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Investigations

Residents, Officers Complain As Osun Fire Stations Lack Infrastructure To Put Out Fire

With a heavy sigh after every spoken word, you can tell that Ilias Okeowo is yet to recover from the loss of his car, the only one he had ever owned.

At the sound of the horn and the zooming of the car, every family member jumped up, danced and shouted in jubilation as the Audi 80 was driven into the small compound at Gaa Oke Odo in Ejigbo in 2008.

At 65, after retirement, Mr Okeowo decided to make his family happy and expand his farming business, so he bought a personal car from his gratuity.

Sadly, On October 24, 2022, a beautiful morning turned ugly for Mr Okeowo. His Audi 80 caught fire and burnt to the ground.

“I felt so sad when I realised I couldn’t even call the fire people (services) for help,” he said. “The fire service here is useless; they don’t operate here in Ejigbo at all. I couldn’t call them, so I had to watch my car burn down to the ground.”

The incident is still fresh in the minds of residents. Many cannot forget how people stood helplessly watching a whole car burn to the ground after hopeless thoughts of the fire station.

“That car is the joy of that family, and the old man struggles in the civil service,” Maruf Alabi, the mechanic, who worked on the car when it was still active, said.

Mr Okeowo is one of the many victims of fire attacks in different parts of Osun State who had lost hope in the fire service in the state.

Fire Stations Everywhere But No Service

Despite constructing 11 fire stations in 11 different towns in Osun state, communities still suffer losses from fire outbreaks.

On November 13, 2018, days to the end of his tenure, then Osun State governor and now Interior Minister Rauf Aregbesola awarded 11 contracts to nine firms, at the cost of N223.2 million, for the construction of 11 fire stations at N20.3 million each in various locations in the state.

The locations include; Ede, Ilesa, Ile-Ife, Erin-Osun, Iwo, Ila Orangun, Ikirun, Ikire, Ipetu-Ijesha, Ejigbo and Esa-Oke.

Details of the project were extracted from documents from the Osun State Public Procurement Agency (PPA).

Construction of the stations was aimed at enhancing service delivery by fire officers in the state.

UDEME gathered that the first station, built in Ikirun, was completed before the new administration, and it wasn’t long before the new government commissioned other stations in 2019.

In July 2021, ICIR reported abuse of the procurement process in awarding the contracts.

Today, these 11 stations are rotting, functionless and unproductive, as it has no impact on the communities, the people or the fire officers.

There have been assertions that the idea was not initially necessary because there were neither officers working in the stations nor operational fire-engaging instruments, which include a fire truck, water tanker, borehole and others.

Iwo fire station

No Equipment To Work

One of the officers at Ede fire station, who sought anonymity for fear of punishment, expressed discomfort about the station’s condition.

“The government doesn’t care about us; many of the time, we used to contribute our own money for maintenance,” he said.

He further explained how they made provisions for their female officers.

“We have only five rooms here; these rooms are used by our senior officers. We stay at work for four days like that. There are no dormitories for us or our females, so we had to change two of our offices here to dormitories for our female officers.”

Other officers who were approached the station did not speak to UDEME for fear of victimization.

Lost Hope

It was around 10 a.m. when the incident occurred. Mr Okeowo said he was on his way to a screening program for pensioners in Iwo local government when he noticed flames coming out of the car. He quickly drove to the nearby mechanic.

The mechanic, Maruf Alabi, and others tried but couldn’t extinguish the fire. In the process, Mr Alabi burnt part of his body and lost his phone to the fire.

Muraf Alabi’s burnt fingers

“The car would have only gotten little damage if the fire people were available,” Mr Alabi said. “I don’t even remember we had any fire stations since they are useless to us, even though the fire station is over there (points to a direction very close to his shop).”

Ejigbo fire station is situated in the Unity area, a three kilometres walk to Ejigbo park, where the car caught fire.

“They don’t even have a truck, not to talk of other equipment that will be needed. They have never come to our mind whenever there is any fire outbreak,” Mr Okeowo said.

Olanrewaju Akeem, the Vice-Superintendent of the Ejigbo fire station, agreed to these claims, stating that the service faces many challenges impeding its effectiveness.

“We know why they couldn’t call us; the people know we don’t have what to use to help the situation, even we can’t help ourselves from this flooding in the station,” he said.

“We don’t have a borehole here, or water and a fire station…without no water is like a car with no engine,” he added.

Same Problem Everywhere

Speaking further, Mr Akeem explained how the station battles flooding, among other infrastructural challenges.

“We used to battle with flood whenever there is rain here in Ejigbo. We all bring out buckets and start fetching the water out from the station.”

He continued, “The first fire station was established in 1982, but this new one emerged in 2018. “It’s a blessing at first, as it tends to provide good shelter for us, but there are lots of deficiencies in the construction. Whenever there is rain, we battle with floods caused by downpours, leakage of the roof and bad plumbing.”

He added that the zone had written letters to their headquarters complaining about the station’s situation.

One of the letters written by Officers to their headquarters.

This reporter visited the stations in Ede, Ejigbo and Iwo and discovered they all had poorly constructed buildings and lacked amenities.

The officer in Ede shared an experience where fire service officers had to borrow buckets from residents to fetch water to quench a recent fire outbreak at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conference room.

“Since I was recruited a year ago, I have not used the appropriate tool to solve any fire accident. We don’t have any communication device at the station.

“It’s so shameful that we use to disguise when we go out to help solve the fire accident at times. Just like this one at the INEC office, we had to disguise as ordinary individuals, not until people noticed our professional move.”

Reactions

Mr Kolawole Akeem, a commercial motorcycle rider from Ede, was surprised about the amount budgeted for the project.

“That place isn’t worth even 3 million,” he said, referring to the fire station in Ede.

The state Public Relations Officer of the fire service, Adekunle Ibrahim, could not provide detailed answers to questions about the projects and welfare of servicemen.

“I don’t know anything about the budget; I could not debunk what you said. As you can see, I am not working there; they (referring to the officers) only knows where the shoe pinches. I only say what I know,” he said.

He further explained how one of the contractors, the one handling the station at Esa-Oke, ran away without completing the job. He directed this reporter to the Ministry of Home Affairs for further information.

At the ministry, UDEME spoke with the coordinating director, who identified himself as J. A. Akande. He insisted the fire stations are running well.

“Our fire stations are responding very well, while their fire trucks are working perfectly too, as we are trying to work on every station, recently the commissioner and I went round,” Mr Akande explained.

He further illustrated why the ministry is crippled in some situations.

“You know, we are guided with law. We have submitted some things to the house (House of Assembly), but you know the law holds so many things, and we cannot go against it.”

Ede fire station

This story was supported by the UDEME project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID)

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