How fire razed shops, blew away hopes in Mararaba
By Okwe Obi
Tears flowed freely on the cheeks of traders of the popular Mararaba Market, Abuja, as they watched fire raze their wares last week. Some of the traders were inconsolable and even threatened to jump into the rampaging flames.
“I am finished. Where do I go from here, what is the essence of living?” a woman identified as Margret yelled. It was a pitiful scene. Mararaba, a densely-populated town on the outskirts of Abuja, hosts a cluster of shops a short distance from the walkway that are a beehive of activities, as most people living in the town shop there.
Several hours after the fire was extinguished, thick smoke and choking smell covered the entire area.
A resident, simply known as Musa, told Daily Sun that the fire started like a joke. He claimed that he saw smoke billowing from the area and concluded that it must be from the firewood of women who ran food joints in the market.
Musa said, “But when the smoke continued and started covering the environment, some passersby had to raise the alarm and gathered in groups.
“Shortly after, people started shouting and by then the inferno had reached other shops. Before we could say Jack Robinson, goods were dancing in the fire.”
According to the witness, minutes after the fire stated, five shops were razed completely, and some who could brave the inferno, tried to save some of their wares.
While some traders and sympathisers were diversing strategies to put out the fire and save some goods, Musa said street urchins at the scene were busy cornering some of the goods.
According to him, the miscreants used cutlasses and sticks to scare away onlookers in order to loot people’s goods while the inferno got worst.
Meanwhile, other good-spirited Nigerians focused on stopping the raging flames from entering other buildings.
To make matters worse, Musa, a trader himself, said some shopowners were nowhere around the scene and had locked their shops before the fire began, which made the situation more challenging. It was as the disaster got worse that news got to some traders and they rushed to the scene.
Sighting roaring pandemonium, shopowners who were present hastily removed what they could, locked their shops and fled for safety.
The confusion was worsened by the absence of fire fighters. There were claims and counter-claims that the fire service was called minutes after the fire started but they did not show even after more than an hour.
Wailing, Margret told Daily Sun that it was after the fire had destroyed property that men of the fire service arrived, blaring sirens.
They were met with outrage as youths pelted stones and sticks at the fire truck. The violent reaction from the youth forced the fire service personnel to make a U-turn and scamper for safety.
A biker, Abdul Mustapha, who was visibly upset, lamented the lackadaisical attitude of the Fire Service, accusing them of being responsible for the total razing of the shops.
Mustapha alleged that seldom would the fire fighters arrive at a the scene of an incident on time. According to him, they would either complain of not having water or fuel for their trucks. He advised the Federal Government to live up to its responsibilities for the institution to be effective.
While this scenario played out, hundreds of Mararaba residents took over the expressway, causing huge traffic challenges. For more than two hours, traffic was at a standstill.
As the confusion festered, security agents had to step in. They blared sirens, hooted their horns and applied force in a bid to disperse the angry youths.
In the ensuing stampede, a woman with a baby fell down and they were immediately trampled upon. But for the intervention of mobile policemen she would have been killed. She sustained injuries and was rushed to hospital.
However, nobody could exactly state the cause of the fire. While some speculated that wrong electrical connections triggered the fire, others blamed it on power surge.
A man who claimed to a staff of the electricity company in the area but who pleaded for anonymity claimed that most shop owners flouted the law and hired quacks to do their electrical connections.
He said, “This is one of the problems we encounter. People always want to cheat the system. Instead of them to follow the right process by getting meter, they would prefer to cut corners.”
Another witness said the fire came from a switch. He blamed power consumers for not switching off their appliances before going home or leaving home for work.
According to him, “Sometimes when you work late, you see bulbs and other electricity appliances left on. Such a situation might have ignited the inferno.”