When traders in Oba Market, Benin, the capital of Edo State, heaved a sigh of relief as government eased the COVID-19 lockdown, which kept them at home for nearly three months, little did they know that they would soon be hit by another disaster.
While counting their losses, the affected traders are calling for help from the government and well-meaning Nigerians
For Mr Sunday Oko, 40, who said he lost goods worth N1million, life is no longer worth living. He had operated a shop in the market, where he sold cloths and shoes since 2001.
“I was not aware of the fire incident. I got to the market for usual daily sales, only to discover that my shop was razed down. I lost goods worth N1m.
I have a wife and two children and don’t know how to take care of them now that my shop is gone. I don’t even know where to start from,’’ he lamented.
He called on the state government to come to their aid to enable them start life afresh.
Efe Aedpiabonye, who also deals in cloths and shoes, told our correspondent that the fire incident had made life meaningless for him. He said his plan to get married soon had been shattered.
“I have been selling in this market for the last six years and there was no fire incident. Nobody knows how this one happened. I lost goods worth N500,000. I lost everything I had and I don’t know where to start from. I know how I suffered before I got the shop. All hope is lost for me now. And I don’t want to take to crime, ’’ he said, and called on the state government and well-meaning individuals to assist them to start a new life.
The condition of Mrs Kehinde Obaretin, a tailor in the market, is particularly pathetic because she is a widow with six children.
Speaking with Daily Trust Saturday amidst tears, she said it was difficult to believe that her only means of livelihood since her husband passed on two years ago had gone. According to her, she came to the market on Monday morning and discovered that her shop had been razed.
Mrs Obaretin said she lost goods worth N600,000, including sewing machines and cloths.
“My neighbour in the market called me at 1.30am on that fateful day to inform me that the market was gutted by fire. I thought it was a joke but prayed that it would not get to my shop.
I am in trouble because that was the only thing we had (I and six children). My husband died two years ago. The children are in school; it is the tailoring work and some materials I sold that we fed on and paid their school fees.
As I speak now, there is no food at home, no hope and nobody to run to. I just prefer to die,’’ she said.
She appealed to the state government and other concerned individuals to come to her rescue, lamenting, “I am hopeless and hungry.’’
Also, Grace Ajayi, who sold chickens in the market, disclosed that she lost all her birds to the inferno. The mother of five said she bought chickens on Friday, only to lose everything on Sunday night.
“I stocked my three shops on Friday, but they were all razed by fire. In the last two months, the market was closed due to COVID-19, so when they opened it last week, we all went to stock our shops so that we could sell, but fire has destroyed everything.
I lost close to N1m in the three shops, including the cages. It cost N40,000 to stock a small cage and over N100,000 for a big one; and I had over six in the three shops.
As it is now, we don’t have a place to sell, and that is where we get our daily bread. It is from this market that we get money to pay our children’s school fees. We were not able to save our goods. We don’t even have money to eat,’’ she lamented, and called on the state government to come to their aid.
Speaking in the same vein, Mrs Dorothy Igbinosa said, “I lost over 100 fowl to the fire. All my cages were razed. As I am talking to you now, I don’t have anything to eat.
My pain now is that I borrowed money to buy the fowl, with the hope that I would make profits and pay back the money; but now, l have lost everything.’’
Like other victims, she also called on the state government and well-meaning individuals to come to their aid.
Mrs Patricia Akuse’s meat shop was not spared.
She said, “I lost everything. That is where I got my means of livelihood, but now, everything is gone. I want the government to come to our aid so that we can start our businesses again. As you can see, we are all trying to see what we can do.’’
But Mr Ota Oke-Ineh was lucky as he was able to savage his goods before the shops were razed.
Oke-Ineh, who deals in textile materials said, “I have two shops in the market. Other traders called me in the night, saying the market was on fire. I rushed there and discovered that it was a section of the market. By then, the fire was only in three shops.
Before the firefighters came, it had already spread to many shops. They made attempts to stop the fire, but before you knew what was happening, they said that water had finished.
“I did not suffer much damage as the fire only affected one of my shops. I was able to salvage my goods before it spread to the entire shops.
Some traders lost up to three shops. They could not take anything out of their shops,’’ he narrated.
A section of the market, located close the palace in Oredo Local Government Area was engulfed in fire at 1am on Monday. Over 100 shops were destroyed before the fire was finally put out by a combined team of fire fighters from the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Federal Fire Service, Edo State Fire Service and the Nigerian Army School of Supply and Transport, Benin.
Meanwhile, Governor Godwin Obaseki has set up a committee to unravel the cause of the fire incident.
Obaseki, who sympathised with the traders during an on-the-spot assessment, said efforts were ongoing to ascertain the actual number and names of traders who lost their goods to the inferno, for adequate compensation.
The governor said the committee was expected to submit its report within 10 days and advise the state government on how to rehabilitate the victims.