Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Three persons are feared dead in Oyo town on Sunday as fire razed more than 1,000 shops in the popular Akesan Market and destroyed property and goods worth millions of naira.
The market is the main commercial centre of the town that houses the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo. All the shops in the market were destroyed by the inferno.
Three people among protesters at the office of fire brigades in the vicinity of the market over failure of the fire service to contain the fire were allegedly shot dead by the police. The office of the fire service, according to sources, is about 20 metres to the market.
Sources stated that firefighters were helpless when the fire outbreak occurred as their fire fighting equipment did not function. But fire brigades were mobilised from Ibadan and Ogomoso, the state capital, arriving the scene with functioning equipment after substantial havoc had already been wrecked.
A source from the secretariat of the state fire service in Ibadan confirmed that the fire service office in Oyo town has been vandalised by the aggrieved residents, while men of the Nigerian Army and their counterparts from the Nigeria Police Force have been mobilised to the area.
But the Police Public Relations Officer for Oyo State Command, Mr Olugbenga Fadeyi, has said police did not kill anybody as being speculated, saying: “Contrary to widely spread news on the fire incident at Akesan Market in Oyo town, there was no single shot from the Police personnel in Oyo.
“Police personnel were deployed immediately to the scene to prevent hoodlums from capitalising on the situation to loot shops and property in the area. Concerted efforts are being intensified to prevent the breakdown of law and order.”
Those who have shops in the market were said to have rushed to the scene, but the fire was of such intensity that they could not move close enough to their shops to salvage anything from the market.
The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, has visited the market, during which he appealed to traders and people of the town to remain calm. The monarch, who expressed sadness over the incident, said the damage was too huge for the people to bear. He noted that such a fire disaster was unprecedented in Oyo town.
Secretary, Oyo Global Forum, Taiwo Adebayo, in his reaction to the inferno, said: “We condemn this failure of government service. But of more concern is the disproportionate use of force in response to angry residents who were protesting at the gate of the fire service near Akesan in Oyo. We sympathise with our people, particularly men and women trading at Akesan. It is a sad way to start the year.
“In due course, we will be demanding that Oyo State Government should compensate the traders and rebuild the market, while also enforcing stricter safety standards across the state. We will also not allow the police to get away with the killings in Oyo.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Mr Sunday Dare, has expressed sadness over the devastating fire that gutted the ancient Akesan Market.
In a tweet, the Minister wrote, “The news of the inferno that destroyed the popular Akesan Ancient market in Oyo just got to me. I am deeply saddened by this disaster so early in the year and extend my condolences to all those affected. I will visit shortly and work with the state government to bring relief.”
While sending condolences and sharing in their loss, Dare stated that the importance and purpose of Akesan Market as a major market with a huge economic impact in Oyo State and Nigeria at large cannot be overemphasised, describing the fire as a great disaster.
Also, Aare Onakakanfo of Yorubaland, Iba Gani Adams, in a statement by his Special Assistant on Media, Kehinde Aderemi, consoled with Oba Adeyemi over the early morning inferno that razed the Akesan market, describing the incident as disastrous.
“I received with great shock the news of the early morning fire outbreak that had wreaked great havoc on the ancient market in Yorubaland. As much as I share in the grief with our father, the Alaafin of Oyo, and all sons and daughters of the town, I pray that this kind of unfortunate incident will never happen again.
“Akesan Market is the central and major market in Oyo with a rich history. Oyo has never witnessed this monumental loss, because the market is our heritage and it is part of what makes Oyo town the centre of culture and tradition. I know the Oyo State Governor, Engineer Seyi Makinde, will respond to the incident, by doing a thorough investigation in order to unravel the causes of the mystery behind the midnight inferno.”