Yaba market inferno: Traders, victims recount losses

Getting Tony to talk about the unfortunate fire episode that ravaged his shop and those of others in Yaba, leaving over 90 shops burnt, was like squeezing the proverbial water out of stone, it was almost impossible!

He was in a hurry to put the ugly incident behind him and move on with the business with the remnants salvaged from the raging inferno.

Tony Igwe, a  trader in baby wears and ladies’ inner wears, was one of those numerous traders that lost properties and money to the October 16, midnight inferno, that affected the City Way Complex, a storey-building shopping complex, situated at Yaba Phase 1, Opposite the popular Presbyterian  Church, Yaba.

But, despite losing over a million naira worth of goods to the inferno, Tony would rather prefer to keep mum over the incident and move on with his life.

Though, he eventually volunteered a few statements, they were not enough to douse the curiosity about the cause of this mysterious midnight inferno that left many traders in that segment of the market gnashing their teeth in anguish.

Interestingly, Tony’s decision to be taciturn, Nigerian Tribune later learnt might not be unconnected with the fear of the whole market space being sanctioned  by the government should the cause of the fire be traced to negligence.

“People may not respond to your questions because when the state of the market is brought to the notice of the government they would put their eyes on the market and would want to close it down,” he explained.

For him, the next option was definitely not to go cap in hand to the government, but to look for alternative ways of surviving and bringing his business back. And this he intends to do by soliciting some financial support from his micro-finance bank.

But another trader, who would not disclose her identity, simply told the correspondent to look elsewhere for information, regarding the unfortunate incident.

“You can see that I’ve lost everything I had to this fire. I’m in pains, I can’t talk now. Please go away, I need to be alone,” she had said, in response to a request for an interview concerning the October 16 inferno that razed 94 out of the 201 shops in the complex.

Though Okwuoka, a trader in second-hand children trousers, was a bit lucky, her heart was still with those that lost substantial wares to the fire incident.

But for divine intervention, through a midnight telephone call that she got in the middle of the night that day, she too would have been in a mourning mood.

According to her, she had already retired to bed when somebody called her that the market was on fire. She was able to retrieve all her goods from the shop through the help of people around, whom she described as ‘God-sent’.

More soothing for her was the fact that law enforcement agents were on hand to ensure security at the market, and ensure that whatever items salvaged from the market did not end up in the hands of hoodlums lurking around the market at that time.

“I was fast asleep when a call regarding the fire outbreak came in, but thank God my goods were salvaged before I got there.

“I would have lost over N100,000 worth of goods if those people, that I believe were God-sent, were not available to retrieve my goods during the fire outbreak,” she stated.

Perhaps what remains a mystery for Justice, a shoe seller, in one of the shops, is the incidence of fire that has continued to trail the traders in this particular part of the market.

According to him, a huge number of traders in that segment of the market were victims of Tejuosho Market fire, in 2007 and had relocated to that area.

Though he escaped this latest incident unscratched, Justice still muses on the possibility of the existence of a spell on this class of traders which he says would have to be spiritually cleansed.

“We all migrated to this place when Tejuosho Market got burnt in December 2007. We were all victims of the incident and we had to migrate to this place, and you can see what has again happened to us now,” he stated.

Justice argued that though he did not lose anything to the latest incident, he however believes that his colleagues lost quite a fortune to the inferno.

Unlike Tony, who would not want government’s involvement, Justice believes relief could only come from the state government, especially to those that lost substantial wares to the inferno.

“This is the best time for a listening government to help us out because families that lost their goods due to the incident have children they cater for and it is imperative to know that this is the period of school fees,” Justice stated.

While the real cause of the fire is still shrouded in the realm of speculations, there are however discordant tunes as to what could have been responsible for the midnight fire.

“Nobody can say precisely the cause of the fire outbreak. Some say it was caused by electrical sparks from one of the shops. This I will not be able to confirm, because I only received a call around 1:00 am, in the morning that day, hours after the fire had started,” Justice said.

Interestingly, another account attributed the cause of the fire to a fallen electricity pole, in the area.

“We heard that it was a (electricity) pole that fell and consequently there was fire outbreak,” Okwuoka had told Nigerian Tribune, when asked about the probable cause of the incident.

But official reports say the fire must have started from one of the shops at the back side of the complex where wears, shoes, bags were burnt.

According to the General Manager, Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), Mr. Adesina Tiamiyu, the fire outbreak was aggravated by the highly inflammable materials such as wears stored in the shops, as well as air conditioners and generators with fuel in the market.

He explained that the effects of the fire would have been mitigated but for the inaccessibility for some of the shops, due to iron bars used as security doors for the shops.

The LASEMA boss, however, believes that rather than crying over spilled milk, market owners should ensure that their members were continuously sensitized on fire prevention and safety, as well as ensuring that electrical appliances are put off after the close of business everyday to avoid incidents such as this.

As the victims of the unfortunate fire incident pick up the pieces, perhaps the time is now for stakeholders to begin to think of how to stem the tide of the tide of frequent fire incidents in Lagos markets.

Interestingly, while many see the LASEMA boss’ suggestion as quite apt, not a few believe that players in Lagos markets should begin to think of going for insurance cover that would mitigate the effect of such loss in future.

“It’s painful to hear that a market that has millions of naira worth of goods does not enjoy insurance cover. That is not too good, market operators should begin to look the insurance way. That is the way to go,” argued Babaranti Ajayi, an insurance agent.

Who knows, a stitch in time, may save nine, for operators in the market!