One Fire Incident Too Many: The Questions to Answer About the Boxing Day Fire at Next Cash N Carry

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Thursday, December 30, 2021 / 12:49 PM /  OpEd By Ekerete Ola Gam-Ikon / Header Image Credit: NG State

 

Our natural instinct is to wait for the official position when incidents like the fire outbreak at Next Cash n Carry, Abuja happens.

 

This is one of Nigeria's purpose-built shopping malls in the Federal Capital Territory, serving millions of Nigerians daily. Besides shoppers, the chain of employment it bears can only be appreciated after the damning effect of this incident.

 

As expected, the official report of the incident by the FCT Police Command has asserted that the combined efforts of the security forces salvaged meaningful quantum of the goods with the cooperation of good Nigerians at the scene of the incident; of course, those who accepted to steal were promptly arrested.

 

Commendable as the efforts were yesterday, my insurance instinct has been raising many questions that similarly come up at times like this. Some "silly and annoying" questions that will enable us not only address the incident holistically but also apply the lessons to better respond to such incidents in future.

 

These questions include:

  1. Was Next Cash n Carry COMPREHENSIVELY INSURED? Was the insurance cover for the building alone? Was the insurance cover for all the goods or only those that belong to Next Cash n Carry? How about the machinery and equipment, cash and persons?
  2. What happened to the Fire Truck usually stationed in the premises? Did the firemen also go on holidays? Was the truck in a position to respond effectively to an incident of such magnitude?
  3. How and where did the fire start? Who noticed it first? Were there fire alarm systems and fire hydrant to forewarn the people on duty? Was the fire too much for the fire extinguishers to curb?
  4. When will the insurer(s) of this multimillion shopping complex make a statement? Such a business would have an insurance broker but will we hear anything now? Even if there was insurance and the premium was not fully paid as at the time of this incident, will it be brought to public knowledge for learning?
  5. As a public building, the law requires that there should be insurance cover in place, what if there was no valid insurance cover? Will the owners of Next Cash n Carry be prosecuted in spite of the pathetic situation they are in now, if found to have defaulted? How will we effectively enforce the law of insurance of public buildings if we have to wait until a time like this?
  6. What are other mall owners doing to show that they have learnt from this incident? Last time, it was Ebeano Supermarket in Lokogoma area of Abuja or have we forgotten so soon? Some malls are simply uninsurable because of the way they were built without access to emergency response in the event of fire but how many of our mall owners know this? Is insurance part of the investments our mall and supermarket owners consider at the onset of the business?
  7. Due to the rampant and growing incidents of fire, are our emergency management agencies mandated to recheck and confirm the status of the malls, supermarkets and other public buildings before the next incident? Do we appreciate that because of climate change, we are likely to have incidents like this without human factor? Are our officials already trained to understand this new developments? Should insurance not become part of our emergency management ecosystem in view of the need to manage the recoveries from the incident? Thankfully, official reports indicate that lives were not lost but do we know how many lives will be lost in the months ahead due to what happened yesterday? Who will identify those that were dependent on Next Cash n Carry for their daily survival who will have no where to go to now and assist them before they go bunkers?.

 

Sometimes, the call to duty of an Insurance Consultant is very broad and overwhelming. This is one of those moments for me and I need us all to come together to provide answers that will improve our lives and environment.

 

We cannot continue losing our sources of well-being to fire, count our losses as those of the owners and seek to move on.

 

Fire Incidents in Commercial  Buildings and Markets

Looking back at only 20 years ago, it is painful to recall the magnitude of losses of lives and properties, especially in 2002, when one hundred and twenty (120) persons were roasted to death in a fire incident that occurred at a Taiwanese-owned factory based in Odogwuyan at Ikorodu, Lagos and involved in the manufacture of rubber slippers, aluminium spoon and bottled water. Reports stated that the number of casualties would have been lower if the exits were not locked.

 

More casualties and fatalities have been recorded from fire incidents in commercial premises where cooking gas are dispensed. Reported cases in Anambra, Kano, Lagos, Niger, Ogun, Sokoto and Zamfara have continued to strain our memories.

 

Fire incidents in popular markets across the country on annual basis have become like rituals and sometimes the investigations into the reasons for the disasters are never uncovered and reported.

 

Quite unfortunately, the insurance industry has not been able to reach a consensus with the governments at different levels on the best approaches to curb these incidents in future.

 

Commercial buildings and markets are often approved and developed with little consideration for fire stations and access to them in the event of emergency. It is common knowledge that poor access to the properties gutted by fire have contributed more to the total cost of losses.

 

With this situation across the country, insurers are wary of providing insurance coverage as the probability of loss to fire is evidently high.

 

Getting Fire Insurance cover for commercial buildings requires the owners to provide the true valuation reports of their properties and what they are used for and insurers, after inspection of the properties for risk prevention tools, will give their rates. Depending on the details of the buildings, rates can be as low as N400,000 annual premium for a building valued at N100m.

 

Overcoming the Challenges Tomorrow

Firstly, we need to see this as a national disaster and call for all stakeholders including insurers to proffer solutions from their perspectives to the problem.

 

It is considered that no one would invest in the development of commercial buildings or markets and would want to allow accidental fire incidents to destroy them. This is the first consideration for any insurer today - the moral hazard of the owners!

 

Next, you want to ensure that all measures built-in to detect smoke or stop the spread of fire are functional at all times. Often, it is one aspect of the situation that makes the story even more saddening.

 

Insurance will continue to be the bedrock of the economy and the more people know about it, the better we will all be.

 

Let's act proactively and now!

 

About The Author 

Ekerete Olawoye Gam-Ikon, MNIM, CPP, is a management consultant with a specialization in Strategy and Insurance. You can contact him via e:mail olagamola@gmail.com and mobile +234-806-648-1111 


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