The rampage of market infernos

The fire disaster that struck the bustling Nyanya market located along Abuja-Keffi highway on has once again brought to the fore the need to urgently secure our markets all over the country to stem huge economic losses by traders. According to an eyewitness account, the conflagration began around 7 pm after most of the traders had closed for the day, causing pandemonium as passers-by and commuters scampered for safety.

Several shops were razed down as the inferno spread rapidly and almost spiraled out of control, reducing goods worth millions of naira to ashes. The cause of the disaster was not immediately known but preliminary investigation blamed it on power surge. Firefighters and some traders battled frantically to bring the situation under control and no lives were reportedly lost.

The Nyanya fire outbreak came barely a month after a similar tragedy struck at the Kubwa Market during which several lives were lost and many suffered severe burns. The Kubwa incident was caused by an explosion from adulterated kerosene. The two disasters have occurred less than a year after the Kugbo Furniture and Timber Market located at the Asokoro Extension, Abuja, again went up in flames for the second year running and within the same period. Properties and goods estimated at billions of naira were consumed in the conflagration that started at about 6 am.

According to an eyewitness account, the Kugbofire raged for more than an hour before the fire fighters arrived at the scene to battle the massive conflagration during which some traders struggled to salvage what were left of their goods. Electrical surge was also fingered as the cause for the inferno.

Market infernos have become so rampant all over the country in recent years that were most Nigerian traders in the habit of insuring their goods, insurance companies would have bled to death! Conflagrations especially during the harmattan periods occurred where goods that are highly combustible are sold. For instance, the Kugbo Timber and Furniture Market and the Katako Timber Market in Jos appear to be in competition. Almost every December/January, the two markets go up in flames. The Katako Market heralded the harmattan fires across the country in the run-up to the last Christmas. The traders, like their counterparts all over the country, appear to have accepted the annual disaster as fait accompli despite the heavy losses they incur yearly. The tragedies usually occurred either at midnight or in the early hours of the day when no trader is around.

Other markets that have suffered the same fate in recent times the popular Akesan Market in Oyo town where goods worth billions of naira were lost. The incident which occurred in January, 2020, took a dramatic twist when angry youths turned against men of the fire service, accusing them of incompetence following their inability to combat the raging inferno. Three protesters were allegedly shot dead in a bid to put down the protest and several others were injured.Coming on the heels of the Akesan Market fire disaster was another midnight inferno that engulfed the Iyaganku Furniture Market in Ibadan, Oyo state, in which goods valued at over N500m were consumed.

Granted that some of the disasters are caused by factors beyond human control such as power surge as suspected in the Kugbo and Nyanya infernos, most of the markets are constructed haphazardly. Shops or sheds are clustered together, leaving no room for fire-fighting engines to access every nook and cranny of the markets in case an emergency occurs.

It is also obvious that market officials pay no serious attention to the safety of the goods of their members. There ought to be private security guards on constant patrol of the markets after closing hours so that any outbreak can be quickly detected and nipped in the bud.

Appropriate authorities across the country should take a harder look at the various markets with a view to restructuring and/or modernising them. It is the only way to save these traders from themselves and the losses that are preventable. The next harmattan season is knocking at the door. Proactive measures ought to be put in place to break this annual circle of lamentations.