By Alex Enemanna
It is no more news that as you read this piece at this moment, some of our compatriots in Anambra are in pain, deep pain. They are observing a festival of sorrow and anguish. Their bread has been soaked in the vinegar of agony and their water polluted with acid of grief. They look with piercing surprise and utter disbelief how their means of livelihood has been reduced to mere debris and dust. Like the cloud, their eyes are green with tears and their hearts heavy with trouble and sadness.
Like every other day, some of them came to buy and sell to keep body and soul together but little did they know it was a day to bid their goods an inglorious permanent farewell to a raging conflagration. Others had come with the hope of returning home to the waiting arm of their loved ones, little did they know it was their last day on this troubled sphere called earth.
At the risk of sounding like a prophet of doom, there will be several other October 16, 2019 in our journey as a nation. The indicators that we are a people with utter disdain for safety culture are there for all to see. The Ochanja harvest of losses is not the first time a petrol tanker will spill its content and unleash a lake of fire and hellish pain on our people.
Interestingly, beyond the rain of hypocritical condolences from those in leadership positions, that radiate nothing but a frail and ineffective system, no measures will be taken to forestall a repeat of Ochanja carnage just like many other similar incidences in the annals of our chequered history.
Still fresh in our memory is the June 2018 Otedola bridge fire in which a tanker loaded with petroleum product fell, leaked and exploded, leading to a transfer of flames that consumed the lives of no fewer than 25 of our compatriots and burnt about 54 approaching vehicles.
The constant fire outbreak in our various markets and streets, from Lagos to Aba, Kano to Benin, Onitsha to Asaba and everywhere have assumed a customary dimension. Hardly is there any year a catastrophic inferno is not recorded in any major Nigerian market. The losses our traders shoulder on the account of this are humongous and unquantifiable.
To assume that some of the traders affected in Ochanja and other markets ravaged by inferno or any other form of human or natural disaster accessed their funds from financial institutions or co-operatives at a very exorbitant interest rate makes their troubles a thousand times complex. Sadly, we live in a society where it is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a trader with a genuine interest and buyable business idea to access a loan as a result of deliberate stringent and obnoxious conditions attached to accessing such facilities by the lending houses.
Instructively, these disasters would have either been totally averted or mitigated if we had in place effective emergency response mechanisms to tackle incidents of this nature. Again, this casts aspersions as to what essence the government is in an environment where the protection of citizens’ lives and property occupy a back seat, in sheer negation of the constitutional provision that the security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary objective of the government.
Ponderously, this speaks volume as to how much our citizens have been mindlessly shortchanged by those entrusted to preside over our collective welfare and corporate development. Virtually all areas of our national life are dotted with indices of perennial neglect by those in leadership position. Our public education system is in a bad shape, our public health institutions are nearly in comatose, our infrastructure is at the brink of total collapse, social injustice has continued to erode citizens’ trust while poverty and economic depravity are holding our citizens by the jugular.
What happened in Ochanja market is an open advert of a government abdicating whatever is has accepted to be its responsibility. A situation where the fire reportedly raged, ravaged and had a field day in the sweat and blood of citizens for nearly about seven hours before a belated help could come is to say the least unacceptable. Worse still, a distress call had to be placed faraway Delta, a neighbouring state before the fire could be brought under control after a humongous havoc had been wrecked.
The question that readily comes to mind is this, what happened to taxes and levies being paid to the government of Anambra state by these traders? Of what essence is their fund to the state government if it cannot be deployed to fostering their welfare? Why is there no virile fire station in a market as big as Ochanja? Why does it have to take the intervention of a neighbouring state before any form of help could come the way of the troubled market?
No thanks to the activities of petroleum marketers whose cardinal focus is permanently throttled to profiteering with little or no attention to safety of our citizens. It is an iron cast fact that some of the tankers being used to ferry petroleum products from one state to the other are not road worth. They lack the primary worthiness to ply highways.
The irresponsible habit of the tanker drivers who see themselves as the kings of the roads over the rest of us has continually constituted worry in the minds of citizens. They throw caution to the winds, undermine all known road safety cautions and intimidate the rest of road users like second class citizens. This again necessitates the reinforcement of the call for a psychiatric test on the articulated vehicle drivers to save our compatriots from further losses.
Adequate attention should be paid to fire fighting the same way the government has devoted an appreciable energy to fighting tremor, flooding and other natural disasters. Every market in Nigeria should have a functional and well equipped fire station in line with global best practices. There is no reason every street in the country should not have its own fire station in readiness for emergency situations. In other climes, there are more fire stations than police stations but in Nigeria, the reverse is the case, even as crime continues to assume a more dangerous and organized dimension.
Lastly, shop owners must put in place primary safety approaches that will see to a reduction of the constant fire incidence even though it cannot be totally eradicated. They must develop a culture of switching off all electrical appliances at the close of the day’s business. All shops must be equipped with fire fighting kits including fire extinguishers and be tutored on steps to take whenever there is a fire outbreak. A stitch in time saves nine.
Enemanna is an Abuja-based journalist.