Victims of Saturday’s fire incident at the popular Araromi spare parts market in Ibadan, Oyo State, have bemoaned their loss of multimillion naira goods to the inferno.

Sunday PUNCH gathered that the incident which affected about 25 shops occurred around 2am and was caused by indiscriminate burning of refuse. It was learnt that the shop owners had left for their homes without quenching the burning refuse which spread to the shops.

Speaking with one of our correspondents, one of the spare parts sellers, Olajide Ige, stated that the fire affected many shops. Many of his colleagues also counted their losses.

Some of the traders identified as Sikiru Bashiru, Yetunde Ibikunle and Hassan Olanrewaju, lamented the fate that befell them.

Bashiru, who is a welder said, “I have had a similar experience before in 2016, where I lost over N2.5m. Nobody, including the government, came to my assistance. I had to obtain a loan of about N5m to start my business again, and now fire again razed my shops despite the fact that I had yet to repay the loan I took.’’

Also speaking, Ibikunle who sold cold sachet water and soft drinks said she took a loan too to start the business, adding the freezers, generators and other valuables she recently bought were destroyed by the fire.

She said, “I started the business about eight years ago and I have never experienced such an incident. I just bought some of the goods that were destroyed by the fire. The generator, freezers and some other things I could not immediately remember were lost to the inferno before dawn.’’

Olarewaju, who is also a welder, said that he experienced a similar incident seven years ago, noting that he took a loan to start the business afresh.

“I lost over N4m before now when the incident happened. No assistance from anybody including the government and now about N3m was destroyed by fire. Where will I start from? I am fed up!” He added.

 In his view, President, Ibadan Motor Dealers Association, Olarewaju Ishola, told Sunday PUNCH that the cause of the incident had yet to be ascertained, adding that steps would be taken to get to the root of the incident to forestall a recurrence.

Contacted on the telephone for his comment on the incident, General Manager, Oyo State Fire Service, Yemi Akinyinka, said the incident happened around 2am.

Akinyinka noted that about 15 shops were totally razed out of 25, adding that the affected ones were not standard shops.

He said, “It’s not like a normal shop. The people were moulding and using their engines to fabricate and all those things. We got the information a few minutes after two in the midnight and we mobilised to the place immediately. The shops there were about 25 and 15 were totally burnt. When we got there this morning (Saturday), some people were bringing out their goods. The shops were not affected but the impact of the fire affected the goods in the shops. The cause of the fire incident was that some people were burning something and they did not put it out totally before they left. Maybe they put it out and along the line it ignited.’’

December fire incident

Besides, traders who lost goods to the fire from a 45,000 litres fuel tanker whose driver lost control at Apata area in Ibadan, Oyo State, last December are still counting their losses.

It was gathered that the fire spread to cars parked by the roadside, a nearby fuel station and shops along the route.

A food vendor operating one of the affected shops, Bukola Tejuosho, said that when the driver of the truck lost control and veered off the roads towards them, she fled to safety. She added that she could not salvage her goods which she said were consumed by the fire.

She said, “There was a phone seller and a boutique beside my shop. Everything was burnt to ashes.  Millions of naira lost to the inferno. I just got delivery of foodstuffs and I couldn’t have imagined experiencing this kind of situation.’’

Stating that she lost many things to the fire, Tejuoso noted that she couldn’t estimate the loss.

She said, “From big cooking pots, cylinders, cookers to other cooking utensils, many things were consumed by the fire. Bags of rice, groundnut oil, crates of egg, and other valuables are gone.”

Tejuosho was hopeful that help would come her way, hoping that well-meaning Nigerians would rise up to help her.

Past fires in Ibadan

In July, 2022, an inferno in the popular Bodija International Market destroyed goods over N100m. Sunday PUNCH learnt that the fire which started in the midnight affected 38 shops where some grounding machines, several bags of foodstuffs, cartons of provisions including cash were kept. Thirty three traders in total were affected.

The PUNCH had also reported that a fuel tanker was discharging fuel to the underground tank at Olarem Filling Station, Basorun, when it caught fire in January, 2022. When the fire started beneath the truck and before it was engulfed in fire, the driver was said to have jumped inside and drove it away to the roadside.

Victims count losses

Another occupant of two of the burnt shops and food vendor, Muhammadu Muntari, estimated his lost goods at over N900,000.

Muntari, who sells a variety of foodstuffs in two of the locked-up shops, noted that bags of rice, beans, onions and other goods were burnt without being able to salvage any. He, however, stated that he was thankful to be alive.

He stated, “I strongly believe that it was meant to happen and God has His reasons for everything. I just need to get help some little money and I’m certain that I’ll return to business.’’

Tearfully, a mattress seller, Afolabi Wemimo, recounted her loss to Sunday PUNCH, stating that the incident was her lowest point.

She said, “I was not able to save any item. I lost money, bags, ATM cards and goods to the fire.’’ She explained that she and her colleagues were caught unawares.

On the goods lost to the inferno, she noted, “I took the delivery of new mattresses and pillows from a factory barely two days. Probably because of the type of goods I sell, it got burnt easily.’’

