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Millions of naira worth of damage done last night in Onitsha fire

The Onitsha fire and the mediocrity of governance in Anambra State

A tanker explosion near Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS) in Onitsha started a fire around 8pm on Wednesday night that has reportedly caused millions of naira worth of damage to property.  Thankfully, so far there have been no reports of any casualties.

Residents could be seen in some of the images on a Nigerian news channels vainly trying to put out fires with buckets of water.  Others complained about the slow and ineffective response by the fire brigade.  One witness claimed there was no response from the emergency services for about two hours and they only showed up after significant damage had been done.  What looked like a reasonably equipped fire engine had to come from the nearby Delta State capital of Asaba.

This incident raises several questions about the stewardship of Anambra State by the current governor Willie Obiano, due for reelection next year, and his predecessor Peter Obi.

Obi and Obiano: Two governors, 11 years, not one decent fire service

Obi has been packaged as a picture of prudence and good governance and possible “Igbo president”, with a video of a speech he made last year on development going viral.  He talked a good game on development in the speech, but in eight years as governor could not provide his state with a critical public service such as an adequate fire brigade.

Obi chose Obiano as his successor.  And the latter, even more than his predecessor, has been used by many, including the likes of Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, as a template for good governance.  Obiano seems to favour dressing up in colourful clothes and having his supporters dress up in outfits emblazoned with his mug, in a Mobutu-like personality cult display.  The common refrain from his fans is that “Willie is working” and there is an awful amount of PR to convince sceptics about these “alternative facts”.

Willie is working with tailors

In reality, Willie’s “working” doesn’t seem to involve a working fire and rescue service in the commercial capital of his state, or in any other part of the state, for that matter.  He has reportedly cut short a visit to Abuja to “assess the extent of the damage” in Onitsha.  But will he assess the extent of how the damage could have been prevented if he had done the absolute necessary of providing an effective fire and rescue service?

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that if this fire were in the governor’s mansion in Awka, the response would have been a whole lot different.  Obiano’s motorcade is known to include a fully-equipped ambulance vehicle.  As we reported here.  It is good enough for him, but not for the people of his state.  The so-called “working” governor is expecting to be reelected next year when he hasn’t worked out how to extend such emergency services to all the people of his state.

The likes of Obi and Obiano get away with their mediocrity because Nigerians have been starved of good governance for so long, that even doing as little as paying workers’ salaries is celebrated as an achievement.


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