Salaudeen Mogaji forced a smile but it didn’t conceal the gloom that has enveloped him in the past few days after his shop at a plank market on Demunrin Street, Ketu, Lagos State, went up in flames. It faded quickly the moment he started recounting the losses he suffered in the inferno to our correspondent.
A father of four, Mogaji, is one of the many breadwinners who lost fortunes to the fire that engulfed a section of the market last Sunday.
Around 10am that day, a call jolted him out of a happy time with his family. He dashed out of his residence in the Ogijo area of the state and arrived at the market minutes later, watching helplessly as the fortune he toiled for crumbled under the raging fire.
“I lost all my four machines, a big generator and planks worth about N9m,” he recounted sorrowfully.
More devastatingly, that was the second time the 43-year-old man would suffer such cruel fate since he started business at the market over two decades ago.
“A similar fire incident happened here 10 years ago that destroyed all my goods and machines. I struggled for a long time to get back on my feet. Now, everything is gone again,” he explained, his eyes downcast.
Mogaji appealed to the government and well-meaning Nigerians to assist him and his co-traders affected by the fire.
He added, “Some of us established small businesses for our wives. They are the ones taking care of us now. Our children are in schools. We need help.”
A furniture maker at the market, Lanre Wahab, never had premonition about the tragedy that brought tears to his eyes.
With some set of chairs and other furniture items already completed and largely paid for, he had no idea how to cope with debts that had become his lot.
He was rummaging through the rubble when our correspondent met him at the market on Tuesday.
“This is where my shop was,” he pointed at a spot around debris. “I was not here when the fire started. I learnt someone saw a small fire and smoke at a corner of the market and rushed to the spot. He wanted to check the source of the smoke when the fire spread.
“I live in Ikorodu. By the time I got here, everything was gone. I could not salvage anything. I lost a different set of chairs and other items worth N5m. My customers had paid for some of them. In fact, there was a set of furniture that was supposed to be packed by the owner later that day. A colleague whose shop was next to mine also lost all his goods.”
The father of two lamented that he had no other means of livelihood and appealed to the government to help cushion the loss. “It is my wife who is assisting in the family upkeep now because she is also working. My brother lives with us and we have children,” he added.
His colleague, Mohammed Rafiu, who witnessed the incident firsthand, told newsmen that he and few other traders on the ground tried to no avail to put out the fire.
He said, “I was here on Sunday when the fire started. We saw smoke and rushed to the spot to remove the mattresses there. We tried to put out the fire but it exploded and we could not contain it. It was firefighters who later put it out.
“They responded on time but being inflammable materials, the fire quickly destroyed everything. All the three sets of chairs I had completed were burnt. I just returned from a customer whose furniture worth N300,000 was part of the property destroyed. Government should help us in whatever way they can. This incident has shattered our business and we cannot cope.”
The owner of a mattress shop, Biliaminu Bello, said his goods worth N6m perished in the inferno.
Like Mogaji, the Sunday incident was the second time he would suffer enormous loss at the market. All that is left for him is a small shop at another section of the market rescued from the fire.
He stated, “I was on my way to Ikorodu when I got a call that my shop was on fire. On getting there, everything had been destroyed. I was told later that someone was burning waste around my shop. I lost a stock worth N6m. It was about 90 per cent of my investment.
“I was also affected 10 years ago when the fire occurred. I lost about fours shops then. Government should help us to set up a fire station close to this place. We also need an accessible road.”
The market Chairman, Alhaji Bello Aliyu, said three fire incidents had been recorded in the market since he got there in 1980. He said it is hard to prevent recurrence except the government put in place proper structures for the traders.
The chairman stated that the state government promised to build “fire-proof” shops under private-public partnership during the administration of former Governor Babatunde Fashola.
He said, “They have started the project but it is slow. They are supposed to build about 350 shops but just 50 are on the ground now and they have not been completed. Traders are waiting for the completion of the shops. They are ready to buy them. Government needs to speed up the project.
“They wanted traders to pay now but they should not insist on that. I told them to complete the project and assured them that people would look around and source for money. In a situation whereby there is limited capital, no one will be willing to pay for a shop that is not complete.”
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