WALE AKINSELURE and IFEDAYO OGUNYEMI reports the trauma of affected traders who lost their wares to an inferno which consumed major parts of Ibadan’s most popular auto spare parts market at Agodi Gate.
After more than 72 hours, the billows of smoke from the auto spare parts market, Agodi Gate, Ibadan, are still visible. Wearing desolate looks, the affected victims rummaged through the rubble while others hired individuals to level the block-mould shops that the inferno had made crispy. In the hours between Friday midnight and following dawn of Saturday, April 3, 2021, people in and around the market had been awoken to the sight of fire consuming the car, tyre, iron, lorry divisions of the 50-year-old market. From one tyre shop where a faulty electric cable was said to have fallen upon, the fire, aided by gas in shops where metals are cut like acetylene and propane, gutted many shops.
“Yago, yago (loosely translated ‘give way)”, shouted boys and youths moving large remnants of engine parts to unknown locations as they maneuvered the human traffic at the scene. A visibly angry woman protested the actions of the youth who appeared unbothered. But, beyond protesting against the pulling down of the weak structures, the woman also rained curses on those behind the fire disaster.
How the fire started
At about 11 pm on Friday when shop owners had retired to their homes and places of abode, high voltage electricity was said to have been supplied to the market which had suffered an outage for a long period of time. The high voltage was said to have affected and caused a spark on the transformer moments before one of the high tension cables fell on a tyre shop. The fire extended to other rows of shops in the market. The market leaders had just reconnected the market to the main electricity supply station courtesy of the Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) on Thursday.
President, Agodi Gate Auto Spare Part Market, Moruf Olanrewaju told Nigerian Tribune that “We had outstanding payment with IBEDC before now. Recently, we engaged them to restore power supply into the market. When we paid them on Monday, we asked them not to supply the power yet pending the time all repairs would be done in all sections of the market.
“After the repairs, they supplied power on Wednesday but there was a spark somewhere. They stopped the supply of power in order to complete the repairs and then the power was later restored on Thursday.
“The fire started from the tyre section and affected 1,222 shops in this main market after we counted them. Those from the fire service got here and started helping to put out the fire. Later when I went home, I heard some people blocked the road with a vehicle and didn’t allow them to work.
“Goods destroyed in the fire are worth billions of naira as most of the traders could not take anything out from the incident,” he said.
Is this the end of the over-50 years-old market?
Friday’s incident is the largest loss in history of the market since its establishment in 1970. The market is noted from having all kinds of auto spare parts and hosts nationals from across the country as well as the international community. The Agodi gate spare parts market was created in 1970 to serve a spillover option because the Ogunpa market had become full and could no more handle the growing number of auto spare parts traders. While power surge was attributed as what ignited the fire disaster, the traders also acknowledge that they were their own undoing by blocking all access routes to the market with cars which, for example, made it difficult for men of the fire service. On its part, Olanrewaju said it planned to repair one of the entrances into the market.
Aside from the challenge of poor accessibility to the market, he said the market was in need of health centre, solar street lights, fire and water stations.
On possible relocation of the market due to its clogged nature, Olanrewaju said the state governor, Seyi Makinde had assured that they will not be relocated. “This market is not as tight as claimed. Even the governor reiterated it when he came here on Sunday. He said he won’t make us leave here. We are not the only ones here and we are not disturbing anyone here,” Olanrewaju said.
As a matter of urgency, Olanrewaju said the traders were keen on rebuilding their shops. He however prayed for support of individuals and government in the planned rebuilding by themselves.
Traders recount losses, demand support to rebuild their shops
Painting a picture of the losses incurred, Oluwole Odesola, one of the traders who has been at the market since 1988, said he lost goods worth millions, adding that more than one person occupies some of the shops because of the rent they pay and everyone has varying figures on the loss incurred.
“Those selling irons can still salvage something to later sell but those of us selling tyres lost everything. The tyres got totally burnt,” Odesola said in despair.
Isaac Toromade, a father of five whose shop was also razed at the market, decried actions of some persons who impeded the access of firefighters who tried to put out the fire.
“This market is not unorganized as claimed but there are things that people used in blocking the roads that have made the market rowdy. The roads were unclear and if they were clear, the firefighters would have had adequate access to put out the fire in time,” he said.
Toromade, who has been at the market for about 30 years, said, “What we have lost here is immeasurable. A shop houses a couple of persons and not just one person. Here, we sell engines, knobs, steering racks. We were unable to pick out anything in the aftermath of the fire. Hundreds of shops were affected by the fire.
“I wasn’t here when the governor came but there were talks about relocating us to another site or renovating this present site. Our thoughts differ but if the government wants to relocate us that won’t be fast enough. We can just expect the government to provide immediate succor for us first. Actions must be expedited on how to support us at this time. Monetary support and support on where we would be afterwards. Be it here or elsewhere.”
Corroborating Toromade’s claims that firefighters had a difficult time in accessing the market, another trader, Abideen Ayo, all four entrances into the market were blocked, alleging that some market leaders parked abandoned some unused vehicles on the roads thereby impeding the easy movement of the first responders.
