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Onitsha black Wednesday: Traders count losses, bemoan delay by fire service that wreaked monumental havoc

By Pamela Eboh, Awka on 19/10/2019

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•Burnt Onitsha market stalls
•Burnt Onitsha market stalls

Many traders are now counting their losses in the aftermath of the fire disaster of Wednesday, October 16, 2019.

Apart from the destruction of people’s means of livelihood by the inferno, it took with it about eleven souls including a mother and child who went out that fateful day in search of a better life. The woman whose name could not be ascertained was said to have given birth to the deceased child after sixteen years of childlessness.

Though death is an inevitable end, the pain stings deeper when the means of the death could have been prevented.

The men of the Anambra State fire service have largely been blamed for the extent of the damage following their delay in responding to the emergency.

Some traders at Ochanja Market who spoke to News Express said the tanker after falling into the gutter and spilling its content in a gutter along Enugu-Onitsha expressway stayed there for a while before exploding. 

According to one of the traders who lost all his wares to the Inferno, he said that efforts were made to get the men of Anambra State Fire Service to avert a looming disaster the inferno may cause when the tanker exploded but they said that they didn’t have water at that moment and promised to mobilise and come to the scene shortly. “They didn’t come until the fire got out of control.”

The middle-aged man who gave his name as Obumneme Osuji regretted that some people who couldn’t immediately escape the raging inferno were roasted like yam and beyond recognition.

A woman who simply gave her name as Charity said that all she had laboured to build crashed down in a matter of minutes. In tears she said: “I was in my shop and heard that a tanker carrying fuel exploded around Toronto hospital. From where I was, i saw heavy dark smoke coming from that area and I never imagined the fire will get to this Ochanja market. I washed as my means of livelihood went up in flames. How is my family is going to survive? This is where we eat and train our three children. My husband is sick.”

Other victims of the fire disaster at Ochanja Market, Jude Nnamani and Fabian, said that they never envisaged the fire will get to the market. They cursed men of the state Fire Service for their inhuman act saying that they failed to come to the scene even up to 6pm.

Nnamani in tears said: “I was sitting in my shop when suddenly the flame burst in front of the shops and quickly spread into the wares displayed outside

“We have lost everything we laboured for in life. We are finished and no hope. All my goods were gutted by fire. We are calling on the state governor, Willie Obiano to kindly come to our aid.”

The state government had in a statement shortly after the incident announced that it will have a meeting with the affected traders to foster a way to assist them. It also said that a panel has been set up to find out reasons why men of the state Fire service could not respond to the crisis. But, the underlying question is will the panel be able to unravel the cause and if they do, will the state government be able to write the wrong by meting out punishment due to the defaulters? Suffice it to say that the fire service in the state has defaulted in many times than one or is government guilty of not providing the necessary equipment to meet the demand of the unit in this 21st century. It had in a press release said that fire service men were on hand to help while the fire raged but traders and eye witnesses said they never showed up after being alerted even up till 6pm of that day. It was the fire service engine of neighbouring Delta State that made effort to help but was stopped by the angry traders who had given up hope at that point. Say for the effort of some youths who claimed trees to rescue some elderly men and women who were trapped in the inferno, the worse would have happened. It also took the youthful energy of the youths to apply the improvise measure when the fire service men failed. They fetched water from a nearby borehole to douse the fire while a pastor with a Pentecostal church helped with detergents. Even faeces water from a sewage trailer was deployed to help put the inferno out.

An eye witness who pleaded anonymity said: “There were no fire engines in sight. The accident occurred about 10am, yet as at about 3pm when the fire moved from the original impact down to Ochanja Main market there was no fire fighters. It was only a fire engine from Delta state that came.”

One wonders how the relevant officials sleep after incidents like this. All year round, they present themselves as capable of handling every dotting fire attack and go home every month with their pay package but repeatedly they have betrayed the trust placed on them by the helpless citizens. Despite the fact that fire outbreak is not a daily occurrence, experience has shown that the fire service officials are never on hand with their trucks in times of emergency. For instance, When there was a fire outbreak at DMGS in 2017,the fire service men failed to deliver and government subsequently set up a panel of enquiry. Same thing applicable in 2015.

With all the panels set up, it has never been heard that an officer had ever been disciplined. Recall, the fire service men were unable to immediately avert the fire disaster that happened right behind their office in Amawbia earlier this year because of lack of water. Shops and goods worth millions naira were lost in the said fire as well as lives. The rage of the inferno from the fuel tanker affect everything lacing the road up to the traffic lights in front of the entrance to the Governor’s Lodge. One wonders why a unit that deals with water is always lacking water.

So far, it was learnt that about forty houses and five hundred shops were affected by the inferno.

Government negligence

The Anambra State Government on its part has failed in its several promises despite the many times such disasters have happened along the same Upper Iweka area. Last year, a trailer had a break failure and it resulted in a lot of death which included a crippled who could not save himself after his sister who has rolling his wheel chair abandoned him and ran to safety while the trailer was speeding down.

Other instances include that of February 15, 2017 when a petrol tanker crashed into a filling station at DMGS Roundabout, Onitsha in the night spilling its contents into the station, adjourning streets and roads within the area. In no time, the whole area was overtaken by thick red flames leading to loss of lives, goods, offices and various residential apartments.

Few months before that, another tanker laden with diesel had crashed into the Asaba Park located at Upper Iweka axis. Though the liquid contents didn’t catch fire, many died from the accident while various vehicles were also damaged.

During the 2017 tanker fire incident at the DMGS, Onitsha, it took the hospitable services of Asaba, Delta State Fire Service to save an ugly situation even though the state had its own paid fire service men. While the government of Peter Obi built pedestrian bridges to stop people from crossing the ever busy expressway, the government of Obiano had come up with many promises that are yet to see the light of the day.  This include, that trailers would be stopped from plying the road in the day time, but use it only late nights when the roads are less busy, barricade routes they take among others. Also, shortly after the incident, Anambra State government doled out cash donations to some of the affected people in the disaster and proclaimed that it has procured state-of-the-art firefighting equipment.

Perhaps, the promises could not see the light of the day because the road in question is a federal road or probably because the state of the art firefighting equipment are yet to berth in the state.

While it has become obvious that the state fire service may not always meet their obligation, people as well as traders have called on the state government to build fire service units with equipment in the different markets in the state and leave the management to traders to help manage such crisis situation whenever it rears its ugly head instead of waiting for govt owned fire service truck that are located away from the markets.

Until that happens, there may not be an end to the yearly destruction of lives, properties and people’s means of livelihood to such disaster.

Source News Express

Posted 19/10/2019 6:45:15 PM





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