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Abia govt, residents tango over fire incidents

“Whenyouaskthe so-called educated people in our country and the uneducated about the government agency saddled with the responsibility to protect lives and property, their answers will not go beyond the police. Whenever I hear this, I feel like fainting because our people don’t know that what armed robbers cannot steal in 20 years can be destroyed by fire within 30 minutes. This is why you hear state governments of commercial states like Abia buying vehicles for police without a single functional fire fighting truck in case of necessity. “Go to all our markets in Aba, you will see traders paying vigilante groups to protect markets. When they do that, they go home, sleep, snoring thinking that all is well.

They fail to realize that a single fire incident will set them 50 times backwards if not forever. I weep for my people,” a retired firefighter in the old Imo State, Elder Steven Okorieukwu said. His cries were not without reason. Elder Okorieukwu was crying because, Aba, a well-planned city has fallen into the hands of reckless people who prioritize money over their safety.

Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State is arguably a well-planned city, in South-East Nigeria with numerous road networks and a housing system that should attract attention. However, several years of money hunting by past and present governments in the state has turned the great commercial city into one of the most chaotic city centres in Africa. It is unfortunate that despite the increase in the number of fire outbreaks that are happening in Aba, Abia State Government is still finding it difficult to regulate certain business activities. One can imagine where a family lives their home for work and schools only to come back to see their property on fire because of the reckless activities of some people producing one thing or the other in their compound? Aside from the activities of manufacturers of different items, fashion designers, shoemakers, printers etc who make use of residential buildings, the manner Abia State Government approves the siting of fuel stations within residential areas is unbelievable.

Fuel stations are recklessly sited around residential homes, sharing a common fence with people’s homes with government approval all over Aba without considering the dangers these stations pose to residents. New Telegraph investigated the readiness of Abia State Fire Service in the combat against fire outbreak and discovered that any serious fire outbreak in Aba now will send many persons back to their villages because the fire service is not equipped and the government is not serious about it. The State currently has two Fire Service Commands in Umuahia and Aba with support from the Federal Fire Service in Umuahia.

The Aba Command of the Abia State Fire Service is meant to cover the Aba Zone otherwise known as Ukwa-Ngwa land. This zone is made up of nine local governments which include Isiala-Ngwa South, Isiala-Ngwa North, Osisioma Ngwa, Ugwunagbo, Obingwa, Aba North, Aba South, Ukwa West and Ukwa East. When this reporter visited the station and discovered that the Aba Fire Service is in a coma and does not even have what it takes to serve one Local Government Area not to talk of nine it has been saddled with the responsibility to handle.

The most embarrassing discovery made by New Telegraph is that the incapacitated situation of the Aba Command of the fire service was caused by the recklessness of Aba residents who channelled their anger against the fire service for either arriving late at the fire scene or going to refill their truck when the need arose. New Telegraph discovered that between August and October 2020, two functional trucks of the Aba Command of the Fire Service were destroyed by angry traders at Ariaria International Market and #EndSARS protesters. After the destruction of those two trucks, the state government provided Aba command with one more fire truck, but not as good as the one destroyed by the #EndSARS protesters which were donated by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) some years back. The perfect statement to be made now without mincing words is that Aba is a city without any functional fire truck nor a single firefighting material, as what #EndSARS protesters set ablaze, broke and burnt have not been replaced one year and a few months after the protest.

Sources at the Fire Service said that the fire truck destroyed by the #EndSARS protesters has a capacity of 24,000,000 gallons, and its estimated price should be about N350,000,000. The equipment destroyed in the fire service office is estimated to be about N20,000,000 and in January 2022, none of the things destroyed by the hoodlums has been replaced. New Telegraph recalls that in August 2020, a mob at Watchtower Junction, Old Express road near Ariaria International market attacked the firefighters, injured many of them and destroyed the only functional fire engine as at then that has 1000 gallons capacity. Another shocking discovery made about the wrong attitude of the government towards fire fighting in Aba is that the 24,000,000 gallons capacity fire truck that was destroyed by the #EndSARS protesters stopped functioning on Friday 12th of October 2018 after battling with the pipeline inferno at Umuaduru and Umuimo communities in Osisioma Ngwa LGA of Abia State. This newspaper learnt that the engine of the fire truck got spoilt and several promises were made by the government to replace it which it never did.

However, two years after, a company in Aba began a move to replace the engine, Covid-19 delayed it before the #EndSARS protesters completely burnt the fire truck. On January 22, 2022, an inferno occurred at Ngwa Road by Emejiaka Street. While some concerned residents called on the Fire Service who could have arrived at the venue within a ten-minute drive from their office, but failed because they went to the police at Ndiegoro Division to seek protection to enable them to do their job.