While speaking on the kind of restitution that they expect from the government, Ayo who has been at the market since 1975, said: “Even if they say they want to give us money, the leaders will distribute among themselves. They should just allow us to rebuild ourselves. If it goes back to their care, they might frustrate us with their exorbitant prices.”
Another shop owner, Rasheed Raji who spoke with Nigerian Tribune claimed that he lost goods worth N50 million in the fire, appealing to the government to support them renovate the market or relocate them elsewhere.
“We lost a lot of things. I sell engines of Tokunbo pickup trucks, caster vehicles, gears of vehicles etc. and all of them got burnt severely. You can see all of them here burnt. Young boys are just now scavenging the small irons they can sell as scraps. There is nothing else.
“I lost close to N50 million in this fire because my son just got back with goods from Onitsha. An engine is sold at N180,000 and he brought 50 engines. We just restocked the store days ago and all of these boys assisted in doing that and all of them are now burnt,” Raji added.
Some of the traders berated the lack of trust in the market leaders, alleging that they have a track record of shortchanging them whenever support comes to the market.
One of them, Mustapha Muhideen who sells tyres inside the market, asked the government and other philanthropists not to give money to the market leaders because “not all of them are trustworthy.”
Muhideen who shares a tyre shop with Oluwagbemiga Awomide inside the market, however, said sales at the market had not been booming against popular belief.
We were unable to gain access into the market ― Oyo Fire Service
When contacted, the Chief Fire Officer in Oyo State, Moshood Adewuyi, also reiterated claims that it was difficult for the firefighters to gain access to the source of the fire, adding that the fire was escalated by the gases used in cutting metals inside the market.
“The fire started around 11 but we were called around twenty minutes to 12am. It started from the tyre section close to the metal section. And you know they sometimes cut metals with certain gases such as acetylene and propane gas.
“One of the cables supplying electricity into the market was said to have broken and it fell on one of those shops where we have acetylene gas and that is where the fire started from.
“Our people got there as soon as possible, but our people found it difficult to gain access to the seat of the fire. They tried the WEMA bank/Total filling station axis, there was no road. They had to go through Loyola College and they discovered that there is a culvert undergoing reconstruction; it was broken. That would have been the easiest and best access road to the fire.
“They had to go back to Onipasan where they met some articulated vehicles on the road which hindered our access to the seat of the fire. They were only able to run about five lengths of holes to the fire.
“Naturally, we were supposed to restrict the flow of the fire but in this case we couldn’t do that and we had to follow the fire to wherever it was going. The gas cylinders eventually exploded after it got heated to certain degrees,” he said.
When asked about the number of shops affected by the fire, Adewuyi said: “We were unable to establish the number of shops destroyed in the fire because some of them had collapsed completely.”
Almost a trillion naira goods lost, more than 20,000 traders affected ― OYSEMA
Secretary of the Oyo State Emergency Management Authority (OYSEMA), Lukman Arasi, told Nigerian Tribune over the phone that the governor’s visit was as a result of the agency’s initial assessment, adding that OYSEMA in conjunction with NEMA will visit the scene again to collate the number of those affected and determine what relief will be given to the victims.
A preliminary report of OYSEMA, sighted by the Nigerian Tribune, affirmed that over 1,000 shops were destroyed while more than 20,000 traders were affected.
The report added that some death cases had been reported as a result of shock by some traders.
The statement read, “The fire was reported to have commenced around 12 midnight and destroyed over 1000 shops and affected more than 20,000 traders. A joint team of NEMA, SEMA and other stakeholders were at the scene to carry out the on the spot assessment.
“The fire service was at the scene but was faced with little access to the market. It was reported that three sections were affected by the incident: the lorry, car and tyre sections with total loss of almost a trillion naira.”
We’ll take the best decision in the interest of everyone – Makinde
The Oyo state governor met late on Monday with stakeholders from the market.
The meeting, which was held inside the Government House, Agodi, Ibadan, had in attendance leaders of the different segments of the market.
Governor Makinde told representatives “Just like I said when I visited you yesterday (Sunday) to see the extent of the damage caused by the fire incident at the market, I wanted us to see first so that we can discuss the immediate palliatives we can provide to support our people out there.
“Secondly, I want us to discuss the future of the market itself. So, that is why we are here today and I believe that at the end of this interaction, we should, at least, have a path forward. There is nothing the government can give you that can be compared to the properties and goods that have been lost to the inferno. However, we still have to try to assist you. What is important is, we do not want to witness an incident like that again in this state.”
Addressing newsmen shortly after the meeting that lasted about an hour, the Babaloja of the market, Alhaji Waheed Azeez, appreciated the governor’s gesture of receiving them warmly. He also confirmed that the governor accepted the request put forward by the stakeholders on the plan to rebuild the market.
The meeting had in attendance the following representatives: President of the market, Alhaji Morufu Olanrewaju; Baale, Alhaji Raimi Ewebiyi; Babaloja; chairman, Car Division, Hakeem Adebayo; Secretary-General, Akinyele Kehinde; chairman, Tyre Division, Rasheed Ayinde; chairman, Iron Division, Muili Olola and the chairman, Lorry Division, Taofeek Lobi.
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