Saturday, April 16, 2016

Taming the incessant market fires in Nigeria

Nigerian economy is obviously in a bad shape, some analysts said it’s in recession. The indices are frightening. There is growing inflation, unemployment and poverty. Several reasons have been adduced for the state of the economy. These range from bad leadership, corruption, profligacy, policy inconsistency, overdependence on imports, lack of proper national planning, nepotism, political instability and many others too numerous to mention. Every economy depends on the informal sector to grow and develop. Nigeria is not an exception. The total strength of government employees across the three tiers of government, that is, federal, state and local government is perhaps one per cent of the total number of the country’s entire workforce. What that means is that the organised private sector made up of small and medium enterprises makes up the chunk of the country’s working population.  Many of the country’s labour force are found across the Nigeria’s open markets.

Markets had been in existence from time immemorial. It is part of community set up. There is no hamlet, village or town that does not have one or more markets where people in those communities trade. Historically, marketing was said to have started with trade by barter where people exchange goods for goods.  Thus, a farmer who has yam and needs fish will go in search of a fisherman in need of yam in exchange for his fish. It was a complicated and cumbersome trade but people live with it. As civilisation evolves, and to facilitate trading, money was devised as means of exchange. Historians told us that the earliest means of monetary exchange in this part of the world was cowry. Later on, a more acceptable national currency was designed. The British colonialists made us to adopt their national currency which is Pounds and Shillings. By the time the country gained independence in 1960, it designed its own national currency as Naira and Kobo. This is what is still in use.

There is no gainsaying that markets contribute immensely to any country’s economy, Nigeria inclusive. People profitably engage in businesses there by hiring, buying or building shops in the markets. Some that has no resource to own a shop still find a portion of open space to display their wares. Some market traders are not stationary. They move about the market environment to hawk their products or offer their services. The markets are somewhat regulated. Market operators appoint or elect their leaders who try to control activities in the markets and interface with government. At election time, politicians go through these market leaders to woo their members to vote for them. While many of the markets are sited, built and regulated by the communities, many others are built and controlled by government especially the state and local governments. They sell or hire the stalls to traders and collect taxes and rates from the operators thereby contributing to the internally generated revenues of these states and concomitantly national growth and development.

Unfortunately, many of these markets have had to contend with incessant and perennial fire outbreaks leading to loss of lives and properties. A news story in The PUNCH of Wednesday, April 13, 2016 said fire eruptions in markets between January 2015 and March 2016 have claimed 600 lives and properties worth N5.30tn. The information was credited to the Controller-General of Federal Fire Service, Mr. Joseph Anebi. These, he said, included N2tn property lost in the recent fire incident at Abubakar Rimi Sabon-Gari market, Kano.

According to a statement purportedly released on Tuesday, April 12, 2016 in Abuja by the FFS Public Relations Officer, Elechi Collins, the CG of Federal Fire Service reportedly said that during his condolence visit to the Governor of Kano State, Dr. Abdullahi Ganduje. The CG attributed the inability of the fire service to respond to fire outbreaks in time to inadequate fire stations, lack of fire hydrants and water source dedicated for firefighting. Other factors identifed include compromised access to the markets by illegal structures, improper housekeeping, flagrant abuse of power generators, poor fire safety management and control due to low personnel strength and absence of sustained training and re-training. Anebi therefore called on all stakeholders to support government efforts towards finding solutions to the incessant fire incidents in markets, stating that the FFS was prepared to partner with the state government and relevant stakeholders to address fire outbreaks at our trading centres.

The fire service boss was spot on in highlighting the root causes of these numerous fire disasters. Both the regulators and operators of our markets are at fault. Many markets are not well planned. They lack thoroughfare for vehicles hence when there is emergencies, access road is denied for rescue missions. Many market traders are also very reckless. They are ignorant of how to handle combustible materials and often engage in illegal electricity tapping.  Some smokers in the market drop cigarette butts indiscriminately. All these can lead to fire accidents. As admitted by the FFS Controller General, they are not well resourced.  Imagine the gargantuan loss incurred in the last 15 months which is put at 600 lives and over N5tn. This is preposterous! The lives lost are irreplaceable while the valuables destroyed and job losses have caused further distress to the ailing economy. Something therefore has to be done to nip this ugly phenomenon in the bud.

Nigerian Fire Services at both federal and state levels need to be well equipped to perform their statutory roles of fire prevention and management. They have to be more proactive by collaborating with market unions to educate traders on dangers of fire, prevention and control mechanisms. State and local governments should work collaboratively to ensure that they build modern markets with access roads, toilets, security posts and other essential services such as light and water in order to make trading in those markets convenient. The market union leaders too must weed out illegal stalls and unscrupulous traders from their midst otherwise they will all suffer collateral damage in the event of fire outbreaks. Market operators should also embrace insurance policy which will mitigate their loss in the event of any disaster.