From David Onwuchekwa, Nnewi
Fire on Wednesday evening razed Nnewi multi-million timber market, Anambra State, but controversy as to the cause of the fire outbreak continues to rage.
Chairman of Nnewi Timber Dealers Association, Nonso Nnetu, said a combined team of security operatives made up of police and vigilance groups arrived the market with about eight patrol vehicles and moved straight to an erosion site at the south end of the market, reportedly in search of cultists, hard drugs sellers and consumers.
Nnetu said soon after the operatives entered the valley at about 12pm, smoke began to billow from the area with flames rising. He told Daily Sun that the operatives in pursuit of the suspects were seen making frantic efforts to put out the fire to no avail which, he said, prompted the traders to join in the fire fighting.
He said all he knew was that the fire started when the security operatives entered the erosion site in pursuit of the hoodlums but could not say specifically what the cause of the fire was.
Nnetu said the traders lost about 108 shops to the inferno in addition to lots of processing machines and goods worth millions of naira.
One of the fire victims, Dozie Egwuonwu, lamented that he had just restocked N3 million worth of goods which were all consumed by the fire. He called for help.
Traders, who spoke with Daily Sun pointed fingers to the police, insisting they were liable for the fire incident.
Leader of the vigilance groups during the joint operation, Maduka Atuenyi, who is the chairman of Nnewi and Anambra South vigilance groups, said neither the police nor other operatives were in any way the cause of the fire.
He wondered how police could use fire to pursue criminals.
Anambra State Police Command Public Relations Officer, Haruna Muhammed, dismissed the report that police caused the fire as absolutely false and misleading.
He said: “The attention of the Anambra police command has been drawn to a trending video clip in the social media showing a fire incident at Nnewi timber market in which the recorder claimed the police are responsible.The report is not only false but absolutely misleading with the tendency of creating tension and anarchy in the state.
“For the avoidance of doubt, on February 17 at about 10am, a cult group and drugs sellers had a clash at 100 foot road, Nnewi, causing serious pandemonium in the area. Following the report, police patrol teams in conjunction with local vigilance groups quickly mobilised to the scene and arrested four suspects on the spot.
“The remaining hoodlums blocked the road and set fire on the saw dust in a bid to prevent the police from taking the suspects to the station. The fire overwhelmed the people who tried to put it off which extended to the timber market. As a result, a police patrol vehicle attached to Otolo Division and three vehicles, belonging to the vigilance groups were stoned by the rampaging youths.
“Meanwhile, normalcy was restored in the area and 35 suspects were arrested. Exhibits recovered includes axe, dried leaves, suspected to be cannabis and a motorcycle. It is obvious the recorder shared the video online with the aim of triggering anarchy in the state which the command and other law enforcement agencies are working assiduously to prevent.
“In view of the foregoing, the command urges the public to disregard the misleading video report and further warns that mischief-makers should be ready to face the full wrath of the law as police will not fold its arm while criminality is being perpetrated.”