When Sabo Market in Sagamu Local Government area of Ogun State went up in flames on January 28, this year, it was as if the lives of many of the victims had come to an abrupt end.
That might not be unconnected with the economic downturn that was affecting many homes and its negative effect on many businesses.
Worse still, it was gathered that lots of business owners in the market, reputed to be the largest kola nut market in the South West, are doing businesses on borrowed funds.
The fire, which reportedly started around midnight, gutted most parts of the market, affecting virtually every section, leaving security guards helpless as the edifice went into ruins.
Curiously, men of the fire service that were informed of the incident, arrived the scene moments later, but without water to quench the raging inferno.
By the time they returned, the entire market had become a shadow of its old self, even as people around looked helpless.
Even traders who had arrived the scene earlier to see whether they could salvage whatever was left of their goods were handicapped, as the market is gated and fenced.
When some eventually broke into the place, the inferno had spread all over, no thanks to harmattan.
All over were wailing women, some of whom had stocked their shops after making brisk sales during the Christmas and New Year. By the time the picture became clearer in the morning, even vegetable sellers were affected as well as sellers of footwear, clothing, kola nuts, beverages and herbs. They all had stories of woe and agony to tell.
For Alhaji Idris Hamisu, the ugly scenario was like a horror film, as it was least expected.
Though he is from the Northern part of the country, Sagamu and indeed Sabo Market had become for him a second home. He said he was raised from the proceeds of kola nuts sold by his late father in the market
Idris, who inherited his father’s shop, said his family, starting from his father, had been selling kola nuts in Sabo Market for over 60 years.
Said he “As soon as we were informed of the fire, we all rushed down here. But by that time, everywhere and everything was on fire. Though we were not supposed to break the main gate, we had to, and by the time we got to our shops, the fire was ravaging all our goods.
“We want government to come to our aid by re-building the market and help us financially.”
Idris was not alone. Madam Animotu Obaneye, who is the head of the traders dealing in ready-made clothes in the market, also pleaded for government support.
Obaneye, who is her 60s, lamented that the whole of what used to be the readymade clothes section had been consumed by the fire.
“We didn’t know when the fire started; we were only informed much later. By the time we got there, we couldn’t salvage an ordinary pin. Unfortunately, women of today have become breadwinners, even though men are the heads of homes.
“We plead with the government in the name of God to come to our aid. Their property will not go up in flames.
“Though I am old, those under me are still young and we need government assistance. They should not let us go hungry,” she pleaded.
For another trader, Mrs Adenike Adekoya, who sells condiments, the sorrow in her heart is better imagined. That was understandable. The fire destroyed goods worth about N2 million in her two shops.
“This is the only business I have,” she lamented. “It is what I use to feed my family and send my children to school. We, the women here, are the breadwinners of our families, because there are no men to cater for our needs. Now, the fire has rendered us idle because we only sleep and wake up now. I had two big shops in the market and I took a loan to stock the shops. In fact, the fire incident occurred few days after I stocked the shops.
“Government should assist and ensure that the compensation is transparent, so that the monies do not get into wrong hands.”
Another victim, Mrs Precious Kalu, who has been selling foodstuffs and condiments in the market for about 30 years, made the same appeal.
“We want the government to help us to rebuild the market because the rainy season is fast approaching” she said.
There was excitement and palpable joy among the traders when the lawmaker representing Remo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Adewunmi Onanuga, visited the market last Wednesday to condole with the victims.
The lawmaker, who arrived to a rousing welcome, had on the previous day moved a motion on the fire incident on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Onanuga, who arrived the Sabo market around 11 am on that day, was conducted round the market by Chief Folarin Solarin, chairman of the committee on the burnt market set up the Akarigbo of Remo land, Oba Adewale Ajayi. Solarin told the lawmaker that an audit of the burnt shops and items had been done, even as he handed a copy to the lawmaker.
In her speech, Onanuga told victims and executives of the market that she came to condole with them on the incident. She equally assured them of government support, pledging that the government would assist them in resuscitating their businesses.
Said she “But what the vegetable seller will get will be different from what the clothes seller will get. Those that the Akarigbo has saddled with the compensation assignment have assured us that the task will be done. They have identified the extent of the fire, those affected and compiled a list of all victims and they will come up with a sharing formula
“Just yesterday, I told the entire world through the House of Representative of this fire incident. I also expressed disappointment with the fact that the fire service arrived late, but claimed that they do not have water to quench the fire.
They went away and before they came back, the entire market had gone up in flames.
“We are deeply concerned about this unfortunate incident, and we are going to inquire into the cause of the incident because it is not when such happens again that we need to conduct an inquiry.
“We are going to get to the root cause, starting from how the money is disbursed up to the purchase of fire materials. As soon as compensation is ready, the committee will ask for account numbers of those to be compensated. It may not be the actual value of what you lost to fire, but a demonstration that you are dear to the government.
“Personally, I will send a bank draft to the committee involved within the next few days or come to deliver my donation, so that it can be added also to what is coming from the government.
She also promised that she would sponsor the repair of the market borehole to ensure that the toilet becomes functional in a matter of days.
Before she departed the market, the traders, men, women and children from different parts of the country, gathered and prayed for the lawmaker, after which they sang and danced for the legislator.