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Fire outbreak: Parties’ finance campaign database, other critical documents intact, says INEC

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INEC media Centre destroyed by fire on Friday in Abuja. Photo: TWITTER/INECNIGERIA

It’s A National Shame, Says, Expert 
• PDP Demands Inquest Into Inferno, Says Spate Of Fire Outbreak Alarming

Documents relating to political parties activities, including campaign finance database and other important records, were not affected in the inferno that engulfed the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), yesterday, officials have said. 

The fire, which started at 11.30 am, occurred at a section of the building housing the Election and Party Monitoring (EPM) Department and the Media Centre, an annexe detached from the main building of the Commission’s head office. The latest incident is the third after President Muhammadu Buhari declared a total lockdown on the country’s capital due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It came nine days after a fire outbreak was reported at the Treasury House, which is the headquarters of the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), and two days after the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) headquarters in Maitama, Abuja, was gutted by fire.  While an electric spark reportedly caused the fire outbreak at the AGF’s office, investigations revealed that power surge in one of the outer units of a split air-conditioner was responsible for the CAC’s inferno.

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Before yesterday’s incident, there were already subtle innuendos on social media that the fire disaster ravaging these agencies might have been staged to allow the government to cover-up some alleged illicit activities. But INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, told journalists at the scene of the incident that critical documents relating to the Commission’s activities with the political parties were not affected. 

Okoye explained that the damage done was minimal, adding that documents lost to the outbreak were just correspondences, constitution and manifestos and files relating to political parties, adding that preliminary investigation conducted by the Fire Service Department revealed that the remote cause of the fire outbreak had to do with some electrical challenge, assuring that there was no cause for alarm. He explained: “Some of our critical staff are in the office and noticed that fire had started from the office of the Director of Election and Party Monitoring. “They rushed off and alerted the fire service, but our own internal firemen had responded before the arrival of the Federal Fire Service and they were able to put out the fire. “It started around 11 am or 11.30 am and you could see that it did not get to the main building of the headquarters. It is intact. We lost some of our photocopiers and computers and documents relating to political party activities, but they are mostly correspondences and constitution and manifestos and files relating to political parties.

“The critical documents relating to our activities with the political parties were not affected, because they have been moved out even before the incident. There is no cause for alarm.” He assured that the incident would not affect the administrative or technical operations of the Commission in any way, adding that investigation into the cause(s) of the fire had commenced.  Also speaking to newsmen at the scene, the Controller-in-Charge of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Command of the Federal Fire Service, Raima Maomon, said the Commission invited them in the morning for assistance. “Before we got here, our men that are on the ground had started fighting the fire and we joined to quickly bring the situation under control. We had deployed six fire trucks, as well as an ambulance, but good enough, no casualty was recorded. “I can tell you that the level of damage is so minimal and small,” he said. But in his reaction, environmental rights activist, Dr. Nnimmo Bassey, described the recent fire incidents as a national shame that must not be allowed to go on. 

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Bassey, who is the Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), said holistic investigations must be carried out to ascertain the real causes of the fire outbreak to ensure the safety of workers, arguing that it was irresponsible for any government official to declare a source of fire when the investigation had not been done.  He said: “It is amazing that at this time of lockdown, sensitive government offices are catching fire. My first question is: How come this fire is occurring in these sensitive institutions? It boils down to the fact that it is not just carelessness or lack of proper fire equipment in those buildings, but it requires proper holistic investigation. It is not normal that just within a short space of time, we are having fire outbreaks. It is like someone is trying to burn the heart of the nation. “One of the things you hear from affected authorities whenever there is an outbreak is that no sensitive documents were lost, they try to downplay the seriousness of the incidence. It is a national shame that this is happening. These are buildings in the nation’s capital. We have a plan approval authority that certified the building designs and that ought to certify buildings fit for habitation.  “Who knows where the wires would spark next? They should do a careful study of all government offices. When the Senate said they want to use N32billion to renovate the National Assembly, maybe they should start from checking the wires.

Otherwise, this kind of excuses is unacceptable. “It is irresponsible for any government official to declare a source of fire when there is no investigation. It is unacceptable that they keep using same excuses. These should be investigated by independent experts and the fire service, of course, before we know whether it is safe at all for workers to resume at any government office after the lockdown.” On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described as alarming, the recent spate of fire outbreaks at key federal government agencies and departments, particularly in Abuja, the country’s capital, expressing shock over the fire outbreak at the INEC head office.

The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, described the situation as “unsettling,” coming after the recent incidents at the AGF office and CAC, noting: “Our party is deeply worried and hopes that this spate of fire outbreaks is not a coordinated design by sinister elements against demands for due process and accountability in our country, as already being insinuated in the public space.”

The opposition party restated its demand for a forensic investigation into the fire outbreaks, saying the spate of occurrence has become alarming. It charged the federal government to immediately ensure necessary precautionary and security measures to safeguard all our Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to avert such ugly incidences, noting that the country cannot afford any more fire incident in its key institutions, as such will be distressing to the polity, which is already under pressure due to dwindling economy and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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