Although the age long aphorism: “better late than never” is generally accepted, there are instances where it mustn’t apply. One of such is in emergencies where if you knew you’d arrive late, so late as to allow the worst happen, it would be best you don’t come at all. Lest, your coming turns you to the one in emergency. That’s an understanding everyone involved in works that require urgency should have.
This is because their work is to avert things from getting awry. They are not professional mourners or sympathisers that come afterwards. Their input should come prior a ruination not after it. If it comes after, they become only useful in collecting catharsis. Since everyone knows that if they were on hand to do their work as expected, there wouldn’t have been a reason to grief, it then means that it’ll be daring for them to still come when they know that to the grief-stricken, they are the grief- the source of their grief, that is.
This much happened in a part of Enugu metropolis sometime last week where Daily Post reported that men of Enugu State Fire Service were close to being mobbed by about 500 residents. Their offence? They arrived late to a scene of fire disaster. Now, it isn’t as if they came on their own. Should that have been the case, they’d still have attracted angst but our culture of low expectation would have tampered that. However, in this case, they were duly invited, yet they elected to be late by one and half hours!
There went another manifestation of the African, nay, Nigerian time syndrome. I doubt if that timing is observed in other African countries. Our predilection for being behind schedule has become so ingrained in us that our emergency workers now reflect that in their work. They have become so carried away by this aberration that an invite for them to save a situation is treated like a call to grace a wedding reception or party.
Hence, they take their time when they receive such calls:- go for a second shower, rub some cream, pomade and powder, but put on their work wear to deceive us, wear a cologne or perfume on themselves, brush their hair, then take a good look at their image in the mirror to get certification before going to prepare the vehicle they will use in coming. By the time they arrived, you’d be lucky if they took just one hour 30 minutes. This must have saved them in the past as the victims and onlookers may have been mesmerised by their appearance.
But, if you said these weren’t what delayed them, what else could have? Given that they know their remit to be about putting out conflagration, shouldn’t they always be prepared like Boys Scout since inferno doesn’t announce its coming? Even if they weren’t prepared, how on earth would they need as much as one and half hours to be able to mobilise to a scene? These are questions only the Enugu State Fire Service can answer but till they do, we shouldn’t be faulted for assuming what we assumed!
And so they came 90 minutes late to that scene in Uwani where the inferno took place, as if their intention was for the fire to last for hours. Yes, that was the message their late coming inadvertently conveyed; that they wish the fire to last beyond the 90 minutes it took them in coming. That was why they still came. If not that, their lazy and inefficient mind would have ministered to them that either the fired would have been extinguished by then or it would have wrought enough damage.
Unfortunately, it went the way of the later. By the time they arrived, the fire had already made an ashes of a bungalow that house a residence, a boutique and a furniture showroom.
One of the victims who said she just left to get her kid from school but couldn’t find their showroom upon return lamented: “All we have in this life is gone; people have already paid for most of the furniture there; where do we go from here?” This cry of anguish wouldn’t have been, if the Fire Service were time conscious.
You may suspect exaggeration at play when I repeatedly say it took them one and half hours in coming. I wouldn’t blame you for your unbelief. After all, where else in the world would an emergency-fighting parastatal like the Fire Service take that long to get to where urgency beckons? However, to clear your suspicion, let me feed you with the words of an angry resident:
“In this case, they were called as soon as this fire started but they got here almost two hours later; that’s not how to attend to emergency”. Now you see that the one hour 30 minutes I had referred to was on the conservative side. For the eye witness said it took them almost two hours! It was learnt that this isn’t the first time, the same irked neighbour continued: “What the youths did to them is right because they are not doing anything in Enugu State. They have never quenched any fire in this state.”
What! I can’t believe this. So the Enugu State Fire Service have never quenched any fire in the state before? Why then is government spending the state’s limited resources in funding such an agency? If this is true, then the state government had better diverted the money used in funding such ineffectual agency to other establishments that would give utility to people of the state. But, that is if it hasn’t done that already.
I’m sure if you asked those working in the Enugu State Fire Service why they are this poor in service delivery, they would readily tell you that poor funding and lack of facilities are at the heart of it. That’s why government cannot be distanced from their inefficiency. For, if it had granted them all they needed to function effectively and monitored them to ensure they did their work, we wouldn’t be talking about the delay in responding to SOS in today’s column.
But my worry is this: if it took the Fire Service almost two hours to attend to an emergency in the state capital, what will the situation be like in other parts of the state? If they had the guts to be that late in carrying out their duty where the seat of government sits, is it in Ibagwua-Aka that they will be afraid to do what taxpayers are paying them for? Well, now they know that albeit the authorities may not hold them to task, the people wouldn’t mind doing that in their own way.
However, the problem with the people doing that is that they can be very savagery about it as seen in the Uwani episode. Let’s again refer to the report: “Upon sighting the Fire Service vehicle, angry residents numbering over 500 started pelting stones on the officials as well as on the windscreen, a situation that made the driver to zoom off from the place.” That’s what you get when the masses choose to react, hence, we need not push them to that.
Imagine 500 persons casting stones on a vehicle, only a miracle could have accounted for how the driver escaped amidst that. One may wonder why I’m making a fuss out of their being one hours 30 minutes behind, but verily, verily I say unto you if it can irk up to 500 Nigerians into reacting the way they did, then it irks this column as well. Considering how indifferent Nigerians are, especially with regards to getting what is due to them from the country, it was a pleasant surprise reading about their reaction.
It should be a lesson to all those who go about thinking that Nigerians will always take whatever rubbish handed to them without dissent. It should be an eye-opener for those who still live in the days of Fela Kuti’s ‘suffering and smiling’. Such persons should know that the song no longer typifies today’s crop of Nigerians.
Thus, people like that should watch how they treat Nigerians; they should watch it when they abuse the offices they occupy. They should be circumspect when they hand the short end of the stick to Nigerians. All this is because just like we know not where the next fire outbreak will break out, so are we ignorant of that particular action of ours that will attract our being stoned. So the best bet is to carry on the way we should.
Again, I will say that this isn’t restricted to the Enugu State version of Fire Service in the country. A careful study may even reveal some states’ Fire Service where they take four hours in coming. In the same vain, it’s not just about the Fire Service, there exist other agencies and departments of government that have remained so sluggish in doing their job. A worthy example is INEC given the manner it conducted the last Saturday’s election in Anambra State. The malaise cuts across board. Most times I wonder whatever happened to Servicom!
Well, since today’s intervention is to address the glaring indiscretion of a Fire Service, let’s stick to that. Our people will be well advised to do all within their capacity to see to it that they don’t play host to this devastating visitor. They should mind their electrical gadgets and all that should be minded to keep fire outbreak at bay. We should continue being our brother’s keeper by supporting in putting out fire outbreak before it does more damage.
When we do all these, we wouldn’t require the service of an agency of government funded to fight fire yet carries about as if fire frightens it. More so, we wouldn’t have to be reminded of our other failings as a nation which always saddens us when remembered.
Ugochukwu is a freelance journalist who you can follow on twitter @ugsylvester or reach through: firstname.lastname@example.org
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