May 2017 and April 2018. The government also said that no fewer than 84 persons lost their lives to the incidents. Sadly, that huge cost, both in human and financial terms, are replicated in many states across the country. Yet, even when we concede that fire outbreaks are not new, the rate at which they occur in our country is particularly alarming.

From the Sango Plank Market in Ibadan, Oyo State where no fewer than 100 shops, equipment and goods worth hundreds of millions of naira were razed by fire in January to the inferno that last month razed over 600 shops at the old market in Bida, Niger State to the fuel-laden tanker which caught fire at Nkwo Market, Ogidi, Idemili North Local Government Area, Anambra State, it is difficult to put value on the waste in the past four months alone.

However, while many of these disasters are preventable, it is imperative to ask whether serious consideration is ever given for the inevitability of fire outbreaks in many of our markets and indeed in private and public buildings in Nigeria. On many occasions, the fire service has been blamed for its poor response to calls during fire outbreaks, while they in turn blame the inaccessibility of some areas due to poor urban planning. And they have a point. In most countries, it is not just enough to design and construct buildings, it is more important to make allowances for a possible outbreak of fire. Making such allowances is indeed part of urban planning in most societies.

We are aware that such codes and regulations are also available here, but they are rarely enforced. A recent study conducted throughout the six geo-political zones by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in collaboration with Federal and States Fire Service listed several causes which could lead to fire disasters in the country’s public and residential buildings. These include accidents, carelessness, arson, faulty wiring, reckless use of electrical appliances and heating gadgets, unattended stove and gases, children playing with matches, among other causes. While the report also recommended several useful guides to prevent more fire disasters in the country, nobody seems to be paying any attention.

Furthermore, early detection of fire is a very crucial step in fire prevention and this should be ensured through individual alertness and the installation of automatic fire detection systems at various points in buildings. Our urban planners should also ensure that there are enough access points through which fire fighters and emergency personnel could gain entrance to put off a fire before it spreads. We are aware that such codes and regulations are also available here, but they are rarely enforced.

What all the recent developments point to is that there is need for a better appreciation of the challenge posed by fire outbreaks so that the authorities can begin to fashion how to deal with it. To reduce the increasing regularity of fire outbreaks and the attendant dangers to lives and property, it is important to step up advocacy on the issue; conduct regular fire drills in markets and other public buildings; enforce existing fire codes and raise the profile and the resources available to our fire services. It has also become increasingly important that traders should get their shops and goods insured. That is the only way they could recover goods lost to fire disasters.