•8 dead, 5 injured
•Anambra market razed
•Onitsha bridge head traders count losses
From ALOYSIUS ATTAH (email@example.com)
Last week Wednesday, traders at the ever-busy Joint Traders and Wood Workers Association market at Bridge Head, Onitsha in Anambra state had high hopes when they closed for the day’s business.
Some of them who got contracts for various wood works had envisioned how they would use the proceeds from the transaction to better their lives. Others had deadlines to beat for their clients while most of them had expectations that the new day would usher in better opportunities.
However, at about 4.30am on Thursday, their expectations came crashing like a pack of badly arranged cards, no thanks to a mysterious fire that razed down the market.
Some of them dashed into the streets despite the risks involved but what they saw at the entrance to the market was billowing thick smoke.
At dawn when the dust settled and despite the assistance of the Fire Service (though they arrived late) and the police, almost the entire market was gone.
For the victims who are still nursing their pains, the future is bleak because nobody seemed to know their fate the reconstruction of the market
When Sunday Sun reporter visited the burnt market, the traders were still grappling with the reality that all they laboured for in many years had gone down the drain in a twinkle.
My election was peaceful
The incumbent chairman of the market, Chief Obidigbo Okoli told Sunday Sun that he was still wondering why the calamity befell them shortly after he was elected.
“I‘ve been in this market for more than 14years but the market itself started immediately after the civil war. This is another place where you can see the ingenuity of the Igbo man at work. Some people erroneously classify us as timber market but that is even the least of what we do here. We have technologists who are into the fabrication of industrial machines, furniture experts and woodcraft.
The early morning that I was informed about this incident, I came and met police and fire fighters with the president -general of the entire bridgehead market. Surprisingly, the four security men on duty whom we contracted through a private firm could not be sighted anywhere. We made a formal report to the police and they have arrested the chairman of the security outfit and they have made useful statement to the police.
There was crisis in the market but my election was peaceful. After my election, I declared no victor, no vanquished, mindful that people voted for me because they wanted a neutral person. I also said I was not going to embark on any probe but rather, start on a new slate; but look at where we have landed.
Victims count losses
Though Chief Okoli put the total loss at about 150 shops and goods worth over N100 million, some of the victims listed their individual losses.
Josephat Okoli, a furniture maker said that he didn’t know where to start in counting his woes.
“I had completed 36 hospital beds valued at N36, 000 each and another four sets of furniture valued at N150, 000 each all waiting for collection but I only saw ashes when I entered here after the fire.
Another victim, Ezenwata Nworie cried that four chieftaincy stools he was constructing for newly crowned kings valued at N200,000 each also got burnt beyond redemption. Aluma Friday also lost his machine tools worth N500,000 and other items.
Web of Conspiracy
Though the traders lost valuables in the fire disaster, their greatest challenge was how to unravel the mystery behind the disaster. Some of them told Sunday Sun said this was the fourth time fire outbreak occurred in the market with no identifiable cause.
“We take precautionary measures and defaulters are penalized heavily. There is no electricity here and those of us that use machines shut down once its 5pm daily. Thereafter, we sprinkle enough water on the ground to douse every heat. Also, the night this fire occured, it rained heavily from 9pm till around midnight, only for the magic fire to erupt from nowhere around 2am, according to sources. There is every indication that the fire was stoked intentionally”, said a source who didn’t want to be mentioned.
Litany of crisis
An elder in the market, Ide Philip Dike attributed the fire disaster to the leadership crisis that had rocked the market for a long time, and alleged complicity of the security men on duty.
“We have seen several fire disasters in the past but this is the worst so far. We had a former chairman who handed over to Sunday Onwuasanya. After his tenure, there was crisis but the tenure of Patrick Akputa was the most crisis-prone leadership. We had four court cases that increased to seven during his time. The case even took us to Abuja but we later set up a seven-man committee of elders to mediate in the matter.
The mediation yielded good fruits as all the court matters were withdrawn and we even went to church for thanksgiving. To find a lasting solution to the crisis, we conducted an election the previous Monday and the former executives were to hand over to the newly elected on Friday, only for the market to get burnt early Thursday morning.
But in a chat with the immediate- past chairman of the market, Patrick Akputa; he dismissed the insinuation that his leadership might have precipitated the fire incident. He said that he inherited the security people from his predecessor and that every crisis they had before had been settled.
“How can somebody say that I have a hand in this fire incident? Can the person prove it? How can I turn around to burn the market where I also make my living? All the issues we had, were resolved and I congratulated the new chairman after his election. It is the security people guarding the market that should be in a better position to explain what happened and I’m aware that their leader has reported to the police”, he said.
Efforts made by the reporter to know how far the police had gone in the investigation of the incident drew blank as the investigating police officer identified as Inspector Godwin, said he was not authorized to comment on the matter.
Life must go on
Despite all their losses, the traders said they were ready to start all over again. They appealed to the Federal and state governments to assist them pick up the broken pieces of their lives.
“The federal and state governments should please come to our aid. This is because some of the people who lost everything might take to crime as an alternative in the event of no hope. The assistance will help us to rebuild and replace our machines and other working materials”, the chairman said.