Death, depression as traders lament losses after inferno sweeps through Lagos market

When traders at the popular Katangowa market in Agbado Oke Odo Local Government Area of Lagos State went to bed last Sunday evening, in preparation for the new working week, nothing could have prepared their minds for the inferno that would negatively affect their means of livelihood hours into the next day.It was a sombre Monday morning as many of the traders arrived at their shops, only to find debris and smoke, the aftermath of an early morning fire outbreak. Attempts by some of those who arrived earlier to salvage their goods yielded no results, even as firefighters tried to contain the raging inferno.

However, by four o’clock on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, hours after the early-morning fire ravaged the trousers section of the popular katangowa Market on Monday, August 19, traders were seen renovating their shops, in a manner that suggested that ‘life must go on’, while sorting through the ruins of the previous day.

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The market, also popularly known as ‘Super’, is one of the biggest markets for ‘second-hand’ clothes, shoes, belts and the like. The market has, over the years, been a subject of attention for the Lagos State government over plans to relocate it to the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. The plan to relocate the market has, however, been rejected by many of the traders, who are of the view that relocating the market would affect their businesses.

A trader simply identified as Buhari, who lost his shop in the inferno has, since the incident, not only been hospitalised, but his wife is also in trauma.

More than 150 shops, as well as goods worth several millions of naira were destroyed in the inferno. More than 100 traders, who rely on their daily sales to survive were affected.

The traders appeared very devastated,  and that was visible on their faces. It was also apparent that they had lost hope regarding expectations of compensation in whatever form from the local or state governments, as some of them expressed their intentions to resume trading as soon as possible in order not to incur further losses.

Speaking on the incident, one of the traders at the section, an elderly man referred to as Sunday, in a chat with Nigerian Tribune, said: “You can see that we have started rebuilding our shops and sheds. We cannot say how much will be spent until we finish everything. We did not collect money from anybody. Everybody is just doing it by themselves.”

Lagos market
Scene of the Inferno

When asked to put a figure to the estimated loss at the market, betraying his emotions, continued: “Nobody can really say exactly how much has been lost in the fire. There are people who had just restocked their shops just before the fire incident. Some of the traders cannot even quantify what they have lost.

“I arrived here around five o’clock on Monday morning. The fire started around three o‘clock, but I could not get here on time. By the time I arrived, all the bales and goods in my two shops had been destroyed.

“When I got here, I met two fire trucks and both had exhausted their water. People began to scoop water from different sources, even gutters, until the third fire truck arrived with water. Some people who had their shops in the front only had their roofs destroyed. They were able to salvage some things from their shops. They are the only lucky ones.

“I have been here for more than five years and we have not experienced any major fire incident here. I have personally experienced fire incidents in my shops at the International Trade Fair and in Oshodi. There was no compensation  from any government or people.”

He explained further how the market was divided into sections, stating that: “This place is called the trousers line. There is also jacket line, shoe line, ladies top line, misimisi line, belt line; there are many lines. This is the first  time that I have seen fire in this section”.

“There are more than 150 sheds and shops. There are different bales of different materials. A bale of Korean  material costs between N90,000 and N120,000. A bale of London material costs between N50,000 and N70,000. Women wears cost more. This is not just a market for people in Lagos; people from other parts of Nigeria and West African countries, including Togo, Benin Republic, and Ghana come here, but we also go there to buys in their countries too.”

Scene of the Inferno

Nigerian Tribune gathered that the fire started from the rear part of the section, but none of the traders could explain the source of the inferno, beyond the general consensus that it started from the spark of power surge.

Narrating the incident, Okechukwu, one of the traders at the market, spoke to Nigerian Tribune. He said: “Nobody can really say where the fire started from. Nobody wants to be blamed for the loss of millions of naira at this market. The way I see it is that the fire started from the back, where people sleep. People  don’t sleep in the front part of the section, and most of them do not use electricity.

“There are two barber shops in this section. There is one at the front and another one at the back, where people sleep. The barber’s shop in the front  usually switches off his power supply before going  home, since people do not sleep in that part of the market.”

One of the traders whose boss lost three shops to the inferno, said his boss felt deeply affected by the incident, as his three shops got burnt. Speaking to Nigerian Tribune about the incident, he said: “My oga has another shop in the upper  part of the market and he had three here at the trousers section. None of us was around when the fire started and the fire had already destroyed many things before it was eventually put out. From what I saw here, he lost over N3 million in the three shops. We just got our bales and other materials on Saturday night.”

One of the leaders of the section, Alhaji  Abubakar, also lost three shops to the early morning fire. Recounting the loss to Nigerian Tribune, Albert, a trader at the rear side of the market, said: “Many of us lost a lot of things, but Alhaji Abubakar incurred one of the heaviest losses at the market. He had three shops and his shops were always very full. All the three shops were completely burnt down.

“It is very difficult  to start again, but there is nothing one can do other than to start again. I lost over N500,000 worth of goods. Now we are renovating and we are not getting any help from any government or agency.”

One of those whose shops were yet to be rebuilt is Buhari who reportedly broke down when he arrived at the market and saw the level of destruction in his shop. Buhari also lost his wife, who was on her way to Lagos, after the news of the incident at her husband’s shop was broken to her. Sadly, wife of the hospitalised trader was said to have been involved in an accident on her way to Lagos.

Nigerian Tribune observed that some of the traders were yet to renovate their burnt shops. Giving the reason for this, a trader, Salisu, said: “Not everybody can afford to quickly rebuild their shops. Some of them don’t have that money now. They will need to go and seek help from friends and relatives. It is not easy.”