The early morning inferno that completely razed down Arewa settlement (Hausa Quarters) in Ubeji, Warri, Delta State has continued to raise concerns. The fire was said to have made occupants scamper for safety.
It was gathered that the quick intervention of some residents in the area, prevented the fire from spreading to a nearby school, residential houses and a dual storey-building under construction around the market.
Efforts to trace the reason for the fire outbreak are still shrouded in secrecy raising suspicion that there could be a conspiracy.
However, the victims suspected connivance among youths as there is controversy over the ownership of the land.
The leader of the Hausa Community in the market, Alhaji Ibrahim, said the cause of the fire, which allegedly broke out around 4.00 am and destroyed the market and make-shift structures accommodating hundreds of Arewa settlers, is yet to be ascertained.
He also lamented the devastating effects of the fire outbreak on the people.
A victim, Baba Ali said he has prayed to God to take control and would not do anything about the sad incident saying, his neighbours, who suffered the same fate years ago and spent money pursuing the case, didn’t get anything out of it.
Ali said, “I have since resolved not to pay for security again. How can a market be guarded yet gutted with fire? How can fire start from a shop and you’d claim you don’t know how it started?”
Another victim, simply known as Mohammed Mohammed said he lost his foodstuff running into thousands of naira in the inferno.
He said, “My landlord told me to file a police report and a court affidavit and the police said they would look into it. I am still awaiting their response.”
Mohammed noted that it was sad that they could suffer such a sad occurrence at a time when they can’t get succour amidst the persistent increase in the price of goods in the country.
A victim popularly known as Alhaji while narrating his experience to LEADERSHIP Weekend said, “When I came to my shop. I was very sad that my goods were raised by the inferno. I felt very bad and went to meet the guards we called Civil Defence and they told me not to worry. I went to the police station to make a report. To date, I haven’t heard from them.
However, a boutique owner, Paul Mathew, who hails from Jalingo, alleged that some people were culpable in setting the market ablaze.
Paul, whose shop also got burnt said, “If you ask me who was responsible, I will tell you that some people were responsible without batting an eyelid.
“It is clear. If not, how can all the shops be razed at that time of the night?
“When l asked why they hadn’t nabbed the perpetrators, they asked me to calm down so that they would investigate the matter,” he said.
A resident of the community, Pius Diden, whose home is close to the burnt market while sympathizing with victims of the inferno, prayed to God to give them the fortitude to bear the loss.
Nonetheless, there is no denying the fact that nobody can prove the ownership of the market land. However, while tracing the history of the crisis, LEADERSHIP Weekend discovered that the land is engulfed in serious dispute as the original owner is said to have sold it to more than a buyer, including one Papa Akomai who eventually asked the Hausas to take over the market for their businesses and residential purposes.
Meanwhile, what the security agencies are investigating at the moment is to know who sent the arsonists.
A native of Ubeji who Samuel Natufe (not real name) said that the market may drag the whole of Urhobo land to great danger soon if the issue is not properly addressed. He questioned why they would be planning to sell the land to Fulanis.
According to him, “First, the Fulani vowed never to share the market with members of the community.
“If you go there today you will be amazed at what’s going on there. They have been dividing all the stalls in the market for themselves and erecting zinc houses there.
“It will surprise you to know that the owner of the property even warned the union and the youths not to go to the market to collect development fees from them.
“The last time the local government authority and some occupants whose houses can only be accessed via the market brought waste managers to clean up the market, it will surprise you how Fulani boys came out in numbers and stopped them.”
An insider disclosed that though the market is believed to be a Hausa market where foodstuffs and other household goods are sold, illicit drugs of all sorts and other contraband goods are sold there.
The source also hinted that “the same folks have also bought a large plot of land along the Ughelli/Patani Express road between Wetland Hotel and NTA road and are now building a market there.
He said, “What saddened me most was when I heard that Urhobo people were now asked to pay for plots to build their small kiosks in the market.
“If I may ask, what will it profit the kings and chiefs if they eat millions from the traders and expose their people to become slaves, killed and their whole land taken in no distant time.
“Elders of Urhobo land and leaders of Urhobo Progressive Union (UPU) need to caution these kings and elders in the land before everyone will suffer the backlash.
“I will also suggest that it’s time for UPU and other top groups of the Urhobo nation to begin to sensitize kings and chiefs, especially to all kingdoms to make it mandatory for the heir apparent to any throne to have something doing before ascending the throne so that they will not be carried away with cheaply. Urhobo is gradually falling into these people’s hands.”
Chairman of Warri South Local Government Area in Delta State, Dr Michael Tidi, has insisted on the profiling of occupants of Arewa settlement (Hausa Quarters) in Ubeji, Warri, saying his administration is determined to know the kind of businesses the occupants do in the make-shift structures.
Tidi disclosed this when he dashed to the settlement for an on-the-spot assessment of the damage caused by the fire that allegedly broke out at about 4.00 am the same day.
He said that his administration was determined to know the kind of businesses the occupants do in the make-shift structures.
The Warri South Local Government Boss, Dr Michael Tidi, who called for a meeting with the owner of the land, the Hausa leaders, the councilor representing Ubeji Ward, Hon Victor Osanweren and Commissioner of Police, Delta State, Muhammed Ali, said no construction should be done on the land until the police investigation is concluded, despite pressure from the Hausa Community and Papa Akomai.
LEADERSHIP Weekend also gathered that the LGA is planning to relocate the traders to another location. It is also believed that once the ownership of the land is settled, development would commence there and would be difficult for them to remain in the market gutted by fire, hence they agreed to relocate.
This, according to the source, must have informed why Tidi insisted the owner of the land must meet with him.
Tidi assured that his administration was unwavering in the resolve to know the legitimacy of the kind of businesses occupants of the settlement does.
“We insist that they comport themselves in tandem with the law. Thank God the government is coming in and I know there is going to be a special delegation of people that will stand for justice and fairness,” Tidi stated.
Efforts made to get the reaction of the traders was unproductive.
“We don’t want you, journalists, here. This is not a press issue so you better leave and don’t speak to anyone in this community. If you don’t start going now, we will set you ablaze,” was the reply from a group of boys in the market.
The state commissioner of Police, Ari Muhammed Ali, when contacted said his men, in collaboration with the local government chairman, are monitoring the situation there.
He assured the command was on the trail of the perpetrators of the heinous crime.
Ali said, “If any, we are going to fish them out and they will have their date in court upon arrest.”
The disagreement may not also be different from the situation in nearby markets. We gathered that each resident or shop owner pays at least N500 to vigilante groups otherwise known as Civil Defence for the security of their areas and shops, yet they pay their landlords.
For instance, Ekiugbo and Otor-Iwhreko have been at war over the years, both laying claims to be the real landlord of the market.
Investigation revealed that traders paid between N5,000 and N10,000 as an annual levy, besides the daily collection of N300.
The crisis LEADERSHIP Weekend gathered was as a result of control over those who get what from the market. The two communities at the moment are struggling to collect revenue from the market because they share a common boundary.