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Losses to market fires hit N41.54 billion in two years

By Tina Abeku (Abuja), Danjuma Michael (Katsina), Inemesit Akpan-Nsoh (Uyo), Gordi Udeajah (Abia), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Rauf Oyewole (Bauchi), Ann Godwin (Port Harcourt) and Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan)
03 September 2021   |   4:30 am
Nigeria’s economy is no doubt bleeding financially from damaging impact of fire incidents, especially market fires, which has, over the years, brought immense hardship on Nigerians, leaving an already struggling economy on its knees.

Fire scene in Lagos

• Fire service received 4,541 calls between 2020 and 2021
• 31 market fires recorded in 18 months
• Lagos tops list of states with highest cases, followed by Anambra
• Incidents drive inflation figures, crime rate

Nigeria’s economy is no doubt bleeding financially from damaging impact of fire incidents, especially market fires, which has, over the years, brought immense hardship on Nigerians, leaving an already struggling economy on its knees.

Hardly a month passes by without reported case(s) of fire incident, especially in public places such as markets. Experts say this portends huge financial damage to the economy by worsening the nation’s poverty indices.

On Wednesday, the Katsina State government announced N247,819,025 for disbursement to no fewer than 680 victims of the Katsina central market fire. According to the chairman of the committee in charge of the compensation, Ahmed Usman El-marzuq, who is also the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General in the state, the government decided to compensate shop owners with payment of 40 per cent of the lost value.

In reaction to the gesture, the state chairman, Market Trader Association, Abbas Labaran Al-baba, thanked the committee for its effort in ensuring that all the victims are captured irrespective of political or religious affiliations. He, however, urged the state government to expedite action in rebuilding the market.

An NGO, International Human Rights Movement, said traders affected by the recent fire outbreak in Katsina central market lose over N50 million daily. The Nigerian representative of the NGO, Mr Salisu Musa, attributed the financial loss to what he called refusal of the state government to allow the traders rebuild their shops.

He recalled that on March 2, the market was gutted by fire, with property worth more than N902.1 million destroyed and a total of 608 shops burnt.

“We arrived at the amount being lost daily by the traders through our interactions with them. Each of them told us how much they lose daily, which we multiplied by the number of shops affected,” he said.

Musa added that more than 2,668 persons lost their means of livelihood, as each shop had, at least, four to five assistants.

Media reports indicate that between 2019 and 2021, Nigeria experienced severe fire incidents, leading to 79 deaths out of 68 fires recorded in 18 months. Thirty-one of these were market fires and the losses are still being counted.

Yesterday, a multiple accident on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway left six vehicles burnt and 13 persons injured. The Ogun State Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Ahmed Umar, enjoined motorists to refrain from excessive speeding and reckless driving that could lead to unnecessary loss of lives.

He blamed the accident, which occurred at 3.05a.m., on over-speeding, and said that though no life was lost, all the six vehicles that got involved were burnt.

According to experts, losses from market fires have huge impact on inflationary figures of the nation, because it creates chain reaction along the demand and supply chain, in addition to other consequences such as increase in crime rate.

Statistics from the Federal Fire Service (FFS) indicates that between 2020 and 2021, a total of 4,541 calls were made to the agency nationwide and 378 rescue emergencies were recorded.

One of the most recent and devastating of such incidents was the midnight fire that occurred on August 23, at the T-Junction area of Rumuagholu town in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State, where 10 shops were razed, leading to loss of goods and property worth millions of naira. According to reports, the Rumuagholu fire is the sixth fire incident in the state this year.

Another major fire incident that took a combined team of firefighters days to put out occurred barely two months ago in Abuja, where a popular supermarket, Prince Ebeano Supermarket, was lost to fire, with financial losses running into billions of naira.

Of greater worry to many is the rise in market fires, which has become a drain in the economic fortunes of many businesses, especially start-ups, creating negative impact on the economic growth of the country and leaving behind broken businessmen.

Only recently, Cairo fabric market in Oshodi, Lagos, was razed by fire, which brought down no fewer than 91 shops, leading to losses in millions of naira, at the time traders were picking the pieces from the devastating effect of the COVID-19 lockdown.

LAGOS State tops the list of states with highest fire incidents, with 22 fires within the period under review, followed by Anambra with a difference of 15 fires.

Co-founder and Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Institute for Industrial Security (NIIS), Mr. Wilson Esangbedo, explains that when markets are engulfed in fire, it creates ripple effect on the distribution line, affecting availability of items sold and reduction in supply, which triggers inflation. He said both government and organised market unions have roles to play to check or minimise fire incidents.

“Market unions can partner with professionals who understand safety to organise safety awareness for those in markets; they must also get some safety gadgets because most fires happen in the night when no one is in the market.

“There are safety gadgets that cannot only detect fire, but will also fight fires, especially when no one is in the market because with the kind of money that we invest in the market today, we have to take a little out of it to buy these equipment and put in place a system where their investment can be protected instead of losing billions to fire,” he advised.

