By Bello Oyiza Rosemary
In the last 3 years, the Kogi state has witnessed many fire incidents that have claimed lives and destroyed properties worth millions and billions of Naira.
On the 23rd of September 2020, a fully loaded petrol tanker fire accident claimed not fewer than 20 lives with so many people injured at Felele without any fire service intervention.
Just a few days after the Felele fire disaster, on the 26th of September 2020, there was also a fire outbreak at the popular Pee-Links electronic world limited with goods worth millions of Naira lost to the fire. Again, there was no fire service intervention despite the proximity between the complex and the Federal Fire Service.
There was also a fire incident on June 12, 2022, several shops and houses were razed at Ganaja Village, Ajaokuta local government when a loaded petrol tanker fell the previous night.
The cause of the fire was alleged lit of cigarette while scooping petrol; this time, it took the invention of communal efforts to salvage the situation.
Further investigation revealed that on the 27th of June 2022, at least 3 people were burnt to death and two injured when a petrol tanker burst into flames due to brake failure opposite Living Faith Church, Felele along Lokoja-Abuja express road, again, no fire service intervention.
Also, on the 10th of October 2022, there was a fire incident at the Kogi State House of Assembly complex without intervention for hours. This is coming not less than 3 months after the Kogi state ministry of works claimed to have awarded the procurement contract of fire engines.
A resident of Lokoja, Mr. Nicolas Omale who witnessed a petrol tanker fire incident at ganaja village lamented that properties were lost to the fire because of the non-functional fire service in the state:
“I don’t even know if we have fire service in the state, most of us there that day don’t even know the number to call for hours when the tanker fell before it went up in flame.”
Another resident Mr. Enesi Amos said: “Kogi is a gateway state to 11 states, Petroleum products, LPG, diesel, livestock, and farm produce pass through Kogi state to other states. There ought to be a presence of both State and federal fire service for rapid response in case of fire incidents.”
He said: “Government is concentrating on security but a single fire incident can do more harm than insecurity within a few hours, fire is the fastest means of massive destruction.
“Government needs to devote more attention to the control and prevention of fire-related accidents.”
Just recently on the 10th of November 2022 at about 2:00 pm, no fewer than 20 people lost their lives, 50 people were injured and over 25 vehicles were destroyed in a petrol tanker explosion near Ochadamu junction in the Eastern part of Kogi state.
The fire disaster according to eye-witnesses could not be curtailed as there was no intervention.
Kogi Fire Service Unable to respond to emergencies
On-the-spot location count revealed that Kogi state has four designated fire service offices at Idah, two in the state capital town, and the Federal Fire Service, Lokoja.
All efforts to officially get an inventory or status of the state firefighting engines and trucks failed. But at the Ministry of Works and Transport, Marine Road, Lokoja where the Kogi State Fire Agency Headquarters is, only one firefighting truck is seen standing.
The truck has no registration number; it looked parked for a very long time with grasses grown under it and looks very dusty.
A background check divulged that in the early days of the present administration of Governor Yahaya Bello, during an official meeting with the Controller General of the Federal Fire Service, CG Joseph Anebi, he disclosed that before taking office in January 2016, Kogi state no functional fire engine.
His claim can be assessed on tweeted https://twitter.com/LugardHouse/status/819551295442825217
Further investigation by this reporter revealed that the entire Kogi Fire Service staff strength stood at 15 personnel before Governor Yahaya Bello gave the approval to recruit an additional 25 staff last year, 2021.
The Director of Fire Service, Mr. Salawu Ozigi confirmed that the Governor gave approval for the recruitment of an additional 25 staff.
According to him, the recruitment exercise was done on the 10th and 14th of September 2021 through physical examination, endurance test, and interview.
He told this reporter that the employment interview for grade level 4 was carried out by the Civil Service Commission while 21 others were jointly interviewed and accessed by the senior management committee SMC constituted for that purpose, representative of the Civil Service Commission and Ministry of Works and housing).
Mr. Ozigi said there are a number of factors that contributes to their inability to respond to fire disasters in the state.
“At the moment there is no functional fire vehicle but about 2 months ago there was approval by Governor Yahaya Bello to award a contract for the two faulty fire engines to be overhauled, and purchase 1 Rapid Response Vehicle to enable us to carry out rescue and salvage properties promptly, and 1 fire engine.”
Mr. Ozigi said one of the hazards of fire service is the threat to life and equipment.
Mr. Ozigi said: “The Kogi state fire department needs its own office complex and well-equipped fire service with an emergency tender that will help us act promptly, especially in a state like Kogi that is prone to annual floods.
“We also need more staff despite the recent recruitment of 25 personnel; we are still short of staff if the Fire Service is required to be fully functional.”
According to Mr. Ozigi, the fire service is one of the leading agencies during a flood emergency, with the annual flood in Lokoja, we would reduce loss and deaths by performing our responsibility of Search and Rescue; but then again, we do not have the right equipment called EMERGENCY TENDER.
Firefighters should be well equipped to promptly respond to flood or fire emergencies in order to carry out lifesaving work, Ozigi submitted.
Presently, the State Fire Service is sharing an office with the State Ministry of Works and Transport.
Budgeted Firefighting equipment not backed with releases
The state budget in the past three (3) years has been making provision for the purchase of 6 Nos. fire engines and firefighting equipment/appliances under the Ministry of Kogi state Works and Housing.
