Not a few Nigerians are of the opinion that the nation’s Fire Service lacks capacity, both in terms of manpower and equipment to adequately cope with the challenges that come with the discharge of its duties. While the general public is made to believe that the Fire Service is underfunded by the Federal Government, investigations conducted by Street Journal have revealed that gigantic frauds perpetrated by top officials of the Federal Fire Service have gone unnoticed over the last few years.
Not too long ago, the Federal Government decided to open up the sector and allow private participation. It was however found out that the guidelines put in place for the take off were such that could not be met, not even by the Federal Fire Service. Findings revealed that the Fire Service did not consult any stakeholder in the industry before concluding the guidelines; rather, they were only invited to its public presentation.
Street Journal’s findings linked the ownership of a private Fire Service company, Oke Fire to the Comptroller General of the Fire Service, James Olusegun Okebiorun. Further probe also yielded that Oke Fire is a joint venture between the Comptroller General and Captain Emmanuel Iheanacho, the former Minister of Interior. There were allegations then that the two men floated the company in order to use their positions to corner jobs for the company by operating their company in a setting where they are regulators.
Street Journal has also found out that apart from the private interest of the Comptroller General of the Service conflicting with that of the Fire Service and the good of the Nigerian public once in a while, public funds meant for the use of the fire service can hardly be accounted for as allegations of mismanagement and private appropriation of public funds have trailed officials.
Investigations revealed that most of the equipments for which provisions were made in the annual budget were not procured while the funds were expended. It was found out that public funds were diverted constantly to private accounts as companies’ names were used to siphon public funds without any work done.
An example is the case of Kingsville Educational Services, which checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission revealed to be jointly owned by the present Comptroller General and his wife Temilola. A Chartered Bank Cheque was issued to one G.J Anebi, an official of the Federal Fire Service and the funds were meant for an official assignment. Incidentally, the cheque issued on April 30, 2003 belongs to Kingsville Educational Services with the account number 7200013352.
The Federal Fire Service has also received more than N 1.5 billion for the development of the National Fire Academy, and what is on ground is not commensurate with the amount that has been expended on it.
Street Journal also found out that cases of tender splitting have become a regular occurrence in the Federal Fire Service with the Comptroller General ensuring that the scrutiny of Due Process is prevented, an act that contravenes Section 58(d) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
Contrary to what the average Nigerian is made to believe that the Federal Fire Service is underfunded, the high level of corruption that exists within the service has prevented any meaningful development from taking place within the service. There is hardly a section where fraud is not perpetrated by the senior officials of the service.
Ask the top officials of the Federal Fire Service about hydrants and they will tell you that the Service maintains hydrants in all the 36 states of the federation with huge amounts. Street Journal has however found out that the hydrants are only being maintained on paper as the location of the hydrants cannot be ascertained. Investigations also revealed that though the Fire Service is expected to have established at least 15 Fire Stations nationwide, but as at now, the Service cannot boast of five.
Over the last four years, the Federal Fire Service has recorded not less than N 3 billion in capital allocation, yet the Service cannot boast of effective fire fighting equipments. The rot within the service became obvious after the bomb attack on the Police Headquarters in Abuja where the inadequacy of the Fire Service was greatly exposed.
Findings revealed that on the average, a good fire fighting truck costs about N 40 million, thus indicating that the Federal Fire Service should be able to conveniently purchase a number of such.
The fraud in the Federal Fire Service has a pretty long history and it dates back to years ago. It was found out that in 2002, the then Comptroller General, Fidelis Okpogo mismanaged more than N160 million belonging to the Federal Fire Service. As at then, the Fire Service was under the Ministry of Works and as the Comptroller General was at liberty to expend funds as long as such funds did not exceed N 995,000 (Nine hundred and ninety five thousand Naira). Street Journal gathered that the CG signed and spent most of the monies all alone. To do this without raising any dust, he spent the amount by breaking it into denominated contracts that did not exceed his approval limit.
At a point, the then Comptroller General’s spending was investigated by the Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), but buttons were allegedly pressed from the top to scuttle the investigation. The Investigation Police Officer, Chiedu Nwokoma was suddenly transferred outside the Federal Capital Territory on the orders of the then Inspector General of Police who happened to be a close pal of the CG.
The N 160 million that was mismanaged by the former Fire Service Chief would have purchased a good number of fire fighting trucks based on the market rates then.
In September 2004, a contract for the Re-engineering and Rehabilitation of SS600 Hydraulic Platform for Fire Fighting in High Rise Buildings at the sum of N 30 million Naira.
Street Journal found out that as Comptroller General, Mr. Okpogo used a company, EFA Sales South Africa as conduit. The company carried out repair works on the 16-year-old equipment to the tune of N 30 million. Not a few Nigerians would be shocked to hear that the Comptroller General never raised an eyebrow over the amount; rather, he openly said the company’s bid was the best. Street Journal also found out that the repairs did not solve the issue of the leaking tank that has bedevilled the particular fire truck for some time now. Meanwhile, investigations revealed that it would cost between N 50 and N 60 million to buy the new model of the equipment that was repaired for N 30 million.
Surprisingly, the claim was upheld by Due Process and a certificate was issued for N 30 million, duly signed by Obiageli Ezekwesili, the then Senior Special Assistant to the President on Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit.
There have been various allegations that the South African company belongs to the former CG and some of his friends. Street Journal’s investigations also revealed that the few people that were carried along by Mr. Okpogo in his activities included Mr. Okebiorun, (the present Comptroller General) who served as the Assistant Director Fire Service then, the Head of Corporate Affairs, who allegedly helped to suppress all insinuations from the press and the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Housing and Urban Development as well as the Due Process office who deliberately ignored their functions.
A look into the budget of the Fire Service for the year 2010 showed that a number of capital projects were listed, they include the supply of furniture items to the Federal Fire Service Headquarters, Garki, Abuja for which the sum of N 9.51 million was expended, supply of 5 Bulls Eye Trainer Packages, which gulped N 9.7 million, the purchase of fire protection clothing and hot fire gears for training purposes gulped N 28.013 million. Protection clothing and shoes were also supplied at N 8.65 million. Meanwhile, a lot of officials have disclosed that most of the items on the list have not been sighted by men of the service.
Despite insinuations and affirmations from its officials that the service is underfunded by the government, its budget for N 2011 was N 490, 054,000 (Four hundred and ninety million and fifty four thousand Naira). Interestingly, in the 2011 budget proposal, the Fire Service earmarked BN 10 million for the purchase of Protection clothing and Hot fire gears for training purposes while N 5 million was to be spent on the procurement of 500 Library books, journals and training CDs. The sum of N 2,000,000 also appeared in the 2011 budget for the furnishing of the Comptroller General’s house with items to be procured listed as bed/ beddings, kitchen cabinet/wares, laundry equipment, electronics, settee, dinning sets, fridges, A/Cs, shelves and curtains. N 5 million was voted for the furnishing of Senior officers’ quarters, while N 7.5 million was voted for the purchase of office equipment including photocopiers, computers, printers, UPS, stabilizers, fridges, A/Cs and fans.
There are indications that the present CG only took off from where his predecessor stopped while those who know the internal workings of the service have opined that the leadership of the Fire Service has become a “turn by turn” arrangement for senior officials waiting in the wings to milk the agency dry.