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Wemimo appealed to the government, non-governmental organisations and well-meaning individuals in society for help.

She said, “I started the business with loans taken from microfinance banks. I have no one to run to and the government should come to our aid. The banks are not concerned whether my shop got burnt or not, what they are after is their money. I sent this week’s payment to them already they will be expecting the next.’’

She noted that the cost of the smallest mattresses was N31, 500, stating that all of them got burnt. “In total, I can’t immediately quantify the exact amount but the goods with the cash burnt in the shop would be over N2m.”

She appealed to Nigerians for help, adding that since the incident occurred she had been unable to sleep and planned using sleeping pills to aid sleep.

She noted, “We are lucky to have a few people who have been giving us between N500 and N1, 000 to feed. We have our families and we are thankful that we didn’t lose our lives but beyond that, one can fall into depression with the huge losses.”

Another victim and toy seller, Aderonke Okonjo, also lamented her loss which she estimated to be about N500, 000. She stated that she had no one to run to, appealing for help from Nigerians.

NEMA reacts

Speaking to Sunday PUNCH, Head, National Emergency Management Agency in Ibadan, Saheed Akiode, stated that the agency was ready to respond to fire incidents during the festive period.

He stated that during the dry season, the agency planned to involve stakeholders to get prepared.

Akiode said, “We are a coordinating agency and the Fire Service is the leading government’s agency when it comes to fire disasters. Ours is to alert them and give them other necessary support to put the situation under control.’’

He further said that the agency was currently sensitising citizens tos conscious fire safety measures during the festive period, adding that it was vital for people to obey basic safety rules to prevent fire disasters.

He noted, “We have been encouraging people not to store fuel in their homes due to the current fuel scarcity. We understand that many people may want to take the advantage to start hoarding fuel but that can ignite fire.

“Citizens are encouraged through our mediums and publicity jingles not to burn bushes at this period, sleep while candles are on and ensure to switch off electronic appliances while leaving the home or offices.”

Akiode stated that NEMA was working with other relevant agencies to ensure that subsequent fire outbreaks were swiftly responded to. He noted that the magnitude of the disaster would determine the needed intervention.

Asked what would be done to the victims, he said, “We have done an on-the-spot assessment of the incident and the report has been sent to the headquarters while we await further directives to know if there was the need to give them anything. We need to identify the victims and what can be done for them. Once this has been settled and we get response from the headquarters, they would be reached out to.’’

In his comment, a safety expert, Jumade Adejola,  noted that there had been sensitisation on it for motorists and the public.

He stated that there was a need for Nigerians to be careful, saying the fuel truck probably lacked maintenance. He said, “The trucks are not maintained regularly, especially in the right way it ought to be done.”

Adejola noted, “The regulators filling up the tankers must know the ones that are roadworthy. When vehicles are not roadworthy, they are not meant to be passed to leave their vicinity or even allowed to enter the depot for fuelling. But because of the ways things are done, the regulators are not doing their jobs. The government has to rise to its responsibility and ensure that the regulators ensure the right thing.”

He stressed the importance of vehicle maintenance by the owners. He explained, “Even when the roads are bad but the vehicles are in good condition, they will be able to navigate the roads. Look at those who lost their goods to the fire, there’s absolutely no one that would compensate them except if they were insured and how many of those people are insured?”

He stated that if the government did not do something to curb fire outbreaks, Nigeria would continue to witness terrible infernos.  “There’s nothing an individual can do in such a case. The government has a duty to ensure thorough implementation of existing laws which regulators are to abide by,” Adejola stated.

Some of the eyewitnesses told our correspondent that the truck belongs to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited.

Contacted, the NNPCL sympathised with the traders and others affected by the incident. Speaking through its spokesperson, Garba-Deen Muhammad, NNPCL stated that compensations were applicable when an action was deliberate, noting that in the case, it was not a deliberate occurrence.

He said, “When accidents happen, we investigate and find out what was the cause. We will know if it was due to negligence or natural causes, and until that is established, I cannot really tell you if there is going to be an intervention or not.”

He said that no one would intentionally cause a fire disaster, adding that the NNPCL would look into the situation and when they had information about the incident, a decision would be made.

Meanwhile, the state governor, Seyi Makinde, on Tuesday sympathised with traders and others who lost goods and property to the incident.

He stated this during a visit to the scene of the incident, promising that his administration would immediately release N10m relief fund for the victims.

Commenting on the incident, a business psychologist, Idris Salaudeen, stated that such a fire outbreak could have a psychological effect on the traders and lead to depression, noting that many of them run their businesses on loans.

He added that the traders who recorded losses in the Ibadan incident should ensure that they constantly stay among those close to them, who would encourage them and make them see reasons to continue striving.

He noted, “When they start seeing the good things that have happened to them, naturally, they will get the zeal to continue, maintain a form of life that makes them abstain from the thought of the losses they recorded. They should be big on the good things that have happened to them also. When this happens, they will be able to find solace in the other good things happening in their lives.’’

Salaudeen further said the government and other stakeholders should also offer support for the victims for them not to be alone after the disaster.

By Vision

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