New Telegraph learnt that the essence of them seeking for police protection was because of the recent experiences they have had in the hands of hoodlums who as gathered by our reporter have already assembled at Ngwa Road waiting to wreak havoc on the firefighters for coming late. In the end, they failed to show up and the whole place burnt until the fire burnt the entire one-storey building housing many shops and businesses and penetrated other buildings wreaking serious havoc. Another serious observation in Aba during fire incidents is the level at which touts even harass journalists from covering the incident with an excuse that they are taking pictures while people’s property is burning. However, on a close investigation, New Telegraph discovered that those touts always against videos and pictures during fire incidents are doing so to prevent being captured while looting people’s homes and shops.

It had been reported that between December 12, 2021, and January 7, 2022, the Aba Zonal Command of Abia State Fire Service battled eight fire outbreaks. Mr Belenta Belenta, the Zonal Commander told New Telegraph that their challenges are many, stressing that they have only one vehicle that needs servicing and which has lower water carrying capacity. He however said that one promise to bring another fire truck from Umuahia was made by the government and is currently being put in place for them and that they are still expecting it as it will help make their work easier.

He said that the Aba Zonal Command of the Abia Fire Service covers nine local government areas with only one functional fire engine which is not even standard. Belenta added that the service sources water at Nigerian Breweries at Industry Road, Eziama Aba, NNPC Depot in Osisioma and the Malting Plant at Ogbor-Hill Aba, which is all kilometres away from their base.

He said: “We have a borehole here but there is no electricity to power it. We do not have a hose for the fire engine we have and it does not have a spare tyre nor does it enter reverse gear. It consumes much diesel and needs proper servicing to make it more functional to meet our fire fighting needs.”

Some residents who spoke to our reporter said that the Abia State Government should be blamed for the current situation of the Fire Service in Aba. Others said the Aba residents should be blamed while others threw blames at manufacturing industries, small and Medium Enterprises and the state orientation agency. Engr. Fredrick Okenze, a civil engineer based in Aba said that the Abia State Government over the years has never taken human lives and property serious; stressing that all they care about is revenue. In his words: I don’t even think Abia State government knows the population of this city. I don’t think they know the number of business outlets in this city. I don’t think they know the number of houses in this city and I don’t think they know how many markets are in Aba.

“If they do, they cannot tell me that one fire service station with less than 20 workers, with one truck situated at the heart of Aba, will cover nine local government areas. If they do, they should have established mini fire service stations for Ariaria International Market, Eziukwu Market, Ahia- Ohuru and the Eke-Oha Shopping Centre.

“They should have also established branches for the Aba Command of the State Fire Service at Ogbor-Hill, Osisioma and Alaoji axis to make the coverage easier. Do you know that the current place where they built the Ariaria Independent Power Projects (IPP) used to be the main Ariaria International Market Fire Service Station? Today, a market where entire West Africa, East Africa and Central African countries come to buy has no Fire Service Station.

“What kind of irresponsible government are we having in this state where people are invited to invest and watch their investment burn? See how all the Local Government Town Planning Authorities within Aba and her environs are approving the establishment of petrol stations in residential areas without thinking about tomorrow.

So, this government and previous ones failed to address the real issues. This city can be burnt down in just two hours if not by the grace of God.” Prophet Marcel Ndukwe said the blame goes to Aba residents whom he described as very unreasonable and self-destructive. “How can someone be doing all manner of manufacturing at a residential area and a landlord who knows the consequences will just care about the money? “I learnt the majority of those hoodlums were gathered at Ngwa Road to beat up the Firefighters when the one storey building collapsed not knowing that the firefighters were only waiting for police protection to avoid being lynched by them.

“So, how can we continue to watch hoodlums cause us problems in Aba? Why can’t this government declare serious war against touting and touts? They destroyed all the remaining fire trucks in Aba now they want firefighters to use their heads to extinguish the fire.” Sir Nelson Obi said that large manufacturing industries in Aba need to help the Firefighters with some equipment because their investments are not safe without a well-equipped fire service.

“What is the Aba Chamber of Commerce doing? Why can’t they call a meeting of all their members who are the bourgeoisie in this city and owners of all the major industries here and discuss how they can assist firefighters? “Why can’t Aba Trade Market Unions come together and play their roles? I’m not saying the government should be free of blames, but since the government is not ready to do something, they should not just relax and watch their investments burn.

“Again, the Abia State Orientation Agency under National Orientation Agency (NOA) is not doing enough to sensitize the residents of Abia about the consequences of their actions when they’re attacking firefighters. This set of youths is not supposed to be in Aba. They’re destructive agents that need serious orientation.”

 

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