Chief Executive Officer of Surveillant Nigeria Limited, Mr. Jumade Adejola, laments the huge sums lost to fire accidents every year by businesses in the country and calls on government and corporate bodies to prioritise safety and ensure the installation of efficient fire fighting equipment in their premises. Adejola speaks with Raheem Akingbolu. Excerpts:
Every year, Nigeria loses property running into billions of naira to fire incidents, how can this be reduced?
Let me start by saying that this national destruction can be reduced drastically if Nigeria ensures efficient firefighting equipment brands that are imported and sold in the market rather than taking issues related to safety with levity. Beyond this, more importantly, if Nigeria implements its fire prevention laws things will be improved in this regard. For instance, the Lagos State government recently said that the state lost 84 people and N12.8 billion worth of properties to fire in the last one year alone and this is one state in Nigeria that pays attention to this area more any other government in the country. I can link the huge loss in private and commercial properties annually to fire nationwide to weak regulation of fire fighting laws, poor fire prevention practices, poor awareness and fake or inefficient firefighting equipment.
You just mentioned the need for efficient brands in the country, how can we control the influx of fake ones?
On fake products for fighting fire, there is nothing anybody can do without government regulation. Strict regulation will discourage people that are bringing in fake products. A situation where NAFDAC and SON go from shop to shop identifying fake products is an aberration instead of stopping it at the port of entry. There should be strict regulation that whoever that brings substandard product is either jailed or punished severely. Then unscrupulous people will withdraw from it.
I have been in business of selling firefighting equipment for over 20 years and I believe that Nigeria has trusted and qualified engineers that can identify fake products from genuine ones at the ports before entry. In the alternative, I can also advise consumers that price is not a determinant of fake or genuine product, especially extinguishers. In fact, some extinguishers being paraded in the market cannot put out fire when it happens.
But most of the fire extinguishing brands in the country are also imported, does it mean some of those imported ones are fake?
Look, some business owners here and even foreigners operating in Nigeria, who deal in these products, are so desperate in their desire to sell fake products. For instance, our company imports genuine products from a Dubai company, but we were surprised to see that the Dubai Company’s name has been registered in Nigeria by some people with intention to import different products in the brand name of the same company. No doubts, this will mislead the consumers.
Again, ignorance plays a major role as some properties, including vehicles lack firefighting equipment such as fire extinguishers. We need to clear the ignorance in the society about protection against incidents such as fire. Many homes don’t have fire extinguishers and many people have died due to lack of fire extinguishers. We also need to educate people about safety laws. There is also poor implementation of firefighting codes in the country.
Aside Dubai, we also import from UK, US, Dubai and Singapore. From day one, we decided that we will not compromise quality. Every product we sell is not just quality but approved products. These are products that have been approved by the quality approval institutions such ISO. Why we are interested in quality is that any thing that concerns life and property no mistake is accepted.
Before we embark on a job, we first design. It is from this design that we know where to mount fire prevention equipment, and then we select the appropriate products. We don’t just design for our clients, but we provide after sales services.
What are other challenges the operators face aside issues related to substandard products?
First, the epileptic electricity in Nigeria has caused the delay in sitting power-consuming firefighting assembly equipment plants in Nigeria, but we must commend Lagos State government’s efforts in fire fighting and prevention in the state.
Apart from procuring equipment and trucks for fire fighting, Lagos is organising a conference to further create awareness on its Vision Zero which means zero tolerance to accidents or mishap in especially workplaces.
Your company keeps a low profile. Why?
It has been a deliberate policy. But now, we want to be the number one fire protection company in Africa. We have opened offices in Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and we have offices in Port-Harcourt, Abuja and our head office is in Lagos. Very soon, we will be moving to our ultra-modern new office complex because as you can see, this place can no longer contain us.
We wanted to get to certain level. Most of our clients know us and they know we can deliver at the shortest notice. Besides, we were not ready for the pressure that would come with too much noise. When we promise, we deliver even if it costs more than what we billed you. We believe in quality service and consistency. If we say three months, it will be three months. Our engineers are competent, and they know their onions. And let me also add that I am not an office or arm-chair chief executive. I go to sites to supervise and take charge where necessary to deliver the quality we promised the client. If you look at the issue of fire and its prevention and protection, it is a matter of life and death. So, when people begin to use fake products, what you are protecting is at risk. Look at insurance companies. They are supposed to involve us when planning their policies. It is not about paying premium alone. We are supposed to be training their loss adjusters. It is about the risks involved and how are you going to really handle things when issues arise. Let me give you this example. You insure a building, but proper fire protection equipment was not used. The whole building is at risk. And it is not proper equipment alone but approved one. Most of these products we see outside are refurbished products. If you use fire extinguisher that the cylinder is expired, because it is a compressed extinguisher, by the time open, it can injure your jaw and that is death. So, what you are buying as safety equipment can also be risk equipment unknown to you. So, you have to approach qualified companies that are doing the business.
You just stated that regulation is poor and that this puts the works of professionals like you at risk. How do you deal with this?
Yes, regulation is poor. I am not disputing that but there is a building code now that has been passed into law and it is being pursued and being enforced. Most of the time, you will discover that if you don’t apply these rules, they won’t be enforced. That is at the federal level. In Lagos State, the state government is very committed to safety. We are consultants to the Lagos State Safety Commission and let me tell you that what they are doing is great. The state does not joke with lives of citizens and the state is even organising a conference on Vision Zero and this is about zero tolerance to fire, accidents and mishaps in any place. And that is why, in most of the construction sites, if you don’t take safety seriously, the place will be shut down. We don’t take safety serious in this part of the world.
That is taken. We were at the Abuja airport one day and we alighted from the plane and we had to trek to the arrival lounge. That was unacceptable and that was risky. Countries don’t do that again. No matter the short distance, you don’t do that. In our company, our engineers are well trained when it comes to installations of fire detection system, fire fighting system and FM 200, which us fire suppression system for critical areas like server room of telecommunication companies or server room of banks and most of places that need protection. FM 200 puts out fire automatically either you are there or not.
How do you deal with quacks? Do you have an association?
Fire protection operators don’t have an association for now. We belong to quite a number of bodies but no association.
So, how do you deal with quacks?
It is a tough job especially for people like us who represent genuine OEMs. At Surveillant, we will never give you substandard products. And that is why we always tell our clients to go to people that will give them genuine products. Some people may pick up old and expired products, repaint it and even put the name of the original OEM that manufactured it and they will resell. It is that bad. We have our website and check products and you will get what you need. We don’t source for products; we always have products in stock. When we give you time, we adhere to it.