In Kpirikpiri market, Ebonyi Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, it is lamentation following fire disaster that razed hundreds of shops in the market. That incident left the traders in anguish as UCHENNA INYA reports from Abakaliki
Kpirikpiri market, also known as Ofoke market is the second largest market in Abakaliki, the state capital.
The market was located on Old Enugu road, Abakaliki. It was later relocated to St. Patrick’s Road, Kpirikpiri, in the metropolis following an inferno that razed the market and destroyed property worth billions of naira.
The relocation was done by former administration of Chief Martin Elechi in the state. It was constructed with only woods and zinc.
Last year, the present administration in the state started rebuilding the market with cement blocks and other modern materials to uplift the market and give it a face-lift.
The traders had to use wood and other local materials to construct temporary shops in the market pending when the market would be completed by the government.
But on Sunday this week, tears flowed freely like river when fire gutted the market and razed hundreds of shops. Property worth millions of naira were destroyed by the inferno.
The fire, which started in the afternoon was later controlled men by the State Fire Service, who arrived the scene with water tankers. Most of the traders in the market went to church and were not in the market to save their goods in the inferno.
Members of the Red Cross Society, police, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) and officials of the state government were all in the market helping to put out the fire.
The fire was said to have started from the back of a Primary School, St. Patrick’s Primary School within the market and spread to motorcycle mechanic section of the market through a waste bin in the section.
It then spread to timber line and the market proper and razed many shops despite the effort of the few traders, who were in the market for buying and selling.
The fire razed the whole mechanic section, timber section, foodstuffs section, meat shops and many others.
While the inferno was ravaging the market, hoodlums used the opportunity and looted traders’ property in the guise of assisting the traders to salvage their goods and put out the fire.
One of the traders, Chinyere Nwanchor, lamented the looting of her property by the hoodlums.
“As the fire was burning everywhere around my shop, I started making efforts to at least save some of my goods. I started bringing it out of the inferno but some persons who were around were taking it out of the scene completely.
“When I finished bringing some of the goods out of the fire, I looked around to see them and carry them to my house but couldn’t see the goods. I couldn’t also see those that were picking them out of the place I was keeping them. Those people were telling me to be bringing the goods out of the fire while they take them away to where fire was not burning in the market”, she said .
Some other victims could not explain the situation as they wept profusely. Mr. John Nwoke said all his goods were lost to inferno, adding that he just bought new stock three days ago, most of them on credit.
Mrs. Ofoke Julian, another victim said it was the end of the road for her and her family and appealed to the state, Federal Government and other agencies to help them out of the situation.
She lamented that the few goods secured from the fire were carted away by hoodlums.
She said that it could have been Indian hemp smokers or those that burn the bush around the market to catch rats that caused the fire outbreak.
Police Public Relations Officer in the state, DSP Loveth Odah, who was also at the scene of the fire outbreak, expressed disappointment that while sympathizers helped to save traders’ items from the fire,
hoodlums carted away the valuable items and called on the traders or anyone with useful information about the hoodlums to report to her office for immediate arrest.
She further said that while police is investigating the incident, the fire victims should not lose hope and appealed to the State Emergency Management Agency ( SEMA) and NEMA to come to the aid of traders to enable them start up life.
Speaking at the scene of the fire disaster, the state Commissioner for Internal Security and Border Peace, Stanley Okoro Emegha, described the incident as painful and disheartening and urged the people of the state to always adhere to the policy of the government in keeping their surroundings clean at all times.
He assured the victims of the state government’s assistance and explained that the Fire Service station in the state was informed of the fire so late that before they could come, it was too late to quench the
Emegha said that their suspicion was that some people set fire on the bush around the market, left it or lost control of the fire, hence it spread to the market.
He said it took swift intervention of the state Neighbourhood Security Watch, an internal security outfit and youths in the area to stop the fire from razing the whole market.
The Commissioner noted that the nature of buildings in the market did not help matters, noting that the state government would no doubt come up with measures to cushion the effect of the loss on the victims.
“It is very unfortunate, very pathetic but the deed is done. We have been warning as government that people should clear their areas; leaving it busy is not the best, more especially, in this dry season. Almost any small thing can spark fire.
“We learnt that the fire started from the Primary school there. May be, somebody put fire there and very unfortunately people around the market could not raise alarm then and the thing continued like that until the flame entered the timber dealers section and the fire entered other shops.
“Before they started calling fire fighters is when the thing has already consumed few shops. By the time we got in touch with the Director of the Fire Service for him to move his machine to the scene, the thing has gone far”, he said.
On his part, Special Assistant (SA) to Governor Dave Umahi on Internal Security (South) Chika Nwangele, who was also at the scene of the fire when our Correspondent visited, described it as as a disaster.
He said he had to forcefully leave his church service to mobilize the Neighbourhood Watch members and youths who aided in quenching the fire.
He said the quick response of the Commissioner, Emegha also helped in mobilization of more youths as they had to resort to use of detergents to fight the fire.
The SA said that they had to ensure that thieves did not take advantage of the confusion to steal secured goods.
“I was in the Church when a text message came into my phone that Kpirikpiri market was on fire. I quickly rushed to the market and saw everywhere in confusion and fire.
“I started mobilizing youths, called security agencies for looters because hoodlums will use that opportunity to loot traders’ properties. The fire service people came but they came late and did their best”, he said.
The Chairman of the market, John Nwambeke, who could not establish the cause of the inferno, described the loss of goods in the incident as colossal and joined his colleagues for assistance.