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Opinion: ONITSHA; A CITY ON FIRE, AND THE FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP By Ugochimereze Chinedu Asuzu

“We need leaders of inspired idealism, leaders to
whom are granted great visions, who dream greatly
and strive to make their dreams come true; who can
kindle the people with the fire from their own
burning souls.”
-Theodore Roosevelt

Editors note

Keen readers, it is another week of our weekly
Theological Reflections, however, this week we are
focusing on the tragedy that befell humanity at
Onitsha, In Anambra state; it is indeed heartrending,
yet a sad duty, that we focus the lenses of our
periscope on the evil tidings that has befallen one
of the largest markets south of the hemisphere.

We are in trying times, and more than ever before
the cock has refused to come home to roost. Just
last week, our own Onitsha was engulfed in an
avoidable inferno of a sort, which on deeper
scrutiny showcased, wittingly or unwittingly a rather
lackadaisical attitude of the helmsman and failure
of leadership on the part of the Governor.

As is with every disaster of the magnitude, the
unwanted episodes made the headlines in all
national dailies and sent the shock shivers across
every corner of the country. People contacted
families and friends to ascertain their safety and
with the prayerful wish that they were not direct
victims of the sad epochs. T

o those who lost
families and properties in this fire disaster,
especially the mother and child who were sent to
their early graves as a result, we will continue to
pray for you that God will redemn your lost glory in
countless folds, grant the deceased persons eternal
rest and their families the fortitude to bear the
irreparable losses.

What then is the genesis of this ugly incident and
how best can it be prevented in times to come?
This should be the question on the lips of anyone
who has followed the incident.

Wednesday, October 16, was a bright sunny day,
just like other days. Shops opened for business and
the noise of the ever boisterous commercial city
could be heard far and wide.
In Ochanja market, traders were already counting
their gains as people from different parts of the
country serenaded the market city either to buy or to
sale. Containers were being cleared and contacts
for a better business relationship was exchanged
amongst the traders. This was until 1:00pm as is
reported when disaster struck and the sky became
gloomy.

A petroleum laden vehicle had fell and
spilled its highly volatile products into the drainages
in the sloppy neighbourhood of Upper Iweka and
this carried the now already aflame petroleum into
the market and sent the entire city into a panic that
is not before now known.
In all, over fifty shops and twenty cars were
destroyed in the wake of the fire and about seven
people were reported to be dead. As shown,
amongst the dead were two sales girls burnt
beyond recognition, a man who was said to have
suffocated from the fire and his body almost free of
burns, and more saddening is the death of a mother
and child burnt beyond recognition.

Heartrending indeed, yet this did not put the full stop on the ugly
narratives associated with the fire outbreak. Fast
forward almost 48 hours later, another fire outbreak
struck at Omaba phase two, around Chukwudi bus
stop, Onitsha when another petroleum laden tanker
fell at the Onitsha-Enugu expressway and spilled its
products around 3:00pm on Friday and ignited in
high flames. Thankfully enough, no life was lost,
and unlike the long hours of wait without
reasonable government effort associated with the
Ochanja market fire, the Omaba disaster was laid to
rest timely.

It must be conceded that disasters such as this are
ugly realities of the everyday activities of humans,
yet something must be done to ensure that they do
not go out of hands. Reasonably enough, no one
has received more knocks than the Anambra State
government, the governor Willie Obiano, and the
state fire service. This is because the
Commonwealth of the people, including their taxes
are used to maintain these government and agency
and also ensure that basic amenities such as a fire
fighting tanker is made readily available to the
people in situations such as this. Is it that Anambra
is so poor that they cannot purchase or maintain
such tankers? Any truthful soul will answer in the
negative.

Painful enough is the realisation that a kinsman of
the governor, Innocent Chukwuma, the Chairman of
Innoson Motors, is into the production of vehicles
and even fire service motors. The liquor loving
governor, as he is described in some quarters by
those who know him well, is more aligned towards
purchasing official vehicles for an already
comfortable political office holders whereas fire
service motors, which is elementary and essentially
important in sane climes and which before now,
especially during the Peter Obi revered tenure, was
fully functional, considering likewise that Anambra
state, nay Onitsha is reputed to having very busy
markets that are prone to disasters of this nature,
only a reasonable, responsible and responsive
government would’ve known this fact and prepared
ahead of time towards averting any untoward
situation of this nature in a proactive fashion, which
unfortunately the government of Willie Obiano
obviously cannot be said to be.

Then one may be pushed to ask: Who did Ndi-
Anambra, especially Onitsha market traders wrong,
to have been bequeathed with such insensitive
government at a time like this, which seems to be
retrogressive? That rather than up the ante and build
on the superlative leadership standard set by his
predecessor in office, who laid a very formidable
and robust leadership structures in virtually all strata
of governance in the state, a simple maintenance of
such structures alone would’ve sufficed for a visibly
productive leadership indices, which was not to be
with the present handlers; little wonder
Anambrarians still yearns for the man Peter Obi, in
remembrance of the years of yore of his people-
oriented leadership.

