Although no life was lost in the fire that gutted Jos market last week, chances are that some traders could die of despair and hopelessness unless they get help to get their businesses back on track, reports YUSUFU AMINU IDEGU.
For the second time in 16 years, a part of Jos Main Market went up in flames last week. It was a repeat of a similar incident in February 2002, when the ultra-modern market, then rated as the best in the West African sub-region in terms of architectural design, went up in flames after some midnight explosions.
Five years after the 2002 incident, the state government could not come up with a genuine plan to rebuild the market and get the traders back to business. The displaced traders were later given alternative space at new satellite markets constructed by the state government.
However, some new traders, who were made desperate by circumstances around their lives, found space at the ground floor of the burnt market to display their wares. This category of traders was made up mainly of petty traders who trade in second-hand clothes, plastic buckets, cosmetics, jewellery, perfumes and slippers, among other items. Some of the traders ran canteens, others sold charcoal while some others operated hair dressing salons.
The state government had initially tried to drive the adamant traders away from the market due to the danger associated with staying under a structure that had been weakened by the impact of the explosions and the resultant fire. But the desperate traders fought back until the government was forced to officially allocate the space to them until the government would be ready to reconstruct the market.
Disaster returns Since then, the traders have been managing life from the little earnings that come their way from the market. However, another mysterious fire visited that section of the market at midnight last week, consuming all the stocks in the market.
The traders normally close that section of the market at 6 pm daily, leaving their wares in the care of a private security guard. None of them had a premonition of the disaster as they closed as usual and everyone returned to their residences in the hope of resuming business the next day.
But while they were sleeping at home, fire was razing their wares and life investment as well as their livelihood. They all returned the next day to see their shops and wares in ashes. For instance, 33-year-old Bala Safiyanu, who sells travelling bags at the market, said he lost goods worth N250,000.
Aliyu Saidu, 27, who sells second-hand wears, estimated his loss at about N350,000.
He said: “I started this business without a dime. I went to those who started the trade before me to collect goods on credit, then I sold the goods and returned their money and made gains. That was how I struggled to stand on my own and own a shop. Now my six years of labour and savings, which is about N350,000, have been reduced to ashes. Unless help comes from government, it will be difficult to start all over again.” Another trader, 18-year-old Serajo Muhammed, who owns a shop containing phone accessories, estimated the goods he lost at about half a million naira.
He said: “This is my sixth year in the shop. It is my life. I struggled to put up the shop because I’m not privileged to go to school, so I decided to go into trading. But with this fire (outbreak), I have lost everything.”
Sixty-three-year-old Alhaji Ahmadu Shehu, who sells bed sheets and wall curtains, also suffered a similar fate in the fire disaster. “I have lost 15 years of investment. I have been in this shop for 15 years now,” he said.
Also, Nasiru Abubakar (21), who sells children wear; Ajibade Adedigba (53), who sells rubber shoes; Abubakar Kanis (32), who sells second-hand clothes; Sagiru Abubakar (25), Alhaji Ibrahim Hashim (35) and Yunusa Rufai (32), all dealers in second-hand clothes, suffered huge losses in the market.
But by far the biggest loss was that of 45-year-old Alhaji Magaji Abdulkarim Usman, who owns a warehouse in the market containing goods worth more than N19 million.
He said some of the goods in the warehouse house were supplies he had just received on credit.
Some of the traders were said to have suddenly developed high blood pressure after realising their losses and had to be rushed to the hospital.
While the traders were counting their losses, another issue that occupied their minds was the source of the disaster. Some of them believed that the fire might have started from one of the canteens.
One of the traders, Idris Sani, said: “I think one of these women who run the canteen did not put off her charcoal fire properly before she closed on that day. It was the charcoal fire left unquenched that led to the disaster”
But another trader, Ahmed Dauda, who sells phone accessories, disputed the claim that the fire was caused by smouldering charcoal.
He said: “Charcoal fire cannot spread and cause such damage, because it is always in a container. Even if there was fire left in the container, it usually burns to ashes on its own and does not get out of the container.”
The 45-year-old woman from whose shop the fire was suspected to have begun said: “Yes, some of them believed the fire started from my shop, just because I run a canteen. But they forgot that the source of electricity from where some of the traders connected light to their shops has been faulty. The traders sourced their electricity from a shop behind me, and because the connections were not done by an expert, the cables spark from time to time, and they know this.
“I had complained over the wrong connection and the implication of running the cables through the roof of my shop, but they refused to listen. A week before the disaster, a lady who came to the canteen to eat fell down when the cables sparked. They all know that we have been having problems with these wrong connections but never thought it could lead to a major disaster like this. “So, I am very sure the wrong electricity connections by some of the affected traders was responsible for the fire.”
Notwithstanding the blame game on the cause of the fire outbreak, security agencies have already launched an investigation into the remote cause of the disaster. Hours after the inferno, the Plateau State Police Command, led by the Commissioner of Police, Adie Undie, led newsmen on inspection of the scene.
“It is unfortunate that the fire service could not salvage some shops because of the position where the fire occurred, as they could not gain access to it,” Undie said.
The police boss sympathised with the affected shop owners, assuring that a thorough investigation would be carried out by the police in conjunction with the fire service.
The affected traders were unanimous in their appeal for aid, saying: “We need help from government or individuals to come to our aid to enable us recover these losses.”
The fear that they may not be able to recover from the huge loss has instigated various health challenges in some of the victims, with some of them ending up in hospitals after inspecting their burnt shops.
Chairman of the traders association, Alhaji Abdulrahaman Yusufu, said: “Although no life was lost in the fire, I have the fear that some of the traders may lose their lives, because they ended up in the hospital after the incident. It was a total loss for most of them and recovering the losses seemed hopeless. Government has promised to help, but we are still waiting to see the help they promised.”
In sympathy with the affected traders, the state governor, Simon Lalong, did not only send a condolence message to the victims, he ordered a high powered government delegation to visit the market and ascertain the losses.
The delegation comprised the Commissioner for Environment, the Commissioner for Urban Development, the Commissioner for Commerce and the Chairman Jos Main Market