About a week ago at 9pm, traders at the ‘Aci a rage na gobe’ (eat and remain for tomorrow) section of the Kugiya market in Bukuru, Jos South Local Government Area of Plateau State, got the news of a fire incident that engulfed their shops. Expectedly, most of them defied distance and rushed to the market, hoping to salvage their goods. But unfortunately, they only watched helplessly as their makeshift shops, filled with goods worth millions of naira were razed.
The police public relations officer in the state, ASP Tyopev Terna, said that cash amounting to N20million was also said to have been burnt.
By the time officials of the Fire Service arrived the scene, the fire had spread from a barber’s shop to other places, according to eyewitnesses. The affected traders told Daily Trust on Sunday that it took about an hour to put the fire under control. The cause of the fire is still unknown. Over 117 shops were burnt while over 50 others were vandalised by criminals.
The chairman of the market union, Comrade Emmanuel George, said most of those affected by the tragic incident were women, some of who were widows and barely making ends meet.
Sympathisers and victims of the inferno who spoke to our correspondent said some criminals did not only take advantage of the situation but contributed to aggravate it so as to loot shops. It was also said that some of the criminals attempted to stop the men of the Fire Service from performing their duties by pelting them with stones.
Ambrose Madu, whose shop was vandalised, said the criminals attacked men of the Fire Service with the hope that the distraction would provide them the necessary cover to continue looting. Madu said he and his wife lost goods worth N2.3 million from their three shops. Fighting back tears, he explained that while two shops belonging to his wife were burnt to ashes, his was vandalised and looted during the incident.
“My wife had just re-stocked her shop in preparation for Saturday market. She had palm oil, vegetable oil and beans worth N1.5 million while my own shop equally had palm oil and other goods worth N800, 000. My shop was not burnt, but it was looted; they took everything.
“To eat is now a problem for us as we have lost our sources of income. We don’t know what to do now,” he said.
The Kugiya daily market, which is said to be the largest in Jos South, has many sections. Many traders said that prior to the fire incident, they had re-stocked their shops in anticipation that they would make a lot of profits from the usual Saturday market.
According to Comrade George, the union chairman, the market is built on a land owned by the Nigerian Railway Corporation. He said it was in 2013 that the market extended to the ‘Aci a rage na gobe’ section, which equally belongs to the corporation.
Although the market has existed for a long time, it began to witness an influx of commercial activities after the 2009 crisis in the state.
“People trooped into Kugiya market in large numbers while others went to Gyel in the same Bukuru. But Gyel market became a segment for only Christians while Kugiya became a market for all. It doesn’t matter whether you go to church or mosque; it is not our business. The leadership of the market is equally mixed up so that everyone is comfortable. And because of that, the market became large and popular,” Comrade George said.
The ‘Aci a rage na gobe’ section of the market is known for perishable goods, such as all sorts of vegetables like tomatoes, pepper and other food items. The food items are brought from village farms, and vehicles sometimes load them here to the South-East. Some come from Bauchi, Kano, Benue to buy goods, just like the popular Farin Gada vegetable market in Jos,” George explained.
According to the chairman, the ‘Aci a rage na gobe’ section of the market used to be a residential area before the Nigeria Railway Corporation demolished the buildings.
“It later became a refuse dump for years. We requested for it to reduce the congestion of traders in the streets. We relocated to this section in April 2013, and gradually, people were given shop allocations and they began to build,” he added.
Some of the victims of the fire incident who spoke to our correspondent said they had been counting their losses and hoping that government would come to their aid.
The woman leader of the affected section, Lami Muglong, said most of the female traders had taken loans from the cooperative society to start business. She lamented that they were now left in despair.
It was gathered that in order to make ends meet, some of the traders who lost goods worth N200,000 or N350,000 borrowed goods in small quantities from other traders, with the hope that at the end of the day, they would be able to make some profits and pay back.
Rahinatu Muhammad, whose shop was filled with soup condiments and grains before the incident, now has a table with few goods. “My sister-in-law gave me this table, and I have been able to collect a few kilos of beans and other items from other traders, which I now package in small quantities to sell. At the end of the day, I am expected to make some profits and pay them their money so that they can give me more,” she said.
Also recounting her ordeal, Rebecca Sunday, who also sells soup condiments, said she learnt about the fire incident on Saturday morning when she was woken by a family member and told to rush to the market. “By the time I got to the market, there was nothing but ashes where my shop and goods once stood,” she said.
Also, Alhaji Babangida, who usually travelled to Adamawa, Borno and Jigawa states to buy dry fish, said he had goods worth N350, 000 before the incident, but it perished. “By the time I got to the scene, the entire section was in flames, including my shop. Now, I have been given dry fish worth N150,000 by some of the fish traders. When I make some profit I will pay them off. I will have to keep doing that for some time to raise little capital,” he said.
It was, however, observed that some of the traders were already rebuilding their shops. Some of them who spoke to Daily Trust on Sunday appealed to well-to-do individuals to assist them go back to their businesses.
The chairman of the market union said the local government authorities had asked for a comprehensive list of affected traders and the value of goods destroyed. He expressed optimism that government would do the needful.