By Vincent Ujumadu and Chimaobi Nwaiwu
ONITSHA- THE weekend’s fire outbreak at the popular pharmaceutical market at the Bridge Head in the commercial city of Onitsha, has jolted many traders in the over 50 markets in the area as it reminded them of the unfortunate era of frequent fire disasters in Onitsha during the Yuletide season. In the past, fire outbreak was a regular occurrence in Onitsha, especially during the end of year festive periods when the traders had left for their various villages only for their shops to be reduced to heaps of rubble in their absence.
Over the years, however, the traders had had to evolve measures to end the outbreaks after learning that hoodlums were usually behind the fire disasters after robbing the markets only to set the shops ablaze to cover up their nefarious actions.
Since the weekend’s fire disaster in which goods worth over N100 million were allegedly destroyed during the inferno that occurred in early hours of Saturday, leadership of other markets have been meeting to forestall any fire outbreak when they officially close the market for Christmas later this week.
In fact, some of the traders told South-East Voice that they would remove all their unsold items in their shops before travelling to avoid any regret, adding that the Bridge Head market fire disaster had brought back the sad memories of the past when most markets were gutted by fire almost every year.
It was also gathered that the leadership of the markets had decided to beef up security and take other precautionary measures that would last during the period of the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Mr. Emmanuel Uzochukwu, a trader at the Onitsha Main Market said he was once a victim of the fire incident, adding that he no longer leaves anything in his shop before travelling for the Christmas.
He added that because there had not been fire incidents for some years in the market, many traders had resorted to leaving goods in their shops, adding that Saturday’s fire incident was indeed an eye opener.
Members of the Association of Medical and Pharmaceutical Products Dealers, Onitsha, AMPPDO, whose market was at the Bridge Head said they would take measures to ensure that such a disaster did not repeat during this period.
Mr. Uche Eze, chairman of AMPPDO, said the Bridge Head fire incident started at about 6am at an area called the Redemption Line of the market, adding that it would have gutted the whole market, but for the timely intervention of the men of Fire Service from Onitsha Main Market and Building Materials Market, Ogidi who were invited by his leadership.
Although no life was lost, members of the executive of AMPPDO believed that the incident would have been avoided if precautionary measures were taken to prevent the fire.
Eze said he was informed of the outbreak by market security men who called him at about 6.15 am Saturday morning, adding that he and members of his executive responded immediately and were able to quench the fire and prevented it from spreading to the entire market.
He said: “When I arrived the market, the fire was still raging. Members of executive of the market were also with me and they include the President General of Bridge Head Markets Association Mr. Sunday Obinze, Chairman of the Line and his Secretary, Alvin Okpaleke and we all assisted the Fire Service officials to put out the fire.
“About six shops were affected and over N100 million both in cash and goods were lost to this fire incident. You can see for yourself the debris left in the shops; the owners equipped their shops with goods for the Christmas sales, but you can see what has happened.
“The whole market would have been engulfed by the fire if not for our prompt response in calling the fire fighting men from both markets. We are therefore appealing to Governor Willie Obiano to come to the assistance of the affected traders, who have lost all they have been working for over the years in just one incident.
“We are also appealing to the Governor to provide us with fire service equipment in this market. It is unfortunate that the entire Bridge Head Markets Association have no fire service facility to tackle similar problem.”
In the meantime, some of the traders have been counting their losses. One of the victims, Mr. Chidubem Uzochukwu said he lost N700,000 cash and goods worth over N15 million. His neighbor, Mr. Ebuka Emeh, who lacked words to explain what happened only managed to say that he had lost everything he labored for since he became a trader.