The Capital Unit of the Treasury House where the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation is located was on Wednesday gutted by fire.
The Treasury House is the headquarters of the OAGF. The fire started at about 10am from the fourth floor of the six-storey edifice.
The Capital Unit in the Accountant-General’s Office is where capital releases to Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government are made.
The Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba, confirmed the burning of the capital unit during an assessment tour of the Treasury House shortly after it was gutted by fire.
Agba said the Federal Government had ordered a probe to determine the exact cause of the fire outbreak.
The minister who was at the National Assembly to present the amended Budget proposal said he had to abandon the meeting to rush to assess the impact of the incident.
He was accompanied on the assessment tour by the Accountant General of the Federation, Alh Ahmed Idris.
Agba said due to the fact that the public financial management system had been digitalised, financial information could be assessed from anywhere.
He said, “Because we have gone online, the Accountant-General can work from the house and approve payment and the COVID-19 relief fund doesn’t reside in the Accountant-General’s Office or in this building.
“What we have done with this COVID-19 fund is to open account at the CBN and also (we have) opened five different accounts in commercial banks so that whatever donations made are immediately swept into the account with the Central Bank.
“So as a government, I just want to assure you that our records are intact. A few documents were burnt. We haven’t started to check what is burnt but all our financial transactions are intact.
“We will be doing full scale investigations using the right professionals just to determine exactly what happened because what I am telling you now is what I have been told.
“So the professionals will be able to tell us whether it was from the air conditioner or something that was in use and if we have had any material lost.”
He said the fire incident would not affect the disbursement of the coronavirus pandemic intervention fund.
One of our correspondents gathered that as soon as the incident started, men of the Federal Capital Territory Fire Service were alerted to assist in putting out the fire.
They were later joined by fire fighters from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Central Bank of Nigeria and Julius Berger.
Explaining how the incident happened, Agba said, “An officer came to the office; he said he put on an air conditioner and there was a spark and he also noticed smoke. So he immediately put it off, but it was still smoking; so he had to rush out to get some help.
“The Federal Fire Service were called about 10 minutes past 10am and they responded within four minutes with three fire trucks.
“However, there was a little bit of difficulty in getting inside the building because they thought they should fight the fire both from inside and outside.
“They eventually broke inside to fight the fire and when they saw the extent of the fire, they called for help and all together 25 fire trucks were used to fight the fire and within 35 minutes, the fire was put under control.”
He said based on the assessment, the data centre where all Federal Government records were kept were fully intact.
Agba said, “We haven’t lost any record. I also should remind you that for a while, we have really gone digital. So yes we have some documents that are kept manually but a lot of what we do is online.
“And even if the data centre were to be affected, we have the backup centre that is outside of Abuja for recovery in the event that we lose the data centre.
“The only thing that has happened to the data centre is the exterior where we have the cooling unit at the back because the centre always have to be cool.
“So one of the immediate steps we have taken is just to shut down the data centre since the cooling units are not functioning again and we have directed that those cooling units should be immediately put in order so we don’t lose anything.”
When asked if any life was lost in the incident, the minister replied, “There were no casualties.”
Meanwhile, the Federal Fire Service said the incident would be probed.
The FFS Public Relations Officer, Sandra Ugoh, confirmed this to one of our correspondents.
She said, “It is too early to know the cause of the fire outbreak but our investigation would reveal the remote and immediate causes of the incident.”
The Peoples Democratic Party on Wednesday demanded a full-scale investigation into the circumstances surrounding the fire outbreak in critical offices of the OAGF.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement, also said the party was of the opinion that an investigation was imperative given apprehensions in the public space regarding the time and the offices involved in the fire outbreak.
He said, “Our party expresses shock that the fire incident came on the heels of our heightened calls for a forensic audit into the hazy oil subsidy regime of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration for which trillions of naira were being claimed to have been spent.
“This is in addition to recent demands for an investigation into allegations of fraud and diversion of COVID-19 intervention funds as well as social investments programme of the Buhari government since 2015.
“Already, the National Assembly, riding on the gale of demands by Nigerians and championed by the PDP, has raised queries on spendings in respect of social incentives programme.”
According to him, Nigerians are anxious to know those behind the incident.
He said this was because the fire outbreak reportedly occurred on the part of the building which hosts critical offices including the Treasury Single Account Funds, Federation Account Allocation Committee and Revenue Department among others, relevant for the demanded financial inquests.
He said, “Our party therefore calls for immediate investigation to determine the actual cause of the fire, as well as ensure that critical documents and data on government revenue and expenditure are immediately retrieved.
“The PDP also demands that the complex be immediately cordoned off to enable an uncompromised inquest into this ugly incident.”
Similarly, the President, Centre for Change, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin, said the fire incident was curious and distressing.
In a statement on Wednesday entitled ‘Fire guts OAGF: What Next?’ the human rights activist wondered why the critical office should be burnt at a time Abuja and the entire country are on lockdown.
She said the inferno would elicit more questions than answers given past experiences in the country, noting such fire had always been carried out to cover up tracks.
Source: The Punch