Sunday, December 22, 2019 9:25 pm
By Jethro Ibileke
Goods worth hundreds of millions of naira, including hundreds of goats, were razed at Ekiosa Market in Benin City, Edo State capital on Sunday afternoon.
The inferno which lasted for several hours also spread to the Edo Development Property Authority (EDPA), and consumed a section of the high-rising building.
It was gathered that the fire which started at about 12.10pm, was as a result of a spark arising from power surge in one of the locked-up shops.
The rampaging inferno reportedly defiled all efforts by sympathizers to put it off and later razed the entire market.
Fire fighters from the state department and those of the Nigeria Petroleum Development Company allegedly arrived at the scene about 30 minutes after the fire broke out were chased away by traders in the believe that they may be given special attention to the government owned building.
A trader who gave his name as Edosa, said he was at home when they heard people shouting fire in the market.
“We all ran into the market and discovered that the shop that was burning was locked. So we could not do much to put out the fire and before we could say jack, it (fire) has spread to other shops.”
The area, however, became tensed after angry youths confronted the University of Benin (UNIBEN) fire service truck that emerged to put off the fire at the EDPA.
One of the youths who identified himself as Yinka Tony, alleged that the fire fighters deliberately delayed before coming to their aid.
“From what we are seeing, this people (fire fighters) deliberately did not come and save these traders goods.
“You can see that now that the fire has spread to EDPA, they came and want to put off the fire… and we are saying no way. It won’t happen here,” Tony said.
The timely arrival of soldiers and other security agents saved what could have degenerated to anarchy.
An eyewitness who simply identified himself as Edosa said: “I live around here, I was in my house when we heard the market women shouting fire, fire shortly after BEDC brought light around 12 noon.
“We all ran into the market and discovered that the shop that was burning was locked. So we could not do much to put out the fire. And before we could say jack, it (fire) has spread to other shops.
“Some people called fire service, their response was that they don’t have water and at this time, we could not put the fire out with bare hands,” Edosa said.
Meanwhile, the Edo state government has vowed to investigate what it called suspected arson
The government in a statement by the Special Adviser to the State Governor on Media and Communication Strategy, Mr. Crusoe Osagie, said the state government has commenced investigation into the fire incident.
The statement noted that the increased fire incidents in markets around Benin metropolis may bear political connotation.
According to him, “The state government has commenced investigation into the Ekiosa fire incident as we have received preliminary information indicating that the fire may have been caused by arsonists, who are bent on painting the government in bad light.
“The information we have show that the arsonists may be working on the instructions of the disbanded Edo Peoples Movements (EPM), who are shopping for avenues to discredit the Governor Obaseki-led government.
“It is also curious that when officials of the Fire Service and other stakeholders in emergency response mobilised to the site of the fire at Ekiosa market, they were attacked and chased away by the arsonists. This is a serious offence and government will not condone the action of these persons, as anyone found culpable will be made to face the full wrath of the law.”
“Relevant stakeholders are being rallied around to carry out the investigations into the incident to establish the case of arson, even as government agencies and departments responsible for emergency response are being debriefed on what transpired when they responded to the incident,” he added.
Osagie said efforts were on to ameliorate the losses suffered by traders, noting, “We will provide support to the affected traders to enable them return to their businesses. We are mindful that these traders would have stocked wares for the festive season. The state government will ensure that they’re fully compensated.”
He reiterated the need for Edo residents to be careful and avoid habits and actions that may lead to fire outbreak in the dry season.
Speaking with journalists at the scene, the state commissioner for Youth and Special duties, Damian Lawani, lamented that the new twist to fire incident in the state where youths who are out to loot property attacked fire fighters is worrisome.
“Thirty minutes after the fire broke out, the state fire service and two from the NPDC came but the youths attack them and had to run back. The Army fire fight, UNIBEN and Delta state were able to come after we have mobilise both army, police and Airforce to the scene. When we called the NPDC, they told us that their boys were injured duing the attack.
“The new twist is worrisome because the youths are out to loot property instead of sympathising with victims. If they had not attacked the fire fighters we brought in 30 minutes after the fire started, most of the property would have been saved,” he said
Also speaking, the chairman, Oredo local government area, Jenkins Osunde, who sympathise with the traders assured that the council would meet with them to see how to cushion the effect of the fire on them.
He said government would work with other stakeholders to find lasting solution to the sequence of fire incident in the local government.
Osunde called on the youths to allow expert do their work without attacking them, noting that the fire would been successfully put off without much damage if they had not obstructed the process.