Recently, about 15 shops in the informal sector of Garki market were reduced to ashes in a fire outbreak. CHIKA OKEKE who visited the market reports her findings.
For Mrs. Josephine Nwafor, a mother of eight children, the food stuff business she engaged in was the only gold mine in her life since her aged husband can no longer work. Tragedy struck two weeks ago and reduced to ashes, her only source of earning following the inferno that started at 10.30 pm in the informal sector of the Garki market.
A native of Umuchukwu in Orumba South local government area of Anambra State, Mrs. Nwafor lives in Ado, Nasarawa State; from where she shuttles everyday to ply the foodstuff trade in the market. Unfortunately, she lost about N1 million to the incident having spent just two years in the shop.
The woman who appears to be in her late 50's explained that since the fire incident, she had completed three different forms as required by the market managers but till date, she was yet to get any positive response either from them or the FCT Minister's office.
She said: “On Thursday morning, somebody informed me that the Informal sector was on fire and when I got there, I discovered that my shop was among those affected. I screamed and cried throughout in the market but tears could not bring back my burnt goods.
“The Abuja Market Management Ltd. (AMML), directed us (the Victims) to itemize all our goods that we lost in the fire. We did that and since then, we have submitted three forms in their office and we are yet to get any response from them".
"Also, not one of all the people that sympathized with me so far, gave me even a kobo. My husband is old and cannot do any work again. I am the only person taking care of my family through the proceeds from my business that is now razed. We have been going through thick and thin just to survive. I pay N120,000 for the shop and N30,000 for the service charge per annum which is rather too much.
"I am passionately appealing to the government to assist me and if possible double the money to N2 million because that is our only means of livelihood", she concludes.
Other Victims Speak
Another trader, Monday Okoh, a native of Igama, Okpowo LGA in Benue State also lost N2 million to the fire. Okoh who is in his late 20's, sells frozen foods in the shop which he owns and only now pays service charge of N30,000 per annum to AMML.
He told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY: “I came to the market that fateful Thursday to continue my business only to discover that my goods had been burnt to ashes including my deep freezer and other items inside the shop. I have filled three forms so far, as demanded by AMML but I am yet to get any positive response from them.
I am appealing to the government to help me and fix back the shop and if possible compensate me with N3million. Times are hard and no lazy man can survive in Abuja without working.
“My case is pathetic because it was barely two days after I returned from my traditional marriage that my shop was gutted by fire and I did not even remove a pin from the shop”.
Mr. Okechukwu Aloy, a native of Umuezebeta in Isiukwuato LGA of Abia State, who sells provisions and foodstuffs claimed to have lost goods worth N1.2 million and N135,000 cash to the inferno. He called on the FCT administration to assist the victims, saying that the fire has ruined them.
According to him, I have filled three forms so far as demanded by the management but we are yet to hear from them or the FCT administration.
Another trader who pleaded anonymous said that the manager was in the market when the fire started but failed to check the fire from spreading to other shops. He said:
‘Though my shop was not involved but I authoritatively learnt that the manager was in the market when the fire started because he leaves the market by 10.30pm so how were they unable to put off the fire if they claimed that it started by 10. 30pm. "AMML is happy because it's their enemy's shop (Igbo traders) that caught fire and that's why they did not make much effort to put it out.
GAMMA Alleges Conspiracy
The Chairman of Garki Model Market Association (GAMMA), Prince Edozie Ugwu and the Secretary/ PRO, Mr. Dayo Williams jointly told LEADERSHIP SUNDAY that the fire outbreak reeked of a conspiracy on the part of the manager, Mr. Ibrahim Yahaya Joseph who had earlier threatened to destroy the informal sector if the traders failed to comply with the payment of their service charge.
They said: “They claimed to have 45 able bodied security guards; they ought to have spotted the fire on time but why did they allow it to spread to other shops. The Former MD of AMML, Mr. Micheal Okpo, the present MD, Usman Farouk in conjunction with the manager told us from the onset that provision of fire extinguishers was part of the service charge but they never made fire extinguishers available to us.
So even if the fire started earlier, there was no single fire extinguisher inside this market that we could have used to put out the fire.
Surprisingly, the market manager does not allow traders to bring in their own electrician as anybody who dares them will be arrested and taken to SARS office for possible investigation. So if the market manager claimed that the fire was as a result of electrical problem, why were they unable to fix that problem” the GAMMA officials asked.
“We are pleading with FCT Minister, Sen. Bala Mohammed to assist the victims and other traders in a bid to ameliorate their sufferings. Also, he should speed up the investigation into the fraudulent and criminal activity of AMML as exposed by the former Accountant of the organisation, one Mr. Marshal involving the three high ranking managers of the AMML; Usman Farouk, Zachariah Alaku and Builder Ovia. He should also expedite action on the implementation of the Senate public Hearing report on the illegal operations of AMML held between June to July ,2008.
AMML Talks Tough
The head, Corporate Affairs of AMML, Mr. Innocent Amechina frowned that GAMMA was incompetent to speak on issues bordering on the market.
He says: “The reason is that GAMMA as an association, does not have any leadership as at today. The people who are parading themselves as leaders of that association were people who were one time leaders of the association and there’s no way they can speak for the traders.
Amechina continues: “AMML is not aware of any threat to demolish the Informal sector and If anybody is alleging that, he should come up with evidence.
"We learnt that the fire started from a shop used as cold room. Our men and security men tried to put out the fire with assistance from the fire service. About 12 shops were affected.
“If you go to any of our markets, there is no place that a fire extinguisher is embedded in the service charge payment and Garki market is not an exception.
“There was no public hearing on AMML alone, but during Modibbo's regime as the FCT Minister, all issues bordering on El Rufai's administration was brought to fore during a public hearing so it was not just limited to AMML, but to all the parastatals and agencies in FCT.