As traders count losses from Minna fire disaster

Reports of mysterious fire at Kure Market in Minna a few days ago has shattered traders’ hope for better business season in the new year. AIDELOJE OJO writes that at the moment, the traders are counting their losses.

Chima Sylva popularly known in business cycle as ‘Authentic’ had stocked his two shops in Kure Market, Minna, Niger state with shoes and bags before proceeding to his village in the East for Christmas and New year celebrations. Still in the New Year celebration mood, Chima hit the road back to Minna on Friday January 4, 2019 hoping for a better business season. However, the celebration mood was cut short with a call from a colleague breaking the sad news of fire ravaging Minna Main Market where his shops are located. By the time he got to the market in a rush, the fire had been put out but not before consuming all the wares in his shops. He stood transfixed at the entrance of the shops and gazed unconsciously at the ash piles made out of the new stocks by the fire.

 Chima’s trauma was one among several other traders’ who suffered same fate in the fire disaster that erupted in Kure Market that black Friday and burnt over 40 shops.

Speaking with Blueprint, Chima explained that he lost goods worth over 10 million naira to the inferno. According to him, “I sell shoes and bags in these two shops. I have just stocked the shops and travelled for the Christmas and New Year. I was on my way back when one of my colleagues called to inform me that the market was on fire. Initially, I was told that this line was not affected but three hours later, another call came in and was told that my shops have been burnt”, he said.

He estimated the value of goods destroyed in the shops at N10 million. For Chima the cause of the fire was mysterious and remained unknown.

 Others recount losses

The story of Madam Esther Akpata, who deals in children wares is not different from that of Chima, however, it was punctuated with heart-breaking emotions because she is a woman. She had put all she had in her shop hoping for a more prosperous year. By 6.30am on Friday, when she had finished her early morning chores and was about to set out to the market for the day’s business, she got a distress call that her shop was on fire. At the time she arrived the scene, nothing was left in her shop without a touch of the fire. Speaking in an emotion-laden voice with Blueprint, Madam Akpata said that she was yet to recover from the shock of the incident, saying that she was still putting together the estimate of goods lost in the inferno. According to her, the total loss could be over three million naira. Again, she could not confirm the cause of the fire, but she ruled out the possibility of power surge explaining that there was no electricity supply in the market.

However, a close assessment of damage by the fire has shown that not all victims are of high profile traders, some are petty traders dealing in food stuffs, soft drinks and hair dressers. It was learnt that most of them are operating from make shift counters and platforms where the fire was suspected to have started. There are reports also that the fire started from a makeshift tea shop popularly known as “Maishai”. It is believed that the tea vendor forgot to put off his stove while going for early morning prayers in a nearby mosque and that the fire started from the small shop and developed to consume more shops. However, those who spoke with Blueprint denied the claim insisting that the origin of the fire was unknown. They, however, lamented that their only source of livelihood has been taken away by the fire.

 Madam Oyinlola Oyebanji who sells soft drinks is one of the victims whose shop was razed. She said that her family depended on her daily sales for feeding, adding that with this development, starvation was imminent.

 In the same vein, a hair dresser who also lost her saloon to the fire described the incident as a calamity explaining that she resumed from maternity leave the same day the fire occurred.

The victims are said to be apprehensive that the state governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello and other stakeholders including the authority of Chanchanga Local Government Area have not shown enough commitment towards immediate succor and long time assistance to cushion the debilitating effect of the disaster.

Gov Bello, others sympathised

 It was, however, learnt that the governor undertook on-the-spot assessment visit to the market along with officials of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) but did not make categorical promise to the victims. Report indicated that the governor has actually directed appropriate experts to assess the damage with a view to compensating the victims according to their losses.

 In a similar show of sympathy, the senator representing Niger East, Senator David Umaru, also visited on Sunday during which he made a donation of undisclosed amount. He urged traders to be more vigilant to prevent the occurrence of mysterious fires in the market. The state Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship candidate, Umar Nasko and that of Africa Democratic Congress (ADC), Mani Ibrahim Ahmed, were also among the first sympathisers to visit the market. The ADC governorship candidate, who donated some fire extinguishers to the market management on Tuesday during his visit, stressed the need for traders to have firefighting drills. This, he noted, will enable traders to handle emergency cases and stop small fires before they grow big to consume properties.

 Atiku also visited

Also in a surprised visit, former vice president and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, donated five million naira to alleviate the sufferings of the victims after inspecting the damages wrecked by the fire. Atiku’s gesture was said to have elicited smiles of hope in the faces of the traders for the first time since the tragedy occurred. Although the presidential candidate was in Minna for the flag off of his campaign for the 2019 election, it was learnt that he become sympathetic and insisted on visiting affected traders when his attention was brought to the fire tragedy. Elated chairman of the market committee, Mallam Shehu Ahmed Wawo, who received the cash on behalf of the victims, said the financial assistance rendered by the PDP presidential candidate will go a long way in ameliorating the hardship caused by the disaster on the traders and thanked him for coming to the aid of the victims. 

Many days after the incident, affected traders are still clearing burnt items out of shops as the reality of the disaster of the inferno dawns on them, while the market management is yet to compile final lists of value of goods lost. Speaking with Blueprint, the market supervisor also known as ‘Sarkin Kasuwa’, Alhaji Ado Garba, said that a committee has been set up to compile the list of those affected and ascertain the level of loss incurred by affected traders. He assured that victims will be compensated in accordance with the value of goods lost. Garba, however, lamented that firefighters could not gain access to the scene on time due to makeshift shops erected illegally in the market. According to him, “We have decided to deal seriously with the issue of illegal structures in the market. We have to relocate traders operating in makeshifts shops to a particular place to bring sanity to the main market and avoid blockade of lines in the market”. He expressed gratitude to the state government, Senator David Umaru and other philanthropists who have responded to the distress calls from the victims of the fire incident.

It is, however, important for concerned authority to unravel the cause of incessant fire disaster in the market. It is on record that in the past five to six years and at this particular period of the year, mysterious fires occur in the market. This yearly ritual should be stopped and masterminds should be fished out and prosecuted accordingly.         

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