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Onitsha Tanker Fire: How Politicians turned Ochanja Market into campaign ground

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…As scrap dealers make brisk business

BY VINCENT UJUMADU

FOLLOWING the recent fire outbreak in Onitsha, many politicians have turned the burnt Ochanja Market in Onitsha into a possible source of votes ahead of the 2021 governorship election in Anambra State, with many of them either making promises to the affected traders, or issuing statements blaming the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, – controlled state government of being responsible for the fire outbreak.

While some people were crying over their losses, the youths who stormed the market in large numbers turned the area into political carnival of sort for the politicians.

Among politicians that had either visited the market or reacted through press statements were former governor of the state and vice presidential candidate of PDP in this year’s general election, Mr. Peter Obi, Minister of Labour and Establishment, Senator Chris Ngige, Senator Uche Ekwunife representing Anambra Central and who is believed to be nursing governorship ambition, Dr. Obiorah Okonkwo who is aspiring to contest for governor in 2021, Senator Alphonsus Igbeke who was in the 5th National Assembly, Senator Stella Oduah representing Anambra North, Dr. Tony Nwoye who was in the House of Representatives and Chief George Muoghalu, director general of National Inland Waterways Development Authority, who is also runoured to be nursing governorship ambition for 2021.

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Apart from Dr. Okonkwo who promised to donate an ambulance to the market and gave some money to patients still receiving treatment in the hospital, others who visited the market promised to assist the traders one way or the other, although details of their promises were not yet out. During their visits, they toured the burnt lines, with the victims practically dragging them to see the extent of their losses in their individual shops.

It was indeed like political rallies during the visit of some of the politicians and it was obvious that they used the visits to test their popularity among the traders. It was gathered that some of the traders even made special arrangements for the visit and used the occasion to castigate the state government for, according to them, ‘not equipping the state Fire Service properly,’ to the delight of the visiting politicians.

To the state government, however, the politicians were merely poisoning the minds of the traders who were yet to recover from the misfortune of the mid week fire incident. The state Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. Don Adinuba said it was immoral for politicians seeking to contest the 2021 governorship election to exploit the people’s misfortune.

Adinuba said: “These politicians are not interested in helping Anambra people find out why three tankers laden with petrol fell in three different places in the state within 24 hours. Nor are they interested in helping to find a solution to the frequent collapse of petrol tankers in the state, which has cost precious human lives and destroyed assets worth billions of naira.

“These elements should borrow a leaf from Governor Obiano who, in a move to make the state fire service more effective and efficient in its operations like quenching early enough fires from fallen petrol tankers, has decided, subject to approval by the state legislature, to remove the state fire service from the stranglehold of civil service bureaucracy and make it autonomous. This is the way to go.

“People promoting mass mind poisoning in the wake of the Onitsha fire need be reminded that it is a mortal sin to play politics with human life. Life is sacred. It is worth more than any other thing in life. No political power can be equated with human life.

“It is absolutely immoral for politicians seeking to contest the 2021 gubernatorial election to cause extremely harmful divisions in Anambra when the election is a whole two years away. Anambra people have just emerged from an exhausting round of national elections which took place only last March. It is unfair to subject them to another round of electioneering campaign now.

“Ndi Anambra will not tolerate politicians wrecking the prevailing atmosphere of unity, peace, harmony and solidarity in the state. They rather want leaders who understand and promote solidarity with the Anambra family.

“Nigeria has over the decades experienced fires, with some successfully quenched by either the Federal Fire Service or any of the state fire services. But none has ever been politicized. Not even on January 24 1983 when fire engulfed the 32-storey building of the Nigeria Eternal Telecommunications (NITEL) company in Lagos, West Africa’s tallest building

“It is befuddling that the fire in Onitsha, which occurred on Wednesday, October 16, 2019, when a petrol tanker fell on the Onitsha-Enugu Highway and its contents spilled up to Ochanga Market through the open drainage has been politicized. Some have gone as far as recruiting unemployed youths to scandalize the Anambra people and their state on the social media, in the expectation that they would reap political and propaganda benefits from the campaign against Anambra State. Only unconscionable politicians could do so.”

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Meanwhile, the burnt market and shops had become a major economic boost for scrap dealers as they have been scavenging the debris seeking for fortune. Some of them said although they were not happy that the once beautiful Ochanja Market and the adjoining plazas were destroyed by fire, scooping the debris was part of efforts to clear the area of the heaps of metals from the burnt buildings and shops.

Okorie Nwanjo, who said he had been dealing on scraps for many years said owners of the burnt shops were even happy that they were clearing their shops of the rubbish, free of charge, even though, as he explained, they were making ‘good money’ from it.

In fact, there were buyers whose vehicles were stationed close to the burnt market waiting for the scraps. It was gathered that the buyers came all the way from Lagos.

Vanguard

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