By Taye Obateru & Bernard Lucas
The traders searched the rubbles to see if there was anything to salvage from the ashes of their former stalls. It was like hoping against hope considering the intensity of the fire which levelled the stalls, but they searched all the same. The pain was palpable from the forlorn look in the eyes of some of the traders and this was understandable. Losing their wares again barely four years after a similar fire which razed the market in the midst of the Jos crisis and having to start from the scratch is not something they wished to experience again. Unfortunately, that is the reality they must face.
The foodstuff section of the ‘Katako’ market which is more popular for the sale of second hand clothing went up in flames on Tuesday night consuming over 200 stalls. The fire which started at abut 9.30 pm after the traders had closed and returned home for the day was believed to have been caused by a power surge following the restoration of electricity supply.
An eye witness said there was a spark which ignited fire in one of the stalls and later spread rapidly to the other shops in the “yanbuhu” market which were constructed with corrugated iron sheets. Although the fire service arrived the scene promptly and were supported by scores of concerned individuals, it took several hours to bring the fire under control. However, goods estimated at close to N250 million had been lost. Two lives were reported lost and about 30 people injured while trying to contain the fire.
An admixture of shock and pain was noticeable from the faces and countenance of many of the affected traders when Vanguard Metro visited as they expressed deep emotions about their losses and what the future holds. Mallam Sani Mohammed, an Assistant Organising Secretary of the market’s traders association said his shop was completely gutted.
“More than 300 shops were burnt and we are starting from the scratch. As I speak to you, some of the credit we obtained the last time the market got burnt have not been fully repaid and it has happened again,” he lamented.
He said things would be difficult for a lot of them unless government came to their rescue. According to him: “When the market burnt four years ago, there was no assistance from either the federal or state government. But we are appealing to them to assist us in getting our businesses back on track. This is the only way we can cope.”
Chairman of the Grain Traders Association, Mallam Kabiru Lawal, said he was alerted of the fire by the security men on guard at about 9pm on the fateful day, forcing him to rush back to the market to see things for himself. He commended the fire service and members of the youth in the area who fought the fire, putting up a spirited fight to contain the inferno.
He described the incident as a terrible blow to the affected traders, adding that most of those injured were good Nigerians who volunteered to assist in putting out the fire. “I was particularly happy that most of the people are both Christian and Muslim youths who had no particular connection to the market but their zeal saved the situation greatly”, he told VM.
Another victim, Mr. Peter Akpan also commended the spirited effort of men of the fire service and the volunteers whose efforts which minimized the extent of the disaster. He said: “Putting out the fire was very tasking. The intervention of the men of the Plateau State Fire Service and the youth eventually succeeded in putting it out after several hours.”
Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau State who visited the market to sympathize with the traders pledged government assistance to the victims and in rebuilding the market. Jang who was accompanied by Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Titus Alams, also condoled the families of those who died in the incident just as he expressed delight at the collaboration of residents to fight the fire irrespective of ethnic or religious sentiments.
”I sincerely sympathise with all of you and I really want to appreciate the level of cooperation employed to put off the fire. It took all the residents around here, irrespective of tribal or religious differences to do it.
“This is the way we want to live in Jos, Plateau; we are all citizens of this country and should live peacefully together. The state government through the chairman of the state relief committee will assess the damage done and then, we’ll see what assistance to give. I want to assure you that everything will be done to rebuild this particular place so that business activities can begin as usual”, he said.
While many of the victims welcomed the governor’s pledge with cheers, they hoped that the promised assistance would come promptly to ease their pain and give them fresh hope for the future. Many residents also hailed the Governor’s gesture which they felt would further promote the peace process in the state considering that most of the victims are Hausa Muslim people.