Need for circumspection as harmattan sets in



Were Nigerian traders used to insuring their goods against fire, many insurance companies would be bleeding profusely from time to time, given the frequency with which infernos have razed down markets nationwide every year especially during the dry season.

With the harmattan just setting in, fire disasters usually accompany the season as if they are inevitable. The recent fire incident that engulfed the Timber Market at Laranto in Jos seemed to have heralded the coming of the harmattan period. Hardly does any harmattan season pass by without the market going up in flames in the past few years. These annual occurrences smack of carelessness on the part of the traders operating in the Laranto market.

Curiously, many major markets across the country are prone fire disasters generally, with Kano state leading the pack in the past one decade or so when the sprawling Kanti Kwari Market left the nation in shock as it went up in flames in March, 2010. The midnight conflagration left in its trail a disaster of monumental magnitude: billions of naira worth of goods and cash got consumed. The tragedy left one trader dead while struggling to retrieve about N30m cash from his shop.

About the same period, 95 temporary shops at Kasuwar Kurmi (Yan Gumama) Market in Kano were also razed down. A couple of days after the Kanti Kwari inferno, a similar incident occurred at the Damboa Market in Damboa local government area of Borno state where over 1,000 shops were razed down. The chairman of the Damboa Market Association, Malam Gana Alhaji Uba, blamed the inferno on the mysterious tree in the market that emitted the fire.

About 48 hours after the Damboa disaster, the Bolori Market in Maiduguri went up in flames during which 250 shops were burnt down. About two days later, another disaster struck, this time at the Kasuwar Kofa Market along Railway Road in Bauchi, where goods worth N150m were razed to the ground.

About two weeks later, the biggest Computer Village Market located at Jagwol in the Maiduguri metropolis which is a hub for GSM traders and artisans was gutted by an inferno. The incident occurred in the night, hours after the traders had closed for the day’s business. Goods worth millions of naira were completely destroyed in the midnight conflagration.

Coming on the heels of the Maiduguri Computer Village incident was the massive fire that broke out in a section of a five-storey building at the popular Balogun Fabric Market located on Lagos Island. A similar incident occurred in the same building about two years ago.

Many factors are responsible for the frequency of fire disasters all over the country. Hitherto, one major cause is the careless fire made by security guards to keep themselves warm during the harmattan period. Curiously, many incidents have occurred even during the rainy or hot season. Power surge is another cause usually fingered during market fire tragedies. In some cases, thieves deliberately set markets ablaze.

Owing to epileptic power supply, most traders own individual generating sets to run their businesses. The prevalence of these petrol laden alternative power sources has also contributed to the fuelling of conflagration whenever disaster occurs.

However, most of these unfortunate tragedies could have been avoided if the markets were designed to conform to modern safety standards. Poor accessibility to fire-fighting equipment often hinders intervention during emergencies. Oftentimes, the entrances to the markets are narrow. For instance, the sight of the Balogun Market is a fire fighter’s nightmare such that if a pin is dropped in the market, it would not find its way to the ground.

It is also common knowledge that even where a market is designed to have access to fire-fighting engines, market owners in their bid to generate extra income allow for makeshift structures that effectively block the right of passage of the equipment.

While rebuilding the burnt markets, appropriate authorities should liaise with their fire service departments to ensure conformity with safety requirements. It is also imperative to have functional fire-fighting engines stationed in or around market places. In most of the tragedies, the reports have always been late arrival of fire-fighting engines. There have been instances where the engines arrived with no water in them. In such cases, fire-fighting personnel risk being manhandled by victims of the disaster.

Installation of fire extinguishers and fire alarm systems in strategic parts of the markets will also help to nip such disasters in the bud. Also, as a matter of routine, security guards should be patrolling the markets after the close of business. This will ensure that any brewing disaster is stopped in its tracks.

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