“The Truth About City Hall Fire Incident” – Obanikoro
Senator Musiliu Obanikoro recently had a chat with journalists in Lagos where he bared his mind on why he is running for office as Governor of Lagos. He also used the opportunity to shed light on the APC’s allegations accusing him of complicity in the City Hall, Lagos Fire incident while he was Chairman of Lagos Island Council.
Below are excerpts of Senator Obanikoro’s side of the story:
A lot has been said about the City Hall fire incident. I have reacted several times to clarify the ambiguity created by those who have cashed in on the incident for cheap political advantage.
Let me say for the umpteenth time that I did not have anything to do with the fire incident at City Hall.
I am reacting again for the following reasons;
First, for the new generation of Nigerians to know what really transpired at that time and also to further educate those who do not know what happened on that unfortunate day.
Second is for the mischief-makers to know that no matter how fast lies travel, truth will definitely catch up.
This is my story.
The day the fire incident occurred was a working day in the morning and I was not in the office when the fire started.
Based on the briefings I received, immediately my staff discovered the fire outbreak, they tried to contact the fire service and at the same time while waiting for the fire service to come, they were also trying everything humanly possible to put out the fire.
The fire affected only the office of the Chairman and also the council chamber where legislative discussions are held. The office of the Secretary to the local government where administrative records are kept was not affected at all.
More importantly, the office of the Treasurer to the council was also not affected. For emphasis, the only section, of City Hall that was affected was my office as the Chairman, which was badly damaged.
Meanwhile the council chamber that was affected was just an open space where legislative discussions are held. No records or files of any importance are kept there at all.
The insinuation and allegations that the fire was generated or created to cover up for anything is an unkind attempt to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. I also consider it much ado about nothing because no document of strategic importance was missing at that point.
Let us not forget that this incident happened under the regime of the late General Sani Abacha, a military dictator. However, at this time, we had a very responsible and progressive administrator of Lagos State in person of Brigadier General Buba Marwa (rtd) who came by himself to inspect the scene of the fire outbreak and immediately set up a panel to probe the incident. The panel was headed by no other person but the late Engr. Pinhero, a respected Lagosian who was then Commissioner for Works in Lagos State.
At the end of their investigations and findings, the Pinhero panel came up with a report that it was a power surge from an electrical point that created the fire incident.
I am a proud Lagosian and there is no way that I will do anything that will affect our heritage. I am committed to Lagos and I am very passionate about Lagos.
Fortunately in 1999, I was appointed as Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture and the Fire Service Department was directly placed under my office. Realizing what transpired at City Hall when there was a fire incident and we couldn’t get a good response time or an efficient fire service operation, I decided to make that challenge something we needed to overcome. I sent in a memo asking to make it a Lagos State Government policy to build at least one fire service station in every local government area of the state and also create an institution where studies on fire service and emergency management issues will be handled. Unfortunately that memo was thrown out by the then Governor of Lagos State, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu who did not approve the memo. Otherwise it would have become a policy and today we would have had at least one fire service station in every local government area of Lagos State and also by extension the only Emergency and Fire Service Training Institute in Nigeria. But as I speak, there is none.
Away from the City Hall fire incident, it is also very sad that today the same City Hall that belongs to the public is nothing more than a private edifice commercialized by the state government, denying an average Lagosian access to the building. City Hall used to be the local government headquarters with other area offices serving the entire local government but today that is not what we have. This is not the original intention of the visionaries who bequeathed us that legacy.
City Hall was a befitting edifice that became the pride of Lagos. As I speak today, I doubt that there is any other local government anywhere in Nigeria or even in West Africa with that kind of heritage that was passed on to us by the first generation of Lagosians when local administration started. I can recall Alhaji Ganiyu Daudu, I can recall Alhaji Kesinro, and I can recall Chief Adeyemi Lawson and a host of others. There is need to return City Hall to the people of Lagos, that is where it belongs and that is where it should be.
Finally, I want to say here upon my honour, without any fear of contradiction and with all sense of responsibility that I did not either directly, overtly or covertly have anything to do with the fire incident in City Hall, Lagos.
Musiliu Obanikoro is Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to Ghana and former Minister of State for Defence