In the past and even this year, the Lagos State Government had tried without success to prohibit the use of firecrackers and other fireworks (popularly called knockouts and bangers in Nigeria).
The fire disaster that took place in Lagos this week is another wakeup call on many fronts.
The unfortunate incidents reminded me of one of my earliest articles published both on the Nigeria Village Square and in the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper. The article first published in 2007 is titled: What is Fire Brigade Approach?
In that article, I defined The Fire Brigade Approach as “Nigerians spending last minutes efforts in trying to solve a problem that has been there forever”. That definition borrowed from what I knew of the Fire Brigade while growing up in Nigeria still sadly fit the working approaches of several institutions and agencies in Nigeria today.
No one will likely succeed in stopping the use of fireworks during celebrations or festivities. Some traditions are too strong to kill.
It will require adequate regulations to monitor the safe sale and proper use of these fireworks.
It should not be possible for any businessman or woman to just be able to import or take possession of these dangerous things simply because they are business persons.
The federal and state governments in Nigeria should monitor and approve companies that are fit to undertake such businesses and these should not be based on sentiments or family connections.
Wholesale and retail outlets that distribute these products should have adequate safety procedures to deal with accidents. It is even better to have procedures that will prevent the accidents in the first place.
Considering the fire outbreak in Lagos, it is clear that there are no regulations or they are not followed. Often in Nigeria, the time is not taken to do things meticulously. In many cases no one is ensuring that the regulations are followed especially when bribes can be paid to make rules worthless and inconsequential.
I cannot still imagine that knock-outs as we call them are sold in such a congested area in Lagos. Obviously whether they have done that for several years is not the question, the point is that it has always been a disaster in the making. Then it happened!
With adequate and proper planning, such an accident (if it occurred) should have happened in an industrial area or a shopping area out of town. I mean a building that houses fireworks should either be isolated somewhere or has walls made of fire-resistant materials that will prevent the spread of accidental fire.
On other fronts some of the abnormal things about Nigeria were furthermore exposed by the ugly fire incident which has claimed one life and injured several others. The damage also included a number of houses.
Do we know if there are in-house emergency arrangements in the building where the fireworks are sold? I have not read about fire-extinguishers being used while awaiting the arrival of the fire brigade.
Generally this accident calls for a review of emergency handling situations in Nigeria.
Minor, major, man-made and natural disasters need to be reviewed in Nigeria.
People need to be taught how to deal with minor accidents so that they don’t escalate to major accidents. In certain accidents in Nigeria, stampede has led to more casualties than the original causes of the accidents.
People need to be taught how to prevent domestic and environmental accidents. When they happened they need to know how to deal with the situation immediately and what to do while seeking or waiting for help.
How many Nigerians have been educated that firecrackers are supposed to be mainly outdoor hobbies, something done at some reasonable distance from places of abode? I remembered how people threw bangers at each other in Nigeria and in fact that it was okay to aim them at another man’s flat or compound!
I knew people who held bangers in their hands till they explode and I’d seen at least two boys whose hands were blistered from such experiments. Sadly too I recall many ugly incidents-including deaths-related to the use of fireworks in Nigeria.
Nigerians are also fond of looking and forming unnecessary crowd at the scene of accidents. Still what kind of crowd gathered in such a way that it took the fire brigade about an hour to get through?
If the sirens were blowing out loud, does it means that Nigerians have become deaf that they couldn’t hear the siren or could it be that the sounds of sirens have become meaningless considering the misuse/abuse over the years? Where was the Nigerian Police during all these?
One man even took the helmet of a fireman. Was that a joke? The fire brigade and emergency workers can claim in this case that their work have been hindered or hampered by crowd gathering and doing nothing but taking pictures to be posted on social networks. Some heartless people actually visit scenes of accidents to steal or loot.
However, one man was reported to be scooping water with a bucket from a nearby source. Lagos (and Lagos Island in particular) is lineated, permeated and surrounded by water and the fire brigade always runs short of it. The disgust is the same when you see people who don’t have safe water to drink.
In any case, this man-made accident is another wakeup call.
The concerned Lagos State Government agencies or authorities should rise, step up and do that which is necessary to prevent another tragedy of this nature. It is not enough to earn or share money through official titles. It is not wise to wait for the next tragedy before something is done. The jobs must be done now and people need to be educated and informed.
The Lagos State Ministries in charge of Commerce & Trade, Environment, Information, Education, Town Planning and Industrialization should step forward and tell Lagosians the measures that have been or that are now in place to ensure the safety of lives and property. Emergency Management Agencies, the Police and the firemen/women should not be left out of the plans.