By Dayo Johnson, Monsuru Olowoopejo & Rotimi Ojomoyela
AKURE, the Ondo State capital was literally in flames within a 10-days interval as public buildings, shops, schools, cars and buildings were torched and goods worth millions of naira razed.
Residents of Ado-Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital would not forget in a hurry the inferno that engulfed the heart of the city. Like a wild wind, the fire spread, eating up everything in its way and by the time the inferno was put out, several properties worth hundreds of millions of naira have been consumed by the raging fire. About 20 houses, 30 offices and shops were razed by the fire.
The news of massive fire disaster at the Nigerian Breweries Plc, Lagos, completed the cycle. The fire which was finally curtailed several hours after, destroyed property worth millions of Naira.
Akure literally aflame
It was a sordid experience across the state capital as traders and residents counted their loses. Traders cried and wailed as their goods were destroyed in their presence as they watched helplessly. The lukewarm attitude of officials of the state fire service to the distressed calls to help salvage some of the goods from the raging fire came under condemnation by all and sundry in the state capital.
Vanguard gathered that the mysterious fire incidences had become a source of concern following which residents of the metropolis staged a protest march to the palace of the traditional ruler, the Deji of Akureland Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi. Although, the state Police command fingered a gang of arsonists as perpetrators of the heinous act, only one of the suspects had been arrested and all attempts to parade him before the public since his arrest had been futile.
Distress telephone calls
Traders at the popular Odopetu market after the day’s businesses went back to their different homes without any premonition that by the next morning all the goods in their shops would be consumed by fire and burnt to ashes.
Many were woken up from their sleep by distress telephone calls from loved ones and other sympathizers that their shops had went up in flames. In night gowns and other funny dresses they raced to the venue to behold their source of livelihood consumed by the mysterious fire outbreak. Residents in the houses close to the market made spirited efforts to quell the fire but to no avail.
The raging fire spread so fast that nothing could be salvaged by the owners of the stalls in the market and sympathizers as they watched helplessly. Many traders who ran into their shops to evacuate valuables sustained injuries occasioned by the fire.
Mostly affected were shops stocked with food items expected to be sold during the new year festivities in the market. The shops and the items in them were destroyed when the fire incident reportedly occurred at midnight. No life was lost in the inferno according to eyewitness account. Traders interviewed in the metropolis described the fire outbreak as mysterious.
While others speculated that the cause might be as a result of power surge, it was further learnt that there was no power supply in the area when the incident occurred. Food items destroyed by the fire, according to findings, include bags of rice and beans, tubers of yam, plantain, fruits, kegs of palm oil and vegetable oil among others. An eyewitness account said “the cause of the fire incident is unknown to anyone because everybody had gone to sleep and all the traders have all gone home when we started seeing smoke from the market.
Noise in the night
“We just heard the noise in the night and by the time we got there we saw everywhere on fire.”
One of the affected traders who identified herself as Mrs. Janet Olorunfemi said that she had lost all she stocked in her shop to the fire.
Olorunfemi while narrating her ordeal said, “I was home when somebody called to inform me that the market was burning so I quickly rushed down. Everything in my shop was burnt down completely.”
She appealed to NEMA and the state government to come to their rescue moreso that all what they stocked to be sold during the new year festivity had been consumed by the outbreak. Reacting to the outbreak, the Chairman of the Akure South Local Government Bayo Alarapon described the fire incident as unfortunate.
Alarapon told Vanguard that a panel to investigate the incident would soon be set up. According to him “it is very unfortunate that this kind of incident is happening during this hard time of recession. On our own part, we shall look for the ways to assist the affected traders.”
As if the Odopetu fire outbreak and the losses recorded were not enough, another mysterious fire outbreak wreaked havoc in Ayedun area of Akure barely a week interval. Several shops, a brothel and buildings were again razed. It was a pitiable sight as owners of the shops ravaged by the fire were rolling on the floor crying and wailing. They claimed they got loans from the micro-credit to buy the goods that were ravaged by the fire.
No life was lost in the inferno but reports had it that security guards employed by the shop owners sustained some injuries while trying to put out the fire. Vanguard gathered that the fire outbreak ravaged the shops situated at Egbe street in Ayedun area in Akure metropolis in the early hours of Wednesday.
Items destroyed by the fire
Items destroyed by the fire were similar to those at Odopetu market. Food items including bags of rice, beans, bags of pepper, tubers of yam, kegs of palm oil and vegetable oil stocked in the shops were burnt to ashes. Also destroyed in the inferno were football dish, fans, household furniture, television sets, stabilizers, generators and decoders. Property worth millions of naira were reportedly destroyed by fire outbreak which started at about 1.00am.
