By Chris Onuoha
SUNDAY June 9, 2013, is a day that traders at the Speedwell Plaza, Trinity Spare parts market in Olodi Apapa, now remember with pain and regret. It was a day their shops at the plaza were razed by fire that left them suffering huge losses and being heart-broken. Two years after, they are yet to recover from that disaster as they are still lamenting their losses. This is after several Save- Our-Soul, SOS, letters and appeals to the Lagos State Government have failed to yield any comforting response.
The traders, under the aegis of Speedwell Plaza Union, are however, not discouraged by the lack of response to their cry or the outright indifference by the Lagos State Government and the Lagos State Emergency Relief Agency, LASEMA, to their suffering . They have intensified their appeals, telling all concerned about their plight and pleading for humanitarian intervention that will bring succour to them.
It will be recalled that on that fateful day in June 2013, over 150 shops and goods worth more than N500 million were destroyed by fire at the Trinity Road, Speedwell Plaza in Olodi Apapa. The fire was suspected to have been caused by power upsurge. Though no life was lost, about three people sustained various degrees of injury.
According to some members of the Union executive who spoke to Vanguard Metro, VM, on the incident, “in spite of several letters and appeals sent by the Union to the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, the State Commissioner of Special Duties whose office is directly in charge of citizens in distress in Lagos State, the chairman of Ajeromi Local Government Area and other relevant bodies, there has been no action taken to assuage our losses and alleviate our plight since the unfortunate incident, thus leaving us stranded.”
The Chairman of the Union, Theophilus Okeke, while expressing dismay over the attitude of the state government to their plight, said: “We are suffering; life has not been the same since the fire incident. Our children cannot go to school anymore and our domestic needs cannot be met, prompting some of our members to relocate to the village.”
Okeke said: “As you can see now, many of us affected by the fire incident have been reduced to zero level after millions of naira which we borrowed from banks to facilitate our businesses got lost in the fire. Some of our members have died following the untold hardship that came their way as a result of which they were unable to pay hospital bills when they had health challenges and psychological traumas.
Unable to make ends meet, some have resorted to doing menial jobs to sustain themselves. We owe the banks heavily and we need help to get our lives back on track.” Speaking in a sorrowful voice, he said: “We all know it is a natural disaster, but as tax-paying citizens of this country, we feel government has an obligation to look after our welfare in our moment of need like now that we are left to the mercy of fate.”
Okeke also queried why their plight should be ignored when some people in similar situation in the state are getting assistance from government. He cited the case of the N87 million compensation given to victims of the Surulere rain flood disaster in February 2014 by the Lagos State Government. Mr. Okeke used the opportunity to once again appeal to the Lagos State government to help alleviate their suffering, saying:
“We are very instrumental in the electioneering process of the state and also have a fair share in the economic growth of the state through our commercial activities and immovable properties. We have also contributed our quota in helping the Fashola administration succeed and hoping his successor will not forget us. I am strongly appealing to the Lagos State government once again to come to our aid as things have been very difficult for us since the incident.”
According to Okeke: “Governor Fashola paid a visit to the site two days after the incident and promised to rebuild the plaza with consideration to the initial occupants of the burnt shops first before others after completion. Two weeks after his visit, the plaza was cordoned off by a private developer without any physical works or construction going on.”