By Peter Duru & Victor Arjiromanus
Goods and household items valued at over N1billion were at the early hours of yesterday, consumed in a fire outbreak at the popular Wadata Market in Makurdi town.
Affected, were over 600 lockup shops and open stalls housing grains, poultry and fish products, beverages and other household items including clothings.
Vanguard gathered that one Emmanuel, a Muslim cleric who usually calls for prayer at the Wadata mosque, every morning, was praying when he saw smoke billowing from one of the shops, at about 2am. He was said to have raised the alarm but no one came out to contain the situation, until it spread to other shops.
Residents said it took two hours before fire service officials, whose office is located not too far from the market, to arrive the scene.
The scene of the incident was enveloped by sorrow and regret, as shop owners and neighbours trooped in to have a glimpse of the destruction caused by the fire.
One of the shop owners, a woman with an undisclosed identity, reportedly fainted on sighting the charred remains of what used to be her family’s only means of survival. She was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital, where she was revived.
Some traders were sighted trying to salvage what was left of their goods from the inferno, while others wept uncontrollably, when Vanguard arrived the scene.
Another victims, Mrs. Agbenu Aboh, whose shop was affected by the inferno, said she lost over 89 bags of grains, including bags of rice, maize and wheat in the fire.
Another, Ayaogu Elijah, said: “We have been calling the fire service for two hours now, to come over to this place and do something about the fire, but, they did not come, only persons using their tanks have been trying to put of the fire’
A witness, Emmanuel Nice, said: “I thought it was just a minor fire outbreak, until I got here. I can’t believe what I am seeing. The whole market has been razed: from one extreme of the market to the other.
“I really don’t understand what is happening to us. Two weeks ago it happened to Keffi market, now it is Wadata market. God should help us.”
Another trader who gave his name simply as Emeka, a machine parts seller lamented: “Where do I start from now? How do I regain my money? My whole goods have been destroyed by the fire.”
Some owners of the affected shops were said to have travelled for the Christmas celebration in their respective home towns.
Counting the losses of the traders, Vice President, Makurdi Traders Union, Yusuf Gambo, said majority of traders usually obtained loans from banks and schemes to stock their shops at the end of the year, preparatory to commencement of sales in the new year.
“Most of the traders got loans to acquire goods that were destroyed, and the fact is that most people affected cannot survive without their trade. They need intervention from government to sustain their families.
“Though we are still collating information on the burnt goods and will make that public soon, we are however, appealing to spirited individuals, organisations and government to come to the aid of the victims,” Gambo said.
Speaking on the incident, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, Mr. Doo Shave said the command was alerted of the inferno around 2a.m. by one of the affected traders, thereby prompting his team to mobilise fire trucks to the scene, at the end of which the fire was eventually put out at about 5a.m.
Shave said: “We have five functional trucks in the state now. We did not arrive the scene late, we got there as soon as we got the report at about 2am and within 10 minutes we mobilised to the scene.”
Meanwhile, one of the early visitors to the ill-fated market was Governor Samuel Ortom who after assessing the damage caused by the inferno, expressed shock at the level of destruction and losses suffered by the traders.
He immediately announced the donation of N30 million to the victims to cushion the effect of their losses.
While directing security in the market to be beefed up to prevent looting of goods, Governor Ortom also announced the setting up of a committee headed by Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Tony Ijohor, to investigate the cause of the fire and also come out with a recommendation to prevent a reoccurrence.