Onitsha Fire Disasters: Lesson for All

The month of October has been a month of death, tears, losses and pain for Anambra State which witnessed two major fire disasters in very quick succession in a manner that had not been experienced in the state.

The first one occurred when a tanker laden with petrol fell at Upper Iweka as a result of brake failure, led to an inferno that spread up to the ever busy Ochanja Market through the open drainage. Even though the number of people that died at the Ochanja fire could not be accurately ascertained, the fact remained that lives were lost, as well as the property and goods of traders. Perhaps, the most pathetic sight to behold were the charred remains of a mother and child who were burnt beyond recognition.

A day after that, another disaster occurred at Omagba Layout, Onitsha, when another petrol tanker lost control and burst in flames, this time, burning a total of 22 cars parked at two mechanic workshops and 8 buildings. Thankfully, no lives were lost this time because the firefighters got the distress call almost immediately and acted promptly.

A few days after that, what would have been another tragic incident was averted as another petrol tanker had the same issue of brake failure while trying to negotiate a bend somewhere in Agulu. Another truck was thankfully brought to empty the contents as the area was cordoned off by the police to prevent casualties.

The Government of Anambra State has since taken measures to handle the situation as well as set up a trust fund for the victims of the fire.

Highly placed individuals and politicians alike have also visited the Ochanja traders, commiserated with them and promised to assist them as well.

While saluting their gestures, we feel that this is a time to take stock and map out preventive measures against such in the future.

This is the time for the state government to stamp its feet against fuel tankers driving through the streets of Anambra and through the highways during the day. The Anambra State Government had frowned against this, after the Amawbia fire disaster earlier in the year.

We feel the only reason why these drivers ignored that instruction was because nobody was used as a scape goat. It is not enough to make laws. Laws do not make sense if they are not implemented. This is the time for the government to crack down on these tankers and bring all defaulters to book. The moment they stop racing through the highways like they do during the day, the barbecue of human bodies experienced each time they crash will be reduced drastically.

The Omagba incident did not claim lives because of a lot of reasons. First of all, it happened at night. Secondly, information got to the firefighters almost immediately and they responded promptly. Thirdly, because it was a night accident, there was no case of traffic jams as witnessed during the day, so movement was swift for the firefighters who arrived and quenched the fire.

Most importantly, the citing of gas plants in residential areas is a disaster that is bound to happen in the state if something is not done about it. The Omagba fire might not have claimed lives but what would have happened if a gas plant was stationed close to the area?

Taking note of all this and acting on them will surely go a long way in averting future occurrences. Life is sacred. This is not a time to apportion blames or play politics as it will amount to crying over the proverbial spilt milk. This is the time to make amends and chart a better course for fighting fire in the state.