The perennial market infernos

Were Nigerian entrepreneurs used to insuring their goods against fire, many insurance companies would have been bleeding profusely by now, given the frequency with which infernos have razed down market places nationwide in recent years.

There is hardly any major business destination or market across the country that has not experienced fire disaster especially in recent years. Kano state led the pack at the beginning of the last decade when the sprawling Kanti Kwari Market 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.

On October 16, 2019, a tanker laden with premium motor spirit or petrol lost control and fell at the Upper Iweka Road, close to the Ochanja Market, resulting in an instant explosion that destroyed more than 100 shops and left at least five people dead.

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 four years ago. Perhaps, the most intriguing market fire disaster till date occurred in the wake of the Jos upheaval in the early 2000 when the Jos Ultra-Modern Market, the largest in West Africa, was completely razed down. About three decades after, the exact cause of the conflagration is yet to be established just as its rebuilding efforts have defied successive administrations in the state.

The latest in the chain of fire tragedies occurred on the Boxing Day at the sprawling NEXT Cash and Carry Supermarket, arguably one of the preferred shopping malls located in Jahi District, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, where goods valued at billions of naira were reduced to ashes, with very minimal items salvaged by Nigerians who rushed to the scene. The immediate or remote causes of the inferno are yet to be established but the calamity came barely six months after a similar tragedy struck at the popular Ebeano Supermarket also in Abuja, though through the handiwork of an arsonist.

In-between, precisely towards the end of last month, another disaster struck at the bustling Nyanya market located along Abuja-Keffi highway, leading to huge economic losses by traders.

The NEXT fire disaster took many by surprise considering the set-up of the complex believed to be well laid out to conform with modern safety standards devoid of encumbrances that could impede firefighting efforts during emergencies. What obtains in most Nigerian market settings is a nightmare where no rooms or provisions are made to combat fire outbreaks whenever such situations arise.

The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Alhaji Mohammed Bello, and the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajia Sadiya Umar Farouq, have both visited the damaged complex and expressed their sympathy, assuring the management of NEXT of support.

However, the NEXT tragedy holds a lot of lessons for owners of similar multi-billion naira enterprises operating all over the country. There is the need for investment in safety measures like installing of fire alarm systems with full complements of trained personnel as part and parcel of the business as well as positioning of state-of-the-art fire extinguishers in strategic parts of their complexes. This is besides acquiring in-house fire fighting engines where necessary to nib possible outbreak in the bud ahead of interventions from other sources.

Owners of business enterprises should also wean themselves from the mentality of penny wise pound foolish by taking insurance on their critical assets.When disaster strikes, it is the insurance companies that would bear the brunt. We want to believe that such a measure was in place at the NEXT before the disaster came calling on Sunday.