THE NEW IMO STATE FIRE SERVICE
By Lancelot Obiaku
Recent fire outbreaks across the country that claimed several lives have further exposed the level of unpreparedness of several states in the country to handling emergency situations, especially fire outbreaks. The Ochanja and Balogun markets (both in Anambra State and Lagos State respectively) fire outbreaks could have been averted if the authorities concerned were responsive and proactive. The latest in the spate of lethal fire disasters is the Iju Ishaga inferno where rows of shops were razed in the early hours of Wednesday, November 20. According to reports, same day, Surulere Super Plaza, also in Lagos State, went up in flame.
In the midst of what many tag dereliction of duty by some of those elected to govern the people is the nagging question of what has happened to governance. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria situates the protection of lives and property of the governed at the center of governance. One sad truth about lives and property is that once lost it becomes impossible to get them back. But what we see in our clime is that only few leaders willing to govern their people have even gone the extra mile to ensure the protection of the lives and property of their people.
In Imo State, we are lucky to have Governor Emeka Ihedioha who knows that at any given time he is duty bound to protect the lives and assets of the people he governs. He is more proactive than reactive. But for his proactiveness lives would have been cut short and properties worth millions of Naira lost on Wednesday when a 30,000-litre petrol tanker collided with another vehicle along Port-Harcourt Road, Owerri, ruptured its tank and emptied its content on the streets of the neighborhood.
Recall that a similar incident was responsible for the fire disaster that wreaked havoc at the popular Ochanja Market, Onitsha, Anambra State. But commendably, Governor Ihedioha was able to bring the situation under control in good time. He had, as a matter of being proactive, resuscitated the Imo Fire Service which in turn neutralized what could have become a monumental disaster. What keep shocking many people was that while this happened, the Governor’s matter was being called up for judgement at the Appeal Court in Abuja, where it was three petitioners all against his mandate. Notwithstanding, Governor Ihedioha was not found wanting at a critical moment when many may have thought he could be carried away by the proceedings at the court.
The fire disaster could have got the headlines of major newspapers and radio stations and occupied the screens of major televisions in the country and the Governor bashed, had it not been averted. But one wonders what could have happened if the tanker incident had happened anytime between 2011 and April 2019. Precious lives could have been lost. The last administration in the state made the Fire Service one of the many institutions that went comatose. Imagine a firefighting unit without electricity, functional fire trucks and other equipment. No water. It was, at best, absurd.
Fielding questions from journalists at the Government House on Tuesday, Governor Ihedioha, when asked if his firefighting engagement while the Court of Appeal read the verdict of his own case was not a distraction, said: “I couldn’t have been distracted. In God we put all our hopes. Most importantly, I am elected by the good people of Imo State to govern them. Therefore, the welfare, security and peace of the state is paramount and I am conscious of my responsibility. At any point in time within the period of my administration, I must be alive to my responsibility”.
The Governor went further to say that “The most important thing is that we have a daunting task to accomplish in rebuilding Imo. I have always said that we have a responsibility to rebuild our state infrastructurally, institutionally and economically. It’s quite obvious and we have to give our best. I am certain our best will be good enough for the state”.
Obviously, the Imo State Fire Service is one of the institutions Governor Ihedioha has rebuilt since he assumed the mantle of leadership on May 29. Not resting on his oars, the Governor has been busy breathing life into different sectors of the state: economy, governance, rule of law and due process, infrastructure, education, agriculture, sports, etc. One therefore thinks that it is based on the array of works being executed by the Governor that many think that Imo people are very lucky people to have Governor Emeka Ihedioha at this material time, to take the job of rebuilding the battered Imo.
I think I agree: we now have a Governor who is not distracted at all by anything whatsoever from the services for which he was elected.