As thick smoke bellowed from the raging fire in Dugbe Alawo Market, Ibadan, Oyo State, on Wednesday, residents of Ibadan trooped out to the scene.
A group of fierce – looking youths converged near a burning Toyota Matrix car that caught fire as firemen battled to put out the inferno that raged on. A young man who was presumed to be the owner of the car watched helplessly as the car was being razed by fire. At a point, the visibly disturbed man paced up and down in fury like a jackal. Suddenly, he walked into the large crowd of people as it dawned on him that the hope of salvaging the vehicle was dashed.
As soon as the fire got quelled, restless youths milling round the car like hungry vultures, waiting on their prey, pounced on the vehicle’s remains and began to plunder it. Within minutes’ they had opened the bonnet, hauled the engine out and disappeared into thin air.
Although nobody could challenge nor stop them from vandalising the burnt vehicle, the crowd of people at the scene began to curse the restless youths as they made away with their loot with a threat to attack whoever stopped them.
About 12 shops, including a pure water factory in one of the affected buildings and a Bible shop, were completely razed by the fire. The two blocks of buildings (a bungalow and a storey building) housing the shops were burnt beyond recognition.
Before the arrival of the fire fighters, those in the area, with some of the affected traders, tried in futility to douse the fire. They called for help as they tried to salvage their wares before the two structures were gutted by fire.
Earlier, some hoodlums tried to escape with some few items stolen from some of the shops. They didn’t succeed initially but the items suddenly disappeared following the confusion that trailed the arrival of some stern – looking security men at the scene . The crowd retreated as the armed security men tried to disperse them.
When Punch correspondent visited some of the traders with shops located few metres away from the fire scene were seen moving their wares out of their shops to another location within the city. They said some of them, the goods were moved from the shops because of the fear that the fire could be spread.
It was learnt that the fire started from an electric spark that started from welding equipment.
Although no life was lost in the outbreak, property worth several millions of naira perished in the incident. Traders and other residents of the area defied the partial lockdown directive by the state government as they went to the scene to ascertain the cause of the fire.
Some of the affected traders were not in the market during the incident as their shops were under lock and key during the incident. It was gathered that many of them were away from the market in obeying the partial lockdown which affected business activities in the state.
One of the affected traders, Wale Adepoju, said the fire started few minutes after 1 pm.
He said, “The fire started from the shop of a man who, in a bid to demarcate his shop into two, invited a welder. A spark was ignited while the welder was working. It resulted in the fire.”
Another affected trader, Dapo David, while speaking during the governor’s inspection tour to the market on Thursday, however, said the major cause of the inferno had yet been known contrary to speculations that it occurred while a welder was trying to partition one of the shops.
David, who said he lost wares running into several million of naira in the incident, said “Concerning the cause of the incident, people will say all sorts of things. Don’t mind them. No welder will be here without my consent and even the tenants. We cannot say specifically the cause of the fire.
“Most of the shops were under lock as a result of the COVID- 19 lockdown. That caused the high rate of destruction. If the shops were not locked, it would not have been much. On what we lost, they are not quantifiable for now.”
During his visit to the scene of the incident, Governor Seyi Makinde, told the sympathisers and victims, who converged on the location to possibly salvage remnants of their wares, that the state government would launch an emergency fund to address disasters and emergencies.
He also promised to investigate the incident.
The governor, who described the incident as unfortunate and heartbreaking, maintained that the state would find means, despite the challenges occasioned by the Covid – 19 pandemic, to give palliatives to those affected by the inferno.
He, however, stated that there was the need for the state to have a Disaster Management Endowment Fund to address such unforeseen contingencies.
Makinde said, “I commiserate with the people that are affected. At such a time like this, this is the least of the things that we expect because we still are battling with COVID-19 and its social and economic impacts.
“We believe there is a need for the state to have an endowment fund for disasters. If such an endowment exists , right now, we would have given an immediate palliative to the affected people. Meanwhile, we will try our best to see what we can do amid the challenges we are facing.”
The governor said occurrence like the fire disaster would overstretch the state government at a time when the state was trying to contain the COVID- 19 pandemic.
He admonished shop owners and residents of the state in general to always apply precautions and safety measures within their environments to avert unforeseen circumstances.
Earlier, the South- West Zonal Coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Silaku Lugard, said the agency would liaise with the Federal Road Maintenance Agency to do an assessment of items lost and provide the necessary assistance for the victims.
He said, “As soon as I finish my own assessment, I will do my own recommendation based on what I have seen and send to them (in Abuja). I can assure you that I will never send an assessment that they won’t work on. They will surely work on it.
“ I want to console all of them, particularly the man who owns a pure water company . He has lost many millions. I know that it is difficult for the government to really give back all they have lost, but I wish that God will provide ways for them to restart .
“We, on our own part, will liaise with FERMA to see how we can do some awareness and bring some insurance firms to work with them so that they won’t start all over again.”
The Chief Fire Officer, Oyo State Fire Service, Adewuyi Moshood, said, “The fire started in the afternoon and we were not called on time. By the time we were called, we could see the smoke from the state secretariat. That showed that the fire was full before they called the fire service.
“They probably had been trying to put out the fire and only called us when things had got out of hand. I appeal to residents to call the fire service immediately fire occurs. That will prevent a lot of damage.”