Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
Days after a raging fire swept through the spare parts line at Uwelu Market, Benin City, Edo State and gutted over 90 shops belonging to traders, the tears are yet to dry from the eyes of the affected victims.
The inferno led to the loss of property worth hundreds of millions of naira. The inferno started at midnight on Monday August 12 and raged through the night to the early hours of the morning on Tuesday August 13.
To the traders, the fire came on a calamitous visit to wreck their lives and cause them huge financial setbacks. They lamented that it would take them many years to bounce back.
What followed the day after the inferno was uncontrollable wailing, as affected traders and sympathizers thronged the marked to behold the damage and widespread destruction visited on the market.
Mr. Osarogie Idiaru, 55, and father of five, was in tears as he spoke to the reporter. He said that if he were to have his way, he would have preferred death than losing his four shops at a go. He said he was helpless as he stood there watching his goods being consumed by the raging flames, unable to do anything to stop the fire or salvage his goods.
Idiaru, a former Secretary of the Uwelu Spare Parts Dealers, said he was still in shock as he spoke to the reporter.
“As I am speaking to you now, I am speaking to you with agony in my mind. I do not know after this interview if your organisation can help, otherwise I don’t know how we are going to survive. We took loans to finance our businesses. We have lost millions of naira here.”
He urged the Edo State government to emulate other state governments that take delight in rendering assistance to those who lost their property to incidents like fire and other natural disasters.
“I am calling on our state government to come to my aid and others who are affected,” he said. “In civilized countries, people that are affected by this kind of situation usually get succour from their governments.”
The chairman of the Spare Parts Dealers market, Mr. Osaretin Augustine, added that he was having a hard time dissuading traders contemplating suicide from carrying out their plans, even as he rues the loss of his own goods.
“It is devastating and most of our members are contemplating suicide,” he said. “But we have been doing our best to plead with them not to resort to that. It is an accident and we know that by the special grace of God, we are hoping that there shall be a response from our government at all levels and even from our lawmakers in the House of Representatives and Senate. We expect them to come to our aid.”
He appealed to the state government to rebuild the market while also calling for financial assistance from government at all levels and traditional rulers to enable them pay back their loans and start their business again.
“We will be very pleased if they can oblige us by building the structures as they are at Ebhareke,” he pleaded.
Elegoma John, an eyewitness, commended the combined team of fire fighters in the state for bringing the fire under control.
“The fire fighters have done a great job, most especially the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH) fire fighters and those from the Nigeria Army,” he remarked. “They prevented the fire from spreading to other buildings and that is why it has remained in that unit. About six to eight buildings got burnt.”
For the affected buildings, which belonged mainly to traders, Augustine urged the government and public-spirited individuals to please lend a helping hand so that the buildings might be rebuilt soon.
“If they can do that for us, we will be happy. More so, some of us are depending on microfinance loans in this place and as it is now, we can no longer pay the interest, let alone the capital. We are begging our royal father, the Oba of Benin, Ewuare II, to please come to our rescue. The state governor should also come and help us so that we can have capital again, either to restart our business or pay back the loans we took from these micro-finance institutions.”
Mr. Ekele Igbos, who dealt in catalysts and exhausts in the market, lamented that life for him was like starting all over again from the scratch. He wondered how he was going to cope with the situation.
“You can see for yourself,” he said to our correspondent. “The fire burnt everything down. Before we could arrive from our house, the fire had already licked everything up. In all, we lost goods worth more than N10 million. We want the government to help us because we do not have another place to go. I borrowed the money I spent in stocking my shop from the bank and I do not know how to pay back. So if the government can help us, they should come to our aid as soon as possible
Asked to guess the number of affected shops razed by the inferno, he said: “I do not really know the number of shops that have been burnt, but they are more than 400 shops and the goods are worth over N500 million, because this is the biggest market in the South-South.”
Wilfred Emwannawe, who, like Idiaru, lost four shops to the inferno, said he just returned from the market some weeks ago where he went to buy goods on credit. He lamented that paying the money back had now become a challenge.
“I was surprised that the fire razed the market and four of my shops got burnt totally, and nothing came out of it,” he observed. “Right now, I do not know where to start from.”
He also called on the state government to come to the aid of the traders. “I want government to assist us because the fire affected most of us in the market,” he said.
The state governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, who paid an on-the-spot assessment visit to the scene, said he felt their pain and promised that his administration would assist those affected by the inferno. He promised that investigation would be conducted to ascertain the cause of the fire accident to prevent such incidents in future.
“I have come to tell you that we are sorry for what has happened to those of you trading here,” he said. “Having seen things myself, I think it is important for us to know what caused the fire because we do not want this to happen again,” the governor stated.