Fire Service workers to carry arms?

LAST week, the Minister of Interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, disclosed, to the consternation of the public, that the Federal Government had perfected plans to create an armed unit of the Federal Fire Service (FFS). The unit, which would be called the Fire Police, is to be tasked with providing armed outer cordon during operations. According to a statement by the Director of Press, Blessing Lere-Adam, the minister made the announcement in Jos, Plateau State, at the opening of the National Council on Fire. Lere-Adam said that the latest move was “part of efforts to address the challenges often faced by firefighters during operations through mob action and vandalism of firefighting assets in the country.”

Represented on the occasion by the Interior Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Dr. Shuaib Belgore, Aregbesola said: “The ministry will initiate the process of repealing the obsolete 1963 Fire Service Act and the enactment of a contemporary, vibrant and enforceable law through the instrument of an Executive Bill to be forwarded to the National Assembly for deliberation and eventual passage into law.” He added that fire safety management could become a tool not only for national security but also for national development, as the assets protected in the event of fire outbreaks would allow the government to use the country’s “very lean resources” for other development programmes instead of reconstructing the said assets. The latest quest by the FFS is coming on the heels of similar outrageous moves by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), an outfit saddled with maintaining order and safety on the country’s roads, to arm its officers with assault weapons.

To say the very least, the latest move by the Federal Government is ludicrous. It lacks logic and does not take the peculiarities of the country’s circumstances into consideration. This is not the kind of policy to roll out in a country where there are too many extrajudicial killings perpetrated by power-drunk security agents. Already, the current administration is being pilloried by human rights organisations for its militarisation of the civil space, and the creation of another pacification power under the guise of a Fire Police unit can only further compound the woes that Nigerians confront daily at the hands of members of the uniformed profession. Besides, the minister’s characterisation of citizens present during fire outbreaks leaves much to be desired. Is he saying that the crowd present during fire outbreaks are criminals? And if indeed the officers and men of the FFS encounter crowd control problems during firefighting outfits, what precisely are the members of the proposed unit supposed to do to them? Gun them down?

In the advanced climes, Air Force personnel get involved in putting out fires, especially those with devastating reach and impact. Nothing stops Nigeria from exploring this option. In our view, the Fire Service needs equipment like helicopters in order to sidestep the bottlenecks created by getting stuck in traffic all the time. With helicopters deployed in quelling fires, the ugly phenomenon of fire fighters getting to the scenes of outbreaks only after maximum damage has been done will be significantly curtailed or eliminated altogether. Besides, on the political angle, the point cannot escape notice that a  government that has been unwilling to allow regional security outfits like Amotekun to carry arms is talking of giving fire service men assault weapons. This is bad optics.

Indeed, crowd control is a very tenuous excuse to give for FFS workers to start carrying firearms in the country. Which crowd do they want to control that they cannot rely on the Nigeria Police to do? The country already has a security agency for crowd control and there is no point adding crowd control to the responsibilities of the FFS. Besides, the agency has been known to enlist the help of the military in extremely difficult situations and there is nothing stopping it from continuing to explore that option. The idea of a Fire Police is a product of shoddy thinking. Policing goes far beyond arms bearing. Nigeria definitely needs a leadership that would not continue to slap unworkable and useless solutions on problems. Members of the Federal Fire Service do not need to carry arms to do their work!

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