Victims at the scene of the Ketu Plank market razed by fire… recently
To the consternation of the traders at Ifelodun Plank Market, Ketu, a suburb of Lagos State, for the third time in three years, a strange fire keeps engulfing the market. The victims who recounted their ordeal to THISDAY also expressed displeasure for the state government's plan to take over the market. Chiemelie Ezeobi writes
Last week, not less than 300 shops were razed and billions of naira went up in flames at the Ifelodun Plank Market, Ketu, during an inferno that lasted more than three hours. Building materials such as planks, nails, padlocks, gum, polish, nets and roofing sheets amongst other goods were destroyed by the fire barely seven months after it was rebuilt from the ashes of a previous fire incident.
The fire was said to have started around 9pm on Thursday, March 7, and by 12am it had razed everything in its part. A visit to the market revealed the distraught traders either sitting in pairs or scavenging through the debris of their burnt goods. Some of them were speechless as they gazed at the massive destruction.
THISDAY gathered that there was a sign of the inferno on Wednesday but the small fire was quickly put out because the traders were around. However, during Thursday's fire, all the traders had gone home.
The traders had gone to the market on Thursday, made their sales and closed for the day. They headed to their respective homes leaving the market in the care of the security, but a few hours after they left, the life they knew was no longer the same as inferno swept through the market and left nothing unburnt. The cause of the fire is yet to be known.
Eyewitness account said a team of Firefighters had arrived shortly after the outbreak but the water was not enough as the fire spread rapidly. Although they had regrouped, the position of the market did not help matters because of its narrow nature which denied the fire trucks access into the market.
All over, it was tales of anguish, pain and anger at the monumental loss. While some lamented the loss of their investment, some others bemoaned their fate as they were trading with borrowed money. Although the inferno had been put out by Friday, billows of smoke and pockets of small fire were still emanating from the charred goods.
While the fire raged, the helplessness of the victims-cum-traders was compounded as they watched their goods go up in flames despite the concerted efforts of the fire service.
Mr. Adeleke Kabirus, a trader in the burnt market described the fir incident as hocking. He lost worth N5million to the inferno just days after he restocked.
According to him, he had restocked his shop on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday respectively not knowing that it would all be gone by Thursday night.
He said, "I went to market on Monday and I bought 120 bags of nails at N4,500 each which is about N540,000. On Tuesday, I bought nets worth N200,000. Again, on Wednesday, I went to the market again and bought roofing nails worth N300, 000 but surprisingly, the market was razed by fire on Thursday.
"I had already gone home (Ikorodu) for the day when I got a call that the market was on fire. By the time I got here, everything was gone. I mean everything I had laboured, toiled and sometimes even borrowed money for was gone. I lost good worth about N5million. "
Kabiru is however not new to tragedies. He was also affected by the fire that razed the same market last year. He lost N7million in that fire. In his story ,he told THISDAY that he had barely come out of his loss to the previous fire than the recent fire consumed everything again.
He said, "This is not the first time my source of livelihood has been destroyed by fire. Last year August, there was a fire incident in this market but not as bad as this recent one. I was affected and it has been very hard.
"With loans sourced from micro finance banks, I started life all over again and was gradually bouncing back when I lost everything again. To make matters worse, the money I used for trading was borrowed from a micro finance bank and I have not finished paying it back. How do I ask for more?"
Kabiru disclosed that he wasn't the only one trading with borrowed money. According to him, about 90 per cent of the traders in the market had borrowed money from AB Micro Finance bank at one point or the other.
Mr. Owoyemi Taofeek's ordeal might be similar to Kabiru's in terms of the financial loss but Taofeek was quick to add that his family comprising his father, mother and siblings lost a total of six shops. His was a story of a trade passed from one generation to the other.
According to him, his foray into the market started at childhood when he was always going to his father's shop to help out. With the experience gleaned at his father's shop, it was not surprising to anyone when he branched out to start his own business. His siblings soon followed suit thereby increasing the chain of their business to six.
While foraging through the debris of his destroyed goods, Taofeek pegged the estimate of his loss at N6million. "I don’t want to lose everything so, I am selling the scraps to scavengers at rock bottom prices,” he says.
On the next step to take, Taofeek said it is hard to say because the government has instructed them not to build or reconstruct anything on the land again.
When shown people that were already reconstructing their shops, he said it was at their own peril.
"They are building at their own peril because the government has already given us instructions not to rebuild until they grade the market. For now, I don't have any next line of action because the government's decision is final," he said.
Perhaps the reoccurrence of the fire incident at this market influenced the government's decision to take over the market to be handed back to the traders at a later time.
THISDAY gathered from the traders that the Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Tunji Bello, had paid a visit to the market on Friday and halted efforts by the traders to reconstruct.
According to the information made available to THISDAY by the traders, the Commissioner had told them to stop reconstruction, adding that the government would grade the market and reconstruct it, a move that has been described by the traders as a complete takeover of their means of livelihood.
Although the chairman of the market, Alhaji Aliyu Bello, admitted the government's plan for the market, he was however reluctant to delve into details to avoid fueling an already tense situation. He however told THISDAY that rather than the government rebuilding the market, the traders would appreciate it better if they are simply provided with the finance.
Although he could not say the actual amount that was lost to the fire, he however estimated the loss at billions of naira.
On his personal loss, the chairman said he lost nothing less than N6million after fire razed his six shops, but he praised the efforts of the fire service saying, “they tried their best.”