Eyewitness account said the outbreak started from one of the locked shops and gradually spread to many others before it was noticed. The cause of the fire could not be ascertained as residents in the area and the security guards said it happened suddenly and spread fast to other shops and the building. Speaking with Vanguard, one of the victims, Bola Makinde, said she got a distress call at about 1.00 am from one of those living beside her shop that there was a fire outbreak.
Makinde said by the time she rushed to her shop it was already on fire with all her goods destroyed. Another shop owner who is a motorcycle repairer, Abiola Ojo, said three motorcycles that were under repair in his shop were burnt beyond recognition while all the equipment used by him were not spared in the inferno.
Ojo who said that the cause of the fire remained unknown to them denied that it was caused by a power surge because power supply in the area had been epileptic for sometime. He on behalf of the affected traders pleaded with the state government and the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, to come to their assistance.
Ojo said that their source of livelihood had been consumed by the fire and to take care of their families during this recession would take only the grace of God. The owner of one of the affected buildings, Mrs Mary Dada, said: “The cause of the fire incident is not clear yet to anyone because everybody has gone to sleep and all the traders have all gone home.
But what I just know is that one of my tenants went out in that midnight to urinate and he is the one that raised the alarm before everybody rushed out for fear of being consumed by the fire.”
Also, a teacher at Saint Martins RCM Primary, Oke Padi, where the administrative block was razed said it was difficult to trace the source of the fire as the school was on holiday and nobody was in the school environment when it started. Meanwhile, some residents of Oke Ijebu where a number of shops were consumed, besieged the Oba’s palace to express their displeasure. In their hundreds, the residents alleged that the various fire incidences were not natural but a sinister move by some “evil” personalities to paint the state capital as unsafe ahead of the handing over to a new government.
They appealed to security operatives in the state to be alive to their responsibilities by fishing out the evil perpetrators. As if the protest was what the security operatives were waiting for to spur them into action, the state Police Command few days after, announced the arrest of one suspected arsonist, Oladapo Alaba, the gang leader of those whose sport it was to set public places on fire. The suspect, according to the Command spokesman, Femi Joseph, was arrested while attempting to raze a popular supermarket in the metropolis.
Joseph said the suspect was believed to be one of those hoodlums that burnt down public places in recent times in the state. According to him,“our men, while on patrol at about 3.00am saw the suspect at the premises of the supermarket. Immediately he saw our men he ran away and our men chased him until he was later arrested.
We have begun investigation on the matter and in our preliminary investigation, we discovered that he wanted to set the supermarket on fire. We are still interrogating the suspect to know if he was being sent by some people or not and also to know his actual intention for deciding to carry out the act.”
Joseph said that the suspect would be charged to court after the investigation had been concluded. “We need the support of our people to fight crimes in this state, we, the police can not do it alone, we can’t be everywhere at the same time. That is why we need the people to give us information about anybody suspected to be criminal or involved in criminal activities among us. We are committed to ensure that the rate of criminality is reduced to the barest minimum in this state,”he said.
The state Police Command was yet to present to the public the suspected leader of the gang hinging it on security reasons. Joseph told Vanguard that investigations were still ongoing to know the reason for his action, his sponsors and to round up other members of the group still on the run.
Tanker fire wreaks havoc in Ekiti: To some concerned residents of Ado-Ekiti, the fire incident shouldn’t have taken anybody by surprise, because the signs were already there that such a disaster was looming, especially with the way petrol stations are located haphazardly in the state capital, throwing safety and other extant rules that guide such a delicate business to the dogs.
Residents of the state capital also expressed the fear that the capital city may be sitting on a keg of gun powder with the way filling stations are springing up in every nook and cranny of the sprawling city with reckless abandon.
The inferno, which started at about 4.00pm on Sunday evening at Strive-Energy, a high brow filling station located at Ijigbo Roundabout, very close to the popular Erekesan Market in the capital city of Ado-Ekiti, was like a poisoned arrow aimed at the hearts of the traders, who wept uncontrollably as they helplessly watched their wares burned to ashes.
How the trouble started: It was gathered that the incident started around 4:00 p.m. when a tanker which was delivering fuel at the station began to emit thick smoke. An eye-witness who pleaded anonymity said the smoke billowed from the tanker for over 20 minutes with the workers at the station not responding to it.
A huge fire eventually started when a driver who was on the queue to buy fuel suddenly switched on the ignition of his vehicle which caused a spark. The ensuing inferno razed several buildings, the fuel station, and other nearby offices and vehicles. It created a huge tension among the people of the state capital, many whom wailed and cursed while watching the havoc being wreaked by the fire.
One of the shop owners who identified himself as Emeka said he lost goods worth over N7 million. He said many of the affected traders had not returned from the eastern part of the country where they had gone for the Christmas holiday. The chaotic situation was exploited by hoodlums who had a free rein, breaking into shops in the affected area and carting away goods. The fire lasted for about three hours before any sort of intervention by fire services in the state, ostensibly because of the poor state of their equipment, which prevented from quickly containing the fire.