The same allocation has appeared in the 2022 budget under the same Ministry.
As of the time of this investigation, no funds were released for the purchase of the equipment.
Back in 2020, the state budget allocated two hundred million naira for the purchase of 6 (Six) fire engines with the code 00130000030143 under the State Ministry of Works and Housing.
Again, in 2021 it was captured in the Ministry of Works with the budget code number 001300000 and a total of two hundred million.
For 2022, the state budget proposed an estimate of one hundred and seven million, six hundred thousand, three hundred and sixty-three Naira, sixteen Kobo (107,600, 363.16) with code number 130000030153.
Information from the Kogi State Ministry of Planning and Budget as of October 2022 revealed that the budget has not performed.
A review of the third quarter 2022 budget performance also revealed that the budget line was not funded.
A source document review by this reporter found out that the state fire service budget allocation has been none performing because nothing has been done by the implementing Ministry to get funds.
In an interview with the Permanent Secretary, of the Kogi State Ministry of Finance, Mr. Olajide Samuel said the Ministry of Works and Housing will have to apply for funding for the proposed project in the budget.
According to him, the budget is not automatic, if you do not apply for funding, it will remain unfunded.
Repeated visits to the Accountant General’s (AG) office to find out whether funds have been released for the procurement of the firefighting equipment proved fruitless.
Investigations revealed that the AG hardly uses the office at the state secretariat but the Government House Annex where he cannot be reached.
However, after several visits, a text message, and calls, the Permanent Secretary at AG’s Office, Mr. Elijah Strong responded that he is not aware of any fund that has been released to the Ministry of Works with respect to the fire service allocation in the budget for 2022.
At the Ministry of Works and Housing, the Acting Permanent Secretary, Engr. Onimisi Audu said the proposed fire project has gone through e-procurement, the contract has been awarded and a letter to that effect has been sent to the contractor but he did not acknowledge receipt.
Investigations further revealed that the e-bidding was done on 26 June 2022 at about 14:00 pm by two companies, Jim-Junk Construction Company and Scrabble partners’ Construction Ltd.
It also revealed that the contract was awarded on the 27th of June 2022 to an unnamed company that was not part of the e-procurement processes.
All efforts to trace or reach out to the contractor by this reporter failed.
When the Acting Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Works, Engr. Audu was contacted, he declined to respond to the question: “Has the State Ministry of Works applied for the release of funds after or before the e-bidding process in line with due process”?
Kogi State Ministry of Works is a sensitive and important office that has been without a substantive commission for more than 6 months as of the time of this investigation, a development that has kept a lot of people presuming that the government might be exploring the gap to short-change the state. The procurement of the fire engines might be a point in case.
The reporter went undercover and interacted with female personnel at the Kogi State Bureau for Public Procurement who disclosed that the agency is only responsible for the registration of contractors and issuing certificates before bidding for any state contract.
Seeking an expert opinion on the contracts bidding process, this reporter had an interaction with Mr. Sunny Adebija, a journalist with Radio Nigeria in Lokoja who has done extensive work on contract bidding.
He explained that usually, an advertisement is placed in at least two national newspapers and an announcement in the government’s official gazette of the procuring entity’s website.
He also said: “The Special Procurement Notice (SPN) must contain some information like name of the procuring entity, name or nature of the contract, items to be procured, and contact information for obtaining tendering documents.
“Others are the cost of the tendering documents, place, and deadline for tender submission, and invitation for prequalification includes similar information including the place and deadline for submission of the application to pre-qualify.”
This speaks to section 19 of the Public Procurement Act 2007 titled (SPN) No 38.2, though officials at the Kogi State Public Procurement Bureau and the Kogi State Ministry of Works and Housing refused to speak on the matter.
Irrespective of the way the bidding process and the way the contract was awarded by the Kogi State Ministry of Works and Housing, the Dean of Faculty of Management Science, Kogi State University, Anyimba, Professor John Alabi who spoke on contract approval and cash releases said:
“Once a budget is approved, the next thing is for the Accountant General to produce an Authorization otherwise known as Authority to Incur Expenditure (AIE).
“Without AIE nothing can be done as regards the approved project. After the AIE is done, Ministries Departments and Agencies MDAs can now make a request base on the project approval, stating the code of the project and request for funding.”
Professor Alabi said after the MDA applied for funding, they pre-qualify and select contractors, the contractor asks for their funds then they are paid based on the certificate in 2 or 3 Installments by the MDA, withholding 20% of the total money till after a year when 15% will be released to them, then 5% withhold for maintenance.
He also said if the money is not sufficient for the project; a supplementary budget can be done and approved by the legislature.
Processor Alabi, however, said there are exceptions when the state governor can give executive approval for a project expressively because of its exigency, then, later do extra-budgetary allocation for the project.
Residents of Lokoja are bitterly disappointed to have seen no concrete investment commitments to release funds for the purchase of fire equipment, and trucks and to upgrade it to a functional agency.
A source that preferred to be anonymous lamented about the inability of the fire service to respond to fire emergencies.
He said: “Responding to fire emergency is very important as so many lives and properties can be lost in just a moment of fire outbreak or disaster; though the government is trying in terms of security it should do the same with the fire department.”
This publication is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation.