Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Traders affected by the Otukpo Main Market fire that ravaged the foodstuff section last week have been counting their losses.
One of the victims, Madam Rose Ikwebe, a widow with four children who owned a foodstuff stall in the market, lamented that she lost goods worth over N2.5 million to the inferno
“I sell different foodstuffs such as rice, garri, sugar, noodles, ogbono, egusi, maggi and the rest of them. I was home when, at about 6:30am, somebody came to our area and said that the Otukpo market was burning. Upon hearing this, I rushed to the market, all the while praying that the news wouldn’t be true. But by the time I got to the market, I was shocked to discover that the fire had engulfed my section of the market.
“In no time, the reality dawned on me that my own shop had not only been affected but badly so, as all my wares, which I left intact the previous night were in flames and the entire shop had become a complete ruin,” she said.
Another widow, Mrs. Josephine Eze, could not hold back her tears as she narrated her ordeal to the correspondent at one of the entrances to the market.
According to the mother of four children, she had started a petty business with N200,000 shortly after the death of her husband a few years ago: “After I started the business, I was happy and thanked God that it continued to grow little by little and I could fend for my children without much stress.
“But my joy was cut short on Monday morning when my shop, which is my only source of livelihood, was among the shops that were burnt by the mystery fire in the market.”
On her part, Augustina Apeh, a newlywed who claimed that she lost goods and cash worth over N8 million to the fire, said she just took delivery of eight bags of crayfish that were sent to her the previous day.
Besides that, Apeh said she kept a little over N500,000 cash in her shop and had planned to take the money to the bank first thing on Monday morning.
“We usually keep such money in the market because of armed robbers who are always robbing us at home. Most of the goods we sell are given to us on credit. I am now in debt; how to now pay back is what I have been thinking about,” she said.
She recalled that, on reaching the market that fateful morning and seeing all her goods in flames, she tried to rush into the fire to see how she could salvage what was left.
“But as I rushed towards my already burning shop, my husband quickly rushed forward and dragged me away from there. As he did, a plank fell from the burning roof and hit me on my arm. You can see the bruises I sustained from that falling plank.”
Also counting her losses, Mrs. Victoria Onoja, who lost her foodstuff store to the fire said she lost goods worth almost N1 million. Two other victims, Marian Mohammed and Mary Balogun, who were among several other traders who lost their wares to the fire, are now calling on government and kind Nigerians to come to their aid.
Daily Sun gathered that, although no life was lost, the fire affected hundreds of shops and stalls at the foodstuff section of the market.
Immediate past chairman of Otukpo Local Government Area, George Alli, described the incident as unfortunate. He told the correspondent that 315 shops were affected by the fire.
Alli regretted that traders lost several millions of naira to the fire incident, which he said had brought hardship to the victims. He said the cost of items lost to the inferno could not yet be accurately quantified.
Noting that the cause of the fire was not yet known, he appealed to the state government to assist the victims.
“It is still difficult to ascertain the cause of the fire, whether it is an electronic spark or somebody came to drop something there. All we know is that the fire started at about 4am and many more shops would have been affected but for the quick arrival of the fire service.
“We are making plans to relocate the traders to a new site. We just secured a place and we are making plans to open it up such that fire trucks and other vehicles can pass through whenever there is an emergency.
“The market has five entrances and the marketers complained that the fire fighters came on time but there was no space to pass to put out the fire. All the five gates were locked and it was agreed that every day, as the market closes, people should remove their fuse so there won’t be light,” Alli said.
In response, the state governor, Samuel Ortom, suspended all other state matters and paid an emergency visit to Otukpo to sympathise with the traders.
The governor also donated N50 million to the affected traders as an interim palliative, promising that government would assist them in every way possible.
He said the donation was to enable the victims to start life, pending the outcome of the report of a committee to be constituted to inquire into the incident.
The governor said the special committee, comprising members of his cabinet and the traders’ union, who would liaise with Otukpo Local Government chairman, would work out modalities on how the money would be disbursed to the victims.
The committee, Ortom noted, would also plan the relocation of the market from its present location to the new site that is bigger, more accessible and would better accommodate the traders.
“The Otukpo Main Market where our traders are trading, is no longer enough for them. I will mandate cabinet members to join hands with the chairman to work out modalities on how they can move to the new site.
“Also, we will press on all those traders who took government to court to withdraw all the cases. Right now, this market is no longer enough for all those coming into the market.
“Government is quite disturbed about the spate of insecurity in Otukpo and the Zone C axis. You must join hands to draw investment in Otukpo. We must be agents of change by volunteering information to security agencies to help curb crimes,” he said.
The senator representing Benue South Senatorial District, Abba Moro, also sympathised with victims of the fire disaster in Otukpo main market.
Moro, in a statement signed by his special adviser on media, Ameh Godwin, commiserated with those whose goods and shops were destroyed in the fire outbreak and prayed for a better future for them.
The senator called for assistance from government and individuals for the victims, even as he urged relevant authorities to look into the causes of the incessant fire outbreaks in Otukpo market with a view to preventing a recurrence.
The lawmaker commended Otukpo Local Government and the Benue State Fire Service that helped to put out the fire.