On the 24th of January 1983, the 37-story building housing the Nigerian External Telecommunication (NET), popularly known as NECOM HOUSE, was set on fire by yet-unknown persons.
The fire which started on the 6th floor at about 9.30 a.m. on that unforgettable day was said to have lasted a whole day due to the inability of firefighters to put a stop to it. At the end of it all, the nation was informed that a sizeable number of workers had died in the fire outbreak either in the elevators (lifts) or in their attempts to jump to safety.
With that burning of Necom HOUSE, Nigeria has lost more of its toiling workers as well as staggering millions of naira and equipment with which the building was constructed and in which its operations are carried out.
In order to understand the issues surrounding the burning of such an expensive building, it is important to know that it is not the first of its type and that a number of such incidents have been happening for some time in Nigeria.
In 1980, for example, the headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Education was burned down in the course of an investigation and enquiry about some highly-placed officials who went pocketing scholarship funds.
That was followed by another fire disaster (in 1981) on the Republic building – still in
Lagos – which used to house the ministries of External Affairs and Science and Technology. That, too, occurred after there had been confirmed allegations of some fraudulent deals in the Ministry of External Affairs.
Yet in December 1982, the nation was informed that some other unknown persons had set fire to the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) in Abuja. This also happened after it had been revealed that another big amount of N21 million naira had disappeared from the purse of that authority.
The NECOM HOUSE fire incident was no different. For over a year, the highly placed officials of the company have been involved in efforts to deceive the country that things are well with its finances even when it was common knowledge that fraudulent deals running into many millions of Naira had been (and are continuously being) made. This is what led to the burning of NECOM HOUSE on the 24th of January 1983.
From what has been said above, it is not difficult to know the reasons for these endless efforts to burn public buildings and human beings. That all, these cases of fire always begin from the accounts sections of each of these buildings is no coincidence.
The conclusion that nobody can but reach is that these highly-placed officials of the government steal-we – tax-payers money. In a mad effort to build financial empires out of the sweat of working Nigerians without any effort. Having committed such crimes, they would make every possible effort to cover them up.
The most effective cover-up method is the burning of the records in which such deals are written. While carrying out these unpatriotic exercises, these officials no longer care about the loss of lives and property or any such things would involve.
If we say that these actions are those of certain officials, the impression may be created that there are many of our rulers who are hostile to such activities. But a careful look at the behaviour of these rulers tells us that they are birds of the same feathers.
It will be recalled that many panels had been set up in the past to carry out enquiries into cases some of which we mentioned above. Although such panels end up holding nobody responsible, they still say a few things which have relevance for the future. It is known, for instance, that the Belgore Panel which probed the Republic Building fire disaster recommended that the equipment of the federal fire Service should be updated. Yet Nigerians were told that firefighters could not do much to stop the NECOM HOUSE fire because their fire-fighting equipment could not operate to points beyond the tenth floor.
Secondly, it will be recalled that while the fire was burning and the fate of the numberless workers trapped in the building still remain unknown, President Shehu Shagari visited the scene but left soon after- not for his office- (but) for India.
Thirdly, the actions of patriotic-minded Nigerians received the greatest hostility from the government. Students and other groups demonstrating against and in condemnation of the incident had many of their members arrasted and thrown into detention. It is well known that a number of students as well as journalists are still being kept in prison custody with charges to answer in court.
Fourthly, the rulers of this nation also decided to tell lies even about the suffering workers who sustained injuries or died in the incident. Dr Ibrahim Tahir ( Chairman of NET) for example, maintained that nobody died inside the elevators (lifts) even when press reports continue to confirm that many workers were roasted inside these elevators by the fire.
All these actions are evidences of the way this country is being ruled. The often stated opinion that the interests of the rulers are totally different from those of the poor workers who toil day and night to create the wealth that is being robbed ( alongside the lives of these workers) by the same rulers therefore remains correct.
It is the view of HANKALI that the majority of workers ( (who have not been burnt to death) and other critical minded Nigerians will see this as another opportunity to learn about the realities of their country and work towards a bright and meaningful future.