Correct? Nigeria’s Kogi state had no working fire engine when I took over – governor

The governor of Nigeria’s Kogi state recently said there was no working fire engine for the region’s 4.4 million people when he took office. We looked into this claim.

During a meeting with Nigeria’s top firefighting official, the governor of Kogi state said that before he took office in January 2016, the territory did not have a functional fire engine.

Yahaya Bello’s claim was also tweeted by his official handle, which used a picture of two fire engines and an inset of both the governor and the controller-general of Nigeria’s Federal Fire Service, Joseph Anebi.

Bello added that under his leadership, the state executive council “has approved procurement of two firefighting trucks”.

Was there really no working fire engine for Kogi’s estimated 4.47 million people when Bello took office?

Kogi has 1 working fire engine

The governor’s senior media aide Gbenga Olorunpomi told Africa Check that based on information available to his office, the state has only one working fire engine.

However, Olorunpomi did not confirm if this working fire engine was inherited by the present governor. (Note: There is a difference between a fire truck and a fire engine – who would have known? – but Olorunpomi said the governor meant a fire engine.)

Nigeria’s Federal Fire Service does not have countrywide offices and stations. States have their own fire agencies – in this case, the Kogi State Fire Agency.

In 2016, about 96% of the N41.8 million (US$137,049) budgeted for the state fire agency was spent on salaries and other overheads. N1.1 million (US$3,606) was spent on “maintenance of motor vehicles and transport equipment”, but the budget doesn’t mention if this included a fire engine.

No money was allocated for the purchase of fire engines in 2016. However, the state’s proposed 2017 budget outlines plans to spend N252 million (US$826,229) to buy 6 fire engines and firefighting equipment.  

No inventory of Kogi fire fighting equipment

The director of Kogi State Fire Agency, who identified himself only as Mr Olamorin to Africa Check, supported the governor’s claim. He however declined to provide an inventory and details on the condition of the agency’s firefighting engines at the time the governor took office.

Fire burns property at the police barracks in Lagos' Obalende district in September 2016. Several families were rendered homeless. Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP
A fire at the police barracks in Lagos’ Obalende district in September 2016. Nigerian fighfighters are often short of equipment. Photo: Pius Utomi Ekpei / AFP

The federal fire agency’s spokesman, Collins Elechi, told Africa Check most states do not have usable firefighting equipment and he therefore considered the governor’s claim to be close to the truth.

Elechi said  an NGO that focuses on fire disasters could provide information on Kogi state but he did not provide the name of the organisation.

“What they had there [in Kogi] was not optimal, that is what I was told and of course I think it was in that regard that the governor was working towards ensuring [the] sustenance of critical infrastructure,” he said.

The head of the Fire Disaster Prevention & Safety Awareness Association of Nigeria, Ahmed Badanga, said “… having a fire [engine] that was inherited from Kwara state, do you call that one a serviceable fire [engine]?”

(Note: Kogi state was created in 1991, incorporating sections of Kwara state and Benue state.)

Media reports mention fires put out

Media reports from before the governor’s inauguration add to the information haze.

On 31 August 2010, a fire reportedly gutted shops in the Cantonment area of Lokoja, the capital of Kogi state. The report, credited to the Nigerian news agency NAN, quoted a victim as saying: “…the state fire service came to put out the fire, did their best, but soon ran out of water”.

Another report on 24 September 2014 details how property was razed in the Felele area of Lokoja after a diesel tanker lost control and rammed into buildings. The report also mentioned the efforts of state firefighters in putting out the resulting blaze.

However, these reports did not specifically mention a fire engine being present.

Conclusion: No data on Kogi’s fire equipment available to verify governor’s claim

The governor of Kogi state claimed that the territory had no working fire engine to its name when he was sworn in in January 2016.

The state’s fire agency and the spokesman of the Federal Fire service supported the governor’s claim – without providing evidence – even though media reports mention the state’s fire service in action before the change in leadership.

The governor’s aide told Africa Check the state currently has a working fire engine. A fire lobby group said that the governor had inherited one, but disputed its serviceability.

If the state had an engine when the governor took office, it is also possible that it may not have been functioning.  

To know this for sure, an inventory of the state’s firefighting equipment and the condition thereof before the governor’s term started is necessary.

In the absence of this information, the claim is unproven.

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