•Victims of Oja Tuntun Baboko inferno count losses; Igbo union seeks involvement in security matters
From Layi Olanrewaju, Ilorin
Goods and cash worth several millions of naira were destroyed by fire on the night of April 1, 2017 at the popular Oja Tuntun, Baboko Market in llorin, Kwara State.
A witness account revealed that the inferno started shortly after 1am; it razed as many as 40 shops.
Till now, no nobody can tell exactly what caused the fire which lasted for several hours.
It was gathered that it took officials of the state fire service and sympathisers a tough time to put out the fire at about 6am.
Victims of the fire incident at Baboko area of the city are still counting their losses. Some of the affected traders, who spoke to Daily Sun, said they lost their life savings to the disaster.
In an emotion-laden voice, an Igbo trader, Godwin Onyenna, claimed that he lost N13m worth of goods to the inferno. He berated the night guards in the market for not standing up to the situation.
“The goods in my cosmetics shop were worth over N7.2 million; I had just returned from the market with goods worth almost that same amount. Everything went in the inferno.
“Sadly, this is money I borrowed from banks. I don’t know how I’m going to pay back this huge amount,” he lamented.
He appealed to Kwara State and Federal governments and well-meaning individuals to come to the assistance of the victims.
A lady, Chinyere Namso, 23, whose mother’s clothes shop was affected, said her mom had travelled home for a funeral shortly before the fire incident. She lamented that the disaster had ushered pain and hardship to the family.
According to her, the family lost millions of naira in the fire incident because they sold costly lace materials. None of all the goods her mother stocked before she left for the East to attend to a relation’s burial was salvaged.
With tears rolling down her cheeks, she added a new dimension to the loss, saying that she was amazed that she could not find a single heap of any of the burnt laces and other costly clothes in the shop. She said she suspected some foul play, adding that the shop might have been looted by some unknown persons in the confusion.
Another trader dealing in kitchen wares, Aishat Jimoh disclosed that she lost goods worth N5m and N2m cash in the incident.
“All I have worked for has gone up in flames. Aside from over N2m I kept in the shop, my goods were worth N5m; everything has gone; burnt to ashes. I don’t know where to start again. This is too much; this is unbearable,” she cried.
Similarly, a trader, Sikirat Muideen, accused the night guards engaged by the market association of complicity in the fire incident.
“My shop and a few others had their walls broken from the back; it seemed that it was thieves that looted the shops and used the fire as cover,” she added.
Another victim, who craved anonymity, regretted that the fire outbreak in the market was fast becoming a recurring decimal and called for searchlight to be beamed on the security guards.
“About seven months ago, this was the system deployed by those evil doers; after carting away goods, they set fire to the looted shops.”
The trader said that the incident had plunged her into debt, as most of the goods in her shops were procured on credit.
“It is hard for me to put a figure to the losses I have sustained; I lost over N2m, which I kept in the shop. Most of the goods there were bought on credit; that is what most of us do in this market,” she disclosed.
A shoe seller, who simply identified herself as Alhaja Rashidat, pleaded with the state government to come to their aid.
On their part, Alhaja Gafar Sulyman and Abdulsalam Oluwatoyin unanimously called for security and fire service station in the market to forestall future occurrence.
Reluctantly, the Chairman, Baboko Market Association, Alhaji Abdulrasaq Lasoju, said he was tired of granting interviews. Feeling sad over the incident, he said that the affected traders had lost their sources of livelihood to the inferno and appealed to the state government to come to their help.
Lasoju also appealed to the Kwara State government to establish a fire service centre in the market to curb constant fire outbreaks.
It would be recalled that the state government internal revenue service had early in 2016, renovated over 70 shops after the market was gutted by fire.
Speaking on the sad incident, President General, Igbo Community in Kwara State, Chief Boniface Okeke, empathised with the victims, saying that all they had laboured for was gone.
“What bothers me is why the fire disaster at Baboko had turned to a yearly thing. This gives everybody serious concern.
“As a union, we have come to the conclusion that henceforth, Igbo traders would fully participate in every security arrangement in the market. We have resolved that in order to stop these mystery fires, our people must get involved unlike before when we didn’t care; now we care.
“This year’s fire affected every tribe; but that of last year affected our members the most. This one has rendered the traders here helpless. As they were about recouping their losses of last year, another fire broke out again. Something has to be done urgently,” he urged.
Chief Okeke, who wore a pensive mood, added that: “As as a union, we don’t have money to give the victims but we are planning to assist them to get soft loans from financial institutions to help them start all over again.”
He, however, appealed to the state government to allow the Igbo union to be actively involved in whatever security arrangement to be put in place to ensure an end to the yearly fire outbreaks of in the market. He said the Igbo didn’t believe in being given fish for they would return to ask for another.
“Teach us how to fish so that we can become independent. We are not opposed to whatever government wants to do; after all, last year, we learnt that some token was given to the traders. But my priority now is how to fully secure the market to ensure that no incident of fire occurs here again.”
Ilorin West Local Government Transition Implementation Committee (TIC) Chairman, Abdul-Hameed Ali Oladipupo, said that a committee had been set up to ascertain the cause of the fire incident, with a view to forestalling future occurrence.
“We appeal to the traders to remain calm. Government will look into the issue; a committee has been constituted to give a report on the incident,” he added.
He also urged the traders to disregard any directive from any union or association not to pay taxes to the Kwara State Internal Revenue Service (KWIRS), warning those inciting the traders against government to desist from such act.
Meanwhile, the Kwara State House of Assembly (KWHA) has urged the state government to collaborate with Ilorin West council to comprehensively renovate the market. The state House of Assembly made the call, following a Matter of Urgent Public Importance raised by the member representing Ilorin Central Constituency, Hajia Segilola Abdul Kadir.