New Telegraph

ABUJA MARKET FIRE: We lost our livelihoods, businesses to inferno –Traders

Over N3bn was lost, says Ojukwu, Timber Dealers Association, Patron

The rickety and ill-equipped fire service infrastructure in Nigeria has remained a genuine concern for those who bemoan the frequent fires incidents in parts of the country. Last Sunday, the popular Kugbo Furniture Market in the Kugbo area, along the Nyanya Mararaba expressway, Abuja, was on fire. Like those in other places before that, the fire fighters’ officials could not do much as it wreaked havoc to a number of traders and shop owners. DEBORAH OCHENI, who visited the market during the week, brought back stories that could melt the hardest of hearts

It was a bleak January for the Kugbo timber dealers in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The market, where the fires erupted, is one of Nigeria’s largest timber markets in Nigeria. To the timber merchants, the fire outbreak, which is the first since 1995, destroyed goods worth over N3 billion living both traders and shop owners in a state of confusion with bleak hope of ever bouncing back again. One of the traders, Prince George, told our reporter that he lost everything to the fire.

He recalled that the fire started in a shop close to his, according to what eyewitnesses told him. He was instantly thrown into shock when he got the news on that fateful Sunday. He said: “The information that the market was on fire came to me as a rude shock on that Sunday morning, and before I could gather myself to go see things for myself, part of the market where my shop is had been razed down completely.

I only met the ruins that my shop had become when I got there. It was indescribable. “There was nothing left, because nothing was spared. It took me years to put up this shop and God has been helping me.

I thought this year is going to be a better business year for me but look at where I am now. I have lost everything and I can’t even do the estimation of what I have lost. It’s not easy but I believe in giving thanks to God in all situations, trusting God for revival since I am still alive.

I just have to encourage myself. “Our business, unlike other businesses, is not something you can calculate the daily income; each day comes with its luck, sometimes I make sales running in hundreds of millions and at times we don’t have such good sales. Presently, I’m in a state of confusion, I don’t really know where to start from. Although the government representatives have been coming with promises, we are looking up to the government and people of goodwill to come to our aid in order to start up something again.”

George, who said that the timber business is his only means of livelihood, added that “it is the only place I rely on for a living; I don’t have any other branch office.” He said that those in the timber axis of the market have never experienced any fire disaster as this before even though the furniture section of the market sometimes experiences it towards the end of the year. The incident, he said, has cost “me in particular a very deep cut that I don’t know when I’ll recover from.

“Fire service was called upon but the official in charge of the Nyanya Service Station was reluctant to respond and to release his men for fear that miscreants might damage their vehicle. If they had responded promptly, I don’t think people would act in that manner.

So, I blame whatever damage they may have incurred in time past to poor responses. A woman, who identified herself simply as Ifeoma, however, said that fire disasters are a normal thing in the Kugbo Market and had always left hapless traders helpless while the property-owners got richer after each disaster.

“I think there is something spiritual attached to all these occurrences because the more traders’ goods are consumed by fire, the richer the landlords and even some shop owners, become,” Ifeoma noted. Another Shop owner, Nnidim Ndubuisi, lamented that the fire outbreak has caused a lot of damage to him.

He said: “This disaster has done a lot of damage to me because I deal on hardwood alone. According to my estimation, I have lost goods worth over N8.5 million. The business is my source of livelihood but I trust in God for restoration. I will still like to continue from where I stopped if I can get help up to N5 million from the government because I don’t have any capital left to start up afresh.

“We expect that the government should have a fire service station in the market to assist us in reducing the level of damage in case things like this happen. We also need a borehole to assist us too.” While some whose shops were affected are busy going about their business, others were found idle discussing the disaster in groups, dejected. Madokwa Peter, one of the victims, told Saturday Telegraph, that he still comes around the market even though he has nothing to do having lost all he had to the fire incident.

“I still prefer to be in the midst of my people so that we can discuss the way forward, as it is now, I don’t really have much to do here but who knows, help can come from anywhere and government officials have been coming around. I pray that God touches their heart to help us out no matter how little.

“I have been lamenting over this incident since it happened, I really wish I can turn the hand of time to withdraw the last goods I bought late December. I bought so much and now everything is consumed.

I am helpless right now because I have children to care for,” he said. Aside from the woods, machines were also burnt. “It’s high time we have a fire station here in the market to curb disasters like this. My shop was not totally burnt, some part was not affected but I still lost a tangible part of my goods and many of my friends were badly affected,” said another, who declined his name in print. Another, who was just discharged from the hospital, according to his friends, also refused to entertain any question from the press.

Yet, a member, Board of Trustees, who spoke on behalf of the Chairman of the Timber Dealers Association, Patron Bonny Ojukwu, said: “Our greatest challenge here is lack of good road; we also need a fire service post, a clinic, borehole, good power supply, and our own transformer. The fire was caused by electric spark; it started very early in the morning on that fateful Sunday.

We usually don’t come to shop on Sunday, if it were to be on Saturday or ordinary days; we would have been able to control it with relative ease. “The fire fighters didn’t come on time because they were looking for water; help only came from the Nigerian Navy, Air Force, Army, and National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

All of them combined to put out the fire before it could get out of hand. Had it been we solely depended on fire service alone, the whole market would have been reduced to rubbles.” Speaking on the measures to ensure such occurrence never happened again, Ojukwu said that meetings are currently on to proffer lasting solutions, even though he noted that the incident of last Sunday was the first since 1995. “The fire came from the furniture axis, we are very conscious of fire here,” he added.

He said the association cannot offer any form of help to the victims because “we don’t even have money to build shops, not to talk of supporting those whose goods were burnt. We are seeking help from the government and other well-meaning individuals to come to our aid.

What we lost to the fire is about N3 billion to put it mildly. “We sincerely need assistance from the government, some government officials have been here to sympathize with us, and have promised to send us relief materials. Our association executives can only encourage those who have lost their goods to look up to God, the government and the good people of this country. We can’t do it alone.”

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