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Market Fires Could be Economic Warfare

On Saturday last week the Abubakar Rimi Market in Sabon Gari, Kano was destroyed by fire, one of the worst in recent memory. The National…

On Saturday last week the Abubakar Rimi Market in Sabon Gari, Kano was destroyed by fire, one of the worst in recent memory. The National Emergency Management Agency [NEMA] said 3,800 shops were burnt in the inferno while the market traders’ association estimated property losses at N2 trillion. Chairman of Sabon Gari Market Traders’ Association, Alhaji Nafi’u Nuhu Indabo said 75 per cent of the market was burnt down. He said the fire started in the night when there was no one around to take preventive measures. Fifteen people were hospitalised for minor injuries and smoke inhalation. Kano State Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje quickly inaugurated a nine-man committee chaired by Alhaji Alin Bagadaza to assess the level of damage and advise government on how to resettle the affected traders.
The same day, fire also destroyed the Birnin Kebbi Central Market in Kebbi State. Though no life was lost, hundreds of shops were destroyed and property worth billions of naira was lost. Chairman of the market’s central management committee Abubakar Bandam said the fire was noticed at midnight but that its source is yet to be determined. Director of the state’s Fire Service Bello Zagga said the fire burnt for several hours because firefighting vans could not reach the spot from where it started. He also said illegal electrical wiring in shops was the suspected cause.
Four days ago, 40 shops were burnt and goods worth millions of naira were destroyed by another fire at the Ikom main market in Ikom Local Government Area of Cross River State.
Witnesses said the inferno started at 2am due to a power surge from public power supply and could not be contained in spite of frantic efforts by shop owners. The state’s fire service station in Ikom reportedly could not respond to traders’ distress calls due to lack of facilities. In mid-February, yet another fire destroyed had Kano’s popular Singer Market. The market is one of the biggest in West Africa and property damage was estimated at billions of naira. Chairman  of Kano State’s Amalgamated Traders Association (AMATA) Alhaji Umaru Usaini Gabari said they suspected the fire started from a tea seller’s joint, spread to some nearby popcorn shops and then to the main market building. He decried the habit of tea sellers who operate around shops. The Director of the Kano State Fire Service Alhaji Balarabe Habu Kabara said his men could not gain access into the market because of poor access roads.
Last January, the Yola main market in Adamawa State was razed by fire. Hundreds of shops and property worth billions of naira were lost. A trader said the fire started at 2:30 a.m. in the middle of the market and was soon out of control due to lack of access roads. Matters were compounded because security operatives denied entry into the market to the first persons who rushed in to help, for fear of looting. Chairman of the Adamawa Traders Association Ibrahim Mohammad said they lost 90 percent of their shops. The Yola market inferno was one of four market fires in the state in as many days; markets were also burnt in Numan, Ngurore and Fufore. An insight into why market fires blaze out of control in the state emerged when Mr. Abdullahi Adamu, Controller of Adamawa Fire Service, said the state has only three functional fire-fighting trucks for a population of 4.8 million people.
A proper perspective to national market fires was provided last week by the President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) Barrister Kenneth Ukaoha. He said 600 persons were killed, 49 markets burnt and 10,000 shops were destroyed between December 1, 2010 when Minna shopping complex in Niger State burnt and March 26, 2016 when the Birnin Kebbi Central Market was burnt. Ukaoha said there were 16 major fire incidents in 2016 alone. He said, “Apart from loss of lives, goods and properties worth N3 trillion were lost. None of the affected markets has insurance coverage. Eighty-five percent of the fire incidents was said to have been caused by electricity.”
The traders’ leader also said in most cases “no serious investigation was carried out at least to forestall future occurrence.” He also raised the possibility that the fires had political undertones, saying some rulers could start the fires so to get a chance to reconstruct them and redistribute stalls to their supporters. He also said though the 1999 Constitution placed markets under the control of local governments, the federal government should not sit idly by and watch the councils mismanage markets, making the national economy to lose N5.3trn to market fires since May 1999.
Though market fires have been a fairly regular occurrence in Nigeria for many decades, the frequency with which fires have consumed our markets in recent months is unusual and calls for deep investigation and soul searching. Traders’ and witnesses’ accounts suggest that power surges are the prime suspect. In which case, a concerted effort must be made to check substandard wires and cables and illegal connections, as well as why power Discos create surges when they restore power supply after the frequent outages.
It is also clear that most of our markets are over-congested, with no access roads and no fire fighting facilities. It is time for local and state authorities to demolish and rebuild all such markets because we can no longer afford such losses in trillions of naira. Finally, the frequency of these fires suggests that the dark hand of arsonists, saboteurs and insurgents could be at work. Just in case someone is waging economic warfare against the country, the security agencies should rise to the challenge and fish out the culprits.

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