Regulators should do well by enforcing building codes

As thousands of people continue to count their losses following the mysterious fire that burnt down the entire complex of the ‘Monday Market’ in Maiduguri, Borno State, President Muhammadu Buhari has called for vigilance. Winds and rising temperatures, according to the president, increase the risks of fires in forests, homes, public buildings, and markets. With about 20,000 shops, stores and kiosks, the Maiduguri market, established about four decades ago, is one of the biggest in the country and the fire was said to have started after the Presidential and National Assembly elections on 25th February.  

While we join in commiserating with the people who have suffered losses, it is important that there be a thorough investigation so that appropriate lessons can be learnt. We have had more than enough fire tragedies that ought to have warranted the entrenchment of various forms of mechanism by the operators of these markets to reduce occurrences. Most irksome is that some of the incidents culminating in this colossus damage to the livelihoods of our people were caused by the careless attitudes of individuals. What compounds the tragedy is that in all the instances, authorities only offer sympathy visits and pronouncements of support, which were hardly backed up with any concrete measures. Perhaps what makes these losses really haunting is that most traders do not insure their goods.  

Although the president has alluded to the forces of nature in his statement on the Maiduguri market incident, many of the fire outbreaks have been linked to factors such as fuel storage, power surge, illegal connection of electricity, carelessness due to lit matches or forgotten candle lights, stoves, cookers, and gas cylinders in the markets as well as ignorance of safety procedures. Beyond the usual lamentations, it is imperative to ask whether serious consideration is ever given for the inevitability of fire outbreaks in many of these markets and indeed in private and public buildings in Nigeria. In most countries, it is not just enough to design and construct buildings, it is also important to make allowances for a possible outbreak of fire by ensuring the availability of fire-fighting equipment in such facilities. Making such allowances is indeed part of urban planning.  

We are aware that such codes and regulations are also available here, but they are rarely enforced. Indeed, in many markets, there are limited access points through which fire fighters and emergency personnel could gain entrance to put off fire before it spreads. Yet, what all the recent developments point to is that there is a need for better appreciation of the challenge posed by fire outbreaks so that the authorities can begin to fashion how to deal with them.  

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.  

We call on the federal, state, and local governments to come up with sound and effective mechanisms to protect our markets from fire incidents. They should also, as a matter of urgency, revamp and mobilise the fire service to perform optimally. Stringent measures should be put in place to punish any individual or group which carry out any activity resulting in inferno. Until this is done, fire incidents will continue to bring irreparable and incalculable losses to our country.  

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