By Evelyn Oisa
They all wore swollen faces, with tears trickling down their cheeks. Some stood with hands akimbo and others placed their hands on their heads, watching as their goods were destroyed by fire. No thanks to the explosion that rocked Jankara Market in Isale-Eko area of Lagos State on Boxing Day. Worst hit were residents of the affected buildings who have been rendered homeless by the inferno which lasted over ten hours, defying efforts by fire fighters to contain the situation.
Gboom! Gbaam! Gbooaaa! The sounds from number 45, Ojo Giwa Street at about 10a.m. Were deafening. The explosions resulted in a fire that engulfed the three-storey building.
The sounds, initially mistaken to be bomb blasts, sent residents of the area scurrying out of their apartments in fear. They ran in different directions. Some parents even left behind children. Reminiscent of the January 2002 Ikeja Cantonment bomb explosions when residents of adjourning areas panicked and rushed out of their houses – many residents again began to flee their homes. But while this rush was on Boxing Day, one of the victims, who was apparently fast asleep in one of the affected buildings, was burnt to death.
News later filtered round that it was a bomb blast, with men of the Anti Bomb Command, Ikeja invited to come and do their job. There were, however, different accounts about how the incident, which changed the course of the day for the affected persons, occurred. A version said some youths were competing with fireworks and, in the process, one of them threw it into the warehouse said to have been stocked with assorted fireworks.
The raging fire, therefore, spread to other buildings and cars parked around. At press time, twelve buildings were declared affected by the fire, with the death toll put at four. Some of those later confirmed dead in the hospital, as gathered, died out of exhaustion.
Some of them were reportedly trampled on during the stampede. One of them, a 65-year-old woman, told Sunday Vanguard she was saved by divine intervention. Speaking in Yoruba dialect, Iya Agba, as she is popularly called, said she had gone to the market that fateful day to get some food stuff when she heard the bang.
Asked why she did not send her children to the market, she replied: “I live alone. My children are all grown up. My grand children only left three months ago to join their parents. “On that day, I decided to go to the market to get some food stuff before it becomes sunny. “But hardly had I reached where I was going when I heard a loud bang.
“I stopped and asked my customer what the problem was and she said she did not know. “Then, all of a sudden, people started running. “They said terrorists had invaded the area. “As I turned to return home, they pushed me down. “I attempted to get up and another set pushed me down again. “I could not get up until one young man lifted me up and took me to a corner. “Meanwhile, the incident did not even happen close to where I was. “I only thank God that I did not die”.
Meanwhile, some traders of the affected shops, who had traveled for Christmas celebrations, returned on Thursday, barely 24hours after the disaster! Among them was one Mrs. Christy Nduma. The woman, too stunned to speak, vented her anger on anyone who attempted to find out whether her shop was among those affected. It took a while to decipher the cause of her anger. Mrs. Uduma, it was gathered, lost her husband, recently, in an auto accident. She had reportedly gone to the village to pull off her mourning clothes when news of the fire incident reached her.
Those close to her said she stocked her cosmetic shop before traveling, with the hope of starting life on her arrival only to be befallen by another tragedy.
Most of the affected traders, it was also learnt, are on the trail of the owners of the warehouse where the fire crackers were stocked, as they blamed them for their woes. “Had they not stockpiled such quantity of fireworks in the warehouse, such thing would not have happened. In fact, if I get them, I will personally hand them over to the police and be made to pay for the damages done to my goods”, one of the traders charged.
But at that point, another man came out of the crowd and attributed the cause of the fire to their inability to report to the police. “Are you people trying to say that you did not know fire works were stocked there?,” he stated. The question almost resulted in a fight between the man and some of the affected traders.
Sunday Vanguard gathered that a container load of fire crackers were discharged weekly in the warehouse from where people bought whole sale and then sold to retailers.
Inspite of the incident, it was observed that some of the traders who could salvage some of their wares took them elsewhere to sell. Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs, Oyin Danmole, who visited the scene of tragedy, lamented that during this festive period alone, about three dozens of distress calls were made and received by the Department of Fire Service in Lagos – all within a week.
A breakdown showed that on Saturday and Sunday, December 22 and 23, 2012, respectively, there were 22 fire calls; while on Wednesday, the day of the incident, there were 11 fire calls; and, on Thursday, there were 12 fire calls. Danmole, therefore, called on Lagosians to be very conscious of safety.
“The hands of our men are full but they are up to the task”, he declared on Thursday at the scene of the disaster. He also made it clear that some 20 buildings in the affected area would have to go through a test with a view to ascertaining their structural integrity.
If found defective, the building may be demolished to avert further loss of lives and properties Also, the NEMA information Officer, South West Zone, Ibrahim Farinloye, said 11 buildings suffered direct impact from the fire, while four streets were cordoned off to allow emergency officers carry out their work.