“I lost my husband exactly one year ago on January 4, 2018 and this year again, I am losing my business. Please, pray that this marks the end of losses in my life.”
Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
In the month of prophetic utterances, if there was any Minister of God that prophesied to traders at Wadata market in Makurdi, Benue that 2019 will be better, much better than 2018, as far as their businesses are concerned, that prophecy ended in the inferno that engulfed the market on Wednesday, and put their lives on the reverse gear to grief, losses and setback.
It was a New Year day of sorrow, gloom and pain for the traders whose goods were consumed by the early morning raging flame. The day brought back memories of January 1, 2018 massacre in which herdsmen invaded the state killing 73 local farmers and wrecking unquantifiable havoc. Many days after the fire incident, its victims are still counting their losses.
Sad tale from the daughter of a widow
Joy Ofohar, a young lady whose widowed mother, Nwada, lost all her life savings in the inferno cried uncontrollably as she watched helplessly smoke billowing from the debris that used to be her mum’s shop.
According to her, the news of the raging fire got to them around 3am, two hours after it started and they immediately rushed to the market to salvage whatever they could.
“By the time we got here, we couldn’t enter the market because the fire was too much. The fire service and other people kept trying to put off the fire but it was too much. When eventually, it was controlled and we managed to enter our side of the market, our shop was nowhere to be found again as the fire had destroyed everything my mother laboured for, for years.
“In fact, my mother just bought a bag of ogbono, egusi and crawfish, and also palm oil which she stored in her shop against the New Year. Cumulatively, we have lost not less than N500,000 in this fire. This is our only means of livelihood. By the time we got to the market, we could only retrieve one manual blender out of seven from one of those who looted what was remaining of our shop.”
Joy who wailed bitterly as she spoke stated that her mother, on hearing the news, fainted and that it took the efforts of good-spirited neighbours to revive her.
A widow recounts her losses
But unlike Joy who was overwhelmed by emotion, Mrs. Maria Samuel maintained a stoic posture as she narrated her plight to our correspondent. But behind those smiles lay a deep sense of losses she had just incurred. According to the widowed mother of eight children, who had two shops which all got burnt, she had recently stocked her two shops with seventy bags of foodstuffs.
She explains that a neighbour who got the news came to inform her about the fire incident around 10am on Wednesday adding that by the time she got to the market, she couldn’t believe her eyes as all she had laboured for all her life had gone up in flames. Asked to quantify her loss, the Mrs. Samuel who said she must have lost over N1 million. She ended up her narrative by appealing to the state government to come to her aid.
“All my children are still in school and it is from this business that I pay their school fees and meet their other financial needs,” she explained. “I lost my husband exactly one year ago on January 4, 2018 and this year again, I am losing my business. Please, pray that this marks the end of losses in my life.”
Other traders recount their experiences
Mrs. Rahamatu Mahamnadu who sells grains of corn, millet, maize, soya beans and sesame seeds among other things in the market said she got the news at about 2am and immediately mobilised rescue efforts aimed at salvaging some of her wares. But by the time the fire was put off, she had lost 20 bags of grains, 15 basins of yam flour as well one and a half bags of cassava among other stuffs worth over N500, 000
Also speaking, Mrs. Shamsiya Ibrahim, mother of six said she lost 30 bags of grains as well as five bags of cassava flour while Mama Ladi Isa, mother of seven said she lost goods worth over N2 million in the incident.
Mama Maimuna Gambo, mother of ten children could not control her emotion as she burst into tears when she got to her shop and saw the wreckage that was left of her labour of many years. She told our correspondent amid torrents of tears that she lost all 100 bags of grains that were just delivered to her a few days before the New Year.
Emmanuel Okoli whose mother, Juliana, lost 25 bags of Guinea corn to the angry flame disclosed that his mother is seriously heartbroken following the incident. While other traders were able to salvage a few of their things, he lamented that by the time they got the news and came to market, nothing was left of their goods.
Comments on the cause of the fire and rescue efforts
What was the cause of the fire? Nobody seemed to know for now, or to care. Chairman, Traders Association of the market, Suleiman Hassan who lamented the losses incurred by his members said that it was too early to really say the real cause of the fire, positing that investigation into the matter had already commenced.
He added that the security men who keep watch over the market at night would be interrogated to know what caused the fire. He stressed that until this is done, whatever anyone says about the cause of the fire would be mere speculation.
When contacted to speak on the matter, the Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Doo Shave, explained that the Fire Service received a call from one of the affected traders around 2am and quickly mobilised its fire trucks to the scene and eventually put the fire under control around 5am.
While insisting that the State Fire Service unit is now well equipped to fight fire incidences especially within the state capital, Shave, however, maintained that the unit would need smoke detector to better respond swiftly to incidences of fire in the state.
“We have five functional trucks in the state now,” he said. “We did not arrive late because we got there as soon as the incident was reported to us. We do not have smoke detectors for now, so we depend on information from members of the public. In this case, the fire incidence was reported to us at about 2am. In fact, it was a running call we received because it was one of those who were affected that rushed to our office at 2am to report the matter and within ten minutes we mobilized to the scene.”
A governor’s kind gestures
Governor Samuel Ortom who visited the scene of the incident on Wednesday morning made a donation of thirty million naira to victims of the inferno as an interim measure to cushion the effect of the disaster. The governor who announced the donation when he visited the market for an on-the-spot assessment of damages caused by the disaster also explained that a committee would be constituted to ascertain the remote and immediate causes of the disaster and actual damage caused and other challenges in the market for adequate government’s intervention.
While sympathising with the victims, Governor Ortom also directed that security be beefed up in the market to ensure that hoodlums do not take undue advantage to loot, even as he described the market as strategic to people of the state. He regretted that cases of fire disasters in market places were recorded twice only in Gboko market last year, pointing out that adequate measures would be taken to forestall future occurrences of such disasters.