By Fredrick Okopie
Business activities in Apapa, especially around Warehouse Road from the Apapa roundabout to Wharf Road came to stand-still as early as 7.45am on Monday as electronics, electrical gadgets and musical equipment belonging to Fouani Nigeria Limited, owners of LG electronics franchise went up in flames.
Affected by the fire is theÂ LG Showroom which is reputed to be the biggest in Nigeria,Â if not in the whole of West Africa, both in size and in market reach. What this means is that the fire has cost the electronic giant an enormous loss in capital and otherwise.
From the Coconut Bus-stop, along the Apapa/Oshodi expressway, residents, commuters and motorists were shocked at the sight of hugeÂ billows of smoke drifting towards them from the scene of the fire.
By 11.25am when this reporter visited the scene, officials from the Road Safety Commission were seen controlling the traffic and diverting commercial transporters to the expressway to pave way for fire service men coming from Ojo and Iganmu.
Although the front structureÂ at the 11/13 Warehouse Road where the LG Showroom is situated appeared unaffected, the expansive, well-stocked showroom was a complete wreck as almost every item there was burnt beyond recognition.
The air within the premises of the company and other nearby companies was stagnant with the reeking, pungent smell from burnt electronics items and electrical appliances. The unpleasant odour prompted passers-by and fire service men to cover their noses with handkerchiefs and surgical masks.
A female reporter was left gasping for breath as she could not stand the choking stench.
A first generation bank adjacent to the Fouani Nig Ltd, mounted their own water truck to prevent the fire from spreading toÂ their building. They also used their fire equipment in fighting the fire from their own end.
Fifteen Policemen believed to be from the Apapa Police Command were on hand to maintain law and order. Six other policemen were inside monitoring inflow of people going into the building.
WHILE the fire lasted, a recurring question wasÂ what led to it? But some of those who spoke to Vanguard Metro, albeit anonymously, blamed the management, especially for its lack of trust of its employees.
A security guard told journalists at the gate that â€œthe fire started early in the morning around to 7.35am, but we donâ€™t know what led to the fireâ€.
According to an insider who isÂ a technician there:Â â€œThe fire started fromÂ the show room at about 7.30am. To me, the major cause of the fire was one of the air conditioners which was not switched off. As the generating set was put on, it ignited the air conditioner which sparked, resulting in a fire.
â€œAs the fire was gathering momentum, some group of boys came to assist in putting out the conflagration but a top management staff prevented them for fear of theft and vandalism. The management thought it was a light fire that would be put out without external assistance. ByÂ the time the fire service men arrived, the fire has spread to the warehouse at the rear of the building destroying a large quantity of cartooned electronicsâ€.
When Vanguard Metro accosted Mr. Ali Fouani, the General Manager of Fouani Nig Ltd, he informed that he was called in respect of the incident by the first set of employees to arrive for work that fateful day. He, however, denied preventing people who came to assist in putting out the fire. He said the fire was already burning furiously when the first set of people arrived on a rescue mission.
â€œThe first set of staff that resumed this morning (Monday) noticed the smoke emanating from the showroom and called me at about 7.30am and I was the one holding the keys to the showroom where the fire started from. When we tried opening the showroom the fire was close to the door. At this time there was nothing we could do to put the fire under control,â€ he said.
He continued: â€œIt took the fire service close to three hours to tame the fire. We were able to retrieve about 20 portable DVD players. It was not true that we stopped people who came earlier to assist in putting out the infernoâ€.
In spite of the huge losses recorded in the fire, Mr. Fouani was optimistic that he company will soon recover from the bitter experience.Â â€œWe will continue to work because there is another warehouse that the fire didnâ€™t get to. The building would be demolished and rebuilt; so work will commence again.â€
But he refused to give a rough estimate amount of the goods destroyed by the fire. But a staff told reporters on condition of anonymity that it was over N100 million.
The Chief Fire Superintendent of Lagos State Fire Service, Mr. Musa Olatunji Muraina Sari-Iganmu unit told Vanguard Metro that: â€œWe were called at 7.58am from the Sari-Iganmu fire service and we got here by 8.15am. ImmediatelyÂ we came in, we saw the iron decking used in demarcation had collapsed.Â This caused a major problem for us in bringing the fire under control.â€
Mr. Muraina further said the problem was worsened by the fact â€œthat the products are combustible. As you can see, fire is still coming out despite all efforts to put it outâ€.