By Ola Ajayi, Ibadan
The losses that traders of the Labaowo International Market, Ibadan suffered in an inferno that gutted the market on Wednesday cannot be forgotten in a hurry.
Within minutes that the fire started, their means of livelihood were consumed. Over 300 hundred shops with property worth one billion were destroyed. Painfully, some of the traders just got some loans from banks and co-operatives to boost their businesses.
Though no life was lost, some of the traders would have chosen death as an option if they knew that the inferno would consume all they had.
The fire started some minutes past 10 a.m. when the gum that a girl was trying to sell to her customers attracted fire from a nearby shop where another woman was cooking. Before they knew what was happening, the shops were on fire which later engulfed five buildings that house over 300 shops in the densely populated market.
Alarm was raised immediately, but owing to the distance and inaccessibility to the spot, help could not come on time from the Oyo State Fire Service and other companies in the area.
As at 3.05 p.m. when Sunday Vanguard visited the market, billows of suffocating smoke still enveloped the market. Traders were running helter-skelter. Some of the traders who were lucky to retrieve some of their wares from the fire stood on guard to prevent hoodlums loitering the area from causing further damage.
A woman who could still not comprehend how fate could be so cruel to her declined to make comments even when one of the leaders of the market introduced our correspondent. She merely shook her head and turned back.
Another affected trader, Mr. Taiwo Olabode, was stunned to speechlessness when Sunday Vanguard visited him. He was trying to mutter some words, his lips were moving but no word came out. When next he tried, it was tears that streamed down his face.
The president of the market, Alhaji Lukman Alaka, told our correspondent that items such as electronics, motor spare parts, generator spare parts, building materials and many others were lost to the fire incident.
He said, “the fire started some minutes past 10 this morning(Wednesday). Five buildings with over 300 shops were burnt. You too can see the damage caused by the fire.
When asked what caused the fire, Alaka said a girl was selling gum to her customer and it caught fire because a woman was cooking very close to her. “Suddenly, we saw balls of smoke accompanied by fire.
We called all the Fire Stations close to us, but, the response was not immediate. I called Challenge fire station and another one at Mapo. When I noticed that they were not forthcoming, I had to go to Mapo on Okada before help could come. But, before we got back to the market, the fire had gone out of hand”, he said.
“On the property lost, it can’t be less than one billion. Many traders were affected. Some could not even retrieve any item from their shops. The Fire Service came but it was too late. We would be happy if the government can provide a Fire Station for us here.”, he lamented.
The market traders leader complained that when fire gutted the market about three years ago, the government sent its officials who came promising heaven and earth, but nothing came.
According to him, the only help that the Governor Abiola Ajimobi-led administration can do for them is to give them a fire station in the market.
Mr. Sikiru Olayiwola, the leader of the legislative arm of the market, said it was a pity that successive governments in the Oyo neglected them because they were not civil servants.
“Governor Ajimobi should help those of us who are not civil servants too. They should let us have a sense of belonging and give us opportunity to enjoy in this administration too. If they don’t want these people to die, they should do something very urgently”, he said.
He ruled out any suspicion that somebody somewhere could be responsible for the incident, pointing out that the fire that gutted the market three years ago ignited when a spark of fire landed on mattresses.
“As for this one, it happened during the day time. We all saw how it started. So, I don’t suspect any foul play from anybody.
Another affected trader, Mr. Tijani Amoo, who sells fan belt and bearing in the market, explained that he just collected a bank loan worth N800,000 to buy wares.
“Most of us in this market collect bank and co-operative loans. I just collected N800,000 and used it to stock my shop. Tell me, how can I pay back the loan now? Oh God!, he stated.
Amoo said he lost all the items. Though, he was not far away from the scene of the fire, by the time he knew, smoke had covered my shop and then fire.
Muniru Lasisi, who sells generator spare parts, he said he lost goods worth two million, while Babatunde Olusegun, who lives at Ogbere Oriyangi, Ibadan, said his motor spare parts estimated at N500,000 were destroyed.
Also, Femi Akinlabi, motor spare parts seller, said the girl that was selling gum was injured in the fire incident and had been rushed to hospital.
He claimed he took a bank loan of N400,000 and estimated his losses at over N600,000 because he had some goods before he took the loan.
The Director of State Fire Service, Engineer Kareem Oyekunle, said his men were still battling the fire as at 3. 56 p.m. but was hopeful that the fire would be put out. His response contradicted that of the market leader, noting as soon as the distress call came, he and his officials rushed to the scene.