By Hannu Afere

Rauf Aregbesola the current Minister of Interior, in August was the subject of jabs and jibes shortly when he admitted to the press shortly after his inauguration, that he knew next to nothing about the policies and operations of his ministry.

A simple Google search would have done him a world of good, but yeah… this is Nigeria.

The ministry of interior exercises supervisory control over the:

1. Nigeria Police Force
2. Nigerian Prisons Service
3. Nigeria Immigration Service
4. Federal Fire Service
5. Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps
6. The Nigeria Police Academy, Kano
7. The Civil Defence, Immigration, Prisons, Fire Service Board (CDFIPB)

Now, in the last few weeks alone, we have witnessed avoidable fire disasters in Jos, Ugheli and Onitsha. The one in Onitsha was however the incident that trended the most on my end of social media.

Just before the mass destruction, the Controller-General of the Federal Fire Service Mr Liman Ibrahim was quoted saying the FFS had established six additional zonal offices to boost service delivery across the country.

What this means is that they had presence only in Abuja, Lagos and the six geo-political zones.

The new zones were Zone G, with headquarters in Minna, which is expected to cater for Niger, Kogi and Kwara. Zone H, with headquarters in Sokoto, would cater for Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi.

Zone I with headquarters in Yola, to cater for Adamawa, Taraba and Gombe. Zone J, with headquarters in Owerri, would cater for Abia and Imo.

Zone K, to cover Delta, Edo and Bayelsa, with headquarters in Asaba, and Zone L, with headquarters in Osogbo, would cater for Osun, Ondo and Ekiti States.

On paper, it looks like a lot of zones but really is not.

How else do you explain the tragedy of yesterday where the market in Onitsha was on fire and the FS from Asaba had to be contacted to come deal with it? What happened to Zone J? What happened to being accountable? What happened to decent response time? Why are we still battling with avoidable accidents such as tanker explosions in 2019?

Millions of Naira were lost in the market yesterday. The internet is awash with sad, awful pictures and first hand witnesses. There are reports of deaths. Some say parts of the market were still burning this morning.

And all of that is reduced to one inconsequential hashtag “Pray for”. What do you intend to achieve, specifically, with the hashtag?

Are we demanding answers from the FFS? Are we saying enough is enough and demanding that the government equips them with more firefighting trucks and experienced firemen to man them? Are we educating people on the need to insure their goods and businesses? Are we making the right kind of noise?

No. People are piggybacking on the “pray for Onitsha” hashtags with tweets and posts that have absolutely zero relevance to the incident. Reducing the whole thing to marketing opportunities and popularity strategies.

Now, this is not to say there weren’t some good religious people sincerely praying for Onitsha (whether prayers work or not is a different matter entirely which will not be discussed here) but employing hashtags such this one in the most flippant ways is a disgusting trend that makes prayer look like a weak, viral response to tragedy.

Again, I am not attacking prayers or positive thoughts or goodwill (or love and light), I am just saying those things are not very useful to the traders who lost all their life savings plus bank loans or to the folks who lost loved ones to the fire.

And while hashtags help to bring awareness to these issues, have you ever seen a hashtag with the word “pray” in it, that didn’t revolve around a tragedy?

Pray for Onitsha only when it’s burning. Pray for Borno only when they are being bombed. Pray for Ibadan when there is a flood.

Why should we always be praying ONLY when something terrible happens? Why don’t we pray when good happens? Why do we love to use call to prayer as our escape from reality? Like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Why aren’t we proactive? Why don’t we tackle our collective challenges as multiple nations inside one country head-on instead of waiting for Godot?

We are looking at traders with their lives going up in flames, and because it’s happening in just one part of the country, many people are not really bothered.

It bothers me.

We are looking at poverty levels increasing. We are looking at crimes waiting to happen. We are looking at suicide rates going up. We are looking at unstemmed apathy.

It is the Onitsha market today, we don’t know whose turn it will be tomorrow.

What company was the exploding tanker registered to? They must be held accountable. What appendage of government is responsible for monitoring transportation by road? They have very serious questions to answer.

The Federal Fire Service must be held accountable. The Ministry of Interior must be held accountable.

But if a whole minister doesn’t even know what his portfolio is about, how do you expect the fire service to take their jobs seriously?

(c) Hannu Afere 2019

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