In October 2019, a section of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) building located in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), was gutted by fire.
The news spread like wildfire on social media such that the former spokesperson Wahab Gbadamosi confirmed the incident with the assurance of providing details of losses incurred due to the inferno.
The fire outbreak was later subdued by officials of the fire service.
Similarly, in January 2021, the FCT witnessed another fire incident at the Kugbo Furniture and Timber Market. About 100 shops were engulfed by fire while goods worth N3billion were lost to the inferno.
It was not the first time the furniture market would experience such a disaster.
Around the same month in 2020, a similar incident had occurred where traders lost goods and huge sum of money .
By July 2021, the FCT recorded another fire incident in the Karmo market. According to one Toluwani Ajayi, who was an eyewitness, a generator explosion had caused the inferno.
It gradually spread, covering a larger part of the stalls. Goods worth millions were lost to the unfortunate incident.
But that was not all. About four months after, on November 5, 2021, another fire incident broke out in Kubwa, a different suburb area of FCT. It happened precisely at the Kubwa ultra-modern market, claiming five lives.
The Police later confirmed the incident.
The latest in the series of fire incidents in FCT was Abuja’s Next Cash & Carry inferno. It drew so much attention and public concern that the authorities promised to investigate the cause.
It is uncertain if any official outcome from the supposed probe has been made public.
The series of incidents simply implies that the FCT Administration must be proactive in addressing the recurring fire disasters.
Hence, it developed an online portal (www.myfctagov.ng) where members of the public could easily contact the FCT Fire Service should there be an urgent need.
The platform boldly has on it three phone numbers with large font sizes: 0814643440, 092006118, 092914089. That is, with a glance, the public could easily grab the numbers and put a call to the service.
The initiative, according to the FCT Administration, is the “Federal Capital Territory Residents Engagement Platform designed to connect the residents of FCT with the FCT Administration for interactions, communication, and collaboration between the government and the residents.”
Fire emergency lines unreachable, incomplete
On January 11, The ICIR put a call to the numbers to verify their accessibility. The emergency numbers were all unreachable.
At first, this reporter observed that the first digits of the emergency lines were incomplete. Instead of the regular 11-digit number, they were 10. They were not like the regular short-code numbers such as 122 of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) or 622 of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), among others.
Meanwhile, the other two numbers also remained unreachable after multiple attempts. This reporter attempted to verify the emergency lines via the FCT Fire Service official website – www.fireservice.abj.gov.ng. But, in the same pattern as the phone numbers, the website was unreachable.
On Thursday, January 27, The ICIR did the same routine by calling the numbers. They all remained inaccessible as they were unconnected to the fire service.
This implies, should there be a fire incident, FCT residents who randomly put a call through to the numbers listed on the website may not get through.
On Friday, January 28, the same deliberate effort was made to dial the three numbers but they remained unreachable. This ordinarily calls to question the efficiency of the FCT Fire Service in times of fire situation.
The recurring fire events, unfortunately, have brought to fore some concerns from investors. Should the situation persist, experts say it could have an adverse effect on the economy. For instance, a recent report put the nation’s loss to fire incidents at N41.54 billion just in two years.
FCTA, FCT Fire Service react
The Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the FCT Minister Tony Ogunleye described the error as minor while reacting to the story but pledged to link this reporter with the right department.
He later shared with The ICIR the contact of the Acting Director of Reform Coordination and Service Improvement Jummai Ahmadu. But, all efforts to reach the official have since proved abortive.
To react to the inactive emergency lines, The ICIR also attempted to reach out to the Public Relations Officer of the FCT Fire Service Ibrahim Muhammad.
Besides, findings show the FCT Fire Service shares the same location as the Federal Fire Service headquarters, also in Abuja. Hence, this reporter reached out to the Spokesperson of the Federal Fire Service Huan Ugo to provide the needed contact. She did.
Muhammad later confirmed the numbers on the FCT portal as being wrong when The ICIR shared a screenshot.
He subsequently provided the right numbers below.
Subsequently, The ICIR called each of the emergency numbers representing fire stations across some parts of the territory to confirm their availability. The numbers all connected, except for Kaura Fire Station which was not available.
The emergency line for the Kuje Fire Station went through when dialed but was answered by a child who asked this reporter to call back later at night at about 8 pm once her mother was available.
However, the situation implies that although the FCTA and the Fire Service have emergency numbers, there is a need for better efficiency and access to the emergency lines to curtail the persistent fire disasters.