Before the next fire in Anambra

Governor Willie Obiano
Governor Willie Obiano

To those who believe in the holy books especially the Bible, when God warns it is established and it endures for all ages. This is true of the warning reeled out by God to the Israelites in I Samuel 8: 15, 17 whe

n they demanded for a king to rule over them like the other nations.

He told them: “the king (symbolising government) would demand of you 10% of your resources (tax is 10% of basic salary) either for himself or his attendants.”

That warning seems to be playing out in our contemporary society as governments of the day keep on making demands on the people and the organised private sector in form of tax and levies without corresponding returns in terms of amenities and infrastructure that can guarantee a new lease of life or even the safety/security of businesses.

In fact in these days of global economic downturn occasioned by the slide in crude petroleum prices, every tier of government now looks inwards to shore up whatever accrues to its vault; more so as revenue from the federation account keeps shrinking by the day.

Income and corporate tax from individuals and the corporate entities is the first option being explored by these governments in more intensity than ever before since Lord Lugard introduced taxes in the country.

The argument has been that it is one of the means through which government can raise funds to meet its responsibility to the citizenry especially the provision of the necessary basic infrastructure that will in turn protect and ensure survival of individuals and their business concerns.

As the government encourages the payment of these taxes and levies, it behoves on it constitutionally to seek ways to assist these individuals and the corporate organisations to grow and make sufficient profit such that payment of any tax or levy becomes less cumbersome.

However, the reality on ground is that most governments in the country have failed in their responsibility to provide even the basic infrastructure that will ensure the sustainability of both the citizenry and the corporate entities.

This takes me to the case of the recent fire incident that engulfed the LPG plant of a subsidiary of Chicason Group of Companies in Nnewi, Anambra State, on Christmas Eve leading to the death of eight persons who were essentially onlookers and not workers of the conglomerate.

My concern here is not the number of casualties or the setback the fire incident has caused to the company’s production processes but the efforts by government to prevent a recurrence especially as Nnewi is the industrial epicentre of not only Anambra state but the entire South-east geographical zone housing the first indigenous auto industry in the country, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company Ltd., Ibeto Group of Companies and Coscharis Group, the factory where the first fully built motorcycle in this country was rolled out, to mention just a few.

Various government functionaries, including the Labour and Employment Minister, Dr Chris Ngige, a former governor of the state, have visited the scene of the inferno to commiserate with the company without proffering measures to invigorate fire fighting in the state.

So far there is no hope of a better response in case of a similar incident in the future as the in-house fire-fighting capacity recommended to Chicason Group including provision of water sprinklers, sand and fire extinguishers cannot suffice in the face of industrial fires.

For instance, it is ridiculous that ill-equipped and short-staffed Anambra State Fire Service personnel had to travel 200 kilometres on a bad road from the state capital, Awka, to Nnewi with just a tanker of water to quell a fire resulting from an explosion from a gas plant. This is the evidence that there is no federal government presence to provide the type of sophisticated equipment needed to combat such an inferno, in that part of the country.

To add salt to injury, there are no communications gadgets to mobilise other fire stations in the vicinity as the entire organisation has just one telephone line.

Also on ground are only 83 personnel serving the entire state and who are paid a mere N10 hazard allowance monthly approved 44 years ago working with three fire engines and one water tanker which capacity is seven tonnes of water. Worse still, reports reveal that the station is bereft of a Turn Table Fire Vehicle meant for fighting fires in a three storey building.

The company had met its own side of the bargain in the provision of basic safety equipment and the training of its staff in fire drills at inception hence the minimal loss of lives recorded and injuries incurred among the staff.

The Physical and Urban Planning department of Anambra State government could have taken into consideration the industrial significance of Nnewi to locate a fire station there sophisticated enough to combat industrial fires.

The government should go beyond making mere political pronouncements and take a positive step to make the public sector more responsive to the people it claims to serve.

In this era of change in our country, it is expected that the All Progressives Congress, APC, administration at the centre will consider, as part of its job creation programme, employment of personnel to man its fire stations apart from equipping them adequately and improving the welfare package of fire fighters across the nation.

Also while the Willy Obiano’s administration has gone down for the giant strides it has made since coming into office, there is much more to be done in the area of fire-fighting by ensuring that an industrial town like Nnewi is adequately covered.

Okeke writes from Lagos.

(Source: The Nation)


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