Two fire incidents, same tragedy
How traders in two states lost billions of naira worth of goods in 10 days
In this report, JOSEPH ENNA and JOHNSON BABAJIDE capture the predicaments of victims of recent fire incidents in Lafia and Makurdi, noting that it may take some time before they get back on their feet given the extent of the losses.
AS 2018 was rolling to an end and traders all over the country were struggling to make the last push for the year, with some of them counting their gains and others lamenting over lost opportunities, those in Keffi, Nasarawa State and Makurdi, Benue State, never imagined what fate had in store for them. Unbeknownst to these traders, they would be united by fate in their respective states in the manner of the disasters that was to befall them.
Just four days to Christmas, many Keffi traders were left in tears, making nonsense of their plans for the Yuletide. Their counterparts in Makurdi, who plied their trades at the popular Wadata market would wait just a few days after to be dealt fate’s cruel hands. Just a day into the new year, while still wishing themselves a happy and prosperous 2019, disaster struck: a devastating fire surged through the market and destroyed millions of naira worth of goods. Some of the traders, however, told Sunday Tribune severally that the losses they suffered were in the region of billions of naira.
Two fire incidents, same tragic story
Precisely on 21 December, 2018, while residents of Keffi had called it a night and were in comfort of their beds, a raging fire was consuming multimillion naira worth of foodstuffs, clothing and many other goods. Sunday Tribune can recall that fire outbreak was the fifth of such incidents in seven years. What appeared as coincidence is that the fire usually broke out in the dead of night.
Speaking with Sunday Tribune, Tsarki Kasuwa, (leader of the market traders association), Alhaji Hayatu Bawa, said he could not say anything about the cause of the outbreak. He had been asked if he knew what could have caused the fire. But Alhaji Bawa noted that the recent fire incident was more devastating than the earlier ones. The loss suffered in the latest fire, he stated, was huge.
“I cannot tell you exactly the cause of this fire, because I was at Toto Local Government Area (when it happened). When I was called upon around 3:00 am that Keffi market was on fire, I rushed back to see the Emir of Keffi, because he was the first person to send for me. Together, we went round to see the extent of damages. Already, a committee had been set up to investigate and provide recommendations to avoid future occurrence.
“The past experiences were just minor fire outbreaks which were always controlled immediately, but this time, it shocked all of us. Looking at the whole of this field as you can see, only God knows the worth of goods that were destroyed. If one goes to the grains stores, one would even shed tears,” Bawa stated.
“We know it is God that gives and also takes; He shall also replenish all these (losses) in hundred folds. But we reiterate that government should bring fire service office and vehicles close to the market for quick response, because it was their absence in this place that resulted in this huge loss,” Bawa explained, commending the efforts of men of the 177 Battalion of the Nigerian Army who came to assist the traders to fight the fire.
Chairman Keffi Local Government, Alhaji Abdulrahaman Sani Maigoro, also confirmed the extent of the loss suffered by the traders.
«This has affected the entire Keffi and its environs, because prices of commodities, I know, will surely rise as several items will no longer be in surplus as its used to be,” he noted.
But for the Keffi traders, it was not all tragic stories. Mallan Lawal Mai-kwariya, a trader, was lucky. According to him, he was able to save his goods from the shop before the fire got there.
Virginus Ake, whose shop was completely razed, is today a sad man. According to him, he «lost food items and beverages worth more than N5million,» urging the state government to find urgent solution to the perennial fire incident.
“I am calling on government to help us reconstruct this market in a way that will avert future occurrence. I came here exactly10pm (January 2) and already fire had consumed everything. I don’t know the root cause of the fire, but they said it started from the garage. We’ve lost everything and now we have nowhere to go. At the modern market, we were not given allocation there. It is a state market; but for us, they said there is no allocation,” he said regretfully.
Another victim, Mr. Eze Nwaeze also gave an insight into the incident. He said: «what happened here was so painful because there are rumours doing the rounds that it was some people that set fire to the market, but nobody is ready to tell. As you can see, billions of naira worth of goods have been lost to this disaster.
“Even our brother here whose shop is decked; we thought fire will not destroy the goods inside, but unfortunately everything is gone. In fact some of us stored some goods and cash in our shops, but all have been destroyed. This thing (fire) has been happening every year, and we requested that they should permit us to raise structure here, but they always ask us to wait. And any time we gather our total profits for the year, fire will just come and consume it all. It’s painful that government is seeing this and cannot help us out.”
Mallam Isiyaka, who sells yams and rice in the market, said he lost more than N200 million to the fire, adding that it could even be more.
“I am very sure of that, it may even be more, because a bag of melon now is about N120,000 and over 300 bags were burnt, apart from the bags of rice in the other neighbouring shops. We have lost billions of naira worth of goods. We urge government to come to our aid,” he lamented.
Benue: Firing more disasters…
The Benue fire incident followed a similar pattern as Keffi’s. The victims were taken unawares.
In her own case, Mrs Grace Okpe of Wadata market in Makurdi had joined others in welcoming the New Year with great expectations. Her shop was well-stocked to last till Easter period but everything is gone now. Not because she had so much money but because business was not moving.
“I received a distress call from a neighbour in the market around 2:00 am that fire had engulfed the market. My husband and I hurriedly left for the place. As of the time we got there, only the poultry section was in flames; some of the traders who had rushed to the market put a call to fire service department but before their arrival fire had spread to the food section,” she lamented.
Another trader, Mrs Taiwo Ojo, deals in Gari and yam flour. She said she was running her business with loan taken from the popular LAPO micro-finance outfit. When she got wind of the fire disaster, she told Sunday Tribune that she rushed to the market on time but could not salvage anything from her shop because the fire had already spread.
“I got the information early and rushed down to the market but there was little I could do to salvage the goods. They were in bags; I only stood watching how fire consumed all of them. My only problem now is how to repay the money I borrowed from LAPO,» Mrs Ojo cried.
Mummy Favour, as she identified herself, sells children wares in the market. She got to know of the incident around 2.30 am. She also told Sunday Tribune her story.
“One of my neighbours in the market called me and told me of the incident. I rushed down instantly. Luckily, the fire never got to our section. Immediately, we started evacuating our goods to a safer place but the ugly part of it was that some miscreants used the opportunity to loot people’s goods.
“Many of them were stealing from the goods evacuated while others brazenly forced shops opened and looted goods; it was a terrible sight to behold. You know that the market is close to the river; some of these criminals were diverting the looted goods to the river,” she said.
Though the state governor, Samuel Ortom, has assisted the Makurdi traders by giving out about N30 million, just as the government of Nasarawa State has made moves to help its people, from the claims made by some of the traders, their losses were massive and such assistance received so far from the Benue State government could only be a drop in the ocean. For most of the traders, the disaster was a sour taste in the mouth and a tragic way to start the New Year.