Timothy Olanrewaju, Maiduguri
It was a day of rage and tears in Maiduguri, Borno State capital as dozens of people watch sanitation workers from the State Environmental Protection Agency (BOSEPA) shuffle through the rubble of burnt shops a day after fire gutted the popular GSM Market located at the city centre.
Some victims could not hold back their tears as they rummaged through heaps of burnt laptops, mobile phones, phone accessories and other ICT accessories. The atmosphere was tensed and chaotic as victims voiced out their frustration, anger and sadness at the night inferno. It was a huge loss many say could affect the livelihood of over 5, 000 people in a state still battling with unemployment of many youths after a decade of Boko Haram insurgency.
How it started
The GSM market located around the Post Office area in the centre of the city, started about 12 years ago on two plots of land. But the market keeps expanding with more shops occupying nearby space of additional plots. With more people embracing digital mobile communication network and over a million put out of job following a decade of Boko Haram violence, many youths took to repairs and sales of mobile phone as well as phone accessories. The GSM Market in Maiduguri known by the locals as Kasuwa’n Jagwal became a veritable provider of employment to hundreds of youths. There are also dozens of people selling foods, cold water, juice and air-time at the market.
“More than 2, 000 family members depend on these people for their daily needs,” Chairman GSM Dealers Association in Borno State, Nasiru Abdullahi said. Nasiru described the incident as shocking. He told Saturday Sun in an interview the cause or causes of the fire which started at about 8 pm last Thursday was yet to be ascertained.
“Honestly, the incident was a surprise and shocking to me. It was about 8 pm on Thursday, when people phoned me that the market was on fire. I went there immediately. When I came here, I saw the fire and with others tried to put it off but we realized it was more than what we could handle,” he disclosed.
He said he rushed to the state fire service for help immediately and commended the State and Federal Fire Service for coming to their rescue.
“We did not sleep throughout the night. The fire rages for almost seven hours. We don’t know what caused it,” he said. He said the market is not connected to the national grip but uses generator which they put off at about 5:30 pm daily, wondering what could have caused the fire outbreak.
Operational Commander, Federal Fire Service, Emmanuel Madu we had a distress call and organsied our men with the State Fire Service men. It took us about five hours to cut off the fire.
Eyewitnesses said they saw smokes billowing out of the market at about 8 pm and quickly alerted some of the known traders and market officials. “I called some of them and they came here within short period,” Mohammad Saleh, a resident said. He said he heard mobile phones and computer exploding like explosives each time the tempo of the fire increased. About 75 shops and 50 kiosks were burnt. One of the shops reportedly has about 150 computers, all burnt.
It was the second fire coming after the first in May 2015 when more than 50 shops were also razed down.
Lawan Shettima, leader of those who repair mobile phone and sell accessories said the fire incident was a huge loss and set-back to many of them. He said he lost N1 million worth of phone accessories in his shop.
“I am the chairman of those who repair phones and sell accessories at the market. My members are about 2,700. I have about N1 million worth of goods in my shop. Everything was burnt,” he disclosed. He however commended the state governor for sending the deputy governor. He said about four commissioners were on ground with the fire service to put off the raging fire throughout the night. The Sun reporter met the Commissioner of Environment, Local Government and Emirate Affairs, Sports and Youths Development during the visit. Sanitation workers from BOSEPA were also seen clearing the rubbles of burnt items from the market.
Bashir Abubakar, another victim said his computers shop was affected by the inferno. “I lost everything, all the computers in my shop. I sell computers but I can’t cost the value of the items I lost in my shop now,” he said. He said he was yet to recover from the shock of the incident. “I am still thinking how I will come out of this problem. How do I pay back my suppliers?” he asked rhetorically. He put the cost of the total loss in the fire incident at N500 million.
Hoodlums on rampage
Some hoodlums also attempted to take the advantage of the situation to loot the market, Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Aliyu disclosed. He said five suspects were arrested at the scene for attempting to loot the burnt market.
“There was a problem with accessing the market to quench the fire when it happened. My officers were also at the scene to ensure some boys don’t take advantage of the situation to loot shops. In fact, we arrested five suspects as a result of the efforts of our men,” he said.
Saturday Sun gathered that government had already constituted a committee to investigate the cause of the fire and recommend measures to remedy the situation. It is not clear if the government was planning relocating the market from its present location to a new GSM market about six kilometers to the city business district built some years ago.