Tackling the menace of fire incidences at polls


    By Palma Ileye

    The Federal Fire Service, FFS, the statutory body responsible for rescue fire prevention, mitigation, fire fighting in Nigeria while seeking ways to address issues of fire incidences around the country has assured Nigerians of fire safety and seamless service delivery before, during and after the forthcoming general elections. This is the right step the Service has taken because the rate at which reports on incidences of fire outbreak is taking the centre stage has become alarming and threatening and need to control or prevent it is crucial.

    Very disturbing, recent reports from the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has revealed that at least 19 of its offices have been destroyed by fire, same account gave a breakdown of these fire incidence to have affected States like Akwa Ibom, Abia, Anambra and Imo the most.

    Other States that have witnessed such fire incidents between February 2019 till date include: Borno, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Kano, Ondo, Ogun, Plateau, Rivers and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

    In its investigations, it was discovered that 11 of these offices were burnt down by hoodlums, while eight others were gutted by fire under mysterious circumstances or by electrical fault.

    At the INEC Headquarters, Abuja, the Department of Electoral and Party Monitoring was completely burnt on April 17, 2020, while in Kano, on April 20, 2021, the data processing centre was burnt along with the voter register, laser jet printers, computers, inverters and other items.

    Not just the INEC offices, Police Stations around the country are not left out. Just recently, the Nigeria Police Force, Kano State Command Headquarters situated at Bompai, Nasarawa Local Government Area, was gutted by fire, with many offices and files suspected to be burnt to ashes. These and others have been reports on fire attacks on security agencies in the country.

    These are a few fire incidences since 2019, prior to the 2023 general elections, and these acts willingly or unwillingly, have been linked to the many ways of sabotaging the country’s Democracy and the forth coming polls.

    As shown, some of these incidence lit by unknown culprits for whatever reasons known to them have been targetted at the Independent Electoral Commission, INEC, offices were fires have destroyed election materials, infrastructures and valuable assets as well as the gutting down of some Police Stations and sister agencies around the country to deter their job of protecting and securing lives, properties and infrastructures in the country.

    These fire incidences have become a common occurrence. Some of these fires have also done damages, to deter the forth coming polls.

    Back to the discourse, the big question is how do we secure these infrastructures from such fires? How do we ensure the safety of citizens from such destruction? And how can we protect our nation’s Democracy and economy from such sabotage?

    As we are fast approaching the polls, the need for fire safety is very important as this will put the hearts and hopes of every Nigerian at rest.

    Speaking on its preparedness and strategies to ensure fire safety before, during and after elections, the Controller General of Federal Fire Service, FFS, Jaji Abdulganiyu during a One Day Brainstorming Session on Providing Fire Cover for the Forthcoming General Election held at its Headquarters in Abuja, noted that the recent fire attacks on INEC offices and personnel nationwide have heightened the need to seek solutions to these problem in order to ensure the safety of infrastructures of the electoral body, personnel and the integrity of the electoral process.

    In his words, “As relevant stakeholders in the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, ICCES, ahead of the 2023 general election, the recent attacks on INEC Offices across the country places a burden on our shoulder as fire officers to ensure that this ugly situation is nip to the bud. The brainstorming session is to evaluate the level of preparedness for the forthcoming general election scheduled to take place in February 2023. As Nigerians will be going to the polls and it is of utmost importance to our democracy and the integrity of the electoral process. This is why, our duty to ensure fire cover for all and sundry, before, during and after the election has become a current imperative.

    “In conclusion, I am convinced that with the crop of well-groomed fire officers gathered at this session we will produce a fire cover road map that would better secure Nigerians, INEC infrastructures and personnel across the country, before, during and after the forthcoming general election”. Also affirming that the Service, has the crop of personnel for the job.

    Jaji explained that to achieve safety during, before and after the polls, the Service has set up a comprehensive fire safety plan which includes: Increased fire safety inspection, Fire prevention and protection measures and increased presence of fire personnel in areas prone to fire outbreaks.

    And to comprehensively achieve the above listed, he stated that the Service will ensure that; Fire personnel will be on standby to respond to any fire incidents that may occur during and after the election; Fire safety education and awareness campaigns will also be conducted to ensure that citizens are well informed on fire safety measures and protocols; The Federal Fire Service will work closely with local fire departments and other emergency services to ensure that all fire incidents are dealt with swiftly and effectively.

    He stated that President Muhammadu Buhari led administration has extended unwavering support to the Service saying, “This was again demonstrated when the FFS received 8 state-of-the-art Fire Trucks, whilst expecting 15 Rapid Intervention Vehicles in the coming days.”

    He also disclosed, “I am pleased to inform that the Interior Minister, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has graciously approved with immediate effect the deployment of the trucks to the following states: 2 no are to be deployed to Kano and 1 no each to Kwara, Oyo, Edo and Lagos. This will go a long way to further strengthen our fire fighting infrastructure across the country especially as the election draws closer.”

    He added that this this will go a long way to further strengthen the fire fighting infrastructure across the country especially as the election draws closer.

    While stating that, it was essential that it came up with solutions to these problem in order to ensure the safety of INEC infrastructure, personnel and the integrity of the electoral process, the Controller General noted that the brainstorming session was to provide strategies and stratagem to create a safe and more secure environment to forestall future attacks on INEC infrastructures, personnel and to safeguard the electoral process from political hoodlums and enemies of the state, who now use fire attacks as a tool to frustrate INEC in the discharge of her statutory mandate while also condemning all attacks on fire fighters in the strongest.

    “In possible terms, we will take appropriate action against the perpetrators of the attackers within the confines of the law, we will not tolerate any form of violence against those who risk their lives to protect us and our communities. We must ensure that our fire fighters are safe and secure while they are at the job,” the CG added.

    Also the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, have continued to express concern over the persistent attacks on its facilities saying that this could threaten the successful conduct of the 2023 general election.

    “The ones we recorded in 2022 are the ones we considered systematic and coordinated. They are targeted at derailing our commission from conducting free and credible elections. If these attacks continue to January and February next year, it will be difficult for us to recover. This is because if you look at section 134 of the constitution, there are thresholds that a candidate must meet before he or she can be declared a winner of any election,” said INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education, Festus Okoye.

    Speaking the minds of many Nigerians on fire safety, Okoye hoped that the relevant authorities including the Federal Fire Service will take seriously the warning by INEC and begin to put in place measures that will ensure credible election in the country.

    To this, the Fire Service helmsman assured that the Service, was dedicated to ensuring that resources were properly allocated and always prepared to respond to any potential fire related issues that may arise adding that it will put everything in place to ensure the safety of polling units, ward, Local Government and State collation centres, as well as providing a secure environment for citizens to cast their votes.