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Free trade zone loses N1 billion factory to fire in Cross River

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The Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ) has lost one of its pioneer companies, Jackson Devos, to a mysterious fire, destroying property and equipment worth over N 1 billion.

The razed factory, according to engineers, is a pre-fabricated building imported from Belgium, and due to its unique features, “is valued at about $600,000 besides the six machines that were completely burnt down.”

The inferno, which occurred at the weekend, an eyewitness, Bassey Ekpot, said began at about 10:00 am right behind the building that houses the company’s newest factory that was to produce modern rugs to complement the wall-to-wall carpet industry located within the free trade zone.

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An employee, who pleaded anonymity, told reporters that, “I went to work at about 9:00 am, performed my normal checks. But while I was settling down, though I didn’t check the clock because everything was sudden, I heard the security man shouting for help. When we rushed out, we saw smoke behind the building. Nobody knew what was going on.

“Frightened, we contacted the fire service at the zone immediately while others put calls through to the city’s fire service and other organisations like the Nigerian Port Authorities in the zone and our immediate neighbouring companies for help. There was no one at the factory at the time because electricity had not been reconnected to the building yet. We only open the door daily for fresh air.”

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She stated that the occasion was so devastating to the extent that the fire fighters “were overpowered by the fierce inferno and had to call for backups, as the water from the first tank was exhausted yet the flames were rising steadily. When other workers and adjoining companies arrived, they joined the fire service men to battle the blaze…before the fire was put out finally in the night, colossal damage had been done, leaving the factory in ruins.”

A former member of staff, Emmanuel Utin, saddened by the development, noted: “Jackson Devos, the producers of the famed crown carpet, has been one of the reliable textile industries in Nigeria, employing hundreds of staff across the country until the 1980s when the NDIC took over the property with a view to recovering a loan allegedly owned by the company. And within this period, several of its machines were purportedly vandalised which stalled its operation for years and the case is still pending in court.

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“We lost our jobs during the period and efforts to resume full operations never yielded any fruit, as money required, runs into millions of naira, hence it took the company almost 10 years to restructure operations to revive the over-edging section with plans to produce centre rugs, door mats, and other allied products. But now, this devastating fire incident will worsen the matter.”

The consultant, Sammy Etuk, who confirmed the blaze in a phone chat, added that imported machines and others “worth over N1 billion were completely burnt down.”

Also contacted, the General Manager of CFTZ, Godwin Ekpe, declined comments, but sources close to his office said: “We have received the report of the fire incident and the zone has commenced investigation.”

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