The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, recently disclosed the resolve of his ministry to create an arms-bearing unit for Federal Fire Service to be referred to as “Fire Police,” whose duty would be to provide armed outer cordon during operations.
According to the minister, the decision is “part of efforts to address the challenges often faced by firefighters during operations, through mob action and vandalism of firefighting assets in the country”.
In the considered opinion of this newspaper, the idea of fire service operatives carrying arms is totally unthinkable as it could be an invitation to anarchy, which must not be contemplated at all. Even more than that, we are strongly opposed to the militarization of the society. Does it make sense to have firemen carry arms when the country is already believed to be proliferated with light arms and weapons? Firefighters bearing arms is one step that must not be taken. With Nigeria notoriously believed to be the base of illegal small arms in the West African sub-region, efforts ought to be directed at reducing the negative implication of this perception. It is estimated that 70 percent of the over 10 million illegal small arms in circulation in West Africa are in Nigeria. Arms for firefighters is not a positive step towards rectifying this bad record.
It is instructive to note that the Fire Service in Nigeria was established in 1901 as an arm of the Lagos Police Fire Brigade. In April 1963, an Act of Parliament established the Federal Fire Service. Their mandate is to extinguish, control, and prevent as well as rescue victims during an emergency; to save lives and protect property, and also to ensure the safety of lives and properties by extinguishing and preventing fire outbreaks.
Sadly, in recent years, the firefighting departments have not lived up to those expectations. For instance, most firefighting stations and departments across the country are not well-equipped to discharge their duties effectively. There is a total lack of firefighting equipment and where they are available, they are obscenely obsolete. Worse, essential facilities like effective communication gadgets are in short supply. There is also a shortage of water supply just as the firefighters work in very deplorable environment. Compounding this misery is the slavish condition of service under which these courageous men and women work and for which, in some cases, they pay the supreme price.
The tragedy of the fire Service in Nigeria is that successive federal and state governments have completely neglected and underfunded the agency due mainly to inadequate understanding of the nature of the work they do. In spite of the risks they take to keep public and private properties safe, they are seldom appreciated.
According to reports, there are less than 200 fire stations in Nigeria in a country with 774 local government which raises the question of whether the proposal for arms bearing will address the many short comings of the fire service. We oppose it even more because an officer with a gun in Nigeria often thinks he has been given the license to kill and brutalize citizens.
Indeed, there are ways to address mob action and vandalism of firefighting assets in the country. Where are the Police and the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in all of these? The Police are supposed to protect anyone or organizations from mob actions while the NSCDC is meant to protect critical infrastructure across the country. It is our candid opinion that rather than call for establishment of police unit for every department, there should be a policy to incentivize existing agencies to live up to their responsibilities.
Needless to say that there should be a synergy between the fire service, police, and NSCDC in the event of a massive fire outbreak in any part of the country. This brings to the fore the calls for massive recruitment in the security agencies across the country. No doubt, most of these agencies are understaffed as the insecurity ravaging the country has overstretched them.
Government can do well to intensify recruitments into the security agencies to enable them protect the citizens and provide the needed security during operations by sister agencies such as the fire service. We, therefore, call on both the federal and state governments to reform the firefighting departments to compete with their counterparts across the world.
We also submit that the fire service should jettison the idea of carrying arms as it will be counterproductive in the long run. It is Ill-timed, ill-advised and dangerous in our clime. If the Ministry is looking for areas to expend their budget, they should use the money they are earmarking for arms to providing strategic equipment urgently needed by the service. No arms please.