Fire Safety Lessons from Nigeria



No one would mistake Lagos, Nigeria, for paradise. Litter blankets the streets, blackouts occur daily, and traffic moves at a snail’s pace. Yet, in one realm chaotic Lagos performs well above average: fire safety. Despite a dearth of fire-fighting equipment, building fires seem to be relatively uncommon. Why?

Lagos’s success in fire prevention isn’t the product of strong building regulations. (Lagos effectively has none because almost no one can find where they are buried in the municipal code.) Nor is it due to the watchfulness of particularly conscientious government bureaucrats. (The city is famous for political corruption.) Instead, Lagos’s fire-safety record comes from its reliance on market alternatives and private firms, according to economics professor John M. Corbin, whose article in the winter issue of The Independent Review, “The Enterprise of Fire Safety in Lagos, Nigeria,” draws on his extensive field research in Lagos, including interviews with private- and public-sector fire departments.

“The evidence from Lagos,” Corbin writes, “shows that market alternatives and private firms have been responsible for the best successes in improving building fire safety, whereas government measures to improve safety have been irrelevant or unreliable.”

The Enterprise of Fire Safety in Lagos, Nigeria, by John M. Corbin (The Independent Review, Winter 2013)

The Independent Review (Winter 2013)

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[A slightly different version of this post first appeared in the March 12, 2013, issue of The Lighthouse. To subscribe to this weekly newsletter, enter your email address here.]

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