The frequency of fire outbreaks in public facilities over the past few weeks has erupted varied concerns and speculations among the Ghanaian public. At the centre of most discussions, is the attempt of unravelling the cause of what has become a major liability to the state.
Similar to having twenty million coaches at the Africa Cup of Nations and same number of legal advisors and judges with the ongoing electoral petition, the country has once again, generated over twenty million fire experts, of which the author claims no exception.
Perhaps, it is a demonstration of the extent to which the society is aggrieved by the incessant fire eruptions. Notwithstanding, the hundreds of attributions made by the public, the focal point of this write up is on the reaction of government, a major stakeholder in the outbreaks. Besides, in moments of disaster, people especially direct victims take solace from leadership.
In the aftermath of the recent outbreaks, few would disagree that actions of government suggest the enormity of the matter at hand. However, comments by many top officials of government seem to suggest the adverse occurrences are beyond chance attributions. Indeed, some have been categorical that the outbreaks are acts of incendiarism even prior to the commissioning of an investigation.
Embedded in the suspicion of arson, is the belief that the outbreaks are politically motivated. Although implicit, the submission of many policy makers on various platforms affirms this. Climaxing the suspicion of “pyromania” at hand, a directive for declaration of state security alert at public facilities has been issued from the Presidency. Indeed, successful attempts at exposing the perceived arsonist will boost my financial stock by GHC25000. At this juncture, the question that arises is “what is the evidence base of this suspicion which apparently, is emerging as official stance of government?”
Underpinning the position of those who subscribe to the attribution of arson is the regularity or frequency of the occurrences. According to this “school of thought”, the occurrences are too regular to qualify for an accident description. Besides, they cite the specificity and commonality of markets in the various incidences as justification for the suspicion of an orchestration. Before proceeding, it is admissible that I am not privy to any security intelligence unlike many of the officials in government. That however, does not dispossess me the opportunity of subjecting the foregoing under critical scrutiny.
To start with, the author is yet to be informed on any official report of an investigation commissioned into the cases. Owing to the fact that the American intelligence sought to unravel the causes of the outbreaks have hitherto not filed their findings, it is untimely to draw categorical conclusions. In addition, the irregularity of the “regularity argument” is that, the rate as well as time of occurrence of an accident cannot be predicted with certainty. Of course if we could predict with certitude when and the pattern at which accidents will occur, they cease to be accidents.
This is far from saying accidents should not be forecasted. However, the posture of those pointing to incendiarism suggests absolute knowledge of an exact normative with regard to the time and frequency of accident occurrence. Furthermore, I proceed by asking this question, “Are our markets fireproof?” The question is to those who have premised their argument on the “commonality of market” in the various incidences. If the answer is to the negative (which indeed, is the reality) there is no basis for the “why only market” thesis.
Being conscious of the politically charged atmosphere, a facial dismissal of a possible arson will be overly simplistic on my part. In the same vein, its firm attribution by politicians prior to an enquiry is merely speculative. What appears certain with these political ascriptions is that, the nation stands the risk of once again, losing sight of the deep seated issues which ought to be re-examined in going forward.
These critical issues encompass but not limited to: the management of public facilities (which includes regular inspection of fire safety); the design of facilities (by way of integrating fire safety measures which elsewhere, is mandatory); the preparedness of state institutions such as the Ghana Fire Service, National Association of Disaster Management Organisation and the Electricity Company of Ghana; the coordination among these vital institutions in identifying threats as well as preparing for emergencies; the broader spatial planning issues including accessibility to public facilities; and public knowledge with regard to primary fire management techniques and practice. These are sensitive issues which have been concealed by the posture of policy makers.
Whilst not oblivious of the necessity of providing security for public facilities, its exclusive emphasis by government (based on suspicions which are hitherto not proven) could be suicidal. The attempts at political colouration of the incessant fire outbreaks demonstrate once more, the inherent conceptual problem in the Ghanaian society where every issue has a political inclination.
In going forward, there is the urgent need to fine-tune our thinking as a society. For those in leadership, the requirement of examining issues from a holistic perspective is non-negotiable.
Felix S.K. Agyemang,
M.Phil in Planning, Growth and Regeneration,
University of Cambridge.