The recurring Kugbo Market infernos

Last Sunday, the sprawling Kugbo Furniture and Timber Market located at the Asokoro Extension, Abuja, again went up in flames for the second year running and within the same period. Properties and goods estimated at billions of naira were consumed in the conflagration that started at about 6 am.

According to an eyewitness account, the fire raged for more than an hour before the fire fighters arrived at the scene to battle the massive conflagration during which some traders struggled to salvage what were left of their goods. A distraught trader who lamented that he stocked his shop the previous day was prevented from leaping into the inferno to end it all!

Preliminary report by the Acting Director of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Fire Service, Malam Sani Sa’idu, who received the Minister of State, Dr. RamatuTijjani Aliyu, while on a visit to the site, disclosed that the fire outbreak could be linked to electrical upsurge and that over 80 timber sheds and 300 furniture shops were razed down by the inferno.  

He further disclosed that as soon as the service received the information from Kugbo residents, the service deployed personnel from Nyanya and Karu and then activated the Federal Fire Service before the intervention of fire fighters from the Armed Forces, the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Navy.  

Stunned by the magnitude of the disaster, Dr. Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu called for the reorganisation and remodeling of the market. She pledged the support of the FCT Administration towards assisting the victims, and admonished the traders to always take precautionary measures since most of the goods sold in the market were highly inflammable. She assured the victims that personnel of FCT Fire Service were available to train traders on how to curtail fire outbreaks.

 “We will look forward towards the reorganisation of the market. Thank God there is a skeletal space for the fire trucks to move in, and we need to improve on it in terms of creating more spaces to make it more motorable,” she said.

Dr Tijjani Aliyu commended the traders for assisting the victims to salvage some of the damaged goods, noting that in most cases during infernos, unscrupulous elements seized the opportunity to cart away other people’s belongings. She also gave kudos to the fire-fighting units of the Armed Forces, the FCT Fire Service, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other stakeholders for their prompt responses.   

Market infernos have become so rampant in the country in recent years that if most Nigerian traders were in the habit of insuring their goods, insurance companies would have bled to death by now! Conflagrations especially during the harmattan periods usually occur where goods that are highly combustible are sold. For instance, the Kugbo Timber and Furniture Market and the Katako Timber Market in Jos appear to be in competition. Almost every December/January, the two markets go up in flames. The Katako Market heralded the harmattan fires across the country in the run-up to the last Christmas. The traders, like their counterparts all over the country, appear to have accepted the annual disaster as fait accompli despite the heavy losses they incur yearly. The tragedies usually occurred either at midnight or in the early hours of the day when no trader is around.

Another market that has suffered the same fate in recent times is the popular Akesan Market in Oyo town where goods worth billions of naira were lost. The incident which occurred in January, 2020 took a dramatic twist when angry youths turned against men of the fire service, accusing them of incompetence following their inability to combat the raging inferno. Three protesters were allegedly shot dead in a bid to put down the protest and several others were injured. Coming on the heels of the Akesan Market fire disaster was another midnight inferno that engulfed the Iyaganku Furniture Market in Ibadan, Oyo state, in which goods valued at over N500m were consumed.

Granted that some of the disasters were caused by factors beyond human control such as power surge as suspected in the case of the Kugbo inferno, most of the markets are constructed haphazardly. Shops or sheds are clustered together, leaving no room for fire-fighting engines to access every nook and cranny of the markets in case an emergency occurs.

It is also obvious that market officials pay no serious attention to the safety of the goods of their members. There ought to be private security guards on constant patrol of the markets after closing hours so that any outbreak can be quickly detected and nipped in the bud.

Appropriate authorities across the country should take a harder look at the various markets with a view to restructuring and/or modernising them. It is the only way to save these traders from themselves and from incurring losses that are preventable.

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