Traders accuse govt of sabotage in Ketu market fire

Disaster struck Thursday night, as fire razed down the entire Ifelodun Plank Market located at Ketu, Lagos. No life was, however, lost. The fire was said to have started hours after the market had closed for the day. The fire, which started about 9pm, was said to have spread quickly throughout the market, threatening surrounding residential buildings. This happened before the fire service personnel got to the scene. It is not clear as to what could have caused the outbreak. According to an eyewitness and a resident who identified himself as Ganiu Banire: “The fire started at about 9pm. We tried to help out, but the market was under lock and key.
Even when the firefighters arrived, they had to forcefully break down the door as the security men mysteriously disappeared. The fire raged till about 5am when it was contained by the firefighters.” Meanwhile, the chairman of Ifelodun Plank Market Association, Alhaji Aliyu Bello, lamented that the mystery behind the fire could be traced to an age-long tussle between the traders and the local government. “The fire started around 9.30pm. We rushed down here but it was so much that the fire service could not gain entry to the area on time. The way it escalated makes the fire suspicious. I am not surprised that this happened because there has been a tussle on the ownership of the land between the local government and we the traders for some years now.”
Weeping profusely, one of the shop owners, who identified himself as Salami, lamented that he was still recovering from a similar disaster that happened two years ago. “I lost everything in 2010 and government did nothing to help us. I had no choice but to borrow from the bank to continue my business and I’m yet to offset my bill. The local government has tried severally to take control of this market but we refused. They have succeeded because they are aware that most of us do not have Certificates of Occupany. I am finished,” he sobbed. On what could have caused the fire, Salami alleged that it would not be put beyond the government, saying that government must have conspired with the security men to set the market on fire. “They were supposed to be around, but on this very day, they were nowhere to be found. It was planned.”
Narrating his ordeal, Ismail Aliu, who sells building materials at the market, said: “I was at home when I received a call that the market was on fire. I thought it was a part of the market that was on fire, but when I got here, I found out that it affected all the shops and there was no way we could get our goods out because the place was under lock and key.” Also accusing government, the Chief Imam of Ifelodun Central Mosque, said Agboyi Ketu LCDA is a suspect in this matter. According to him, the local government had approached the traders, informing them of its intention to re-model the market, but the traders refused. “Now they have burnt down the market so that they will do it by force and sell the market,” he said.
The mosque was also burnt. He, however, maintained that the traders would resist government take-over of the market. Another resident, who identified himself as Peter Agbor, also blamed the government for the inferno. “Why is it that in Lagos State any that market gets burnt, what we see next is the government taking over the market? It is a question we should ask ourselves? People are suffering. I know some people that have more than eight shops here. What is their fate now? I repeat, why is it that markets in Lagos State get burnt and the next thing we see is the government taking over the market and start selling per-square metre at N200,000 like what happened in Tejuosho market? The question is, is this not planned, because when the fire broke out, the security men were nowhere to be found?”
Meanwhile, the Commissioner for Special Duties, Dr Wale Ahmed, who visited the scene, said that the site would be cordoned off to prevent collateral damage or secondary problem and prevent people from endangering their lives.  Dr Wale, who stated this while addressing the marketers, also promised that government would return the land to those who can produce documents of rightful ownership. “There is no discussion on demolition or anything at the moment. The main concern is to put out the fire. It would be cordoned off, fumigated, graded and levelled. What would happen to the site is not an issue for now; we are just concerned about putting the site in order for now. “We have instituted a lot of regime of fire safety but sometimes, no matter what precaution we put in place, accidents still happen.
We still don’t know what caused this fire. That would be revealed in the investigation we would carry out,” he promised. Director of Lagos State Fire Service, Mr. Rasak Fadipe, told reporters that it was their timely intervention that prevented the fire from spreading to residential buildings. “We got there few minutes after the fire started and you know the rate at which planks burn. When we arrived there, we discovered that the fire was seriously raging. I immediately dispatched two vehicles, which they told me were not enough. I then sent another three to help out. “I had to bring vehicles from other stations to complement the efforts of the ones that were on ground. The challenge we met here made it impossible for our men to reduce the extent of damage. My men were manhandled by people who were struggling that their own axis be attended to first. It was the timely intervention of our men that stopped the fire from spreading to residential buildings.” It could be recalled that the market witnessed a nasty fire outbreak in August 2010.


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