NCAC, crafts dealers trade blame over Abuja fire incident
According to him, Police preliminary report indicted owner of Shop 47, whose electric cooker, which was not turned off at the close of the day’s activities, ignited the fire.
The sad incident of December 15, 2017 was reported to have started at about 8.30pm and before help could come their way; the fire had razed down over 60 per cent of the mud huts that served as shops, and destroyed art pieces worth millions of naira.
The Public Relations Officer, African Arts and Cultural Heritage Association (AACHA), Mr. Eguakun Kennedy, who confirmed the incident then, stated that some of their members lost most of their lifetime arts and crafts as well as huge amount of money in cash, which they had in the shops preparatory to taking it to the bank.
But even with the recent release of the preliminary investigation, the aggrieved art dealers have continued to blame NCAC for their loss.
While some of them argued that some goods would have been salvaged from the fire were they not barred by NCAC from sleeping overnight in their shops, others believed categorically that the fire was masterminded by NCAC to forcefully eject them from the land.
They also accused the Council’s security operatives for preventing members of the public access into the Centre immediately the fire was noticed, adding that as a result, the fire rapidly spread to other shops in the market, burning down everything on its path before the Federal Fire Service officials arrived the scene more than an hour later.
Precious stones dealer, Alhaji Musa Zakari, spoke to The Guardian. He narrated how he received distress call at about 10 pm that December 15. Considering that it was already late in the evening, and the fact that he resides in the outskirt of the city, he could not rush to the scene. He only handed the situation over to God.
“By the time I got to the market the next morning, everything has burnt down. I lost over N12 million to the fire.” He however disagreed with NCAC over the cause of the fire. According to him, “that fire was put in the market by somebody.
“The report indicting one of us was not true. The culprit came through the other end of the market and set goods ablaze.”
He regretted that the fire occurred at a time of the year when their shops were fully stocked for the Christmas seas. One of them, he stated, just received goods worth N100 million shortly before the incident.
NCAC boss has however refuted the allegations. Rather, he believed the fire incident vindicated him. He stated that the situation would have been more tragic if the artisans were still permitted to sleep in their shops overnight.
In fact, he has both the report and the remains of the electric burner as evidence to buttress his point.
On assumption of duty as the D.G of NCAC in 2017, Runsewe had attempted to save the crafts village which also served as NCAC’s permanent site, from hoodlums and perceived criminals, who used the site as hideout.
One of the steps taken then was to put the closing time of the crafts market at 6pm daily and ensuring that both artists and traders comply. As expected, the decision did not go down well with the people and they threatened legal action against NCAC.
“All I attempted to do was to show positive change. If we had lost a life to the fire incident, it would have been a different thing. The reason there was no human casualty was because we stopped people from sleeping in the market.
“Now, it has been confirmed that the fire was triggered by electric burner used for cooking in shop 47. We are dealing with local people and the problem between NCAC and the occupants of the land have been on for over a decade”, the D.G stated.
With the fire incident, the battle for the total control of the famous Arts and Crafts Village may have finally been won by NCAC going by the position of the DG.
He has categorically stated that upon renovation of the Centre, the shops would be opened for bidding. According to him, only professional artists and “credible stakeholders” in the culture sector would be considered to operate on the land.
With this, it is obvious that most art dealers may never return to the Centre, thereby bringing to a sad end, the struggle for the soul of the iconic arts and crafts village, which is strategically adjacent the Abuja Sheraton Hotels and Towers.
The Arts and Crafts Village, Abuja was a foremost stop for most inbound Nigeria tourists for purchase of Nigerian artworks and souvenir.
The Centre accommodated several visual artists, sculptures, tailors and other souvenir traders who, until last year, had lived and operated there.
The land was allotted to the Council by the Federal Government as its permanent site, but was used for arts and crafts exhibition centre during the18th Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Nations (CHOGM), which held in Nigeria between December 5 and 8, 2003.
The federal government during the meeting, needed a central place where visitors could easily shop for Nigerians arts and crafts, and since NCAC was part of the local organizing committee for CHOGM, the village was volunteered, especially as the Council had no structure on the land.
Consequently, the mud structures were constructed by the government to serve the immediate purpose.
At the close of CHOGM, former President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to use the village as a centre for the promotion of Nigerian arts and crafts and consequently, permitted the artists to continue trading on the land.
But according to past chief executives of NCAC, the shop occupants became difficult to manage as some of them refused to pay service charge, which was introduced to maintain the facilities, such as the toilets, electricity, security and the general cleanliness of the place.
In spite of the damage done to the market, business is still ongoing at the centre, probably pending when NCAC is ready to commence renovation exercise.
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