In casting the blames on the government, Mr Emma
Ojukwu, the Public Relations Officer of Nnamdi
Azikiwe University, Awka said:

“The tragedy in
Onitsha is a clear failure of governance. In 1997,
the Onitsha main market was completely gutted by
fire. Then, the Anambra State government fire
service could not put out an inferno that burnt all
day. Twenty two years later, Anambra State
government despite increased revenue has been
unable to plan and show enough commitment to
the people. Government cannot and should never be
a showmanship of repeated media propaganda
aimed at achieving inexistent progress that the
reality on ground does not support.”

In the same
vein, a media commentator, Peter Umennadi, who
was speaking to This Day Newspapers stated that it
was not the first time since the Obiano
adminstration that fire incidents like this occurred
without the government helping to put it out. All
they hear are promises to make things right, and
nothing much still done. The sentiments expressed
above is illustrative of the feelings of most
Anambrians. The people elected the government
into office to promote their common good, how far
this object has been achieved is better left to the
judgement of each individual in the state. Has the
governor failed? Or was there truly a failure of
governance as suggested by Mr Emma Ojukwu and
to what extent? In the bid to answer this questions,
it would be necessary to ask how well fit is the
governor for political office?
Willie Obiano, the governor of Anambra State is a
man of many parts. A consummate administrator,
business man, politician and banker. In our clime,
we would say at the face of it, he is eminently
qualified, in the words of the Presidential Elections
Tribunal judges, to contest for any contestable
position. Yet his ultimate test as a leader is his
years of public service especially as the governor of
Anambra State.

Since his election as the governor of Anambra State
nothing has brought him at the forefront of national
scrutiny, apart from his ups and downs with Peter
Obi especially prior to the 2019 presidential
election, than the twin incidents that engulfed
Onitsha in the past week.
Expectedly, society without a government is an
invitation to the Hobessian state of nature where
life was capricious, nasty, brutish and short.

Things will happen and no one will do anything to assuage
them, except the victims and their kin. What then
measures in recent times than the present incident
wherein it took the assistance of a fire service from
another state, after more than a three hours late, to
put out a fire that may have been easily managed
had there been a proactive or at the worst
reactionary government in place. For the victims,
the theory of Thomas Hobees finding it’s greatest
application here, for their lives are now nasty and
short. Leadership envisages management of people
and situation, one may ask was the present
situation well managed?
There is no aspect of leadership more important
than the ability to manage a crisis. When crisis
arise, as they always will, it is the task of a leader
to remedy such situation before the hitherto molehil
become a mountain. The deduction that could be
made from all of this is simple: Onitsha was on fire
because the government failed in their avowed duty
to protect lives and properties by providing a good
fire service.
We have been reading or at the least hearing stories
of the unending incidents of failed leadership at
different strata of government and waved them on,
and one may query, what does our indifference
portend? George Orwell, the master writer and
renowned social critic, answered this query a very
long time ago when he asserted that: “If you want a
picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a
human face -forever.” For even amongst our
kinsmen, it is an age long saying that he that
fetches faggot infested firewood should await the
visitation of lizards. This is because life is give and
take. .

Political office is an opportunity for service,
hence elected government officials must be held
accountable for their every acts and inactions.
More than ever before the people are awakening to
the ugly realities of the time as it pertains to the
failures of the leadership class and as such are
ready to hold their leaders accountable.
It is often said that we learn much more from our
mistakes and inactions than we can ever do from
our success stories which comes with the standing
ovations. Hence, it is appropriate that the governor
admit his shortcomings and admit that the
government bear a large share of the blame that
comes with disasters of such magnitude. All
leaders make mistakes, no one can deny it. But a
continual denial of responsibility is the basic index
of failure of leadership.
“Do you ever admit a mistake? ” John F. Kennedy
queries Soviet chieftain Nikita Khrushchev during
their contentious summit meeting in Vienna in June
1961.
“Certainly I do…” The Russian statesman answered,
albeit humorously.

Admitting mistakes and failures may be difficult yet
it is the mark of strong leaders. Attempting to foist
them on others would evoke resentment from the
masses and humans of goodwill. Hence, the
governor must acknowledge the mistake, and
identify what went wrong essentially to remedy the
situation and avoid future occurrence.

This calls for deep reflections and a commitment to
promoting the good of the people. Basic social
amenities, such as fire service and good roads, are
the primary mandate of any government especially
at the state level.
Obiano must make political lemonade out of the
bitter lemons of this highly appalling Onitsha fire
disaster or forever be dumped in the dustbin of
Anambra history.
Shalom+

By Victor Aluede G.y

Aluede G.y Victory is a history
enthusiast an a mediapreneur living in Aboru,
Lagos. He studied arts at skills click foundation, he is an alumni of Rehoboth college Aboru, Lagos.

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