IN Katsina State, three market fire incidents were recorded in two weeks and all three were said to have begun in the wee hours of the morning, when traders were yet to commence business for the day. The first was the Katsina central market fire on March 22, the second was on March 30, when part of the Magama Jibia market in Jibia Local Government Area was engulfed in flames and the third was part of the Funtua market, where a substantial part of the second-hand clothes section was razed on April 2.

Even the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was not spared of this damaging whirlwind as the popular Kugbo furniture market also fell to fire.

Other markets that suffered similar fate include Ladipo spare parts markets in Lagos and another spare parts market in Ibadan; Sabo market in Oyo State; Alade market, Lagos; market fires in Sokoto and Maiduguri, to mention a few, leaving many broken and in tears and in some cases, lives are lost.

Information gathered in Abia State fire service indicates that there were about 20 fire outbreaks at Aba and Umuahia markets between June 2020 and April 2021. The State Director of Fire Services and Chairman of National Conference of Directors of Fire Services in Nigeria, Mr. Victor Gbaruko, told The Guardian the incidents occurred at ‘A-Line’ and ‘Shoe Plaza’ sections of Aba, Ariaria Market.

Others were at New Market, Cemetery Road, Shopping Centre, Jubilee/Hospital Road Machine Parts market and Onions market along the Aba-Port Harcourt expressway, all in Aba. The fire director put the estimate losses at over N900 million.

There was also a major fire outbreak at Umuahia, Timber Market located along Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene, which razed about three lines of stalls on 5th January, 2021 as said by Chairman of the Timber Market Traders Association, Mr. Ndubuisi Nwosu.

Nwosu said it was a major fire incident that took the state fire service four days to quench. He estimated that about N250 million was lost.

It was a tale of woes in Bauchi State, where goods and property worth N163 million were said to have been razed, leading to deaths of three persons and loss of property worth over N163 million within a period of three months.

According to a document obtained from the Bauchi Fire Service Office, N242 million properties and 28 lives were saved from the incidents.

VISITS to some major markets in the metropolis by The Guardian show there were no fire preventive measures available. This problem, many said, is an yearly occurrence.

Findings revealed that the fire outbreaks, which usually happen at night, start with a spark in a shop, power fluctuations, or carelessness by shop owners, who often leave electrical appliances on.

Two major local government areas in Rivers State, Obio-Akpor and Port Harcourt City Local Council have recorded fire disasters, including Mile One market, Fruit Garden, New Layout and Borokiri markets, among others.

Specifically, on February 21, 2021, several shops and warehouses stocked with goods and properties worth millions of naira were razed at the Bishop Okoye, Mile three markets.

Speaking on issues of market fire in the state, South-South Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Tepikor Godwin, said fire disasters in the markets do not just occur. He said most are caused by human actions, pointing out that some people cook in the market, use inflammable liquids, leave appliances on and some are caused by electrical faults.

Godwin noted that sensitisation and continuous awareness was necessary to avert frequent fire incidents. He said: “The traders need to know that it is not safe to keep inflammable things around the market, there should be fire extinguisher in each store and if traders imbibe the culture of safety, the fires will reduce.

“The way some markets were constructed doesn’t give access to fire service men to penetrate while fighting fire. Also, government should provide water in markets, so that when the water used in fighting fire finishes, they don’t need to travel miles to get water, it’s just to connect their hose.”

The NEMA South-South boss further urged traders to key into risk transfer, which is registering their goods, products with insurance firms, to enable them bounce back with ease. He explained that when fire outbreak affects them, the firms they have insurance with could restock their goods and even help to prevent the fire from occurring.

Similarly, an expert, Chima Amadi, said incessant fire outbreaks in the state and country are preventable if the market authorities and traders could collaborate with the government to set up preventive measures.

Controller-General of the Federal Fire Service, Ibrahim Liman, noted that market fires have left a huge economic impact on individuals and the state must come alive to its their responsibility to safeguard life and property.

He added that the FFS has been supporting states with basic firefighting equipment, but insisted that it is time for states to give priority to the fire sector and capture it prominently in their annual budgets.

“Under my watch, we have grown over 6,000 staff with presence in the 36 states of the federation and the FCT. Besides, the 106 state-of-the-art appliances procured between 2016 and 2020 and distributed across the country, the service recently got approval from the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to procure additional 94 firefighting appliances,” he said.

These efforts and push, however, seemed to have yielded little as many states still give little relevance to equipping their fire services, resulting in poor fire response and rescue operations in communities, especially in markets.

The states appear to continue to depend on Federal Government for handouts in terms of firefighting equipment even though they are supposed to operate independently.

The Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, recently asked states and local governments to reduce their dependence on the FFS on issues of fire. He said the states have left their duty of rendering fire protection to the Federal Government, which should not be. “The states must make effort to ensure that local governments have the capacity to fight fire because it will reduce fire incidents and save lives,” he said.